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The last light of day illuminates a portion of the 120-plus acres of the Chattanooga National Cemetery.

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Boy Scouts of America Annual Memorial Day Ceremony

If Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart were ever to have a companion on the other side of the sidewalk outside the front door of the Hamilton County Courthouse, it ought to be Chaplain Thomas B. Van Horne.

You remember Stewart, right?

He was the Confederate officer whose bust was placed outside the courthouse a century ago because of the work he had done in the peacemaking creation of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park but whose presence became an anathema to some last year because of the side of the Civil War on which he fought.

Since some cities were removing statues to whitewash their histories at the time, Stewart, who opposed slavery and did not own slaves, nevertheless had to go.

Hamilton County commissioners, to their credit, put a stop to the foolishness, and the tarnished bust remains outside the little used courthouse entrance.

But were county fathers ever to desire an appropriate companion for the Confederate officer, it would be the Union's Van Horne, who laid out the Chattanooga National Cemetery.

If you have never visited the cemetery, Memorial Day is the day to do it. One cannot help but be touched by the 50,000 graves, emblematic of service to the country.

And at the top of the 83-foot hill in the middle of the acreage, one also cannot not help but feel a sense of history by standing on the same spot as Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant did as he surveyed the ongoing Battle of Lookout Mountain to the west in 1863 and plotted what would be the Battle of Missionary Ridge a day later to the south.

But it fell to Van Horne, in the years immediately after the battles, to lay out the expanse.

In an 1866 report on his progress, the chaplain said his first visit and "a thorough examination of [the cemetery's] contour and soil" convinced him "it was the most suitable grounds for the purpose contemplated that I had ever seen." Since becoming "more thoroughly conversant with every feature, I am only the more fully convinced that its susceptibilities are unsurpassed."

Of course, by that time, more than 8,500 soldiers were buried there, including 1,952 — mostly unknown — originally "left on the [Chickamauga battlefield] unburied by the enemy," so Van Horne could say little different. But, as anyone who has glimpsed what the chaplain called the grounds' "undulating surface," he didn't need to.

Indeed, he went so far as to say the "view is less extended but better defined than the one stretching to an almost immeasurable distance from the bold front of Lookout [Mountain], and, to the artistic eye, is its complement."

Van Horne said the layout of the grounds for the cemetery "was suggested by marked natural features. Where nature demanded avenues, they have been made, and their curves define the sections. This rule has determined the form and size of the sections. It has given marked individuality to each, and has allowed a well-sustained unity of expression to the whole, as nature has nowhere been opposed."

He described how each section has a central plot for a monument, which visitors can still see, especially on the south portion of the cemetery, on the hill that slopes down from the center toward Missionary Ridge. Around the monuments are plots for officers, and around those, in concentric circles, are the remaining graves in the section.

Van Horne said when the Union army fell back into Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga in July 1863, the grounds of what is now the cemetery "were covered with a dense forest of large oaks." However, he said they were felled to "prevent a lodgment of the enemy in close proximity to our defenses, and were afterwards used for fuel."

He also described a cave on the grounds, "which answers admiringly for a receiving vault." He suggested it "could be made an element of great interest," said that part of the stone for the original cemetery wall (since torn down) was quarried from the cave, and noted that "by opening and widening passages its extent could be greatly enlarged."

In later years, according to the book "American Military Cemeteries," exploration of the cave by a cemetery superintendent indicated it reached a mile beneath the surface of the grounds. The cave, since, has been sealed.

Van Horne at the time of his report figured, with 75 acres, 25,000 soldiers could be interred on the grounds.

The burial ground was designated a national cemetery in 1867, a year after the caretaker's report.

Today, with 120.8 acres, it is more than half again its size as when Van Horne laid out what is one of the best views in Chattanooga.

If you haven't taken the opportunity, do yourself a favor and commune for a few moments at this most beautiful spot and consider what has been sacrificed for you and your country. The view and the sacrifice are breathtaking.

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