October 13, 2014: Even though not in my original plans when I was staying in Marietta, the day I spent here at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park turned out to be my favorite outing.
I was never particularly interested in the Civil War during history lessons in school, but I definitely find the story of this conflict fascinating now. It’s inconceivable to me that in many cases it was literally brother fighting against brother as there was even division among families as to which cause was just and worth dying for.
Definitely start at the Visitor Center and check out the info about the battles that took place here. The 30 minute movie was quite interesting and helps set the stage for the sites you will be seeing.
Brief perspectives from both sides and the generals and troops who fought here.
In a report from Lt. Colonel R.A. Fulton: “The rebels fought with a desperation worthy of a better cause.”
On weekdays, you can drive your car the four miles to the top of the mountain, but on weekends and holidays, the only way to get there is by the park shuttle bus that runs every 30 minutes. There’s also a walking trail to the side of the Visitor Center that will get you up there in about a mile, but obviously uphill all the way.
Clash at Kennesaw:
“June 27, 1864, dawned hot and muggy. Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s 100,000-man Union army faced Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s 65,000 Confederates entrenched along an eight-mile front from Kennesaw Mountain south. After an early morning artillery bombardment, a wave of Union soldiers surged forward across this field and the battle begun.”
Walking along the trail, check out the info on the “Dueling Cannons” that concludes: “Despite steady rainfall, the Federals and Confederates bombarded each other intermittently day and night for a week. Although the cannonades inflicted little damage on either side, their intensity provoked one Federal to write, “I never saw such firing in a rainstorm or a worse mud hole.”
This overlook tells you about “The Fall of Atlanta.”
“Once beyond Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman bore down on the South’s railroad and supply hub. After the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, the muddy roads dried, allowing Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman to return to his flanking strategy. On July 2, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate soldiers abandoned their Kennesaw lines for other prepared defenses at Smyrna and then the Chattahoochee River, only to have the larger Union army go around them each time. President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, dissatisfied with Johnston’s retreats, replaced him with the combative Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. With the Union army closing in on Atlanta, Hood went on the offensive with his beleaguered Confederate army.”
9 days after the Kennesaw battle, Sherman wires Washington that Atlanta was “fairly won.” Later describing the destruction of the city, General Sherman wrote, “Behind us lay Atlanta, smouldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city.”
From here, you drive from the Visitor’s Center to other locations, like Pigeon Hill and Cheatham Hill.
At Cheatham Hill you learn about “Camouflaged Cannons” and how earthen mounds with cut underbrush “stunned the Federal lines and, according to one Confederate officer, “did great execution.” Another reported: “The cannons bellowed like mad bulls.”
“A Humanitarian Act”
“After each Union assault on June 27, hundreds of casualties were left between the lines. By afternoon, wounded Union soldiers lying helpless near here faced a new danger: flames, started by the battle’s gunfire, crept steadily toward them. Lt. Col. William P. Martin, commanding the 1st and 15th Consolidated Arkansas Regiment, jumped onto the earthworks and ordered his Confederates to cease fire. Waving a white flag of truce, Martin shouted to the Federals, ‘Come and remove your wounded. They are burning to death.’ For a brief time, Northerners and Southerners alike rescued the wounded and put out the fires. The next day, Union officers presented Colonel Martin with a pair of Colt revolvers in appreciation of his humanitarian act.”
“Confederate engineers and work crews started digging earthworks around Kennesaw Mountain a few days before their army fell back to this position on June 19. For the next week Southern soldiers improved their earthwork defenses despite constant rain. The Southerners dug deep, throwing the dirt toward the Union side of the trenches. The earthen wall – called a parapet – was topped with a braced log, leaving an open space beneath it for soldiers to shoot through. Fighting from behind those defenses, the Confederates held a great advantage over the attacking Federals during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, 1864.”
There are signs like this all over with the information, “Today within Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, 11 miles of shallow ditches remain from those formidable earthworks. Help preserve these fragile resources by staying on the park’s trails.” These areas are not roped off and it would definitely detract from the area if it had to be, but I was surprised by how many people I still saw walking over these historic earthworks. Such a shame!
But my favorite part of the day was at the Illinois Monument and the trails around it.
The Illinois Monument on Cheatham Hill is the largest monument on the battlefield. Near the base is the entrance to a tunnel begun by Union soldiers intending to blow up the Confederate position with a mine. It also tells us about the Union Earthworks:
“Union troops of Col. Daniel McCook’s brigade…realized they could not break the Confederate line and fell back to this point. Half of them returned fire while the others, using bayonets, swords, tin cups and plates, scooped dirt to make a protective parapet. Tools were brought forward after dark and two lines of entrenchments were built. Except for a brief truce on June 29 to bury the dead, for six days a constant skirmish fire was exchanged between the lines here.”
