Monday, September 23, 2013

Chickamauga canister tree conveys horror

"Bullets, fragments of shell, grape and canister sing over and around, louder than songs of Southern katydids ... canister are cutting swaths of humans in the kneeling rows ... the blood-soaked earth is being dug up in chunks by ripping balls." 

This account by a soldier who took part in the Battle of Chickamauga 150 years ago last week captures the murderous efficiency of canister, an anti-personnel round fired from a cannon. The round resembled a coffee can and contained small, round, iron balls packed in sawdust and used for defending against infantry attack.

They were used throughout the Battle of Chickamauga, including on advancing Confederates at Snodgrass Hill. About 4,000 men died in the three-day battle, which ended in a Confederate victory. Union forces, however, broke out of nearby Chattanooga, Tenn., two months later and began their successful Atlanta Campaign.

On Saturday, while returning from a morning skirmish at the Battle of Chickamauga re-enactment in North Georgia, we stopped by the Gordon-Lee Mansion in the town of Chickamauga, Ga.

The stately home served as a hospital and headquarters for Union Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans, who fled for Chattanooga during a furious Confederate assault on the battlefield a few miles north of town.

One stop in the house tour is a museum that features military artifacts, weapons and news accounts. Of particular note is the remains of a tree cut at the Chickamauga battlefield in 1900. (Click photos to enlarge)

It contains multiple chunks of canister and is a chilling reminder of the helpless condition of soldiers who had no time to get out of the way of these deadly projectiles.

The home's parlor was used by Rosecrans to plot strategy. A portrait above the fireplace in that room is of Gordon Lee, the most famous resident of the house, which was completed in 1847 by James Gordon.

Both armies occupied the mansion during the Civil War.

The downstairs library -- used as an operating room for Union troops -- features bloodstained floors now covered by rugs.

"Amputated limbs were thrown out the French doors to waiting wagons," a tour brochure says.

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