Help Save 109 Acres at Reed's Bridge, Chickamauga

A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President

The soldiers who fought there in 1863 believed it should be part of America’s first national military park; today, you and I can realize their dream.

Announcing a battlefield preservation effort 150 years in the making… we have the chance to save the most important unprotected hallowed ground at Chickamauga!

Dear Fellow Student of History,

Jim LIghthizer As a recovering politician, this is very difficult for me, but for once, I’m going to let someone else do the talking:

“As the action at Reed’s Bridge decided when and where the Battle of Chickamauga – one of the major battles of the Civil War – would be fought, this is one of the most significant tracts of ground that the Civil War Trust has saved in a long time.

Learn More about Chickamauga

That quote is from Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service and battlefield expert extraordinaire Ed Bearss, and when he tells me that a piece of hallowed ground is the most significant we’ve saved in a “long time,” well, that gets my attention.

And how about this one, from historian Peter Cozzens, who authored the definitive This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga:

“The acquisition of the Reed’s Bridge acreage by the Civil War Trust is of singular importance to the integrity of the Chickamauga battlefield. The chance clash near Reed’s Bridge determined the course of the Battle of Chickamauga, the largest action in the Western Theater of the Civil War.”

Or how about this one, from historian David Powell, graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and author of The Maps of Chickamauga, who confirms that the land at Reed’s Bridge “is the very ground where the battle began. Robert Minty’s Federal Cavalry held off Bushrod Johnson’s and Nathan Bedford Forrest’s rebels for several hours, in both mounted and dismounted action. This ground is akin to saving McPherson’s Ridge at Gettysburg, in terms of its relationship to the battle.

I think you are getting the message: the hallowed ground we have a chance to save today at Reed’s Bridge – the land where the largest battle of the Western Theater began – could be one of the most important things you and I have ever done – and ever will do – as battlefield preservationists.

I know you are busy, so let me quickly explain the details of this urgent transaction so that you will immediately see that I am not just blowing smoke:

QUESTION #1:  How many acres are we saving, where are they, and what happened there?

ANSWER: We have a chance to save 109 acres at Chickamauga, on both sides of the meandering West Chickamauga Creek, where Union forces under Colonel Robert H. G. Minty fought a crucial delaying action against the advancing Confederates under General Bushrod Johnson as well as Nathan Bedford Forrest. (See the acreage on our Battle Map »)

Minty’s dismounted cavalrymen, defending the crossing at Reed’s Bridge from the east side of the creek, forced Johnson’s four brigades into line of battle. After sharp fighting, the weight of the Confederate attack forced Minty to fall back, and it became a footrace for the possession of the bridge.

Minty’s troopers worked frantically to rip up the planks, but as Peter Cozzens describes the scene, “the Twenty-third Tennessee raised the Rebel yell, and made a dash for the bridge.  Shots rang out.  Five Tennesseans crumpled around the bridge, including the color bearer, but the rest pushed across it. It was 3:00pm when the first Rebel set foot on the west bank of Chickamauga Creek.”

However, Minty had bought Union General William S. Rosecrans just enough time to better consolidate his forces and thwart Bragg’s designs on Chattanooga.

The central fact that you can never forget: Ultimately, the Battle of Chickamauga was fought when and where it was because of what happened at Reed’s Bridge.

Back in the 1880s, when the idea of establishing Chickamauga as a national military park first surfaced, the soldiers wanted this land to be included in the park. But as the question (as always) came down to money, and how much Congress would appropriate to buy the land, the area around Reed’s Bridge was excluded.

Every battlefield tour of Chickamauga since the battle ended has started at Reed’s Bridge, but the land has been in private ownership that whole time, difficult and often unsafe to access (trashed with broken glass and used hypodermic needles, etc.), and nearly impossible to interpret. We can change all of that today.

QUESTION #2:  How much will this cost, and are there any matching funds to help pay for it?

ANSWER:  Well, this is where it gets a little astonishing: Today, these 109 acres have a value of $1,400,000.  But you and I can save this land for just… (you’re sitting down, I hope)… just $140,000!  That’s a $10-to-$1 match of your donation dollar!

