The seat of Catoosa County in northwest Georgia, Ringgold is the county’s second-largest city, with a population of 2,422 in 2000. (Fort Oglethorpe, seven miles to the west, is the largest). The world’s largest concentration of carpet manufacturing companies is located in Dalton and Calhoun to the southeast of Ringgold, and some of these companies’ secondary carpet and yarn plants are located there. The biggest, Shaw Industries, owned by Nebraska billionaire investor Warren Buffet, has several facilities in Ringgold. O. Wayne Rollins, cofounder of Rollins, Inc., was born near Ringgold, at Catoosa Springs. A philanthropist, Rollins donated millions of dollars to Emory University in Atlanta and Young Harris College in Towns County.
The town was founded in 1847 as a shipping post, helped by its location on the Western and Atlantic Railroad line. It was named for Mexican War (1846-48) hero Samuel Ringgold, who was killed in 1846 at the Battle of Palo Alto. The town sits on Chickamauga Creek, a tributary of the Tennessee River, in a valley between Lookout Mountain and Taylor’s Ridge, which stretches from Chattooga County across the Tennessee state line.
Cherokee Indians were early settlers of the area around Ringgold. Red Clay, Tennessee, the Cherokee seat of government from 1832 to 1838, is located about sixteen miles northeast of Ringgold, and New Echota, Georgia, the previous Cherokee capital, is about thirty miles south of Ringgold. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Scots-Irish families emigrated from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia and settled parts of northwest Georgia.
During the Civil War (1861-65) Ringgold served as a point of entry for Union troops invading the state and as a focal point for the event that later became known as the Andrews Raid or the Great Locomotive Chase. On April 12, 1862, the General, a Confederate locomotive, was stolen by Union spies near Big Shanty (present-day Kennesaw). The Union soldiers were pursued by Confederates in a locomotive called the Texas, heading in reverse. The General ran out of wood and water just north of Ringgold. The Union men abandoned the steam engine and were later caught and tried.
The Battle of Ringgold Gap took place on November 27, 1863, as Confederates, retreating from Chattanooga, Tennessee, held back advancing Union troops for hours, preventing the capture of trains and artillery. After the battle Union forces leader Ulysses S. Grant made the Whitman House on Tennessee Street his headquarters. A number of homes in Ringgold were used as hospitals for Confederate soldiers in 1862 and 1863; they served more than 20,000 men.
General William T. Sherman stopped at Catoosa Springs in May 1864 on his march to the sea. Ringgold’s train depot, built in 1849, was a station for soldiers. The depot’s sandstone walls contain holes from Union cannon fire, and limestone blocks were used for repair. The depot recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation and can be rented by public groups for various functions.
Ringgold, located on Interstate 75 just south of the Tennessee border, has long been a gateway to Georgia from the northwest. Numerous hotels were built near the Ringgold exit ramp to accommodate visitors for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Still, the area’s culture retains a heavy Appalachian influence: Catoosa County typically votes Republican in national elections; less than 1 percent of the county’s population is African American; labor in the carpet and yarn mills never organized, and the factories are still not unionized.
For decades Ringgold was known as a marriage mecca because couples could obtain same-day blood tests and be married on the spot by the Catoosa County probate judge. Ringgold’s marriage-mecca status ended in 2003 when a new state law eliminated the requirement of a blood test before marriage. Some of the celebrities who were married in Ringgold include Dolly Parton, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, and Don Everly of the Everly Brothers.