The Chickamauga Battlefield. It is a January day, the leaves are dead. The sky looks like dull aircraft aluminum.

This U.S. national park sits in the northwest corner of Georgia, at the base of Lookout Mountain. Technically, we are in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. But most people will tell you this is Chattanooga.

The visitor’s center looks like a Greek-Revival mansion with big columns and a gracious porch. If it weren’t for the Columbiad cannons parked out front, you’d never guess this was a Civil War memorial.

Inside the welcome center are tourists. It’s a weekend. And people visit national parks on weekends. There are different languages being spoken all around me.

The clerk in the giftshop tells me Chickmauga is an international tourist hotspot.

“I’ve probably met people from every country,” the clerk says. “You can always spot the foreigners, they’re the ones who say please and thank you.”

I meet a couple from France. They appear to be having a marital argument in rapid-fire French. The female of the couple asks if I am American. I tell her yes, I am. She asks if I can settle their argument.

“Was Elvis from California?” she says. “My husband says he was.”

Far be it from me to interject into a matrimonial spat. But duty calls. “No, ma’am,” I say. “Elvis was not from California.”

She shoves her husband and says, “See? I told you he was from Milwaukee.”

We learn a lot on our tour. The American Civil War, a ranger tells us, is the most written about subject in the world, second only to writings about Jesus. There are throngs of books, monographs and dissertations written about this subject. Daily.

To give you an idea of what that means: There is approximately one book or dissertation written about the Civil War for every 5 people who died in the war itself.

Chickamauga turns out to be your typical National Park Service operation. Friendly staff. Great educational movies. Knowledgeable rangers. Clean bathrooms.

And yet, I find myself wondering why, as an American, I don’t remember learning about Chickamauga in grade school.

We memorized the Gettysburg Address. We learned about Sherman’s March. The Emancipation Proclamation. We learned how to square dance, for crying out loud. Why didn’t we learn about Chickamauga?

One park ranger explains, “Don’t feel bad, lots of Americans never learned about Chickamauga.”

And yet this was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War, second only to Gettysburg.

Approximately 35,000 died here. I am no historian, but that’s a lot of men.

It’s always odd visiting national cemeteries and battlefields. The mood is usually all over the map.

Sometimes you’ll see some people behaving reverent and solemn. Other people will be laughing, snapping selfies, pushing strollers, or eating picnics. I suppose there is no right or wrong way to behave. But I can’t seem to forget the thousands of bodies beneath my feet.

I meet a couple from Ireland standing before a headstone, hands folded against laps. Heads bowed.

“I lost a relative over here,” says the Irishman. “On my father’s side.”

I meet a man and his son from Korea. He has studied the Civil War extensively. He even wrote a dissertation on the war in college. He wrote his work in both French and English. Classic underachiever.

“Two percent of the American population lost their lives in the Civil War,” he says. “If the same percentage of Americans died today, the number would be over 6 million.”

He also tells me that the number of casualties in the Battle of Antietam alone, in 1862, were four times as many as those killed in Normandy in 1944. More people died in the Battle or Sharpsburg than died in all other wars fought by the United States in the 19th century combined.

I meet an American teenage girl who is having her portrait made on a tombstone. She poses on the grave like a centerfold, passionately pretending to kiss a statue of a fallen soldier.

Later, I meet four American college boys from Ohio, playing football in an open battlefield where kids their age once died.

In the giftshop, I meet a woman from Lebanon, who tells me in a solemn tone:

“When I tour this battlefield, I think about those thousands of young boys, huddled behind trees, holding guns, I can almost hear them praying. I feel their fear when I’m out here.”

I meet another woman from the United Kingdom. She just finished touring the battlefield. This is her first visit. She tells me she was overcome with emotion. She even cried.

I ask her to elaborate because I’m trying to grasp what exactly international visitors walk away from this park feeling.

“I guess,” she explains, “I keep thinking to myself, ‘It’s been 160 years, when will Americans just learn to get along?’”

Foreigners. What do they know?


  1. Glenda E Hulbert - January 8, 2023 9:50 am

    Beautifully written, Sean you’re a writer!!!

  2. Trent - January 8, 2023 10:08 am

    Truly a worthy destination and yes, somber. I’m the guy reading every plaque word by word at a snails pace while clinching his to jaw to keep from – well, you know…To your UK lady – because we Americans from day 1 have always been willing to fight for what we believe and cherish – especially the Freedom to believe and cherish whatever we want. That’s been extinct in the UK now for a while now. And sadly the “winners” get to write the history books.

  3. Linda - January 8, 2023 11:02 am

    As a 71 year old woman I strongly. Believe that the Rangers , as part of their job to educate the public should be asking them politely to have respect for the fallen who died there. My great uncle died at Gettysburg on the first day and his brother , my great grandfather was wounded there on the third day of the battle,
    It’s very upsetting to go there and watch teens play frisbee near by and shout and carouse ….on sacred ground.
    Thank you Sean for your column today .

