The Ol’ Ringgold Depot

Click here to start at the beginning of this series

depottrack

I thought the best way to start this series was by providing a brief history of the depot. This will allow the reader a brief glimpse into the past to see some of the development of Ringgold and its depot. I am hoping to also demonstrate that the town is anything but a secluded entity in the mountains of Appalachia. It was, and very much is today, connected to the markets around it including those of the deep South. Additionally, due to the town’s natural geography, Ringgold developed as a crossroads and what many call a “gateway” to Georgia. It is this gateway that helped bring Ringgold its commerce, its depot and eventually, the Civil War.

Early History

Prior to the hero worshiping that followed the Mexican-American War, the town of Ringgold was known simply as “Cross Roads,” undoubtedly named after its geographic role. This was an area dominated by Cherokee Indians until about the 19th century when white settlers and Jacksonian Indian Removal policies slowly pushed the natives out. Different pioneers that settled into area, used “Cross Roads’s” natural geography for profit, building general stores and saloons, turning the old trading center into an economically diverse Appalachian town. One such settler, Colonel G. W. Anderson, settled in “Cross Roads” in 1834. After being appointed Commissioner, Anderson bought the right-of-way for the proposed Western & Atlantic Railroad, which would be built some years later. [1]

On December 21, 1836, the Georgia General Assembly approved legislation to build the Western & Atlantic Railroad, providing a link between the Midwest and the port of Savannah. Construction began in 1838. This same legislation that would one day bring Ringgold a railroad depot, also led to the development of a settlement known as “Terminus.” This settlement would later be incorporated in 1843 as the town of “Marthasville.” Two years later,  the Georgia General Assembly changed the name to the much more permanent, “Atlanta.” [2]

In 1849, Western & Atlantic constructed a depot in Ringgold, built out of local sandstone with fourteen inch thick walls. At the time Ringgold was considered to be a warehouse town, larger than its neighbor Chattanooga, Tennessee and known for shipping large quantities of wheat. This is ironic given that Ringgold is considered to be a part of the Chattanooga Metro-area today. In 1850, the first train ran over the tracks on the Ringgold end of the line and a period of continuity began. Today, a marker which stands in front of the depot notes that the Ringgold Depot, is “the only depot between Atlanta and Chattanooga that has been in continuous use since May 9, 1850. Commentary on Ringgold’s connectivity to the most important railroad hub in the deep south. [3]

Although Ringgold’s developing economy undoubtedly played a role in the location of the depot, the primary reason was geography. The mountainous terrain around the region made it difficult to travel and even harder to ship. Cherokees founded the settlement of “Cross Roads,” which would later become Ringgold, on a natural crossroads. The waters of the Chickamauga Creek over millions of years helped cut a gap between White Oak Mountain and Taylor’s Ridge. This natural gap gave travelers an easy pass, through the mountainous region effectively turning “Cross Roads” into a gateway to the deep South. In this gap three major roads, including a federal highway converged. It is through this gap, that the Western  & Atlantic Railroad laid track, rather than construct a tunnel or take the long way around. In more recent history, it is through this gap that the government constructed Interstate-75. Without the gap, it is unlikely Ringgold would have ever prospered, turning instead into one of the many communities and settlements that have vanished in the region.

White Oak Mtn. is left off of this map, but it runs north of Ringgold towards Tennessee.

Civil War

During the Civil War, Ringgold played host to various events brought on by the conflict. A great many of these were minor skirmishes and troop movements attached to the various battles around the area. (Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Atlanta Campaign). One of the most notable troop movements involved James Longstreet’s corps, which arrived as Catoosa Station outside of Ringgold, and marched through town towards Chickamauga. Additionally, it is from the Ringgold depot that many boys and men, from the town and surrounding countryside, departed to fight in the Civil War. These future soldiers of the Confederacy fought primarily in the Eastern Theater, with the Army of Northern Virginia.  In 1862, one of the more interesting moments in the Civil War brought the town to its toes.

On April 12, 1862 James Andrews and his “Raiders” stole the “General” locomotive in Big Shanty (Kennesaw today) Georgia. The goal of this daring mission was to travel towards Union held Chattanooga, Tennessee via railroad and cause damage to tracks, bridges and telegraph lines as they went. This plan was largely stalled through the sheer will and determination of the General’s conductor, William Fuller. He chased the General from Big Shanty by foot, handcart and eventually train while steadily gaining on the General. [4] At about 1:00 PM, the General raced  by the Ringgold Depot with the “Texas,” another locomotive commandeered by Fuller, in hot pursuit. Just a few miles north of town, the “General” stalled and the “Raiders” took to the woods. Local and Confederate authorities pursued.[5]

Over a year later, the Army of Tennessee (CSA) retreated through the town of Ringgold in route to Dalton after a humiliating defeat on Missionary Ridge. General Braxton Bragg ordered Maj. General Patrick Cleburne to fortify the hills and gap to stall the Union advance. On November 27, 1863, Ringgold became a war zone. In the Battle of Ringgold Gap, the Union army and General Joseph Hooker took shelter behind and inside of the depot’s fourteen inch walls. Consequentially, the depot was damaged before, during and after the battle. There are some misconceptions as to how that damage came about. Some claim, including roadside markers in the area, that the depot served as an anchor for Cleburne’s lines, with Hooker’s guns damaging the depot. This is incorrect, Cleburne kept his men in the gap and on the mountains just south of the town. During the battle, the depot sat in the middle of Union lines. Additionally, Hooker did not have artillery during the battle. Patrick Cleburne however did, and he did not shy away from shelling the depot and surrounding buildings in the town placing citizens in much peril. [6]

Ringgold-Gap-Hero_0

Other explanations pertaining to the depot’s damage include Confederates attempting to blow the depot up, denying the Union Army of its stores and function; and the Union army under orders from Sherman, intending the same. Whoever did “blow the depot up,” only managed to blow the roof off of it and a large corner portion. It is debatable which did more damage, the explosion or Cleburne’s Napoleons. After the war, the depot was rebuilt using local  limestone. The choice of a different rock for use in repairs, left visible scars for visitors to see today.

To be continued….


[1] Ringgold was named after Maj. Samuel Ringgold shortly after his death in the Mexican-American War. William H. H. Clark, History in Catoosa County, Vol. II(Wolfe Publishing, 2003), 86-87.

[2] Andy Ambrose, “Atlanta,” New Georgia Encyclopedia, (2004), [http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/counties-cities-neighborhoods/atlanta], “Building the Western and Atlantic Railroad,” About North Georgia, [http://www.aboutnorthgeorgia.com/ang/Building_the_Western_and_Atlantic_Railroad].

[3] “Ringgold Depot,” Roadside Georgia, [http://roadsidegeorgia.com/site/ringgolddepot.html].

[4] “The General Locomotive and the Great Locomotive Chase,” The Southern Museum, [http://www.southernmuseum.org/exhibits/the-general/]

[5] Clark, 93.

[6] Ibid, 109.

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