Chattanooga, Tennessee

August 2014

During my visit to Knoxville it was highly recommended that I make a stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee for a few days. Being one to not pass up a good recommendation, I figured, why the hell not? I was aiming for Huntsville, Alabama so Chattanooga made a good stopover point.

Harrison Bay State Park

I decided on Harrison Bay State Park on the Tennessee River just north of Chattanooga as the place to park my house while I was in the area. After checking out the online reservation situation, I figured I could just show up and didn’t have to reserve ahead of time. Sure enough, I easily got a spot for 3 nights in Loop A, which is newly renovated. There are four areas total, but Loop A is by far the nicest. The other loops (128 RV sites total) all are showing their age, which is not a surprise because this is Tennessee’s oldest state park. Originally developed as a Tennessee Valley Authority recreation demonstration area in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp, this park has been around a while.

Harrison Bay State Park has a 198 slip marina and a nifty 4.5 mile hiking/biking loop, as well as plenty of other roads and such that I was able to get a good bike ride or two in while I was there. Located just a little bit north of Chattanooga, I was able to hit all the major spots with a 20-30 minute drive, so I was a happy camper (literally).

Volkswagen Factory Tour

Sometime during the drive from Knoxville to Chattanooga I remembered that there was the one and only Volkswagen factory in the US located in Chattanooga. When I arrived at the state park, one of the first things I did after setting up was I hopped online to see if they had tours. Sure enough, factory tours are available. Unlike the Corvette factory tour I did in Kentucky that allowed online registration, VW’s tour has you fill out a form and email or fax it in. I wasn’t too hopeful that they could get me in with such short notice, but sure enough I heard back from them the next morning and I was scheduled for a tour. Sweet!

The Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant has been producing vehicles for just 3 years, so it is shiny new and looks it. It was an interesting comparison of the Corvette factory which seemed, well, older (oddly enough). VW currently only produces the Passat at this plant, cranking out around 650 a day. Another contrast of the VW tour versus the Corvette one is that at Corvette we walked all around the factory. At VW they drive you around in carts. Each cart seats 4 people and has a (European) Passat interior, which was kinda nifty. The tour guide sits right behind the driver, facing backwards – towards the tour attendees.

A similarity to the Corvette factory was that no photos are allowed. So you don’t get to see any of the cool robots or very neatly dressed (in uniforms) employees (which was a contrast from the Corvette employees who wore what they wanted and had a much different appearance).

This plant was the world’s first LEED Platinum automotive manufacturing plant. In other words, VW invested a lot to make sure their plant is as environmentally friendly as possible. For a vehicle manufacturer that is. Which, by nature, is gonna be a wee bit less environmentally friendly then say, oh I don’t know, a natural forest where people go to pick wild mushrooms (bad comparison?).

Somehow I lucked out and there were only 3 people in my tour group, which the tour guide said was extremely odd. Apparently a small group is maybe 10 people, so we got the personal treatment. I guess. Anyhow, I enjoyed the approximately 90 minute tour. Now I have 2 automotive factories under my belt and am becoming a seasoned professional. Or at least a wannabe.

Lookout Mountain

My cousin recommended some good hiking trails on Lookout Mountain, which offers great views of the Chattanooga Valley. Being the hiker that I am, I threw on my flip-flops (OK, maybe I didn’t think that one through very well) and headed to the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway to take the mile ride to the top. Billed as one of the steepest passenger railways in the world, it has a maximum grade of 72.7%. Trust me, this is steep. Damn steep! And a bit unnerving. Though I was bothered by it only going up. Down wasn’t an issue. Strange.

At the top of the mountain I walked (almost said hiked, but I was wearing flip-flops after all) the few blocks to the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Park, which is part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. The Battle of Lookout Mountain took place on November 24, 1863 when Union forces succeeded in pushing Confederate forces from this strategic point that towered 1,800 feet over the Tennessee River and the Union held town of Chattanooga.

