Old Battles, New 'Nooga

Chattanooga, steeped in Civil War history, has emerged as a prime boater's destination in the heart of Tennessee River country.

6 Civil War Haunts
Chattanooga has kept its Civil War past alive through a number of historic sites that are either on the Tennessee River or within a few miles of it. They include:

Lookout Mountain Battlefield and Point Park
A must-see landmark, well worth the steep, zigzag drive, with panoramic views of the city and valley below. Point Park brims with war history, and the visitor center displays James Walker's huge Battle of Lookout Mountain painting. Go to: nps.gov/chch

The Battles for Chattanooga Museum
While you're on Lookout Mountain, venture to this museum three blocks from the Incline Railroad's upper station at the entrance to Point Park, featuring a 3-D electronic map of the major battles. Go to: battlesforchattanooga.com

Signal Point Reservation
This key historical spot rises from the river gorge opposite Lookout Mountain. Native Americans, Confederates and Union forces communicated from here using signals. When the Union army was trapped in Chattanooga in the fall of 1863, the signal corps sent messages up to 25 miles using only flags (with unlimited daytime minutes and very few dropped calls). Go to: chattanoogafun.com

Orchard Knob Reservation
The area's Civil War battles started here, at East Third Street and Orchard Knob, a few blocks off the river. General Ulysses S. Grant led the Army of the Cumberland as it began a victorious attack on Confederate troops on November 25, 1863. Go to: chattanoogafun.com

Chattanooga National Cemetery
The nation's second-largest military cemetery is a short taxi ride from the waterfront, with vistas toward Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. About 12,800 soldiers who died in nearby Civil War battles are interred, along with thousands of U.S. soldiers from other wars -- and even German POWs from World War I and World War II. Go to: www.cem.va.gov/CEM/cems/nchp/chattanooga.asp

Chickamauga Battlefield
Twelve miles south of downtown lies the 5,200-acre site of the last major Confederate victory, complete with monuments, tablets, trails and a cool collection of American military shoulder arms. Go to: nps.gov/chch.

Tennessee-Tombigbee: One Sweet Shortcut
For eons, Volunteer State boaters with a Gulf Coast hankering had to chug up the Tennessee River northwest to the Ohio, then west to the Mississippi, then south -- some 1,500 miles in all. But in 1984, completion of the 234-mile Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway sliced the trip in half. The shortcut begins at Pickwick Lake near the intersection of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee -- 248 miles west of Chattanooga -- and curves gently down to the Black Warrior-Tombigbee system at Demopolis, Alabama. From there it's a scenic shot down to Mobile and the coast. By carving an alternate northward route from the Gulf of Mexico, the Tenn-Tom also brought new boaters to the Tennessee River system, with lock-through access that has helped to revitalize inland port cities like Chattanooga. The Tennessee-Tombigbee features nine marinas, 10 locks, 40 recreation areas, banks teeming with protected wildlife and a 341-foot elevation change. For more details, visit tenntom.org.

Dockanooga
Marine Max operates the only downtown marina, which was refurbished and expanded in 2005 with a half-mile of floating and fixed dock space, slips and cleat-only areas. Docking rates: Free, four-hour limit; $1 per foot overnight, including power and water. (Phone: 423-266-1316; radio channel 16. Web: marinemax.com). A few miles downstream, on the other side of Chickamauga Dam, Island Cove Marinas and TRC Yacht Sales -- which hooked us up with the Baja 335 -- also offer full amenities. (Phone: 423-899-2628. Web: trcyachts.com)

  • Catch the free CARTA trolleys by waiting at one of the many well-marked boarding spots along Main Street. Trolleys even run several miles to the famed Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel.
  • Stow a couple of bikes (or a pair of walking shoes) and enjoy the six miles of riverside trails out of Ross's Landing.
  • Catch a water taxi, or walk across the pedestrian bridge, to Greenlife Grocery to stock up on fresh and organic foods.
  • When planning to lock through, call ahead for an advisement on commercial traffic, and allow about an hour for the whole process. (The day before, there'd been 17 boats in the Nickajack chamber when Jimmy Porter approached, and it took 90 minutes to reach the Chattanooga side.) Nickajack contact: 423-942-3985, radio channel 16. Chickamauga contact: 423-875-6230, radio channel 16. (Both will ask you to switch over to 14.)
  • Arrange docking downtown by calling MarineMax at 423-266-1316, radio channel 16.

Five Hot Spots
1. Tennessee Aquarium & Imax® 3D Theater (One Broad St.). The monolithic centerpiece of renewed Chattanooga's riverfront, with engaging freshwater and saltwater exhibits. Don't miss it. Phone: 800-262-0695. Web: tnaqua.org
2. Innside Restaurant (800 Chestnut St., one block off main). Tucked on a side street, serving up tasty Southern diner fare. Where locals eat and will gladly rhapsodize about Chattanooga's storied past. Breakfast and lunch only. Phone: 423-266-7687.
3. Creative Discovery Museum (321 Chestnut St.). Affordable fun and adventure for families with children, two blocks from the riverfront. Phone: 423-756-2738. Web: cdmfun.org
4. Local yachter Maury Horner swears by the prime rib at upscale Hennen's restaurant (193 Chestnut St., just up the hill from the marina), with a lunch and dinner menu featuring steak and seafood. Phone: 423-634-5160.
5. Bluewater Grille (224 Broad St.) is renowned not only for its grouper, seafood-stuffed chicken and parmesan-crusted salmon, but also for its live jazz and bloody mary bar. Phone: 423-266-4200.

Writer Philip F. Newman and his family live in Franklin, Tennessee, where another pivotal battle took place in the War Between the States.