UT Students Invade Civil War Battleground

Dana Schwartz

Seventeen University of Tampa Army ROTC cadets and four UT history course students visited Chickamauga National Battlefield in northwest Georgia last weekend.

The venture was part of the cadets’ MSL 402 curriculum and helped students enrolled in HIS 225: Age of the Civil War to better understand this significant, large-scale conflict that took place between the 18 and 20 of September, 1863.

Over 66,000 Confederate troops and almost 57,000 Union troops fought at Chickamauga, which became the first national Civil War park in 1890.

One of the major aims of the founders of the park was to provide educational opportunities for future generations; the UT group certainly benefitted from that far-sighted goal.

The UT group arrived at the park’s visitor center at 8:30 a.m. on March 22. An orientation session, led by National Park Service Ranger and Historian Jim Ogden, supplied the UT contingent with the strategic background to, and subsequent ramifications of, the Battle of Chickamauga, a Confederate victory. Vicious fighting took place along a four-mile front over the course of three days.

At battle’s end, around 1,657 Union soldiers and 2,312 Confederates were dead; another 14,500 Yankees and 16,100 Rebels were wounded, captured, or missing.

Ranger Ogden directed the tour to various parts of the 5,200-acre field, beginning at Alexander’s Bridge over Chickamauga Creek. This was the first heavy clash of Union and Confederate forces on 18 September 1863.

By walking the fields and participating in small-group formation exercises, the attendees easily visualized how leadership skills, contingency planning, personal bravery, human intuition, close observation and even “dumb luck” play important roles in all military operations, past and present.

At the various stops around the field, it was sometimes difficult to get the gist of the ranger’s presentation because topographical changes, such as raised road beds, and the growth of forests had altered and/or obscured the 1863 sightlines.

It was strange to see cannons on one hilltop pointing into a forest. However, when it was learned that no trees grew on the hill in 1863 and that the artillery’s target was clearly visible about a mile away in a valley, the placement of the cannon was more easily understood.

The cool but sunny Saturday outing covered the clash’s most crucial military maneuvers and actions: Reed’s and Alexander’s bridges, Kelly’s Field, Brotherton’s Field, the several Confederate breakthroughs along the LaFayette Road, and the Union’s final stand at Snodgrass Hill-Horseshoe Ridge.

Prominent names mentioned in Ranger Ogden’s talks included Union generals Rosecrans, Thomas, Wilder, and Brannan, as well as artillery Captain Eli Lilly (of pharmaceutical fame); and Confederate generals Bragg, Longstreet, Forrest, Polk, and D.H. Hill.

Also on the field are numerous plaques commemorating the presence and actions of several Florida regiments; Florida’s state monument is prominently located very close to the visitors’ center.

Confederate cavalry General Joseph Wheeler survived Chickamauga and the Civil War, and was at the Tampa Bay Hotel (now Plant Hall) preparatory to the Spanish-American War in late spring 1898.

This excursion was planned by UT ROTC Col. Patrick O’Sullivan and UT Adjunct History Prof./Col. Jim Stefan [Ret.].

It was the first trip of its kind in UT ROTC history. The Army’s ROTC curriculum strongly recommends that cadets take a tour such as this one before being commissioned at graduation.

The cost was $65.00 per person for the round-trip charter bus and two nights’ lodgings at a close-by National Guard training center; all travelers covered their own food expenses.

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