The Longstreet Society was locked out, then shooed away, as it tried to visit Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park this weekend.
Since Oct. 1, national parks and historic sites have been closed because of the federal government shutdown, the result of a budget showdown.
But the Gainesville-based group, which seeks to preserve the memory of Civil War Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, was hoping against hope as it visited the site at the Georgia-Tennessee line as part of its two-day Sesquicentennial Seminar Series, scheduled long before the congressional squabble.
“We were hoping this (budget issue) could have been resolved so we could have gone into the park,” said Douglas Smith, a retired Gainesville lawyer who serves as a society board member and general counsel. “So many of our people had never been there.”
The organization, which is headquartered at 827 Maple St. in the remnants of a hotel once owned by Longstreet, holds a meeting each year drawing enthusiasts from the U.S. and abroad seeking to learn more about Longstreet and his exploits before and after the war.
Serving as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s second-in-command during the war, he settled in and lived most of his life afterward in Gainesville, where — at risk to his reputation — he joined the Republican Party and promoted reconciliation with the North.
Longstreet fought in the Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 14-15, 1863.
The seminar, which drew about 65 participants, began with breakfast Saturday at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Chattanooga.
The group arrived at the national park at 8 a.m., met immediately by a shut gate with a sign declaring “Road Closed.”
“We were truly disappointed, but we were expecting we could stand on the side of the road — a state highway — and look across the fence and see the battlefield,” Smith said.
The group was at the entrance about 5-10 minutes when a U.S. park ranger showed up in a law enforcement vehicle and asked the group to leave.
“Somebody said, ‘We’re just here on the side of the road. We’re not going in the park. This is a state highway. We’re on the right of way of the highway,’” Smith said.
“(The ranger) kept repeating, ‘I’m sorry, you will have to leave. The park is closed,’ as if that was his song and dance. And so, we cooperated and we left.”
The ranger followed the bus carrying the group down the road about 3-4 miles, Smith said.
“He was making sure we weren’t going to turn around and come back.”
According to the National Park Service’s website, some parks — mainly ones in Utah — have been temporarily reopened.
Agency officials have been hard to reach for comment during the shutdown, including through a phone number reserved for media inquiries.
“Due to limited staffing during the government shutdown, this mailbox will be checked periodically,” according to an email from the U.S. Department of Interior.