  4. mccutchen52 - January 8, 2023 11:26 am

    People also don’t realize that a lot of the young men were drafted into service just like in the Vietnam conflict.

  5. lesliehanson411hotmailcom - January 8, 2023 11:33 am

    The last comment about when will people ever learn to get along brought to mind the recent injury of that young Buffalo Bills football player. Everyone pulled together, prayed and continued to pray- which gives us hope. I just don’t understand why we only pull together during tragedies or near tragedies. Have we all lost a sense of value in regard to human life or animal life for that matter.
    I pray we will wake up soon and realize we all want the same things peace, love and understanding.

    • Debbie g - January 8, 2023 12:04 pm

      We’ll stated Leslie. And you dear Sean. Thank you Love you and Jamie
      And May we all love each other 😢🙏🙏🙏🙏

  6. Dennis - January 8, 2023 11:56 am

    Human nature. When will it change? Never.

  7. Amanda ALLEN - January 8, 2023 11:59 am

    Amen. i have felt what those two “foreign tourists” related to you. Try Shiloh, TN, Franklin, TN, Corinth, MS, or Pea Ridge, AR as other sobering battle sites of the war between the states. I have felt the horror and the chaos that remains after the evil of war. A person can almost smell the scent of gunpowder lingering in the air. Even Rommel studied one of our sites in MS. But I have also felt some of the same awareness and emotions at the Alamo and especially at Horseshoe Bend in South Alabama, where atrocities took place against Native Americans. How many of these did you study in school?

  8. Chip - January 8, 2023 12:18 pm

    Boy, us southerners don’t refer to the war of northern aggression as a ” Civil War” …..which is wasn’t. It was the ” War Between the States”….. and, people generally get along, their governments don’t!

  9. Barbara - January 8, 2023 12:43 pm

    Understand, brother against brother a war of human rights

  10. Nancy Shields - January 8, 2023 12:48 pm

    We spend a month every year in Mentone. We are retired and that is what we do. We take lots of day trips during that month and Chickamauga was one. I felt sad there. Like the lady you wrote about, I could feel the fear of those kids. I imagine any battlefield brings up the same feelings but there is something about the Civil War.

  11. D - January 8, 2023 12:54 pm

    We still do not know how to get along!

  12. D - January 8, 2023 12:56 pm

    Thank you for writing ! Enjoy your opinions! Right on Track!

  13. David - January 8, 2023 1:20 pm

    Just wow-sadly!

  14. Ed (Bear) - January 8, 2023 1:46 pm

    Will we ever learn how to get along? Where there’s a will there’s a way. So we just need more Wills. I have a good friend named Will. Thusly, there’s a start!

  15. Priscilla Rodgers - January 8, 2023 1:48 pm

    Amen, lady, amen. The statistics alone should tell us something, right?

  16. Ken Mitchell - January 8, 2023 1:49 pm

    Pick any issue and you’ll find someone willing to die for the cause. In organized war most young soldiers just follow their commanders. I have kin who died for states rights. I dare say they were politically motivated. Interesting it is still a topic. Thank you Sean always for putting a face on the topic. Most of us just want to get along.

  17. Deacon Nick - January 8, 2023 1:49 pm

    Sean, Merry Christmas from one of your many Catholic followers! Christmas ends today with the Feast of the Epiphany (look it up). As for killing Americans, abortion kills more Americans in 18 months than all of our wars combined, including the Civil War. Abortion is the leading cause of death, not just in America, but world-wide.

    • Deacon Nick - January 8, 2023 2:00 pm

      PS — We ALL must learn how to love as Christ loves us!

  18. David - January 8, 2023 1:57 pm

    Are you kidding me? Very disappointed in this article. The War Between the States was about money and greed. How do you get along with people/govt. who are stealing your land, raping and pillaging your community. My ancestors were poor farmers who walked to the war to protect their land. Shame on the govt. for lying to the world and brainwashing our children about what really went on. Selling cotton to England was unacceptable to the folks up North who had built new cotton factories and wanted it all to themselves. Shame on you, Sean.

    • Cm - January 8, 2023 3:54 pm

      Watch a little too much Of the House Speaker elections this week?

  19. Larry Hogan - January 8, 2023 2:08 pm

    Enjoyed today’s Collum. My great-great Grandfather was killed in the Chickamauga battle. He was a blacksmith for the Confederacy.

  20. Nancy - January 8, 2023 2:11 pm

    David McCullough once visited Brookstone School in Columbus, GA. He told his audience that we should feel obligated to visit all the state and national parks to learn our history. What I would give to be in the audience of two authors and historians, Mr. McCullough and Mr. Dietrich.

