Browns Ferry Federal Road Trail

I am counting down the days until cooler weather arrives, because I am looking forward to resuming hiking.

I have been Googling Chattanooga area hikes, and I am curating quite the list. It has been frustrating to discover all of these wonderful places, and know that it’s just not the best time to attempt a 3 mile hike.

This morning I was looking at hikes on Moccasin Bend. I found the Browns Ferry Federal Road Trail, and I got so excited about it, that we had to go right NOW.

The weather has been cooler all weekend because it has been raining on and off, and it was mostly cloudy, keeping the sun at bay. I had found the trail early in the morning, about 9:30, and convinced Derek to go. We were at the trail parking lot by 10 a.m.

The reason why I just couldn’t wait a few weeks is because the trail is a historic one, and I love history.

Browns Ferry Federal Road was a road in use since the early 1800s. A “trace” of the road on Moccasin Bend, as noted by signage on the trail, was discovered by LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), as well as the use of old maps. The trail opened up to the public in 2013.

In October 1863, the city of Chattanooga was under siege by the Confederates. The Union troops were starving, with no way to receive food supplies. The Union devised a plan to open up the supply line.

On Oct. 27, in the early morning hours, the Battle of Brown’s Ferry occurred.

Brig. Gen. William Hazen — fun fact, my last name is Hazen, no relation though, at least we think — commanded groups of men who floated down the Tennessee River in pontoon boats from the city of Chattanooga. They sailed around Moccasin Bend to the crossing site, Brown’s Ferry landing, which was in Confederate hands.

Sailing in the pre-dawn, they achieved the initial element of surprise and were able to cross the river, but were soon discovered by Confederate troops who fired upon them. Union troops were also waiting on the opposite bank (where we stood on the end of the trail) as reinforcements. Ultimately, the Union forces outnumbered the Confederates, who drew back to the south.

This allowed the Union to gain control of the road and open their supply line again. This supply line, and part of the battle became known as the “Cracker Line,” after the hardtack crackers that the soldiers ate.

It was exciting to stand there and picture the men coming up the river in the pontoon boats, as well as the man waiting in position on the shore, and imagine what they must have been thinking.

To see a map of the battle, and to read more about it, visit these two websites:

www.battlefields.org/learn/maps/browns-ferry-october-27-1863 and https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/fight-browns-ferry.

I own Jeff Shaara’s Civil War novels, one of which, The Smoke of Dawn, is about the Battle of Chattanooga. I have read them before, but not since moving here. I remember there being a chapter about the Cracker Line and the battle of Brown’s Ferry. I am looking forward to rereading this book again, even more so now.

In addition, Browns Ferry Federal Road was also an original segment of the Trail of Tears, or the removal of the Cherokee. This happened in 1838. The Cherokee also gathered around the same spot as the Union soldiers did, crossing the river.

The trail is a 1.2 mile out and back hike. It is mostly woodsy, with some open areas. We actually got lost. There was a section of the trail that looked like it went to the right, but it quickly became overgrown and it was obvious we went the wrong way. Looking at the AllTrails app put us back on the right track though.

It was a little muddy when we went, but that is probably because it has been raining all weekend. There are sections of the trail that have elevated boardwalks.

We saw some interesting flowers, butterflies, spider webs and even a couple of fresh deer prints. The trail ends at the river. A barge came through while we were there. We stayed there for a bit, enjoying the view, and imagining the history that occurred there.

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