Chattanooga: Cemeteries, not Choo-Choo’s

I stand stunned.

The Tennessee River at sunset brings Chattanooga and its hills to unexpected life.

Another surprise awaits on that opposite spit of land.

It’s a peninsula called Moccasin Bend, home to America’s very first Americans.

Twelve. Thousand. Years. Ago.

Can you comprehend that number better than I cannot?

These natives planted maize and corn, fished the river, and hunted small animals. Later came the Cherokee then Spanish explorers. The latter bore disease that decimated the original settlers.

Nowadays, Moccasin Bend holds title as the nation’s first and only National Archaeological District, maintained by the National Park Service.

The site, called “our most unique offering” by park rangers, remains under excavation for both its ancient burial mounds and artifacts from antiquity. Arrowheads are only the tip of this iceberg.

Make that peninsula, and yes, pun intended.

Site excavation work continues today. Neighbors include private homes, a golf course, police firing range, water treatment plant, and the state’s largest mental hospital.

Only in America do homeowners, golf balls, live bullets, stinky water, and the mentally ill romp among ancient arrowheads and old cemeteries.

From here, though, turn east to see another burial ground. It’s what delivered DH and me to Choo‐Choo‐Ville.

At the Chattanooga National Cemetery, we buried DH’s college roommate. Mike joins 50‐thousand other soldiers, and some prisoners of war, buried here.

These graves represent only a fraction of America’s war dead across 150+ years of armed conflict.

Holy ground:  consider that the picture captures only one hill of a rolling 121‐acre site. Even non‐patriots gasp at this view.

This Union cemetery came to life in Confederate territory because, as the site superintendent explained to us, “34,000 bodies after a single fight — the Battle of Chattanooga in 1863 — means you find land where you can. And fast.”

As the Civil War raged, survivors buried soldiers wherever cemetery space could be located.

That’s how Anthony Osterdock landed in Chattanooga National Cemetery.

A native Frenchman who enlisted from Indiana, Osterdock died in Virginia’s Battle of Piedmont.

We say we’re well‐traveled and living globally?

Osterdock’s was one of a long row of graves that carried the same date of death. A pattern repeated across too many rows of this cemetery.

A few rows later, I spotted this one‐name tombstone.

Desperate for a break from the afternoon drumbeat of intense emotions, I whispered to myself: so, girl, who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?

I laughed then remembered where I stood. Hand clapped over my mouth, another voice whispered.

Mike would understand. 

A soft smile filled my lips.

Levity heals on hard days.

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