Chattanooga Times Free Press Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009
Local historians and preservationists have put the Civil War onto 21st Century maps of metro Chattanooga and soon will offer an interactive look to anyone with a computer.
The history-meets-technology effort is not rewriting history, but it certainly can bring the events and personalities of yesteryear into the front and back yards of today's local residents, officials say.
"Seeing that Main Street was the marching route from Lookout Mountain to Missionary Ridge for Union troops, seeing where campgrounds were and where troops engaged with one another in battle, and knowing what is there today -- It helped me to see a different Chattanooga, a kind of ghost of the time that was," said Kay Parish, executive director of Friends of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Later this month, on Aug. 17, 18 and 20, park officials, friends and new map makers will unveil the new look at the region's history to the public in meetings around town.
Ms. Parish and the mappers of today, Josh Boutwell and Max Schneider with Alexander Archaeology Consulting of Wildwood, Ga., said the effort is a first of its kind and likely will spark similar work anywhere good historical maps can be made to meet today's streets.
"It's really pretty fascinating to have seen it with parcel information, to know who owns what pieces of the battlefield," Mr. Boutwell said.
To accomplish the mapping project, one of only 32 in the nation, officials and the mappers converted six historic maps of area battlefields into geographic information data for integration into data already on hand in Hamilton County, according to Jim Ogden, historian for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
As time goes by, the maps easily can be updated when land uses change, Mr. Ogden said. More historic information and links also can be added, here and across the country.
"This, in a lot of ways, is the foundation of something that can grow again and again," he said.
Mr. Ogden and Ms. Parish say the park already preserves several important areas, but the city of Chattanooga and its smaller neighbors have grown up over what once was a giant field of battle.
The Campaign for Chattanooga covered a large regional landscape and is viewed by many historians as a turning point in the war. The Union's victory here opened the Deep South to General Sherman's march to Atlanta and the sea, according to historians.
Ms. Parish said the mappers "weighted" the different areas by measuring the Civil War activities in each district, so you can really rank areas with the most significance -- those with the most potential for still holding archeological evidence of the battles.
THEN AND NOW
* Main Street was a path Union soldiers took to rout Gen. Braxton Bragg's Confederate troops from Missionary Ridge.
* Sherman's troops crossed the Tennessee River where the Centre South Riverport Industrial Park sits today.
* Confederate troops camped near the Brainerd Mission, which today is largely the Eastgate office and retail center.
"The GIS Civil War history layer brings to life the truth -- that the important events happened where we live, work and play today -- not just where the park was created on land that was available and could be set aside," she said.
Aside from intriguing Internet learning, the resulting "new" maps, paid for with a $41,120 battlefield preservation grant from the National Park Service, also will serve a needed planning function, said Rick Wood, director of the Chattanooga office of Trust for Public Land, which is managed the project.
The effort will enable officials to identify areas for future preservation, Mr. Wood said. Policymakers, developers and preservationists can know quickly if property may have historical significance in need of protection.
The six historical maps, developed shortly after the war by then-Chattanooga engineer Edward E. Betts, proved to be very accurate, Mr. Schneider said.
Mr. Betts, whose family still does engineering work locally, was commissioned after the war to make the maps, which show troop movements, engagements and encampments during the 1863 Campaign for Chattanooga.
"It was really interesting to see the history take shape" on today's landscape, Mr. Schneider said.
Ms. Parish said park officials hope the new "tool" will help urban planners, land developers and property owners learn more about what "extra value" they may be looking at when they look at a piece of property.
"(This is) the value of the history that is ours as a community and that brings a million visitors to Chattanooga each year," she said.