Civil War Galore

My exploration of the Atlanta Campaign prompted me to take a day trip further north to see some of the other sites in that campaign, in particular Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, and Rome Cross Roads. But as is usual with such tourism, you always discover other things when you’re out, such as the Chetoogeta Mountain Tunnel and the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension. But there is a lot more Civil War stuff in Georgia too. This post deals with some of it, and how it is memorialized. 

In Catoosa County, almost in Tennessee, one finds the main site for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. I regret to say that I was completely unaware of how massive (and massively deadly) the Battle of Chickamauga was in the course of the Civil War. Fought on September 18-20, 1863, it featured some 60,000 Union troops fighting 65,000 Confederates – producing, respectively, 16,000 and 18,000 casualties. Only Gettysburg had a higher toll. That this was a victory for the Confederacy in a war it ultimately lost, I suppose, puts it outside the narrative, so to speak, so it does not surprise me that Gettysburg is better known. 

In 1890, Congress authorized the foundation of this park, along with parks for the Battles of Gettysburg, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, in the first wave of federal Civil War preservation. To my chagrin the visitors’ center at Chickamauga was closed on account of the virus, but at 5300 acres, the park provides lots of things to see. These include artillery pieces:

Battlefield markers:

Plenty of signs explaining exactly what went on at various points in the battle (in gray for Confederate movements, and blue for Union):

And lots of monuments, contributed by various parties:

Florida.

Illinois

Indiana.

Kentucky, honoring soldiers who fought on both sides.

Gettysburg is like this too, if I recall correctly from a visit there many years ago. It is good to remember. The more monuments and markers, the better.

Today, this park has five other satellite sites, at Orchard Knob (for a battle fought there on Nov. 23, 1863), Lookout Mountain (Nov. 24, 1863), and Missionary Ridge (Nov. 25, 1863) – all commemorating subsequent Union victories in defense of Chattanooga, counting as part of the Chattanooga Campaign – plus Moccasin Bend (an American Indian site) and Signal Point (a Civil War signal station). But Chickamauga is the showpiece, and I’m looking forward to returning some day when the buildings are open, and when the weather is not quite as hot. 

The final battle in the Chattanooga Campaign was the battle of Ringgold Gap (Nov. 27, 1863), which counts as a Confederate victory because Patrick Cleburne held up Union forces, allowing Confederates and their equipment to escape, although the Union troops occupied Ringgold shortly thereafter. Ringgold Gap is not part of the national park, but one can view this GHC marker just outside of Ringgold, Ga. Do I detect a celebratory tone?

Cleburne certainly merits a statue…

…and outside the Ringgold railway depot flies Hardee’s flagWilliam J. Hardee was not at Ringgold Gap, but elements of his corps were, and Cleburne’s corps used the flag as well (my thanks to Eb Daniels for telling me about this). Thus does Ringgold accurately celebrate its Civil War heritage, while avoiding the Confederate Battle Flag that causes so much offense. 

Cleburne is noted for something else, which is edifying to our current sensibilities. On January 2, 1864, while stationed at Dalton, he offered up a “Proposal to Enlist Slaves and Guarantee Freedom to All Loyal Negroes.” According to an interpretive sign placed recently by Georgia’s Civil War Commission:

He cited that throughout history, slaves had fought beside master in many conflicts, and that the North was only using the slavery issue as “merely a pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government.” Remove slavery as a war factor and the foundations of the North’s argument would crumble. Cleburne also knew that Great Britain and France would likely recognize the South as a sovereign nation once it emancipated its own slaves.

But another marker, placed by the Georgia Historical Society in 2014 outside the Huff House in Dalton, which was serving as Johnston’s winter headquarters, tells that:

almost all the other generals present opposed the idea of black Confederate soldiers because it violated the principles upon which the Confederacy was founded. Gen. Patton Anderson said the proposal “would shake our governments, both state and Confederate, to their very foundations,” and Gen. A.P. Stewart said it was “at war with my social, moral, and political principles.” Considering the proposal treasonous, Gen. W.H.T. Walker informed President Jefferson Davis, who ordered any mention of it to be suppressed.

So despite the opinion of the Irish-born Cleburne, and some thirteen other officers who endorsed his proposal, it looks like the Confederate States of America really was all about slavery. Eventually the CSA did authorize a version of Cleburne’s proposal… on March 13, 1865, less than a month before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Bit late for that, I guess!

Ringgold Gap was also where Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign began on May 7, 1864. Here is a WPA marker testifying to this event.

Seven miles away, also on May 7, Union forces seized the Western & Atlantic Railroad Tunnel and its namesake town. A GHC sign tells about it, in the usual stilted style. 

Right beside the western entrance to the railroad tunnel stands the Clisby Austin house, which had served as a railway hotel, then a Confederate hospital, and then as Sherman’s headquarters from May 7 to May 12, 1864. 

Google maps.

