CHICKAMAUGA AND CHATTANOOGA ,MILITARY PARK
A SPRAWLING BATTLEFIELD WITH A GUN COLLECTION TO GET LOST IN
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.
ROWS OF GUNS
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.
EXPLORING THE PARK
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.