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Missionary Ridge - Organizers Full Report

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  • Missionary Ridge - Organizers Full Report


    Tyler Underwood wrote an excellent After Action Report about Missionary Ridge from the command perspective. As a companion to his post, I want to provide an AAR from the view of Event Organization. In this report, I will describe the event planning process and provide the script along with our research rationale, site plan and final financial results for the event (Links at the Bottom of This Post). All net proceeds will be donated to the Preservation Efforts at Brown's Ferry. At the end of this report, you will find the final donation.

    I hope this AAR will help future organizers understand the event planning process and maybe inspire some of you reading this to organize your own event. In general, I would like to say that the overall template we followed was to "DO WHAT THEY DID". If you participated in the event, you can attest to whether we accomplished that goal.


    The original idea for Missionary Ridge came from Tyler. For years, his wish list event was to do the 64th Ohio at Missionary Ridge. At the Fort Blakeley event in 2017, we were brain-storming on an event that Mess No. 1 and the Governor Guards could do together. I had followed a Facebook discussion where many of you expressed your "dream scenario" and as we were throwing out ideas, Tyler said, "What about Missionary Ridge?” As soon as he said it, I replied "That's it! That's the one! “Well-known scenario, great location and it is relatively static, so we wouldn't have to do a ton of logistics like Mess No. 1 did for previous events on the move." With that conversation, a partnership and event were born.


    Now that we had a scenario, it was time to organize and plan the event. The original planning committee was comprised of Ken Cornett, Seth Hancock, Tyler Underwood and Myself. Tyler would command the 64th Ohio, put together research and uniform guidelines and head up preservation. Walter Cook would lead the Florida contingent as they were one of the regiments across from the 64th Ohio. I would create the web site, head up marketing and work on the script. Ken Cornett would do registration. Seth Hancock would work on land and logistics. It is very important to note that while we each had designated responsibilities, we all worked together for every decision. There were numerous phone calls, text messages, and site visits. It was a total team effort. With the later addition of Will Debord as our Vendor Coordinator, our Planning Committee was complete and ended up like this:

    Ken Cornett - On Site Organizer, On-Line and On-Site Registration, Planning & Logistics
    Will Debord - Water Logistics & Sutlers
    Seth Hancock - On Site Organizer, Site Plan, Pre-Event & On-Site Planning & Logistics
    Eric Tipton - On Site Organizer, Owner Contact, Insurance, Script & Site Plan, 1st Person Information, Web Site, Marketing
    Tyler Underwood - Preservation, Rations, Logistics, Site Construction, Federal Command & Overall Field Command


    Many people have asked me how we found our land for Missionary Ridge, so here is the story...

    Finding the land proved to be a challenge. We all talked numerous times about potential locations. We engaged a few people around the Chattanooga area to get their ideas. We looked at Google Earth numerous times for topography, ridges, and large blocs of land. It was difficult to do without being there in person.

    I decided in June of 2017 to drive to Chattanooga and search there and surrounding areas. Obviously, the immediate area around Chattanooga is heavily-developed, so I drove to the east, following ridges and highways. This was not an efficient approach. After six hours of driving, numerous stops down side roads and ending up in Gatlinburg, I abandoned the search and headed home with no better idea about land than before.

    In September of 2017, Tyler asked me if I would be interested in doing water kabuki for his 23rd Tennessee at Chickamauga Living History. Heck yeah! I love the battlefield and the opportunity to help a friend, visit and see many old friends made the decision a no-brainer. Shortly after accepting the invitation, a thought occurred to me. "If I'm already going to be down in that area, THIS is the time to find the land for Missionary Ridge!"

    Several days before the event, I started by contacting the town of Ringgold Gap and spoke with the City Manager. I described what we were doing, the type of land we were looking for and asked if he or anyone in-town could help. "Talk to John Culpepper." He said. "John is a former City Manager of Chickamauga and was involved in the planning of the 150th Chickamauga Event." "Perfect! I said." They gave me John's number and I contacted him straight away. After describing what we were looking for, he agreed to meet with me at the Cleburne Statue in Downtown Ringgold - 12:00 Noon on Friday, September 16th.