I made this map to show some of the places significant to the opening days of the Atlanta Campaign. After Ringgold and Tunnel Hill, the next major encounter was at Rocky Face Ridge. The underlined “Rocky Face” on the map in fact denotes Mill Creek Gap, which the Confederates had spent the previous winter fortifying, including by damming Mill Creek. Turns out that this operation was quite effective at keeping Union troops at bay.

According to another sign, Mill Creek Gap earned the nickname “Buzzard’s Roost,” on account of one soldier’s observation that “buzzards are roosting up there, waiting for us to die.” 

But in what became a common occurrence during the Atlanta campaign, Sherman simply used his superior numbers to outflank Confederate defenses. Dug Gap (marked with a blue star on the map) and Snake Creek Gap (marked with a red star) turned out to be just as useful for getting through Rocky Face Ridge. 

Thus did Johnston abandon Dalton and retreat to Resaca, where the pattern repeated itself. An attempt by Union troops against the Confederate line was unsuccessful, so Sherman ordered a flanking movement to the  south, crossing the Oostanaula River with Cumberland pontoon bridges and forcing another Confederate retreat. 

Of the four GHC markers at Resaca, this one is the most lucid.

But the NPS marker is more clear…

…and the WPA marker actually illustrates what happened.

The Battle of Resaca may have been inconclusive, but it produced some 2800 casualties for the Confederacy, many of whom were hastily buried, or not buried at all. When the local Green family returned to their home in 1866, they were shocked by this sight, and Mary Jane Green, who had served as matron in hospital in Macon during the war, decided to do something about it. Through newspaper advertisements across the South she raised $2000, and got her father to grant her 2.5 acres of land, on which she and her family painstakingly reinterred the Confederate war dead, identifying those they could, and placing those they could not around a large granite cross inscribed “For the Unknown Dead.” The dedication of the Resaca Confederate Cemetery took place on October 25, 1866, and is tied with a cemetery in Winchester, Virginia as the first such cemetery in the country. 

The project put Miss Green $500 in debt, so she petitioned the legislature for a grant to cover it – the first woman known to have addressed that body. Not only did they cover the $500, they gave her a further $3500 to rebury the dead of Chickamauga. She died in 1924 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. 

The next action in the campaign took place at Adairsville on May 17, 1864 – for which see a previous post, and the marker below, which I discovered at the intersection of Cassville Rd. NW and US-41 in Cassville. It gives further details about why Johnston’s attempted ambush of Union troops failed, but gives the credit to Edward McCook (not Daniel Butterfield) for spoiling it. I believe that Spring Place Road on the map is now Cedar Creek Road. 

Old Highway 41, along which most of the Atlanta Campaign markers may be found, had been part of the Dixie Highway, which at one point was the only way to drive from Chicago or Detroit to Florida for the winter. Thus did everyone along the route try to cash in on this traffic, by providing food or accommodation, or some roadside attraction or other reason to stop. See Down the Dixie Highway (56-minute video) for more. The WPA markers seem to be part of this: they are in fact located in “pocket parks” along the route – small parks enclosed by short walls, which would have provided a nice place for a break or a picnic. 

Cassville.

Resaca.

Mill Creek Gap.

It is interesting to see the different “layers” presented at these sites, although nothing quite matches the variety of memorials found at New Hope Church in Dallas. I appreciated the clarity (and neutrality) of the WPA/NPS markers in the pocket parks – it would have been nice if they had built one at Adairsville. The GHC markers are more common, but can also be for pretty obscure things, not written all that well, and occasionally biased towards the CSA. Markers put up by local history societies or the Georgia Historical Society are pretty good, although they’re much less common – and perhaps a bit biased in the other direction.* Best of all are the interpretive signs sponsored by the Georgia Civil War Commission and put up by Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails, Inc., I believe during the sesquicentennial years of 2011-2015. By that point technology allowed the integration of text and colored graphics, and the signs are informative and apparently well-researched, with no marked bias that I could ascertain. I hope that whatever material they are made of ends up surviving the elements.

Two observations in conclusion. When dealing with warfare, one is reminded that “history” is often simply an artificial order imposed on the past to try to make some sense of it. There is a formal list of the battles of the Atlanta campaign, but there were a lot of skirmishes and “demonstrations” that are not included in that list – and you just know that there were all sorts of things that happened that did not make it into the official record at all, given the sheer numbers of men involved and the fact that so many of them did not actually survive. This leads to the second observation: War really is Hell. As peaceful as these battlefields and cemeteries might be today, one cannot help but realize that huge numbers of young men died or were permanently disfigured in particularly gruesome (and often quite avoidable) ways during the Civil War. It is good to remember this, if only so that we can avoid it as much as possible in the future. 

* Note how the Carter center marker claims that Sherman’s troops “only destroyed property used for waging war,” but in the next sentence claims that they “lived off the land, destroying food they could not consume,” as if Southern civilians did not need food. One does not need to be Lost Causer to object to that. 

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