Jim Szyjkowski, cultural resource manager at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, said he discovered the tablets about seven years ago in the park's storage facility. He began researching the origin of the tablets and discovered they were installed along what is now known as Old Lafayette Road, by veterans of the Battle of Chickamauga, sometime between 1890-95, during the construction of the military park. He said they were removed from Old Lafayette Road when U.S. Hwy. 27 was relocated in 1935.
In my view we restored a little piece of history," he said. "The veterans obviously thought these tablets were important to the overall understanding of the battle. It is vital to preserve these types of cultural resources."
Szyjkowski said the tablets were actually positioned outside the 5,200-acre park because the veterans originally envisioned the park covering more area. The resource officer said many people mistakenly assume the battle was fought only within today's park confines, but fighting in the Battle of Chickamauga stretched as far as Missionary Ridge.
The National Park Service refurbished and repainted the markers, and because the tablets' original positions are outside park borders, he enlisted the help of the City of Fort Oglethorpe and the Fort Oglethorpe Downtown Development Authority to restore the historical markers to Old Lafayette Road.
Szyjkowski said the six tablets include commemorations of several Confederate military forces, such as Brigadier Gen. Frank C. Armstrong's Division, Brigadier Gen. John Pegram's Division, and Nathan Bedford Forrest's Cavalry of the Army of Tennessee.
But one of the most interesting is a tablet titled "First Firing on Chickamauga Battlefield," Szyjkowski said. According to the tablet's inscription, around 4 a.m. on Sept. 11, 1863, Union Army Capt. John McCook was fired upon by an outpost of Forrest's Cavalry. The tablet reads: "This was the first point of contact or collision on the Chickamauga Battlefield."
The historical marker proclaims shots fired at that position on Old Lafayette Road came a full week before the actual documented battle Sept. 18-19, 1863, when one quarter of the nearly 125,000 Confederate and Union troops engaged - or 34,624 men - were killed, wounded, captured or missing.
Park officials in October 2001 restored 18 granite and limestone monuments also from the 1890s to their original locations inside the park after they were moved in 1966 to make way for a proposed four-lane highway along the park's western border.
Debi Wilson, chairwoman of the Downtown Development Authority, said many city officials, especially Public Works Director Jeff Long, were instrumental in returning the historical pieces to their original locations on Old Lafayette Road. The public works department had to make sure there were no underground utilities that could be damaged or right-of-way issues created before they dug holes and mounted the tablets, she said.
Wilson said the restoration project also tied into one of the development authority's primary goals of placing markers to identify notable sights throughout the Barnhardt Circle historic district and Fort Oglethorpe's oldest neighborhoods.
"We would like to make that area more entertaining for visitors and locals to try and create an economic resurgence there," she said. "We would like to get more monuments in place and develop a tour brochure that includes a walking or bicycle route."
Wilson said the development authority is working to join forces with several other organizations in the Fort Oglethorpe area such as the Post Community Association, Historic Preservation Society, Hutcheson Medical Center and both the City of Fort Oglethorpe and Catoosa County in beautifying and getting the most out of the valuable asset that is downtown Fort Oglethorpe.
The Downtown Development Authority meets on the third Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Fort Oglethorpe City Hall. Anyone interested in joining the development authority or helping promote and improve the city's historic district is asked to call Debi Wilson at (706) 866-6582