    We met and John was immediately helpful. Yes, he had been involved in organizing the 150th Chickamauga and yes, he thought he could help us. He explained to me that the land where the 150th occurred was no longer available due to some "local political issues." He then asked me what are requirements were for the land. "500 to 1,000 acres, outside of town with no modern intrusions and a ridge that mimics the real Missionary Ridge." I said. "I think I know just the person you need to talk to." John said. "There is a guy named Randy Compton who has land that might fit the bill. Let me make a phone call."

    I went back to Chickamauga, met up with Tyler and told him about the progress. Not soon after, John called me and sent me Randy's phone number. I immediately called Randy. "Would you be available to meet today?" I asked. "Sure", he said. "When?" "As soon as possible", I replied. We agreed to meet at his office in downtown Chickamauga that afternoon.

    I drove to Randy's office to meet him. Immediately, I recognized that he was excited about the potential to host this event. He set me up in his conference room and said he would be right back. I looked at the wall opposite my chair and it jumped right out at me. On the wall were a series of lithographs of the battles of Chattanooga. This was a very positive sign. Randy came in and I described what we wanted to do. He told me a little about his family and the land they had which had been in their possession for decades. It was around 600 acres. Perfect. Randy then told me that he is a surveyor and that he has actually surveyed some of the land on the actual Missionary Ridge. Even better. We agreed to meet at the conclusion of the event on Sunday. I thanked Randy for his time and went back to Chickamauga and filled Tyler in on the details. We were almost there.

    After the event ended on Sunday, I drove to Randy's property which is situated on the outskirts of the town of Chickamauga. Randy greeted me with a huge smile and we jumped in his Gator and drove to the rear area of his property. There were several ridges of varying sizes, ravines and best of all, no modern intrusions anywhere. I was there for an hour or so and had to get on the road. I told him that the rest of the group would need to come out and tour the property so we could begin to get our scenario together. We parted ways, both excited at the prospect of the event. On my way home, I contacted the rest of the boys. "I think we have our land!"


    When you organize an event like Missionary Ridge, the great thing is that the script is essentially already written. You just have to do the research, put together a timeline and then fill in the details. For our event, this started with the book "Storming the Heights", By Matt Spruill. His book is designed for a driving tour of the various battles of Chattanooga with the foundation being Official Reports from company level all the way to the top. This gave us primary source accounts to create a basic outline. To this we added Tyler's 64th Ohio research and research from Walter Cook, James Permane and the rest of the Florida boys. We gathered original photos, diary accounts and any other firsthand information we could find that described exactly what the 64th Ohio and 4th Florida did during the time period of November 23 - 25, 1863.

    The scenario laid out well. The 64th participated in support of the attack on Orchard's Knob on November 24th. Their objective was a smaller hill called Brush Knob in their front. On the 24th of November, both the 64th Ohio and 4th Florida were in fixed positions as the Attack on Lookout Mountain occurred. For the 25th of November we would do the assault on Sunday. To get the participants out at a reasonable time on Sunday, we moved the attack up from 3:30 PM to 8:45 AM. We incorporated a "Bad Weather Scenario" as well. If the weather became unmanageable, we would maintain 24-hour readiness, but do the assault on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM and end the event right there. Fortunately, for all of us, the rains came on Thursday and by Friday morning, and for the rest of the weekend, the weather was cold, but crystal clear.

    Since we would be going live on Friday afternoon, we expanded the timeframe to include Thursday night and encouraged everyone to get there Thursday, or before 1:00 PM on Friday so we would be ready-to-go for Brush Knob on Friday. Silas Tackitt stepped up and volunteered to organize a "Preservation Poker" Event for Thursday Night to get the pre-event festivities" out-of-the way early so we could roll right into the live event Friday afternoon.


    WITH SHERIDAN'S DIVISION AT MISSIONARY RIDGE, By John K. Shellenberger, Lieutenant Sixty-Fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry
    SILAS MALLORY DIARY & PAPERS, 64th Ohio, Company K
    BY THE NOBLE DARING OF HER SONS, The Florida Brigade of the Army of Tennessee, By Jonathan C. Sheppard


    We made several site visits as we refined and finalized the script. It was during the first visit where David Thomas and Mike Jones attended that we determined the rear section of the property would not work logistically for horses, wagons and artillery. It would be too difficult to get everything back there because of steep grades, deep ravines and the lack of a ridge that would genuinely reflect the real Missionary Ridge. While we had a site we knew would work, there would be more challenges ahead before we could finalize our ridge.

