Public-Private Effort Saves Rocky Face Ridge
By Deborah Fitts
May 2002. DALTON, Ga.
The site of the first battle that led to the 1864
siege of Atlanta has been preserved, thanks to a four-year effort
and a complex public-private partnership.
The $770,000 deal secured 625 acres comprising the battlefield
of Rocky Face Ridge, where on May 8 and 9, 1864, forces under
Union Gen. William T. Sherman failed to dislodge Confederate
Gen. Joseph Johnston. Stone breastworks built by the Southerners,
extending 1690 yards, still stand.
Frances Kennedy, director of the Conservation Fund's Battlefield
Campaign, announced the acquisition in late March. Kennedy spear-headed
the project from its inception, resorting to her trademark practice
of enlisting wide-ranging support from local, state and federal
"We had just total cooperation," said Kennedy. She
praised the participation of community leaders in neighboring
Dalton and in Whitfield County, as well as the cooperation of
the nine landowners.
"Their dedication to preserving their community's heritage
and linking it to the area's economic future is a model for
others," Kennedy said.
She called the battlefield "a very beautiful, untouched
ridge, absolutely pristine."
Funding for the purchase included a $257,000 grant from the
federal Land & Water Conservation Fund, a matching grant
of $472,000 from the Georgia Community Greenspace Program, a
state conservation program, and a $41,000 grant to complete
the purchase from the private Community Foundation of Northwest
Mike Babb, chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners,
called the preservation outcome "positive proof of the
degree of accomplishment a communitywide, comprehensive effort
Babb said the county will keep the property undeveloped, which
will help protect adjacent Mill Creek and other natural resources.
The battle will be interpreted and the fortifications protected,
Kennedy noted that a publication that the Conservation Fund
published in partnership with the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of
Com-merce, A Guide to the Atlanta Campaign, helped to spark
interest in preserving Rocky Face Ridge.
National Park Service historian David Lowe, who mapped the bat-tlefield,
said the stone breastworks, "some in quite good condi-tion,"
stand 3 to 4 feet high. There are also hundreds of one- and
two-man fighting holes, a couple of Confederate artillery positions,
and nearly a thousand yards of more hastily built Union breastworks.
"In some areas it looks like they just walked off a few
years back," Lowe said.
Johnston had dug in across the valley north of Dalton, anchoring
his left flank on the ridge. In Federal after-action reports,
officers described the steepness of the ridge, dropping on both
sides from a crest so narrow that four men couldn't stand abreast.
During the battle the Federals wrestled an artillery piece into
place overnight; Lowe said the rock works protecting it are
Lowe cited heavy fighting on Rocky Face ridge at the apex of
the Confederate line, which was only 100 yards from the Union
artil-lery. Federals launched a "brigade-sized attack,"
Lowe said, but eventually abandoned the effort. Sherman moved
south, where he and Johnston clashed again in the battle of
Resaca May 13 through 15.
Kennedy noted that grants from the Turner Foundation and the
Gilder Foundation supported publication of the Atlanta Campaign
guide. A spokesman for the family that sold the property, Harry
Looper, said the family was "happy to see the land and
its place in history preserved."