Orchard Knob Reservation is getting a facelift of sorts.
The wall encircling the two-block hilltop is being carefully restored as part of a project undertaken by a team from the masonry division of the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center.
The eight-person crew began working on Feb. 4 and is slated to finish by March 28.
Down to the mortar
The Orchard Knob Reservation, located on North Orchard Knob Avenue between Ivy Street and East Fourth Street, was selected by the staff at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park as a site in need of attention during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in Chattanooga.
The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park’s upcoming projects include rebuilding the William H. Lytle Monument, one of the cannonball pyramids on the Chickamauga Battlefield. Chief of Resource Management Jim Szyjkowski explained that, over time, the monument had been cannibalized to complete other, similar monuments, reducing it to a single level.
The park staff plans to partner with a local foundry to recreate the artillery shells and build the structure up to size. The tentative schedule is to begin work in late spring or early summer and rededicate the Lytle Monument in September.
Exhibition specialist and project leader Petey Bender explained that her crew has already conducted a mortar match. The test involves analyzing the original, turn-of-the-century mortar for color, texture, strength and the sand-to-mortar material composition.
The masons will also be cleaning the existing stone, replacing joints, and replacing missing or damaged capstones on the entire length of the wall.
“It’s actually serving as a retaining wall to hold the hill, so this is, remarkably, in wonderful shape,” Bender said. “The freezes and the hot weather can break down the joints. Most of [the damage] is with the capstones that have been pushed.”
Pointing to the sections of missing stones, she added, “Some people have helped themselves to the stones—the history buff who’d like to take a piece of history.”
The replacement stone has been sourced from a local quarry, much like the wall’s original limestone. Bender and her crew will be retooling the stone to replicate the stone face of the remaining stones, which is a fairly intricate process.
One mason can complete approximately two to three stones a day.
The Historical Preservation Training Center crew will solidify members’ skills in an upcoming training session.
Bender’s team travels to different military parks around the country to complete similar restoration projects. Currently, other crews are working in Raleigh, N.C., at a veteran cemetery and in Vicksburg, Miss., on several bronze monuments at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
A view from the top
Jim Ogden, historian for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, noted that the unassuming two-block area surround by houses is actually one of the most significant plots of land in the story of Chattanooga and the Civil War.
“The potential to understand the siege and battles from Orchard Knob is so great,” Ogden said. “It is an underappreciated point or place within the national military park, particularly relative to being able to take the view in and potentially understand what happened here.”
Orchard Knob Reservation, with its unparalleled views of the Tennessee River, Missionary Ridge, and Lookout and Signal mountains, served as a Confederate outpost during the Siege of Chattanooga, a target for the subsequent Union assault and then a Union command post.
The hilltop began as a main forward position for the Confederate Army. When the Union forces chose to advance in the activity that would become the Battle for Chattanooga, they took aim at the fortifications.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant then chose to center his command headquarters on the higher ground to better observe the progress of troops up Missionary Ridge.
The occupation of a formerly Confederate post presented a few challenges, however. Ogden explained that the original Southern fortifications had been facing west—the opposite direction for the Union’s purposes.
The Northern soldiers simply turned some of the structures around, as well as constructing new ones.
Segments of the earthworks have survived to this day: one near the Illinois Monument and another halfway down the park’s sloped area, near the mowed grass section.
Orchard Knob Reservation was created in 1893 when the federal government purchased the two-block area. By then, the city was on the fast track to become the Dynamo of Dixie.
Those spearheading the establishment of national military parks bought only a small area of the original Orchard Knob outpost but one with the best vantage point to ensure generations of visitors could imagine and reimagine what Confederate and Union soldiers saw that November in 1863.