    After returning home, Tyler spent hours evaluating the land on GIS and what might work. We sent site photos back-and-forth to begin situating parking, registration and most importantly, the centerpiece of the event - the ridge itself. We landed on a few options toward the front of the site and planned another site visit. Because we moved to the front of the site, we also determined that the parking area we had discussed would need to be moved off-site.

    At the next site visit, we spent hours at the front part of the property looking at every possible ridge and every conceivable arrangement for parking and registration. Fortunately, Randy's family had other pieces of land along Shaver Road, including a three-acre parcel that was ideal for parking, registration and sutlers. It even had an old barn so registration would be under cover. This was all great progress, but we could not agree on the right ridge for the event.

    Toward the end of our visit, Seth Hancock walked up to me and said, "You know, that area we looked at for parking earlier is actually a little deceptive. The slope is kind of gradual, but if you go to the top, it is the highest point of this property." "All right", I said, "Don't tell me. Tell the other guys." We walked over to the rest of the group and Seth described the land to the group. One-by-one, we went to the area and walked to the top. It was overgrown above our heads and filled with briars. We all made it to the top and immediately noticed that off in the distance, clear as day was Lookout Mountain. We looked at each other and I asked the group, "Is this the ridge?” One-by one, each person answered "Yep, this is it." We finally had our ridge and an off-site parking area, but there were further challenges. The area at the bottom of the ridge was very close to the property line. This was where the Federals were going to operate and to make matters worse, it was covered by a thick, impenetrable tree line.

    Following our visit, the next quest was to find out if we could use the land adjacent to the ridge. We asked Randy to approach the landowners and let them know that we would be willing to offer money for use of the land for the weekend. This land not only provided a perfect Federal Camp, but also access into the site from Shaver Road without going past Randy's house at the end of the road. The only remaining issue was the impenetrable tree line between the two properties. This is one of the many times that Randy came to our aid. He knew a guy with a forestry machine who could cut the necessary trail between the two sites as well as the Federal picket position. Randy traded his surveying services in exchange for his friend to come out for a couple of days. The results were more than satisfactory as the participants can attest.

    We continued to refine the script and site plan, talking on the phone on a regular basis, exchanging e-mails and texts. With an outline and site visits under our belt, everything began to fit together. All-told, this process took most of the two years from beginning to end.


    As a group, we feel that first person is slightly underrepresented in the authentic hobby. When planned correctly, it can be easy to do at an event. First, you have to have a scenario that stresses the "live" element of the history. At Missionary Ridge, we began the scenario precisely at the point that the 64th Ohio left their camp to go to the front. When the first artillery shots were fired on Friday afternoon, both sides were going in to a live situation where they were expected to be in the moment. This was intentionally-designed.

    In addition to the scenario, we provided primary source background information for both sides ending the day before our scenario began on November 23rd, 1863. By this point in the war, people weren't talking about what they did back home. They talked about the same type of things we talk about. The previous days, battles they were in together. Good times and bad times they all experienced during their service. Here are the 1st Person Packets we provided for both sides about a month before the event to set the secene and the midset of the troops:



    Tyler is going to kill me for pointing this out, but without his efforts, we would not have had nearly the amount of site work completed leading up to the event that we did. He took time off of work, manned the backhoe that created the breastworks, rifle pits and Federal Artillery position. He purchased the sandbags and was the driving force behind the works you encountered at the event. He did this work, with the help of Seth Hancock plus placing water prior to the event. Also assisting were Will Debord and Ryan Clendenin who took time off of work as well.


    Ken Cornett has now done registration for Mess No. 1 at three different events - Rich Mountain (2006), Bummers (2009) and Missionary Ridge (2019). He has done it every time with skill and diplomacy, answering questions, moving people around and trying to be as accommodating as possible while maintaining a principle of fairness to all. I just published the registered list. Ken was the keeper of it in every way.

    We opened registration on September 1st, 2018 to give ourselves a year to gather the troops. Tyler coordinated with Walter to gather the company commanders. This was done relatively-quickly as the response we received was very positive from the beginning. It should not go unsaid that to get a good response, there are a few main components - 1) A marketable scenario, 2) a good location, and 3) doing something that hasn't been done frequently. Top this off with an experienced event staff and tight marketing and the ingredients are there to attract the target number we were seeking, which was 600 registered.


