Recoil - - Incoming - BY DANIEL JACK­SON


Not only was the Chicka­mauga and Chat­tanooga Mil­i­tary Park the site of the bat­tles that marked the be­gin­ning to the end of the Civil War, the U.S. mil­i­tary also uses it as an out­door class­room for com­man­ders to study the con­flict and to keep pre­pared for an all-out war.

For any ad­mirer of rare guns or stu­dent of the firearms that made this coun­try, they’ll find a gem at the Chicka­mauga Vis­i­tors Cen­ter in the form of the Fuller Gun Col­lec­tion.

Don’t be mis­led by its free ad­mis­sion. The amount you can learn from the bat­tle­field and see in the gun col­lec­tion is lim­ited only by your cu­rios­ity and the time you have to spend.

The Civil War was “The water­shed mo­ment in our na­tion’s his­tory,” said Jim Og­den, Na­tional Park Ser­vice his­to­rian for the bat­tle­field. “Be­cause the United States that comes out of the Civil War is very dif­fer­ent than the United States that en­tered that war.”

The guns in the park’s col­lec­tion are no ex­cep­tion.


A semi­cir­cle of can­non greets peo­ple walk­ing up to the vis­i­tor cen­ter lo­cated in the north­west cor­ner of Ge­or­gia. Take a right past the front desk and pass through a room with the usual dis­plays ex­plain­ing key points of the bat­tle. The Fuller Gun Col­lec­tion rests in a dimly lit room, with lights on timers in or­der to pre­serve the guns from light ex­po­sure.

The col­lec­tion is one of the few dis­played study col­lec­tions of firearms in the na­tion. Of­ten, mu­se­ums will only show pieces in their col­lec­tion that help tell the story they’re try­ing to say, said Og­den. With the Fuller Col­lec­tion, ev­ery­thing is dis­played.

The ear­li­est guns stand to the left of the rooms’ en­trance, and are or­ga­nized in rough chrono­log­i­cal or­der clock­wise around the room. Over­all, they show the gun’s 400-year evo­lu­tion from matchlock boom­sticks to the bolt ac­tions of World War I. Along the way, there are ex­per­i­men­tal guns that rep­re­sent the var­i­ous ways gun­smiths con­verted flint-fired guns to per­cus­sion, for ex­am­ple.

The gun col­lec­tion has been dis­played at the vis­i­tor cen­ter since

July 4, 1954. In 2000, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice ren­o­vated the dis­play so each gun rests ver­ti­cally. The locks rest level with each other so they can be eas­ily stud­ied. “The re­sult is it is re­ally the dis­played study col­lec­tion that Claude Fuller en­vi­sioned it to be,” Og­den said.

Fuller and his wife, Ze­nada, rum­maged through es­tate sales and auc­tions to build the col­lec­tion in the early 1900s. De­spite hav­ing a sev­en­th­grade ed­u­ca­tion, Fuller pub­lished sev­eral books on firearms, and be­came one of the fore­most firearm schol­ars of his time.

The col­lec­tion boasts of a large num­ber of Con­fed­er­ate-made firearms, and the near-iden­ti­cal guns churned out by north­ern fac­to­ries dur­ing the Civil War.

The col­lec­tion tells the story of Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing. It shows how it rose from mak­ing one gun at a time to cre­at­ing in­ter­change­able parts, Og­den said. So, when Amer­ica built its arms for World War I, the coun­try en­tered the muddy fields of France, a world power thanks to its man­u­fac­tur­ing might.

The key guns, “Sig­nif­i­cant mark­ers in the his­tory in the de­vel­op­ment of firearms,” Og­den said, are high­lighted with more in­for­ma­tion about each piece.


There’s a whole bat­tle­field to ex­plore be­yond the vis­i­tor cen­ter’s doors, and one you shouldn’t miss. Og­den sug­gests peo­ple view the dis­plays and watch the 26-minute movie ex­plain­ing the bat­tle to get an over­view of what hap­pened on the park’s 9,036 acres.

What you do next de­pends on how much time you have and what kind of money you want to spend, Og­den said. By tour­ing Chicka­mauga, you can stand where thou­sands of Con­fed­er­ates rushed through a gap in the Union line and caused the Union Army to re­treat, for ex­am­ple. The NPS pro­duced a free au­dio tour and sched­ules tours with park rangers. Pri­vate groups of­fer tours and guide­books for sale.

Af­ter­ward, Og­den sug­gests vis­i­tors make the 12-mile trip up Look­out Moun­tain to the small NPS vis­i­tor cen­ter there. Then peo­ple can pay a $5 en­trance fee to Point Park, the only sec­tion that re­quires a fee. There, you can walk the path­ways and see the can­nons over­look­ing the best view of Chat­tanooga and get a sense of the scope of the siege for the city. That is, if a cloud hasn’t rolled over the moun­tain, mim­ick­ing the con­di­tions in which sol­ders of the blue and gray fought when they bat­tled across the slopes of Look­out Moun­tain.

Then, if you want ex­tra credit, check out where sol­diers strug­gled for con­trol of Mis­sion­ary Ridge. The NPS main­tains a se­ries of pocket parks dot­ting the crest of Mis­sion­ary Ridge, which has since filled up with res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods.

Og­den said this is the most un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated and over­looked por­tion of the bat­tle­field. “As with ev­ery­thing, prepa­ra­tion is valu­able,” he said. To ex­plore, Og­den rec­om­mends buy­ing a pri­vate guide­book or join a sched­uled tour.

Just like the Fuller Gun Col­lec­tion, many peo­ple skim through the park, but there’s a sea of in­for­ma­tion for those who linger.

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