By John Pierce
Henry Van Ness Boynton was mentioned in an article that my friend, colleague and Civil War historian Bruce Gourley sent to me last evening. That name rang a bell in my mind and heart.
Boynton, according to an essay by Timothy B. Smith (in the The Chickamauga Campaign, Steven E. Woodworth, editor), was the creative and driving force behind the creation of Chickamauga National Military Park.
A Union veteran who fought with the 35th Ohio at Chickamauga, particularly on Snodgrass Hill, Boynton was later wounded on Missionary Ridge during the Chattanooga campaign. He received the Medal of Honor and turned to journalism — as a war correspondent for The Cincinnati Gazette.
After the war, Boynton sensed the need to help interpret these tragic events and to preserve their historical significance.
Smith writes: “The timing was appropriate. Boynton and other like-minded preservationists capitalized on the increasing patriotic sentiments of reconciliation to create battlefield memorials that sought to honor soldiers’ valor and also to bind the nation’s war wounds.”
Gettysburg locals had already formed a battlefield preservation group when Boynton termed the phrase “national military park” and drafted legislation that led Congress to create the Chickamauga National Military Park.
That is Boynton: the man and the idea. He was a commendable blend of dreamer and doer who could both hatch a great idea and work it into reality.
Now the place: For his efforts, the small community just east of Chickamauga Park was named in his honor. A school, a couple of churches, a growing recreation program and a scenic ridge all bear the Boynton name.
To me however, Boynton simply means home. It’s where I went to school (first through eighth grades back then), to church, to Boy Scouts and to the Little League field — all with little or no awareness of the community’s namesake.
Learning more about Henry Van Ness Boynton, however, has made me more appreciative of the man and his grand ideas for preservation and reconciliation. And I’m especially appreciative of the place that bears his name — a community that put its good mark on my life a century after the bloody battlefield evolved into fields of peaceful green.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.