  21. Jerry McCloud - January 8, 2023 2:25 pm

    Wow… sobering 🥲

  22. Jeanne - January 8, 2023 3:17 pm

    Poignant. Brilliantly described.

  23. Maggie Priestaf - January 8, 2023 3:28 pm

    Oh, wow… Yes, when will we.

  24. sjhl7 - January 8, 2023 3:47 pm

    Visiting a battlefield in your own country is an eye-opening experience. I have visited most if not all including Chickamauga several times. The most heart rending site I visited was the Rock Island Cemetery where my great great grandfather was buried after dying while in captivity. Those rows and rows of white crosses are heart rending.

  25. Mary Jordan - January 8, 2023 4:04 pm

    I’m so happy that you wrote about The Chickamauga Battlefield….it’s such a magnificent place and a wonderful experience for anyone interested in the Civil War. Do you know about Crawfish Springs near downtown Chickamauga? It’s on the main street, and across the street from the Gordon Lee House and Gordon Lee High School. The railroad tracks cross at the back side of the springs. The soldiers got off the train there…many of them were very ill and dying. There is more information about it on the plaques on the hill where the water tower is. It’s also on the internet. It surely warrants a return trip to the are area.

    Mary Alice Jordan
    East Ridge, TN

  26. Ruth - January 8, 2023 4:15 pm

    I was glad to see mention of that other amazing author, David McCullough, we lost him in 2022. Very in depth history and a Pulitzer Prize for Truman & John Adams.
    His last book was The Pioneers, a friend gave it to me, it was excellent. Thanks to their puritan background they kept slavery out of Ohio and that region.
    Thank you Sean for bringing our attention to this heart rending event.

  27. susanmac123 - January 8, 2023 4:27 pm

    Turns out they know a lot.

  28. Sean of the South: Chickamauga | The Trussville Tribune - January 8, 2023 4:57 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

  29. Susie Golley - January 8, 2023 5:53 pm

    I just read your post. I’m from this area and the farm I grew up on is rich in history of both the Civil War and the Trail of Tears. My husband spend a lot of evenings riding the park looking for deer. Sunset is always peaceful. But you feel the souls of soldiers all around you. One can spend hours wandering around there, walking or biking. You can help but think about what really happened here. Right up the road is “the Post”. It’s the old parade grounds that really surrounded by huge three story buildings that the military generals and such lived in. It has fascinating history too. Anyhow thank you for visiting our area and sharing your take on it.
    Susie Gilley

  30. Linda H - January 8, 2023 6:22 pm

    I have always loved history … all kinds of history …. European, World or American … ALL history. American history, however, holds a special place in my heart because I am so PROUD to be an American. I had a father and uncles who fought in WW2, my husband served in the Vietnam era. We lived in Pennsylvania for a while and went East to visit some Civil War battlefields. Antietam and Gettysburg almost brought us both to our knees. I am simultaneously shocked and saddened when I read about our young people being completely “indoctrinated” and NOT taught about the history of this great country. History WILL repeat itself if we don’t learn from it. I pray to God that more people realize that.

    • kingswaydaughter - January 9, 2023 12:10 am

      You are so right. Sad when you think people of other countries are more interested in our history than some of our own young people. To be completely fair, the school systems must take some responsibility for this. I have definitely seen a decline in the education my children received from that of my own. I fear my three grand babies will learn even less. As in Rome, will we fall from within – I pray not!

  31. Karen - January 8, 2023 6:42 pm


  32. Carol Pilmer - January 8, 2023 6:46 pm

    WOW! Definitely food for thought…the most thought provoking for me comes from the English woman! Thanks for sharing her thoughts, Sean!

  33. Judy - January 8, 2023 6:52 pm

    How sad!! It is all in that woman’s short sentence. Will that time ever come? Lord have mercy!

  34. Jim Williamson - January 8, 2023 7:36 pm

    The “Civil War” as the US government likes to call it was a war over states rights and money, period. The northern states were fooled into fighting their own relatives and friends by a corrupt federal government led by Abraham Lincoln. The truth is the truth. Good article! May God bless those on both sides that lost their lives.

    • Kathryn - January 9, 2023 3:34 pm

      The Civil War was fought over slavery. Period. Go back and study your history.

      • jessejamesdalton - January 9, 2023 4:51 pm

        No! You are wrong! Everyone except those who chose to ignore the truth know this by now. If you wish to learn the truth we can continue this discuss the subject via email.

      • S. Jeff Bayne - January 9, 2023 10:48 pm

        According to my history/church history professor at Emory University, the Civil War was also about economic issues, trade, how the Bible was viewed in that time. Neither side had “it” completely right, and the the loss of life, property, relationships and trust is, today, still being dealt with. Nothing as complex as a war between brother and brother is ever simple.

