With the passing of the anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, here’s my In Harm’s Way/Collateral Damage article on the Snodgrass Cabin, which ran in Civil War Times magazine in 2010. This is the article as submitted – some changes were made to the final product.
The fighting between Union Major General William Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland and Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee reached a climax on the farm of George Washington Snodgrass and the series of hills known as Horseshoe Ridge on September 20th, 1863. While the story of how Union Major General George H. Thomas made his stand there and earned his nickname, The Rock of Chickamauga, is well known, that of the family of those displaced by the fighting is less so.
G. W. Snodgrass left Virginia and came to Georgia prior to 1843. Sometime between 1848 and 1851, he moved from Chattanooga to Walker County, and the deed for his purchase of the farm from Sammuel Igon was recorded on September 8, 1855. The ground was far from prime farmland, dotted as it was with hills and ravines. The farm’s cabin was about a half mile from the north-south LaFayette Road, accessed by a farm lane running north from the east-west Vittetoe Road, and sat near the top of Snodgrass Hill which, while wooded, was open with good visibility.
The log cabin was a “dogtrot” design, two structures connected by a covered breezeway. The compound also included a smokehouse, and was surrounded by a split-rail fence. A small peach orchard grew on the west side of the cabin. From the house site, a ridge spur runs north, into what was the Snodgrass cornfield. Other farm buildings on either side of the lane included a barn and servants’ quarters. A small family cemetery sat at the top of Snodgrass Hill. James T. Snodgrass, who died at seven months in 1861, was buried there.
Using the 1860 census as a basis, G. W. Snodgrass was about 53 years old in September 1863, though some accounts say he was 60, and daughter Mary Jane recalled that he was 71 when he died in 1890, which would make him about 44 in at the time of the battle. Twice widowed, he lived on the farm with his third wife, Elizabeth, and seven children, ranging in age from four year old Martha Ellen to crippled, adult son John. Another son, Charles, had left to serve in the Confederate army.
Years later Julia Kittie Snodgrass, who was six at the time of the battle, recalled hearing the sounds of fighting at Alexander’s Bridge on Friday, Sept. 18th. Her father stubbornly refused to leave his home that day, but as the bullets flew more thickly on the 19th – some even penetrating the cabin’s roof – Mr. Snodgrass determined it was time to leave. About 3:00 PM, the family headed northwest and camped in a wooded ravine. They stayed there for about eight days, and while they were without shelter and had little food, they didn’t lack company. Also taking refuge in the area were other area families, some of whose properties played prominent roles in the battle: Brothertons, Poes, Kellys, Brocks, McDonalds, and Mullises. As the fighting died down on Sunday, September 20th, the refugees heard the strains of a southern tune being played by a band, which they happily interpreted as confirmation of Confederate victory.
Many of these families also had sons in the Confederate army, most notably in Company I, 2nd Battalion, 1st Confederate Regiment, which was part of Brigadier General John Jackson’s brigade of Major General Benjamin Cheatham’s Division in Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Corps of the Army of Tennessee. This unit’s rolls included members of the Snodgrass, Brotherton, McDonald, Kelly, Brock and Dyer families, and the regiment’s major was James Clarke Gordon, who swore them into service in 1861 and was a son of the owner of the Gordon mansion at nearby Crawfish Springs. So, added to the hardships of lack of food resulting from two foraging armies, and homes destroyed or otherwise occupied by wounded soldiers prohibiting the return of their rightful owners was the uncertainty of the wellbeing of loved ones involved in the fighting.
The Snodgrass cabin and outbuildings had been used to treat wounded, mostly Union soldiers, during and after the battle. When the family returned to their home eight days after the battle, they found it “a gory shambles”. While the wounded had been removed, most of the family’s possessions were gone, bloodstained, or in pieces. The damage was so extensive they were forced to relocate to a campsite near Ringgold, Georgia. They didn’t return to their farm until the war was over.
Several accounts of the battle state that Charles Snodgrass died on or near his family’s homestead during the battle. However, Chickamauga historian and author David Powell’s research of Consolidated Service Records (CSR) indicates that Charles deserted in the summer of 1863 (one of at least four local men to take that route out of the unit), his name last appearing on the July/August roll. Union authorities took him into custody in Walker County and sent him to Louisville, and on December 28, 1863 he took an oath of allegiance to the Federal government. He was later released north of the Ohio River. While it’s not clear if he was present on the field during the battle, he almost certainly was not killed during it.
The cabin that stands on Snodgrass Hill today is not that which stood in 1863. As recently as 1935 Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park correspondence stated that the original structure still stood. But by 1953, the Superintendent determined that the cabin was constructed “some time after 1890”. In a 1959 letter the Acting Superintendent wrote that “[a]round 1900 the house was in such a dilapidated condition that it was taken down and reconstructed” and that “[i]t is probable that some of the logs in the old new building were taken from the original house.”
All trace of the hilltop cemetery has disappeared.
Thanks to Maps of Chickamauga author David Powell and Lee White of the National Parks Service for their assistance in the preparation of this article.