Remembering Civil War Chattanooga

Our book club has read a few books about Chattanoogans. One such book was the memoir of Thomas Hooke McCallie, a Presbyterian minister and patriarch of a prominent Chattanooga family. Our club discussed the book with THM’s grandson, physician David McCallie, who edited and annotated the book. I wrote the following review for the Rivermont Presbyterian Church newsletter.

In THM: A Memoir, Thomas Hooke McCallie (THM) chronicles the McCallie family’s immigration from the lowlands of Scotland and move to Chattanooga, and her recounts his own experience of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

THM was anti-slavery and anti-secessionist, but he believed that secessionist states should not be forced to return to the Union. His unorthodox views on slavery were shaped in part by his religious experience. A player in a great religious awakening that swept across America before the Civil War, THM attended Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he heard in person such imminent speakers as Henry Ward Beecher and Oliver Wendell Holmes. He also gained a new perspective on slavery from his fellow seminarians, who sought out Southerners to “assault with argument” about slavery.

THM and his family stayed in Chattanooga during the war, witnessing battle and enduring the siege of Chattanooga. The memoir offers much comment on the war, including the character of each army (Confederates were polite but not inclined to hard work, Union soldiers rude and uncouth but disciplined and hard working). In the Presbyterian Church, he preached sermons to locals, Confederate officers, and Union officers—on different Sundays, of course.

The memoir reflects the role of the church in American society during the 19th century: Faith sustained family and community and helped people deal with the very real presence of death. In one moving passage THM describes his prayers for the recovery of his dying child and his uncertainty over whether those prayers were at odds with Christ’s calling the child home. Though THM emphasizes the joy of salvation, he never turns away from the internal questioning that is central to the Christian experience.

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