  35. davidpbfeder - January 8, 2023 7:51 pm

    Many thanks! My eldest sister was a Civil War scholar but I never studied it much and had not heard of this. Thank you for honoring those young Americans on both sides who lost their lives in that bloody insanity.

  36. Des - January 8, 2023 7:56 pm

    Good story

  37. Des - January 8, 2023 7:57 pm


  38. Happy Home - January 8, 2023 9:00 pm

    I grew up not far from there – able to visit several times. Curious, growing up in the south in the sixties — that emotion of replaying the battles and imagining that things had turned out differently — completely ignoring of course the larger issues, of how internecine warfare tends to be the deadliest, and the continuation of slavery for one minute longer. The benefit of being a foreign visitor is to have perspective, and the ability to compress time, to make such an observation.

    Beautifully constructed and written piece.


  39. Jan Burchfield - January 8, 2023 9:56 pm

    Come visit Tupelo MS – the birthplace of Elvis! Go visit the actual home and museum – you will meet very interesting people from everywhere!

  40. Becky Souders - January 8, 2023 10:00 pm

    My husband Vern loved all things Civil War. In our many trips through the South, we visited many many forts and battlefields. I will long remember our trip up Lookout Mountain. Down below was very foggy and drive up was slow because of that. But guess what… on top it was bright and clear. A very good memory! So, thanks, Sean Dietrich, for triggering that happy time.

  41. Melissa Brown - January 8, 2023 10:28 pm

    Do you suppose Americans will ever learn to get along ??? So much violence these days. I really worry about what will happen to our country if things do not change. I pray every day for our country 🙏🙏🙏

  42. MAM - January 8, 2023 10:39 pm

    Foreigners perceive us as we are. We can’t look at ourselves objectively. We are divided between those who think we are better than we actually are and those who think we are worse than we actually are. I’m amazed we get along as well as we do!/

  43. Sue - January 9, 2023 12:01 am

    Very enlightening since retirement I’ve become a student of American History starting with the Civil War and realizing a needed to go back further. I found my ancestor fought in the revolutionary war in the 1770″s we as American”s have a lot to be proud of and still a lot to learn! Sue

  44. Stacey Wallace - January 9, 2023 1:21 am

    The lady was right. Americans need to learn to get along. May God help us all. Love to you, Jamie, Marigold, Otis Campbell, and Thelma Lou.

  45. Ronnie - January 9, 2023 1:57 am

    I would’ve loved to have met you. I grew up just outside the battlefield.

  46. Joe Strummer - January 9, 2023 3:00 am

    Great fictional piece! An Irishman, Englishwoman Frenchman/woman, Korean, and Lebanese woman all visiting Chickamauga while you were there! But you missed the unicorn Sean! Nice story I got some laughs. I am so sorry for the ones who believe this nonsense. Also, there are no tombstones in the battlefield. There wasn’t 35K dead. You’re a clown.

    —a local

    • Susan Kennedy - January 9, 2023 3:10 am

      With 16,170 Union and 18,454 Confederate casualties, the Battle of Chickamauga was the second costliest battle of the Civil War, CLOWN. Go get yourself a life and leave Sean alone.

  47. tommy - January 9, 2023 3:21 am

    Why can’t Americans “just get along”? They would if those on the side of right just capitulate and let evil reign.

    • Kathryn - January 9, 2023 3:31 pm

      And who determines who is on the “right side?” Your comment is the perfect example of why Americans can’t get along.

  48. Lee Elder - January 9, 2023 1:52 pm

    Interesting piece, Sean. As the author of one of the many, many books about the Civil War in general and specifically Chickamauga, I can tell you why the books keep getting published: People keep reading them.

  49. S. Jeff Bayne - January 9, 2023 10:40 pm

    Sean, as I read your fine article on the Tennessee/Georgia battlefield, I could not help but remember when my daughters and I visited that huge, empty field. my older daughter, who was a history major loved the history surrounding the Civil War. As we drove up to the park, my daughter literally leapt out of the car and walked slowly and deliberately into the middle of the field. For the longest time she just stood there. Finally, she came back to where my other daughter and I were seated on a bench. She was crying. She said that she could “hear” the gun shots, the screams of wounded and dying young men, on both sides. Her pain and pity has stayed with me for 30 years. The park is a place for people to learn that today’s division cannot help this country – in any way. For a civil society to prosper we MUST learn to accept each other. Thank you for your timely article!!

  50. Sharen - January 10, 2023 1:32 am

    People everywhere need to learn to get along, and respect our differences. It would be so boring if we were all the same.

  51. Stephanie - January 11, 2023 5:08 pm

    Good one Sean.

  52. Lisa Pelham - January 13, 2023 4:49 am

    My great grandfather was in this battle. A cannon ball hit one of his legs. He packed his leg in snow freezing it. With his own knive, cut it off below his knee. Then he walked home 50 miles south of Montgomery, Alabama. He was one tough man. He lived to be an old man.


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