Ask Hamilton – Poe’s Tavern and the Chickamauga Battlefield

Chattanooga Area Trivia and Tales

Good Day Chattanooga!

Hamilton Bush here once again with tidbits of local history and lore. Now, dear reader, as autumn approaches, your faithful scribe would offer a point to ponder, short and sweet. Along with the splendor of the season, crisp afternoons in the sunshine, leaves of red and gold, apple cider, and “The Great Pumpkin,” another momentous election is upon us. On Tuesday, November 6, voters will elect individuals to public offices across this great land. The most prominent of these offices to be filled, as you are no doubt aware, is that of President of the United States. So, fellow citizens, the opportunity for your voice to be heard is at hand. Without being preachy, Hamilton Bush urges you to get out and vote.

 

Dear Hamilton Bush,

I heard recently that the city of Soddy-Daisy has supported the reconstruction of the historic Poe’s Tavern, the site of the first county seat in Hamilton County. Can you tell me about Poe’s Tavern and how it came to play a prominent role in local history?

Regards,
Do You Know Poe?

 

Dear Know,

Pioneer resident Hasten Poe, a veteran of the War of 1812, built his rough-hewn homeplace and tavern building in 1817 in the shadow of Walden’s Ridge, when many of the early settlers of Hamilton County lived in the areas of Sale Creek, Poe’s Crossroads (present-day Daisy), and near the farmstead of Asahel Rawlings at Dallas. Poe’s Tavern attracted regular patronage, so it was a logical gathering place for meetings and court proceedings when Hamilton County was first organized in 1819.

Later, Poe’s Tavern and the surrounding grounds served as a way station during the Cherokee Removal and the Trail of Tears in the 1830s, and later as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. The original structure was razed in 1915, after the growth of Hamilton County and its government had already caused the county seat to be relocated to Harrison in 1840, and then to Chattanooga in 1870. The foundation of the original tavern remained, and a house was constructed on the building’s footprint.

A century after the original building disappeared, Soddy-Daisy resident Bill Carney, director of the Chattanooga Woodworking Academy, approached the city government with a proposal to construct a historically accurate replica of Poe’s Tavern near the Soddy-Daisy city hall, only a block from the original site of the tavern. The city of Soddy-Daisy invested $50,000 in the project and pledged to develop interest and financial support from the private sector. In March of 2011, Carney and a group of his woodworking students began the project. True to his initial premise to build an accurate replica of the tavern, Carney crawled under the modern house to examine the original tavern’s foundation and take its dimensions. Hand tools were used throughout construction, and no electricity was connected to the facility. Hardware was fashioned to resemble the hinges and other fixtures of the period.

Today, the replica of Poe’s Tavern houses displays of artifacts, documents, photos and antiques celebrating local history, and the surrounding park includes a walking track, a large green space, and covered pavilions matching the design of the tavern. A grand opening celebration took place on the first of this month.

 

 

Dear Hamilton Bush,

I enjoy the open spaces of Chickamauga Battlefield immensely, especially during the summer and early fall. My dog and I take long walks, and the family sometimes packs a picnic lunch for a Sunday afternoon. I have always admired the grand architecture of the Wilder Tower. The steps to the top can leave me breathless, but I’ve always found the panoramic view is worth the effort. What’s the story behind this monument?

Sincerely,
A Monumental View

 

Dear View,

Standing 85 feet tall with a 16×16-foot base, Wilder Tower is located on a prominent hill near the site of the Widow Glenn’s House, a cabin used as headquarters for Union general William Rosencrans during the great Civil War Battle of Chickamauga occurring September 19-20, 1863.

Colonel John T. Wilder, the tower’s namesake, was already acquainted with Chattanooga, having led a contingent of Union artillerymen in shelling the city from Stringer’s Ridge the previous month. However, it was on this field in North Georgia that Wilder and his “Lightning Brigade” achieved lasting fame.

When Wilder and his brigade— including the 17th and 72nd Indiana and the 92nd, 98th, and 103rd Illinois Regiments—came to Chickamauga, they had only recently been supplied with horses by their commander, quickly converting the troops from infantry to cavalry. Wilder had also equipped the troops with the new seven-shot Spencer repeating rifle. A saying emerged that the Spencer “could be loaded on Sunday and fired all week.”

Well, the story goes that on that September day at Chickamauga, the Union battle line disintegrated near the Brotherton House. But Wilder’s brigade stood near the site of the present-day tower and fired a tremendous volume of bullets at the onrushing Confederates, helping to slow the Rebel advance so that a patchwork Union defensive line could be established on nearby Snodgrass Hill.

After the war, sentiment ran strong to commemorate the exploits of the Lightning Brigade. Plans for the tower were drawn by 1892, and two-thirds of the tower was built the following year, funded by private sources including many of Wilder’s former troops. While a financial panic in 1883 caused work to cease temporarily, work resumed in 1897.

In 1904, workers finished the last part of the tower—the spiral staircase to the top that remains open to the public today. Only on occasion has the tower been closed for renovation or repair. One notable closure occurred in 1915, when the structure sustained damage from a lightning strike during a thunderstorm.

As for John T. Wilder, the Union officer relocated to Chattanooga after the Civil War, established the Roane Iron Works, and became a successful businessman. Oh yes, and he served briefly as mayor of Chattanooga during 1871-72, resigning when he discovered that the demands of his business interests were too taxing. He died in 1917 and was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery.