Local historians and preservationists are pushing science to map Civil War history on today’s landscapes.
“We plan to overlay historical battle maps and charts with today’s landscapes. When the new maps are done, we can trace the events of the Civil War locally right over the buildings and roads and addresses we see now every day,” said Jim Ogden, historian for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Combining Geographic Information System technologies, historical maps and the Internet, yesteryear explorers such as Mr. Ogden will give the rest of us an interactive way to see what was happening not just in the military parks but also on the streets and in local communities when the Blue and Gray clashed in the 1863 Campaign for Chattanooga.
* Main Street was a path Union soldiers took to rout Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Confederate troops from Missionary Ridge.
* Sherman’s troops crossed the Tennessee River where the Centre South Riverport Industrial Park along Amnicola Highway sits today.
* Confederate troops camped near Brainerd Mission, which today is largely the Eastgate office and retail center.
* At the northern tip of Lookout Mountain, the Tennessee River has been moved over to shorten the toe of Moccasin Bend.
* With paperwork completion, the six historical maps will be scanned.
* Global positioning data will be collected.
* Points on the historical maps will be adjusted to match the global-positioning points for geo-referencing.
* Symbols for units, brigades and landmarks will be digitized to overlay on modern data.
* Maps will be refined, additional information could be collected and added as the maps are placed online.
What might such maps show?
Main Street, once named Moore Road, was the path used by Union troops commanded by Gens. Philip H. Sheridan and Richard Johnson to drive Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Confederate troops from their commanding perch on Missionary Ridge, Mr. Ogden said.
The properties in the vicinity of what is now Hawthorne and Main streets once were the site of an overnight camp spot where soldiers spent a long, cold night awaiting the next day’s battle that many believed was a suicide mission, he said.
Aside from intriguing Internet learning, the resulting “new” maps — paid for with a $41,120 grant from the National Park Service — also will serve a needed planning function, said Rick Wood, director of the Chattanooga office of Trust for Public Land, which is managing the project.
The effort will enable officials to identify areas for future preservation, he said. Policymakers, developers and preservationists can know quickly if property may have historical significance in need of protection.
To accomplish the mapping project, one of only 32 in the nation, officials and contractors will convert six historic maps of area battlefields into geographic information data for integration into data already on hand for Hamilton County’s geographical information, Mr. Ogden said.
Once completed, the maps easily can be updated as land uses change, he said. More historic information and links also can be added, he said.
“This, in a lot of ways, is the foundation of something that can grow again and again,” he said.
Kay Parish, executive director of the Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, said the park already preserves several important areas, but the city of Chattanooga and its smaller neighbors have grown up over what once was a giant field of battle.
The Campaign for Chattanooga covered a large regional landscape and is viewed by many historians as a turning point in the war. The Union’s victory here opened the Deep South to General Sherman’s march to Atlanta and the sea, according to historians.
But what most excites her about the project is the future, she said.
“The new history layer will be a great tool ... for proactive land planning,” Ms. Parish said. “Our Civil War history is a crucial part of our heritage. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come here each year to explore that history.”
Mr. Wood said the project is funded with a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program, a branch of the National Park Service.
“This kind of historical mapping (with GIS) is not out there everywhere yet,” he said. “It makes protection and awareness just so much more visible than anything else.”
Shawn Benge, superintendent of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, said the public interest in local Civil War history is high, but property-specific information has not been easy to find.
“I’m unaware of any place that information is housed,” he said.
Mr. Wood and Mr. Ogden said the six historical maps by then-Chattanooga engineer Edward E. Betts provide a wonderful opportunity to try the new project here. Mr. Betts, whose family still does engineering work locally, was commissioned shortly after the war to make the historical maps, which show troop movements, engagements and encampments during the 1863 Campaign for Chattanooga.
Mr. Benge said he would like to see the geography of historical geographic information mapping be extended beyond the immediate Chattanooga area.
Ms. Parish said she looks forward to adding more historical detail and additional interactivity.
“Some day we might be able to add 1863 street patterns and landscape features — even the monuments that are sprinkled across the county — so that if you clicked on a monument or troop location, you would be linked to the text of the physical plaque or to information about the troops marked on the map,” she said.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...