Visiting Chattanooga National Cemetery on Christmas Eve

My parents visited us in Chattanooga for Christmas. With the weather being unseasonably warm, we were looking for different things to do that would allow us to enjoy the outdoors.

My parents have never seen the Christmas wreaths at a cemetery, part of the national Wreaths Across America program.

We enjoyed walking around the cemetery, and we were in awe of how the graves looked, each with a Christmas wreath placed in front.

On Dec. 25, 1863, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas issued General Orders No. 296 creating a national cemetery in commemoration of the Battles of Chattanooga, Nov. 23-27, 1863.

Wreaths Across America is held on a Saturday each December, and volunteers at about 2,500 participating cemeteries place wreaths at the graves.

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Wreaths Across America

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Wreaths Across America, a national program held at many different cemeteries at the same time, honoring veterans by laying wreaths at their graves.

I was familiar with this program, but I have never participated before. I was there to cover the event for work, but I still enjoyed it and I was glad I got to have the experience.

There was a ceremony at noon before the wreath laying, and it was moving. There was a man who played the bagpipes, which sounded amazing. The ceremony also featured two men playing echoing taps, which brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of my grandpa, who was in the Navy.

Chattanooga National Cemetery, which is where I was for the program, has about 47,000 graves. About 30 percent were able to be decorated with wreaths, which are sponsored and purchased by the public. I would like to possibly do this next year, sponsor a wreath or two, and then lay them at a Civil War soldier’s grave, because of my interest in Civil War history.

There is an interesting side note in this story.

A Civil War reenacting unit fired a cannon during different times of the ceremony. I got my hands on a program, and I realized with excitement that it was Burrough’s Battery.

A few years ago, while I was still reenacting myself, we fundraised to have a group from Tennessee with six horses come to Gettysburg to pull our original 1863 cannon in the 150th Remembrance Day Parade. I was actually got to ride one of the horses. And I guess you know where this story is going now. The group firing the cannon during the ceremony was Burrough’s Battery.

After the ceremony, I introduced myself to some of the members, some of which I recognized through my photos. They did not remember me, but they did remember that parade. They even tried to recruit me. I said, thanks but no thanks. I don’t even have my uniform anymore! I just wanted to say hi. But it was a small world to be in the same place that morning.

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The start of the ceremony.
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People starting to unbox wreaths to lay at the graves.
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The cannon belonging to Burrough’s Battery at the top of the cemetery’s hill.
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Civil War history at the Chattanooga National Cemetery

We walked around the Chattanooga National Cemetery on Friday. The cemetery was established in 1863, as a place to bury Union Civil War soldiers after the Battles of Chattanooga.

It was a beautiful, somber place. We have been to Arlington National Cemetery, and it felt similar, yet different because of the surrounding mountains.

We made a special stop to see the Andrews Raiders Memorial, which features a bronze statue of The General locomotive, featured in the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862.

From Wikipedia: “The Great Locomotive Chase, or Andrew’s Raid was a military raid that occurred on April 12, 1862, in northern Georgia during the American Civil War. Volunteers from the Union Army, led by civilian scout James J. Andres, commandeered a train, The General, and took it northward toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, doing as much damage as possible to the vital Western and Atlantic Railroad line from Atlanta to Chattanooga as they went. They were pursued by Confederate forces at first on foot, and later on a succession of locomotives, including The Texas, for 87 miles.

Because the Union men had cut the telegraph wires, the Confederates could not send warnings ahead to forces along the railway. Confederates eventually captured the raiders and quickly executed some as spies, including Andrews; some others were able to flee. Some of the raiders were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor by the US Congress for their actions. As a civilian, Andrews was not eligible.”

I had only vaguely known about the Locomotive Chase up until this point. I am enjoying living in a new area, and learning about its history.

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The Andrews Raiders Monument
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Some of the men who were executed for their part in the Andrews Raid. They all have the same death date as June 18. The light blue flag means they are Medal of Honor recipients.
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A front facing shot of the Andrews’ Raiders monument. In this photo, in the bottom left, you can see the headstone for James J. Andrews, who lead the raid. It is labeled “civilian.”