    Will Debord secured the vendors for the event. We felt it was important to have them at registration to both support vendors in the hobby and provide something for the participants to do before the event began. As long as I am talking about Will, he also purchased the water containers for the event and did numerous other things to help the rest of the group.


    Tyler Underwood coordinated the preservation and fund-raising efforts for the event. He organized the Preservation Raffle, contacted the American Battlefield Trust, Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association, and the Friends of Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park to work with them for preservation and the Site Clean-Up. Also contributing to our fund-raising were Preservation Parcels, who donated proceeds from sales to us, Civil War Digital Digest, whose Patreons voted to support Brown's Ferry, Jason Brown, who contributed tobacco at registration and all of you who contributed to the Facebook Fund-Raiser I put together. All together, we raised $17,435.57! See the link to our final financial analysis below for details.


    Missionary Ridge was a two-year process for everyone involved. It was a labor of love for all of us on the committee that was difficult at times, but in the end, worth it. Members of the organizing committee missed birthdays, spent their own money for travel and lodging and spent many nights, days and weekend hours to make Missionary Ridge a success. We wouldn't have it any other way. Whether you are attending an event like this or organizing, it is very gratifying to see history come alive and at the end of the day, after we get to recreate it, our hard-earned money and time go to worthwhile causes like Brown's Ferry to preserve the memory of the war to future generations.

    ALL TOLD, WE RAISED $17,435.57 FOR BROWN'S FERRY! Our original goal was $10,000. We shattered that number thanks to YOUR participation, generosity and passion for the preservation of history! See the attached spreadsheet for a complete breakdown of expenses and income. We hope providing this information along with the script and site plan is helpful to you and future organizers.


    There are many more people to thank for their efforts to make Missionary Ridge a reality. I know I will miss someone, but wanted to point out Andrew Jerram for the use of his truck at the event and for being the exact right person to talk to Friday morning at our hotel just prior to the event. As a fellow event organizer (with 40 Rounds), Andrew understands what goes into doing these events. Thank You to David Thomas and Mike Jones for your time on-site and for coordinating the artillery and wagons that added the finishing touches. Thanks to everyone who raised and contributed your hard-earned money. Thanks to Silas and Anthony Monson for providing the truly "self-contained" Preservation Poker Effort. Thanks to Mess No. 1 boys, Steve Spohn, Jason and Christy Brown, Scott Bierer and Jake Dinkelaker for providing us with parking and registration staff at the event. We were never short-handed with you guys around. To Chris Utley and the USCC, you boys were in the perfect place with the perfect attitude and had smiles, warm coffee, and yes, PIE to help the boys survive the elements. Your impression was outstanding and perfect for this scenario.

    Most of all, I would like to personally thank my friends on the committee. It is often said that the true test of organizing anything is whether you can say everyone who did it still likes each other when it is over, and we can truly say that. As should be obvious from my report, there were no egos here. Everyone played a part and we worked as a group with a common purpose, not as individuals. In my opinion, there is no finer organizing staff in the hobby and that isn't bragging. It's the truth.

    To the participants of the event. You guys did everything we asked you to do and then you all did more. You came prepared to portray the history. You endured every element with good cheer. Without you, there would be no event. Your support is humbling and we thank each and every one of you who attended.

    Lastly, we want to thank the venerable landowner, Randy Compton. Has we done a national search for the ideal person to host this event, we couldn't have found anyone better than Randy. His enthusiasm matched ours and during some of the difficult times, his excitement picked us up. He contacted the fire department to get us the water. He traded surveying services for the forestry machine and for the gravel that saved the day at our muddy entrance on Friday. His friendship, positive attitude and caring about history made everything good thing we did together better and we can't possibly thank him enough.

    And me... well I had a blast all the way around. There are times you ask yourself why you do this at all and every time that happened to me, someone was there to lend a hand, give advice, make a joke or offer to take on a responsibility. And for that, I thank each of you. You know who you are. A shout out to John Wickett for being there as a level-headed friend at every turn. You didn't have a specific role in the organization, but your input was always welcome and very often a calming force. At the end of the day, it is the people you remember and the adventures you share and what all of us shared at Missionary Ridge will be remembered the rest of our lives.

    WE DID WHAT THEY DID and for that, all of us can be proud. Enjoy your family and your holidays and THANK YOU from the organizers of Missionary Ridge.


    Last edited by Eric Tipton; 11-07-2021, 11:33 AM.
    Former AC Owner