Sunday, September 20, 2009

At Tunnel Hill, rising above the rain

For organizers of the Battle of Tunnel Hill re-enactments over the weekend, there was light at the end of the rain-soaked tunnel.

Heavy rain and the ensuing mud cut deeply into the number of spectators and re-enactors at the 16th annual event in this town 5 miles north of Dalton.

Still, said Janet Cochran of the Tunnel Hill Historical Foundation, those who did come -- including 1,100 students on Friday -- learned a good deal about local history and the 1864 Civil War battles in the area. Visitors were able to visit the camps and buy goods from about a dozen sutlers.

“In light of the weather,” Cochran said, “we were very pleased.”

The Tunnel Hill re-enactment is usually held the weekend after Labor Day. It was moved back two weeks this year to accommodate a larger event. Organizers said from now on they will stick to the regular schedule.

The foundation had hoped for about 500 re-enactors. Less than half that number attended. The rain kept away hundreds of spectators, though the faithful toted umbrellas and slogged through the mud and wet fields.

Re-enacting units included the 125th Ohio, 35th Tennessee, 16th Georgia, 31st Alabama, 23rd Kentucky and the 123rd New York.

They gave a spirited demonstration Sunday afternoon. Smoke rose above skirmishes and battle lines. Soldiers yelled taunts at the opposing forces.

In Sunday’s action, Federal units eventually pushed Confederate forces back to a fort.

Before Sunday’s battle, I took a walk through the 1,477-foot namesake tunnel. Guide Steve Hall did an excellent job describing the construction of the tunnel, which saw its first rail service in 1850.

I saw drill marks left by the Irish workers, who used black powder to blast through the limestone. Portions of the tunnel have rock walls, while other sections had larger stones. Brick masonry covered much of the vaulted ceiling.

Hall showed me brick sections where locomotives scraped by. We could also see some soot in the tunnel.

The tunnel, which is open to visitors at the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center, closed in 1928. A replacement tunnel nearby is used by CSX, which operates rail service between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn.

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