By Gino Blefari
This week my travels found me in Chattanooga, TN, for a visit with Vanessa Mercer and Ben, Karen and Byron Kelly, along with their entire Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Realty Center team. I had a fantastic time speaking to these professionals and left Tennessee invigorated by their energy and enthusiasm.
From my brief visit, I can tell you the people in Chattanooga are wonderful and just as charming as the location itself: Chattanooga is the fourth-largest city in Tennessee, a place where countryside meets commerce in green, rolling hilltops and high rises set among the broad bends of the Tennessee River.
Recently, Chattanooga has been on the minds of Americans nationwide as we grieve for the four U.S. marines and a sailor whose lives were taken there during a July 16 attack. And while we continue to remember these brave soldiers, along with two more wounded by gunfire, we should also remember—now more than ever—the rich history of Chattanooga and its legacy of reconciliation, recovery and hope.
During the Civil War, Chattanooga was widely considered “the gateway to the deep South,” a strategic municipality that, once conquered, could lead to the end of a brutal war. But even after the Union army gained a stronghold in Chattanooga, after the last of the gun powder cleared or the Emancipation Proclamation was declared, the heavy toll of the Civil War remained.
In the mid-1860s, commemorative campaigns to memorialize Civil War soldiers were well underway and local associations began to form from the likes of ex-Confederate and Union militia who appreciated that no matter which side a soldier represented, the sorrow of mourning and loss was universally shared. In time, this widespread desire to venerate the fallen—and repair a once-broken union—translated into a movement to build national military parks. In 1890, the U.S. Congress’ War Department administration approved the creation of the first Civil War national military park in Chickamaunga and Chattanooga. Here’s how the founding veterans envisioned this park:
“There will be no place here for the gaudy display of rich equipages and show of wealth; no place for lovers to bide tryst; no place for pleasure-seekers or loungers. The hosts that in the future come to the grand Park will come rather with feelings of awe or reverence. Here their better natures will be aroused; here they will become imbued with grand and lofty ideas; with courage and patriotism; with devotion and duty and love of country.”
– The Society of the Army of the Cumberland, Twenty-Third Reunion, Chickamaunga Park
So, what’s the message? From tragedy springs hope, along with a renewed spirit of collaboration and compassion. This is evident in the Chattanooga Military Park I had the good fortune of visiting yesterday, as every structure and statue serves to remind us not of what we’ve lost but of what, through valiant efforts, we’ve had the opportunity to gain.