Believe me, I have checked and re-checked these figures many times…

… thanks to a matching grant of $700,000 from the federal American Battlefield Protection Program, and wonderful grant from the Williams Family Foundation of Georgia, another generous grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation in Chattanooga, plus additional major gifts from other local organizations such as our friends at the Georgia Battlefields Association and a former member of our Board of Trustees…

… we already have $1,260,000 in matching funds lined up and ready to go – which gives us fully 90% of the total funds needed.

If you and I can raise the final 10% – just $140,000 – to leverage and unlock this tide of matching money, we will save the most important unprotected ground at the biggest and arguably one of the most important battlefields of the entire Civil War.

And we can do it with one of our best matching opportunities… I can take every $1 you send today and turn it into $10.00!

Putting that in perspective, with a $10-to-$1 match, you could buy $150 worth of groceries for a $15, or a new $20,000 car for just $2,000, or a house worth $300,000 for just $30,000… that’s not the down payment… that would be your total cost for the whole house!

And my friend, this is an effort that has been literally years in the making. In the Trust archives, I came across this passage from the “Minutes of the November 19, 1998 Meeting of the Civil War Trust Board of Directors”:

“Mr. Lighthizer made a site visit to Chickamauga, Georgia, and met with Superintendent Pat Reed and Chief Historian Jim Ogden to discuss how The Civil War Trust could be of assistance to Chickamauga/Chattanooga National Military Park. Reed’s Bridge was identified as the number one acquisition priority.

So you see, the soldiers who fought at Chickamauga wanted Reed’s Bridge preserved… it has been on my “Most Wanted” list for at least 15 years, and today, we have a chance of seeing this dream become a reality. But we must move quickly; there is already a Walmart literally a few thousand feet away from this hallowed ground, and other commercial and residential development is relentlessly clawing its way ever closer.

On August 20, 1890, almost 123 years ago to the day, President Benjamin Harrison signed the “enabling legislation” that created the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park… America’s first national military park, established “for the purpose of preserving and suitably marking for historical and professional military study the fields of some of the most remarkable maneuvers and most brilliant fighting in the war.”

But even before that, in the early 1880s, members of the Chicago post of the Grand Army of the Republic tried to buy the Chickamauga battlefield by raising private donations, even offering to pay a whole $25 per acre! The attempt failed… because they could not raise the money.

Today, you and I cannot let that part of history repeat itself. We must succeed! With your help, we will succeed!

If you care about saving real American history (and I know you do)…

If you care about saving our country’s Civil War heritage for future generations (and I know you do)…

And if you care about getting the absolute maximum return on the power of your charitable donation dollar (and you should), then I can’t imagine a better opportunity than this one today, at Reed’s Bridge.

I could fill up another few pages talking about the important history of this ground that you will be helping to save, but this letter is already getting long, and you can (and should) go to our
website for more information on this effort:

Donor Sign Example
Example of a donor sign at the Chancellorsville Battlefield.

As an expression of my appreciation for all you have done for this great and noble cause, and as the legislation creating this battlefield park was signed in 1890, for your gift of $90 or more…

…please allow me to honor you by including your name on a permanent display that will stand on the hallowed ground at Chickamauga.

Everyone who gives $90 or more to this effort will have his or her name included on this commemorative display! I have never offered this recognition to anyone at this amount before. But – as the historians told us – this ground is so significant, that I need everyone’s help to save it, especially yours.

Learn More about Chickamauga

This is my humble way of offering you a small piece of on-site Civil War immortality, and tell future generations that you, a 21st century hero, helped  to save the land where 19th century heroes hallowed the ground forever.

Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible with your urgent gift to help me raise the $140,000 we need to secure $1,260,000 in matching funds and save this land forever. Thank you very much for all that you are doing to save our nation’s crucial Civil War heritage.

Yours, ‘til our battle is won,

Jim Lighthizer

P.S. If you can please send your gift and signed document well before September 18-20, the anniversary of the battle, that would be even better. Please help today! Thank you again.

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