Georgia & South Carolina Civil War Heritage Trails
Steven W. Longcrier
April 2008 Preservation News
The American Civil War, or War Between the States if you prefer, changed America forever. Its impact on our nation was greater than any other event, whether it was another war, a natural disaster or sporting spectacular.
Approximately 18,000 South Carolinians were killed between 1861 and 1865, plus another 11,000 Georgians, while 860,000 others in these two states were emancipated by the war’s outcome. In commemoration of this momentous era in history and after years of planning, a non-profit organization is currently interpreting Georgia’s Civil War era along various “historic driving routes” while leading visitors on an experience back in time.
The organization’s program is also expanding into South Carolina. Indeed the drives themselves, over historic routes once traveled by soldiers wearing Blue or Gray, are as important to understanding Georgia’s and South Carolina’s roles in the Civil War as are the hundreds of new interpretive markers along the way that tell the stories of both soldiers and civilians.
Georgia and South Carolina Civil War Heritage Trails also highlights numerous preservation opportunities, with many scenic and cultural benefits.
Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails divides the state into six regions, each an area or major event from its “Civil War era.” The campaign for Atlanta and the March to the Sea were Georgia’s most significant Civil War era “events.” Therefore two driving routes chronicling this history are currently under construction from far northwest Georgia, through metro Atlanta, then on to the Atlantic coast.
Next to be marked will be the historic route Confederate President Jefferson Davis traveled through Georgia’s Piney Woods as he attempted to evade Federal capture in 1865. The marking of this driving route is also being expanded into South Carolina, stretching generally southwest from metro Charlotte, crossing several South Carolina counties to the Savannah River, as part of the program’s first expansion across state borders.
Plans call for two additional South Carolina historic driving routes to chronicle Sherman’s March and the entire war along the state’s coast. Three other Georgia historic driving routes will interpret Union Gen. James Wilson’s Raid through west-central Georgia, plus regional routes through south and northeast Georgia, respectively.
In addition to military history, many other subjects from the Civil War era are interpreted along each trail, including the roles of women, African‑Americans, hospitals, churches, railroads and much more.
Each interpretive marker is “linked” along a trail by hundreds of roadway identification “trailblazer” signs to various national and state parks, museums, and many other Civil War era attractions. Coming soon, travelers will be able to obtain full‑color brochures of the first two Georgia trails at visitor centers throughout the state. These brochures have been created by a statewide citizen’s committee, assisted by the Tourism Division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
The educational benefits of Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails are numerous. Through a multi-level “History Committee,” with representatives from the National Park Service, Georgia’s Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division, several colleges and universities, published authors and numerous local historians, the content of every interpretive marker is checked and re‑checked.
Documentation is required, and all markers include a map, photographs and/or wartime era drawings, to help the history being described “come alive.” Each interpretive marker is constructed featuring the same design used by the National Park Service, further supported by a long‑term maintenance program.
While most interpretive markers are located near already-existing public parking, at several locations the program coordinates with the state’s Department of Transportation, local jurisdictions and landowners to build public parking where none previously existed for several cars and at least one bus. Such features are great for individuals, families, school field trips and other tour groups.
Georgia and South Carolina Civil War Heritage Trails are operated by a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, guided by citizen committees and a talented volunteer Board of Trustees committed to the principle of local citizen involvement. Each community has its own unique heritage. Therefore, local citizens select each new interpretive marker location and draft its content, subject to its public accessibility and historical significance.
The non-profit organization currently coordinates nearly 100 participating local communities, providing its expertise to help create and manage the overall program. Although it remains each community’s responsibility to safeguard the preservation of its local historic sites, their participation in this program, with the resultant publicity and subsequent increase in tourism revenues generated by new visitation, provides an economic incentive for preservation.
Far too often important historic sites have been lost in the past because the preference of elected officials and/or private developers has been to bulldoze this history in the name of “progress.”
Development of such a historic site usually generates increased property taxes, the lifeblood of almost every community. Yet the additional visitation generated through participation in this program also generates new sales tax and “bed tax” revenues for local communities. This in turn provides more local jobs, generating more income tax revenues.
And the best part of these new tourism revenues for local municipalities is that, unlike new permanent residents, tourists don’t require new schools or new subdivisions to be built. Tourists visit a historic site, spend some of their money that enters the local economy, then go back home.
Thus the historic site educates the public, adds to the local “quality-of-life,” and contributes to the economic vitality of the community by creating new jobs and generating new tax revenues. This type of historic preservation is a “win-win” scenario for everyone, in which Georgia and South Carolina Civil War Heritage Trails is proud to participate.
Thanks to the awarding of federal Transportation Enhancement funds, further supported by both state and local governments, plus organizations representing over 70 local communities, and donations from individuals across the country, we have begun erecting the first of thousands of new colorful roadway directional trailblazer signs across Georgia and South Carolina, plus hundreds of new interpretive markers at many historic locations. Many of these historic sites have never before been interpreted.
Yet as we construct this network of Civil War heritage trails, each one explaining various aspects about the important roles Georgia and South Carolina played in America’s most defining era, additional funds are always needed. If you would like to help in this effort, please mail your donation to Civil War Heritage Trails, P.O. Box 1864, Evans, GA 30809. A tax receipt will be mailed to you promptly, along with our sincere thanks.
We invite you to visit our “work in progress” Web site, at www.gcwht.org, in order to follow our progress. Then drive for yourself Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails, and later South Carolina Civil War Heritage Trails, to visit many of the places where important history was made.
If you stop at some places long enough, to look and to listen, you might even hear a distant Rebel Yell, or glimpse Old Glory in the heat of battle. You will definitely learn more about why both Georgia and South Carolina were keys to the conflict that shaped America’s greatness!
Steven W. Longcrier is the founder and Executive Director of both Georgia and South Carolina Civil War Heritage Trails. The former manager of the Civil War Heritage Tourism Program for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, he is a participant on planning committees in Georgia and South Carolina for each state’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration. Longcrier is a past recipient of national historical awards from the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, as well as a recipient of the Georgia Governor’s Award for Excellence in Tourism. For more information on the Civil War Heritage Trails, visit www.gcwht.org.