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Post Civil War

Post-Civil War

The defeat of the Confederate Army meant more to the south than the end of a long and painful conflict. With the peace, came a time that was to become one of the most unpleasant in the history of the south. Tennessee was, however, spared most of the agonies of "reconstruction" since it was the first of the former Confederate states to be re-admitted to the Union.

The situation in Chattanooga was unique. The city was a vast Federal arsenal and its population had doubled since the beginning of the war. The city resembled a western mining camp more than anything else.

Through the winter of 1865-1866 the Union Army dismantled the forts around Chattanooga. The military bridge that spanned the Tennessee River was turned over to the city. Discharged soldiers from both the north and the south settled in the Chattanooga area and the city began to grow. In April 1866, the last of the Union troops left Chattanooga.

On October 9th, 1865, the federal Provost Marshal's office allowed the municipal government to be re-established. A mayor and a board of aldermen were selected from the citizenry. Lawlessness was a major problem and in November 1865, the mayor and aldermen passed a resolution that established a "voluntary police force". Chattanooga continued to police itself in this manner until the state legislature passed an act in 1866 that established a police district in Chattanooga.

The maximum number of policemen authorized by the act was twenty-four, with one commissioner and two sergeants.

Official uniforms made their appearance during this period and photographs of early members show dark coats and trousers with metal buttons. Hats had a bell crown shape with a bill.

The crime situation began to improve but there were other threats to the community. In 1867, spring rains caused the Tennessee River to crest 30 feet above flood stage on the night of March 8th. There were no fatalities but property damage was extensive. The water was so deep that boats could travel up as far as Market Street. In 1871 fires leveled more than a block of homes and businesses on Market Street between 7th and 9th streets.

In November of 1869, the office of city marshal was re-established and the police force remained under the control of various marshals until the legislature revised the charter again in 1883.

In 1878, the police department was located at 182-184 Market Street. The number of policemen was limited to 10, with one lieutenant and the city marshal. Salaries were $540 a year for officers, while the lieutenant made $720 and marshal $900.

In 1879 the lease expired on the previous premises and the police department was in need of a new station house. The city council was also pressing for the construction of a workhouse.

Offenses for which a citizen could be jailed included fast driving, riding on the streets with lewd women, visiting a house of ill fame for lewd purposes and playing cards on a Sunday. Such laws were actually enforced and arrests were made.

Tragedy struck the Chattanooga Police Department for the first time in April of 1879. Officer James Wiggins was killed in the line of duty while investigating a disturbance call. Robert Scott was arrested and charged with the crime but later escaped from jail and was never found.

The death of Officer Wiggins left his family without any income. To relieve their impoverished state, the board of aldermen voted a lump sum of four months salary to be paid to the widow. This amounted to $60.

As the 1870's drew to a close, more railroads came to Chattanooga and industry began to expand. Chattanooga was progressive and citizens began using an early type of mass transit in the form of the Chattanooga Street Railway Company. Telephones made their appearance on July 8, 1880 when the first exchange was opened. There were 52 customers. In 1882, the city turned on its first electric lights.

The 1880 census reported that there were 13,000 people in Chattanooga. By 1882, that figure had grown to almost 18,000.

Chattanooga was policed by 12-man force in 1880. Headquarters was still at 182-184 Market Street. Sessions court was held on Market between 6th and 7th street. Policemen worked 12-hour shifts and there were five wards. In order to keep pace with the city's growth, the council elected to increase the number of policemen by two. A total of $6,000 was allotted for policemen's salaries in 1881.

Police headquarters was moved to 4th and Market Streets. The building at that location was already the county lock-up and the upper floor was used as the circuit judge's courtroom. Police headquarters was only a block from the "restricted' section of town which included the brothels and saloons. Because of the close proximity to trouble spots, officers were able to respond to calls fairly quickly.

On March 29, 1883 the Tennessee legislature again passed an act "to amend the charter of the City of Chattanooga." This act was the result of a power struggle between political factions in Nashville and Chattanooga. The act established a new metropolitan system which provided that "It shall not be lawful for the mayor and aldermen to elect or appoint any of the police force of the city, but the same shall be appointed by the majority of three commissioners, which commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor; their terms of office shall be for three years, not more than two of whom shall be of the same political party; the said commissioners are fully empowered to exercise power and control over the police of the city; they shall appoint as policeman men of known integrity and character, fully competent to discharge the duties of policemen physically and mentally, and no person shall be a policeman who has not reached his 25th year; the commission is authorized to fix the salaries and establish rules and regulations for the government of the force; the office of city marshal is abolished and the commissioners shall appoint a Chief of Police in his stead", and so the position was born.

Chattanooga Police Department
3410 Amnicola Hwy.
Chattanooga, TN 37406 (map)

Office hours are Monday through Friday 8:00 AM through 4:30 PM

Emergencies: 911

To report a crime or request assistance: (423) 698-2525

General Information:
(423) 643-5000

Crime Prevention and Community Outreach:
(423) 643-5090

Crime Stoppers Hotline:
(423) 698-3333

Drug Tip Hotline:
(423) 493-BUST (2878)

Homicide Tip Line: 
(423) 643-5100

Homeland Security




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Photo by Mike Williams