After the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, Union forces retreated to Chattanooga where they regrouped. During this regrouping they were constantly harassed by Confederate forces who held the high ground over the area at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. After receiving reinforcements the Union forces decided to do something about the pesky rebels and started at Lookout Mountain where they drove the Confederates off the hill and back to Missionary Ridge where they were defeated the next day during the Battle of Missionary Ridge.

Both the Battle of Lookout Mountain and the Battle of Missionary Ridge were part of the Battles for Chattanooga which resulted in the Union defeating the Confederates and allowed the Union forces complete control of the Chattanooga area, also known as the Gateway to the South. This lead to the Atlanta Campaign which was the Union push into the Confederate heartland. Pretty much the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

I wandered around the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Park and enjoyed the great views of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. It was very simple to see why this was such a strategic point. I also saw those trails that my cousin spoke of, but due to my lack of planning (flip-flops? What in the hell was I thinking?) I only imagined how nice the hikes would be. So I wandered back to the Incline Railway and enjoyed the trip (straight) down the mountain.

Fun Fact: The entrance to the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Park (Point Park) was build by the US Army Corp of Engineers in 1905 and is a castle – or their symbol. It is the largest Army Corp symbol in the world. I had no idea about this when I was there but was a bit perplexed why the entrance was a castle. That ‘splains that!

Chickamauga Battlefield

When I decided to spend a few days in Chattanooga, I had no idea it was the site of a couple of pivotal Civil War battles. I had been wanting to see some of these battlefields so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out about the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. I visited the Chickamauga Battlefield the morning I was leaving the Chattanooga area, so I got up early as I had no idea what to expect. Apparently I was doing the Battles of Chattanooga in reverse order, but that’s what one gets when one doesn’t plan ahead.

I rolled into the Chickamauga Battlefield before the visitor center opened, so I was on my own. Fortunately they have a well marked 7 mile driving tour and you could get audio details of various sites via cellphone. And there are 705 commemorative features (monuments, tablets and signage) so that one could get a very good idea of what happened there.

There are literally hundreds of monuments – some small, some very large – all over the place designating where units on both sides were during particular moments of the battle. Some were very easy to see as they were right along the road. Others were deep in the woods and you had to go looking for them. Again, I came not so prepared by wearing flip-flops (sigh, when will I ever learn?), but still managed to find some of the hidden markers.

The Battle of Chickamauga took place September 19-20, 1863 and veterans started placing the commemorative features 30 years later. The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park was the first of 4 National Military Parks (Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg), is the largest of the 4 and served as the model for the future parks. It is the first one that I have visited (by accident apparently), so I guess I picked the right one to start with. What planning! 🙂

OK, the short scoop on this battle. The Union Army got hammered here. The Battle of Chickamauga was the worst Union defeat in the Western Theater during the Civil War and had the second highest number of casualties (following the Battle of Gettysburg). Not a happy place back during the war. Not that there were many happy places.

The number of men involved on both sides of this battle boggle my mind. The Union Army had about 60,000 men and the Confederate Army had about 65,000. There were almost 35,000 casualties total. I can’t even begin to imagine what happened there over the course of 2 days.

I drove the entire 7 mile tour route and got out at many of the stops to read and reflect. I stood in  a field where there supposedly so many bodies on the ground that you could walk from one end of the field to the other without touching the ground. That gives me shivers thinking about that. Warfare back then was a very up close and personal event. Very different than today. And something I have a hard time comprehending.

So after the massive Union defeat, they were pushed back to Chattanooga, which they held, until the Battle of Lookout Mountain (see above).

Chattanooga Wrap-up

My visit to Chattanooga was filled with surprises. I unexpectedly toured the VW factory and stumbled across the location of a couple of major Civil War battles. Imagine what I could find if I actually did some planning in my trips? Nah, what fun would that be?

I also toured around the actual city of Chattanooga via car. Ate at a couple of great restaurants and met some cool people. Experiencing the joys of travel.

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