A "Magnificent" Respite from Carnage
Crawfish Spring was the first name given to the modern community Chickamauga, Georgia. Cherokees lived in this area before their forced removal in 1838, with their Chickamauga District courthouse located near the spring. In the 1840s an early white settler, James Gordon used enslaved African craftsmen to build an imposing two-story brick plantation house west of the spring, located today just across this highway. James Gordon's son, Clark stood on a large rock between the spring and the house to raise a company of local men for Confederate Service to defend their homeland from federal invasion.
Struggle came to Crawfish Spring in September 1863. On the 16th, Union Major General William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Cumberland, established his headquarters in the Gordon House. The summer had been extremely dry and the most reliable source of water in the area was Crawfish Spring. Colonial John P. Sanderson of Rosecrans' staff wrote in his diary, "the spring here is a magnificent one, affording an abundant supply, for man and beast of the entire army of cool, soft, delicious water." Thousands of canteens were filled from its water, including over 1,000 alone for the parched lips of the 39th Indiana Mounted Infantry after the first full days fighting on the 19th. For these reasons, the federal armies Medical Director, Dr. Glover Perin, also made Crawfish Spring his major hospital depot for the Battle of Chickamauga from September 18 through 20.
The house and several large tents were used, but many of the wounded lay outside. Every effort was made to place the men under shelter, and to provide them with cover, as the nights were cold. When this could not be done, the men were arranged in rows with lines of campfires built at their feet. As thousands of other Federal soldiers marched north pass Crawfish Spring toward the battle, the hospitals became exposed to attack. Many men were hastily evacuated late on the 20th, but by 5 pm Confederate Major Joseph Wheeler's Calvary captured the hospitals, with 20 wagons of medicines and camp equipage, plus over 1,000 wounded federal soldiers.
On September 20, 1889, thousands of veterans from both armies, including General Rosecrans and former Confederate Major General (and then Georgia Governor) John B. Gordon met at Crawfish Spring in a spirit of reconciliation and friendship. After barbecue and patriotic speeches the men visited with comrades, and got acquainted with former enemies. Together they walked over the battlefield, recalling the bloody days they had shared so long ago. They sought out places where friends had died, and recalled their own actions during the desperate fighting. This land is sacred to the veterans, thus talk began about erecting monuments to permanently mark various actions on the field. Their reunion furthered efforts already underway to make the entire battlefield a park to honor the courage and valor shown here in 1863. On August 19 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed a bill establishing America's First National Military Park.