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Public-Private Effort Saves Rocky Face Ridge In Georgia
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 sources.

"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 Georgia.

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 can achieve."

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, he said.

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 still visible.

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."

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