Kennesaw Battlefield Park Opens New Museum
By Joe Kirby
MARIETTA, Ga. - Civil War enthusiasts
November got an early Christmas present - or a long overdue
depending on how you look at it - with the opening of the museum
the visitors' center at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield
An estimated 300 people braved gusting winds
and un-Georgia-like fall
temperatures in the upper 30s for the opening festivities,
held in the center's front plaza and parking lot. After the
ceremony was expedited thanks to the cold, the shivering crowd
into the center and through the museum.
This is head and shoulders above anything else I've seen," said
Dale, a just-retired Army historian from nearby Fort McPherson
now serves on the board of the Kennesaw Mountain Historical
Association after he toured the museum for the first time. "The
displays are top-notch."
The ribbon-cutting for the museum was the
culmination of a 10-year
process that saw the community-based Friends of the Park group
more than $500,000 and Congress come up with the rest of the
for the $2.5 million expansion of the visitors' center and
replacement of the museum.
Unfortunately, the fundraising and then the
planning for and
construction of the center and museum turned out to be far
protracted than planned. The old museum was closed in 1997
displays put in storage while its former space was converted
center's spacious new bookstore area.
The long lag between the closure of the old
museum and the opening of
the new one irked visitors at times and frustrated park officials,
but now that all is said and done, it can honestly be said
wait was worth it.
Though the new museum certainly lacks the
scale of the Smithsonian,
its exhibits are Smithsonian-caliber in terms of quality and
Rocky Swann, chairman of the Historical Association,
pointed out that
many in the crowd were old enough to remember when the "visitors'
center" at the park was actually an old, frame farmhouse
approximate site of the current center, and that the museum
just one room of the old house.
It was replaced with a new center in time
for the battle's centennial
in 1964, but that center had long been outmoded and was overwhelmed
by visitors by the early 1990s. In addition to offices and
library, it featured a small theater showing a filmstrip; a
with room for two bookshelves; and an 800-square-foot museum
in a rectangular room lined with display cases and battle artifacts.
The new visitors' center offers a spacious
bookstore, a $400,000
video in the renovated theater, a meeting room and larger restrooms.
The new museum is 1,800 square feet and artfully
through displays that focus not just on the Battle of Kennesaw
Mountain, but on the Atlanta Campaign as a whole and on its
the 1864 presidential election.
It also includes segments on the causes of
the war, its impact on the
civilian population in places like nearby Marietta, the roles
by blacks, war industries in Georgia, and on the various aspects
the armies involved, such as their transportation, supply,
I think that what you will see in there is dramatically different
than what we had previously," said park historian Willy
Ray "Swampy" Johnson. "It tells
a broader story. It tells the story of the entire
war, with the emphasis on this battle, of course. "We've
visuals and wonderful artifacts. It will be with us for a while,
it will stand the test of time."
Holdover exhibits from the old museum include
a surgeon's kit and the
flag of the Cherokee Dragoons. (Two other flags in the park's
collection are being conserved and will eventually be put on
New displays include a cloth map of the Kennesaw
area that was
carried by Confederate Gen. Joe Wheeler, a 12-pdr. Napoleon
featured in a famous photograph taken by George Barnard just
Atlanta fell (see related story), and a 64-visage "wall
of faces" depicting the famous and unfamous
who took part in the Kennesaw battle (including Rebel Gen.
Patrick Cleburne, future writer
Bierce and Arthur MacArthur, father of Gen. Douglas MacArthur).
Exhibits range from photographs of the famous
to mundane personal
items of the rank-and-file, such as a pair of socks worn by
Columbus Sykes of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry. Sykes survived
battle, only to be crushed by a falling tree while sleeping
As visitors enter the museum, they are greeted
by an enlargement of
an Alfred R. Waud watercolor depicting cannoneers in action
the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Next to it is an enlarged
from Gen. William T. Sherman dated March 12, 1864: "All
that has come
before is mere skirmishing. The War now begins. ..."
As visitors they leave the museum, they pass
a 36-star United States flag, meant to symbolize the restored
Said museum curator Retha Stephens, "It's
been a long time coming,
but it's been a labor of love for so many of us. I'm just thrilled
that it's finally happening."
Rocky Swann pointed out that the Kennesaw
park is the largest unit of
the National Park Service self-contained in a large metropolitan
area. "And now, our new museum and visitors' center are
with our area and the events that took place here," he
The Kennesaw Mountain park is visited by well
over a million people a
year and consistently has ranked in the top two or three battlefield
parks in the nation each year in terms of visitation in the
decade. It ranked second in 2001, behind only Gettysburg, according
to park officials.
Park historian Johnson said his only lament
was that park
Superintendent John Cissell was unable to attend the opening. "It's
almost criminal that he couldn't be here, since it was under
leadership that this was directed." Cissell fell several
to the event and fractured several vertebrae.
" The new museum is just so much more
comprehensive than the old
museum," said Cissell later. "It has so many more
display and we can change things around occasionally. I just
will serve the public so much better than the old museum did."