Headquarters and Hospital
— Chattanooga Campaign —
After the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans retreated to Federal-occupied Chattanooga, a strategically vital rail center, where Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg laid siege from Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant took command in October and began his efforts to break the siege. Bragg detached forces under Gen. James Longstreet to attack Knoxville as a diversion. After Gen. William T. Sherman reinforced Grant in November, the Federals attacked the heights and Bragg retreated. The Union army held the city for the rest of the war.
On January 21, 1861, Jefferson Davis, traveling home to Mississippi after resigning from the United States Senate, stayed at the Crutchfield House. It was Chattanooga's first major railroad hotel, having opened in 1856. Located in the city's center across from the Union Depot, the hotel served travelers on both the Western and Atlantic and the Nashville andChattanooga Railroads. It was a focus of Chattanooga's bustling economic and social activity. Davis delivered a speech there on the sectional crisis described by others as brief and moderate. As he left the room, William Crutchfield, brother of hotel owner Thomas Crutchfield and an "uncompromising Union man," made a heated reply in which he called Davis a traitor and denounced secession. Davis returned to find pistols drawn and tensions high. Seeking satisfaction, Davis asked if Crutchfield was "responsible and reputable." No duel took place, but the incident was reported as an example of the tensions that tore the nation apart.
During 1862, the hotel served as a Confederate headquarters for the garrison in and around Chattanooga. The commander, Gen. Samuel Jones, turned the hotel into a hospital in the winter. When Union troops occupied the town on September 9, 1863, the 92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry planted its regimental colors "on the third story of the Crutchfield House, the first to float over the evacuated town." During the occupation, the hotel served as hospital for Union soldiers wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga.
The Crutchfield House survived the war but burned in 1867. In 1926, Dr and Mrs. John T. Read constructed the ten-story Georgian Revival-style Read House Hotel on the Crutchfield House hotel site in front of you.
Crutchfield House, 1864, seen behind the Adams Express Company building. The passenger depot is at left Courtesy Library of Congress
Crutchfield House, ca. 1864 — Courtesy Chattanooga History Center
A visitor just before the war described a typical scene there: "The hotel swarmed with people arriving and departing with the trains, east, west, north, and south, hurrying to and fro with eager and excited looks, as if lives, fortunes, and sacred honor hung upon the events of the next hour."