Our County: Civil War history brings in the tourist dollars
by D. Gary Davis
Sep 17, 2013 | 1318 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With the exception of the commonwealth of Virginia, Tennessee has more Civil War sites than any other state in the union. This has given rise to a Heritage Tourism Industry that generates $16 billion across the state and more than $100 million annually in Bradley County.

Tennessee was a secessionist state with strong Union loyalties. Throughout the war these loyalties divided our cities, which were held by both Union and Confederate troops. More than 1,462 Civil War battles were fought in Tennessee, at least one in each of the state’s 95 counties. Today the entire state is designated by Congress as a Civil War National Heritage Area.

In this 150th anniversary year of the Civil War, communities across Tennessee are taking the opportunity to highlight their role in the war and educate the public about this key event in American history which changed the face of our nation forever.

The state’s Civil War Trail stretches from Memphis to Tri-Cities and includes such famous battle sites as Shiloh, Chattanooga, Blountville, Hartsville and dozens more. There were skirmishes in Bradley County as Union and Confederate forces fought to control the Hiwassee River Bridge in Charleston and the railroad in Cleveland. Both Union and Confederate troops slept in Charleston’s Henegar House and Union General William T. Sherman used the house as his headquarters for a short time during the Union occupation of Charleston.

Many of these events are being commemorated in 2013 and a list of the activities and places of interest can be found at www.tnvacation.com/civil-war/. Some of the highlights for our area include the 150th Anniversary Re-enactment of the Battle of Chickamauga. It will take place Sept. 21-22 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. at 994 Daugherty Gap Road in Chickamauga, Ga. The 2013 Tennessee Signature Event will take place Oct. 9-12 at the Chattanooga Trade and Convention Center. The event is billed as the “Occupation and Liberation” symposium and will examine the battles, events and stories of the Civil War. Special programs also continue at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

Commemorative events are also scheduled in Bradley County and include living history demonstrations in Cleveland Oct. 4-5 and in Charleston Nov. 8-9. The Friday events are for fifth-grade students. Friday evening and Saturday events are open to the general public. The November events will focus on Sherman and his march to aid General Burnside in Longstreet’s siege of Knoxville. Sherman stopped to camp his troops in and around Charleston and the general stayed at the Henegar House while his troops camped in Walker Valley at the present-day Irwin home.

Families have always taken road trips to learn about American history. Civil War sites usually top the list of destinations. Bradley County has an important story to tell which should be of interest not only to Tennesseans young and old, but to tourists who visit our great state. When they follow the Civil War Trail they will find Bradley County listed in the trail brochure and on the website. The trail follows Interstate 75 and Bradley County is ideally located between the many sites in and around Chattanooga and others, such as the Niota Depot, Blountville, Knoxville and more. Our two Civil War gateway markers link Cleveland and Charleston to the trail and give visitors a reason to visit our community and perhaps stop at some of our restaurants and shops while they are here.

We don’t have an amusement park, a beach or other attractions usually associated with a family vacation. However, our county’s scenic beauty and unparalleled history provide tremendous opportunities for growth in our local tourism industry. We are proud of our partnerships with neighboring counties and the state to promote our region. By working together we reach more visitors and create incentives to encourage them to stay longer. This translates into a strong impact on our economy.

Telling our story is important to our heritage. Attracting visitors is important to our economy. When visitors learn about our area, they stop for lunch and fuel or even decide to make Bradley County their headquarters to see sites all around Southeast Tennessee. As the Chamber’s visitors guide says, we’re “in the middle of it all” when it comes to enjoying all that Southeast Tennessee has to offer.

Whether it is special events, outdoor beauty and adventure or American history, Bradley County is “Tennessee at its best.” I am thankful and humbled to call this wonderful place my home.