Sitting on the bench a short distance away from the monument and gazing out onto what was those lines, I couldn’t help but shutter at the images my mind evoked of the described conflict. The sun was just starting to set, but I honestly don’t know what this cloudy haze is because I don’t remember seeing it when I stood here, but just noticed after downloading the picture. Maybe it’s remnants of ghostly gun smoke or spirits? I know my “techy” friends would have the explanation of how the light hit the camera lens or whatever science would say, but I prefer the more spooky explanation. 🙂
The woods are peaceful and lovely now, but markers showing where troops were located remind you of when the land was ravaged and stained with blood.
“Following the Civil War in 1866, nearly all Union dead were removed from the Atlanta campaign battlefields and hospital sites to Marietta National Cemetery. This grave was undiscovered until 1938. The Confederate earthworks in the vicinity were unsuccessfully assaulted by the Union Brigade of Col. John G. Mitchell. This solder, “known but to God” – was killed in action and buried where he fell.”
I thought it was interesting that – like Margaret Mitchell’s grave at Oakland Cemetery – coins were left as mementos and signs of respect. This guy scored a cigar, too.
This is where I turned around. Mainly because I backed up to that branch with the big leaf hanging down when I was taking the picture of the grave. It hit me right on the shoulder and felt like someone’s hand there, and I definitely disturbed the peace here when I screamed like a banshee!
There are almost 20 miles of hiking trails throughout the park and I found myself wishing I had more time to spend here just to walk more of them. It was such a beautiful fall day, but dusk was approaching and no way would I want to be out here in the dark. Especially after my close encounter with the hand-branch, every time I heard an acorn drop, I’d walk a little faster. When the wind whipped up, the falling leaves seemed like tears shed for all the loss embodied here. Obviously, this place had quite an effect on me and it seems hard to believe anyone could visit these grounds without some pause for the impact these times had in our nation’s history.
It wasn’t until the next day that I visited the last site within the park: Kolb Farmhouse
This setting reminded me of the casualties beyond the armies – how so many farms and homesteads were ravaged and people forced to leave, in some cases never able to return.
Peter Kolb, his wife and eight children were a wealthy family during the hey-day of this 600 acre farm built in 1836, but by 1864, Peter was dead and war was ravaging the countryside. The rest of the family abandoned their homestead and it ended up being used as Union General Joseph Hooker’s headquarters. On June 22, 1864, Confederate General Hood engaged Union General Hooker near this location.
The Kolb farmhouse is the only remaining park building that existed during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and is a rare example from an early period of Cobb County settlement. The interior, although adapted to serve as park quarters, still reflects the original Georgian plan. Both the house and the cemetery remain in their original location.
We all know the end result of all these battles, but here’s a recap of “Confederate and Union Forces Clash at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain” from The History Channel:
“In the days leading up to the assault at Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman tried to flank Johnston. Since one of Johnston’s generals, John Bell Hood, attacked at Kolb’s Farm, Georgia, and lost 1,500 precious Confederate soldiers, Sherman believed that Johnston’s line was stretched thin and that an assault would break the Rebels. So he changed his tactics and planned a move against the center of the Confederate lines around Kennesaw Mountain. He feigned attacks on both of Johnston’s flanks, then hurled 8,000 men at the Confederate center. It was a disaster. Entrenched Southerners bombarded the Yankees, who were attacking uphill. Three thousand Union troops fell, compared with just 500 Confederates.
The battle was only a marginal Confederate victory. Sherman remained in place for four more days, but one of the decoy attacks on the Confederate flanks did, in fact, place the Union troops in a position to cut into Johnston’s rear. On July 2, Johnston had to vacate his Kennesaw Mountain lines and retreat toward Atlanta. Sherman followed, and the slow campaign lurched on into the Georgia summer.”
Location/Contact: 900 Kennesaw Mountain Dr. – Kennesaw, GA – 770-427-4686
Kennesaw Mountain (NPS Park Brochure)
Kennesaw Mountain (Civil War.org)
Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (New Georgia Encyclopedia)
I found this interesting: “The number of guests who visit the park each year has climbed steadily from around 4,700 in 1939 to 1.4 million in 2004. Part of the reason for this tremendous growth is that the park remains the largest wilderness area in the metropolitan Atlanta area. Unfortunately, this heavy visitation comes with a cost. In 2005 the park was named one of the Civil War Preservation Trust’s “Ten Most Endangered” battlefields, due primarily to the impact of urban sprawl and traffic congestion.”
My advice: Don’t miss this great experience while you still can!