The fighting between William Rosecrans’ Union Army of the Cumberland and Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee reached a climax on the farm of George Washington Snodgrass and the hills dubbed Horseshoe Ridge on September 20, 1863. How Union Major General George H. Thomas earned his nickname, the “Rock of Chickamauga,” by making a stand at the farm is a well-known story, but what about the family that was displaced by the fighting?
George W. Snodgrass left Virginia for Tennessee prior to 1843. Sometime between 1848 and 1851, he moved from Chattanooga to Walker County, Georgia; the deed for his purchase of the farm from Sammuel Igon was recorded on September 8, 1855. It was far from prime farmland, dotted with hills and ravines. The cabin was about a half-mile from the north-south LaFayette Road, accessed by a lane running north from the east-west Vitte toe Road, and sitting near the top of Snodgrass Hill.
The log cabin was a “dogtrot” design, two structures connected by a covered breezeway. The compound also included a smokehouse, and was surrounded by a splitrail fence. A peach orchard grew on the cabin’s west side, and a ridge spur ran north, into what was a cornfield. Other farm buildings on either side of the lane included a barn and servants’ quarters. A family cemetery sat atop Snodgrass Hill, where James T. Snodgrass, just seven months old when he died in 1861, was buried.
Based on the 1860 census, G.W. Snodgrass was about 53 in September 1863, though some accounts say he was 60—and daughter Mary Jane recalled that he was 71 when he died in 1890, which would make him about 44 at the time of the battle. Twice widowed, he lived on the farm with his third wife, Elizabeth, and seven children, ranging in age from 4-year-old Martha Ellen to a crippled adult son, John. Another son, Charles, had left to serve in the Confederate Army.
Years later Julia Kittie Snodgrass, who was 6 at the time of the battle, recalled hearing the fighting at Alexander’s Bridge on September 18. Her father refused to leave his home that day, but as the bullets flew more thickly on the 19th, with some penetrating his roof, he gave in. Around 3 p.m. the family headed northwest and camped in a wooded ravine, where they stayed for about eight days. Though they had little food, they did not lack company. Nearby were other families whose property played prominent roles in the battle: the Brothertons, Poes, Kellys, Brocks, McDon alds and Mullises. As the fighting ended on Sep tember 20, the refugees heard the strains of a Southern tune being played—which they happily interpreted as confirmation of a Rebel victory.
Many of them had sons in the Southern army, most notably in the Army of Tennessee (Company I, 2nd Battalion, First Confederate Regiment—part of Jackson’s Brigade, Cheat – ham’s Division, Polk’s Corps). That unit’s rolls included members of the Snodgrass, Brotherton, McDonald, Kelly, Brock and Dyer families, and the regiment’s major was James Clarke Gordon, whose father owned the notable Gordon Mansion in nearby Crawfish Springs. So, added to their other hardships, many refugees were concerned about the welfare of their loved ones in the field.
The Snodgrass House and outbuildings were used to treat the wounded, mostly Union men. When the family returned home, they found it “a gory shambles.” The wounded had been moved, but most of the family’s possessions were gone, bloodstained or in pieces. The damage was so extensive that they were forced to relocate to a campsite near Ring gold, Ga. They didn’t return home until after the war.
Several accounts state that Charles Snodgrass died on or near his family’s homestead during the battle. But research by Chickamauga historian David Powell indicates that Charles deserted in the summer of 1863 (one of at least four local men to take that route); his name last appeared on the July-August roll. Union authorities took him into custody in Walker County and sent him to Louisville, and on December 28, 1863, he took an oath of allegiance to the U.S. government. He was later released north of the Ohio River. While it’s not clear if he was present at the battle, he almost certainly was not killed during it.
The cabin on Snodgrass Hill today is not the same one as in 1863. As recently as 1935, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park correspondence stated that it was the original structure, but by 1953 the battlefield superintendent had determined the cabin was constructed “some time after 1890.” In a 1959 letter the acting superintendent wrote that “[a]round 1900 the house was in such a dilapidated condition that it was taken down and reconstructed” and that “[i]t is probable that some of the logs in the new building were taken from the original house.” All traces of the family cemetery atop Snodgrass Hill have long since disappeared.
The author would like to express his thanks to David Powell, author of The Maps of Chickamauga, and Lee White of the National Park Service for their assistance with this article.
Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.