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Battle of Chickamauga at 150: Less blood, plenty of sweat

posted Sep 15, 2013, 3:54 PM by Beverly Vaughan

There was a glitch five years ago when Vice President Dick Cheney came to the 145th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Chickamauga to honor his great-grandfather Samuel Fletcher Cheney, who saw action in the bloody Civil War battle as a sergeant with the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

For security's sake, Civil War re-enactors were told to leave their rifles behind as they marched near Cheney to kick off the three-day re-enactment on a 1,000-acre farm in Walker County, Ga. That's because the Secret Service had just learned the re-enactors' guns weren't replicas, but actual weapons.

"They're working guns," said Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn, who tipped the Secret Service off to the guns' viability during a pre-event security meeting. "The only thing [re-enactors] don't do is put the lead ball in them."

Avoiding glitches like that is a high priority for Ashburn and other local officials organizing the events planned to commemorate the fast-approaching 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga.

Thousands of people are expected this weekend for history talks, hikes and other events held at the actual battlefield. Next weekend, thousands more Civil War re-enactors and spectators will converge for the battle re-enactment at Mountain Cove Farms, 1,839 acres of public land in rural Walker County where Lookout and Pigeon mountains meet.

A number of groups and government agencies are involved with the Battle of Chickamauga re-enactment, but there's no central website or clearinghouse for all the information.

"It's kind of a coordinated/uncoordinated effort putting this all together," said Brent Templeton, owner of the Templeton Design Group of Ooltewah, which designed a Battle of Chickamauga re-enactment marketing campaign that includes three billboards on Interstates 24 and 75, a website, a map and an iPhone app to help direct visitors to the re-enactment.

"Whenever you have so many [entities] involved in trying to put on an event like this -- the more the merrier, I guess, is their thinking," Templeton said.

That's typical for sesquicentennial Civil War re-enactments around the country, said Carl Whitehill, spokesman for the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, in Gettysburg, Pa. The bureau helped market the 150th anniversary of the battle there that included two separate re-enactments: one in late June organized by the Blue Gray Alliance of Civil War re-enactors and another in early July put on by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee.

"The tough part is, it's a big community effort," Whitehill said. "No one entity is in charge."

A steering committee in Gettysburg that began with half a dozen people grew to about 50 members as the anniversary neared, he said. Typically, the "stakeholders" in Civil War re-enactments include the National Park Service, which owns the actual battle site, local governments and chambers of commerce, re-enactors, law enforcement personnel and transportation agencies.

"It actually did go very smoothly," Whitehill said. "We worked hard at the infrastructure needs."

So are Battle of Chickamauga organizers ready?

"Yes," Ashburn said Wednesday. "It'll be ready."

Local officials have been working with such agencies as the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Georgia State Patrol, he said, and on Wednesday morning held their latest interagency traffic planning meeting.

An example of preparations: Drivers coming from the west on Interstate 24 will be directed to exit at Broad Street or Rossville Boulevard. But if those exits back up, Ashburn said, a Tennessee Department of Transportation "dynamic message sign" over I-24 near South Pittsburg will encourage re-enactment traffic to hang a right on Interstate 59 and head south.

Signs also have gone up around Walker County, including letting people know they won't be able to drop down off Lookout Mountain and reach Mountain Cove Farms from Dougherty Gap Road, because it will be closed from that direction during the event.

"It's going to work well," said Chickamauga City Manager John Culpepper, who's coordinating the re-enactment for the Blue Gray Alliance.

Georgia State Patrol officers and Walker County sheriff's deputies will direct traffic during the event, he said, and organizers have held meetings with law enforcement personnel from Fort Oglethorpe, Chickamauga, Dade County, Ga., and DeKalb County, Ala.

"I think it's going to be one of the best laid-out events for the spectators and re-enactors that I've ever been to," said Culpepper, a Civil War buff who has participated in re-enactments since 1999, including two Gettysburgs.

Re-enactment not at battlefield

A basic concern for event organizers is to let visitors know that the re-enactment will be held at Mountain Cove Farms -- about 30 miles from the actual Chickamauga Battlefield -- because the National Park Service doesn't allow re-enactments to take place on battlefields, which are considered hallowed ground.

"That's one of the things that some people will be surprised at when they get here: That the re-enactment is not actually at the battlefield," Templeton said.

Templeton worked with Chris McKeever, director of the 6th Cavalry Museum. They were paid by the Walker County Economic Development Agency, which spent $50,000 to promote the re-enactment. The duo said they did what they could to stretch their funding.

"We sold ads to pay for the app and to pay for the map," Templeton said.

More than 20,000 copies of the 9- by 13-inch map were printed and have been distributed to such locations as area motels, state welcome centers and the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitors Center.

Red letters at the top of the map state, "Reenactment is NOT being held in Chickamauga National Military Park."

"It is going to be very helpful, since visitors will be confused thinking the re-enactment is on our property," said Kim Coons, spokeswoman for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. "We will be giving those maps out during the re-enactment weekend."

The free app will help iPhone users find their way around. Event organizers would have also liked to have an app compatible with Android phones, but weren't able to finish it in time.

"It took us so long to get the iPhone one done, we didn't get the Android done," McKeever said.

Local businesses helped pay for the billboards. One is on I-24 near I-59, another is on southbound I-75 near Cleveland and the third is on northbound I-75 in Calhoun County to get drivers to use exit 320 at State Route 136, which runs through LaFayette.

Planning for Gettysburg's 150th anniversary got going in 2010. McKeever said planning began even earlier here: In 2008, right after the 145th re-enactment that Vice President Cheney attended.

"The minute it was over with, John [Culpepper] was beating the drum, [saying] we've just got five years to get ready for the 150th," she said.