In the spring and summer of 1864 the guns of the boys from Tennessee and Louisiana and Michigan and Iowa blazed in the rolling countryside of north Georgia. Many of the blood-stained fields and forests where those Ameri-cans struggled have long since given way to the bulldozers' blade and are now marked by interstate exits, residential neighborhoods, fast food emporiums and other commercial facilities.
Atlanta, which long ago proclaimed itself "the city too busy to hate," was also too busy to remember, or at least too busy to set aside the places where some of the most momentous events of the nation's history were played out. Thus the ever-expanding city, its eye always on the future, grew up over the sites of the battles of Peachtree Creek, Atlanta and Ezra Church.
Happily, Atlanta is showing signs that its Civil War heritage is worthy of its attention and protection, as seen in the recent acquisition by the city of a key parcel (more on this in a moment).
The events that led up to and followed the fighting in and around Atlanta took place to the northwest and southeast of the city. Those actions occurred largely in rural and small town settings where development over the decades has been minimal, and many of the sites have been preserved or have been unthreatened. Some sites, however, particularly in the Interstate 75 corridor linking Atlanta and Chattanooga, have been overrun by development. Others that have thus far remained untouched will be jeopardized in the coming years.
The Georgia Civil War Commission was formed by the state's General Assembly in 1993 to coordinate planning, preservation and promotion of structures, buildings, battlefields and other sites associated with the Civil War. The commission is made up of 15 volunteers serving terms of two, three or four years, appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the state house of representatives.
The group has worked to preserve Georgia's Civil War heritage despite an extremely limited budget and an administrative staff of two part-time employees.
The commission played a key role in the recent preservation of a 105-acre tract of land in southwest Atlanta adja-cent to Utoy Creek that was included on the Civil War Preservation Trust's Ten Most Endangered list. The site is laced with trenches dug by Union Gen. John Palmer's XIV Corps in August 1864 during the siege of Atlanta. Charles Nash, a Civil War relic hunter, brought the land to the commission's attention when he discovered that the property was being prepared for development.
In 2001, the commission began negotiations with the landowner, Cascade Properties, to save the property. With philanthropic help from the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, the Georgia Greenspace Program, the City of Atlanta Greenway Acquisition Project and the Quality of Life Improvements Bond Project, the Georgia Civil War Commission facilitated the purchase of the land for the City of Atlanta for $2.65 million. Plans for the site, a heavily-wooded parcel surrounded by a residential area, include trails and interpretive signs.
Although the city grew up over many of the sites where desperate fighting took place, small pockets of undevel-oped land containing beautifully-preserved earthworks can still be found on Atlanta's landscape. Less than five miles northwest of the recently-acquired property abutting Utoy Creek, remnants of Gen. Joseph Johnston's ingenious fortifications line the north bank of the Chattahoochee River.
Portions of the innovative earthworks, called "Shoupades" after their designer, Army of Tennessee engineer Francis Shoup, stand undisturbed in a timbered tract bordering an industrial area. The land is owned by Cobb County; the commission is working to ensure that it remains undeveloped and hopes that eventually interpretation can be provided for this extraordinary site.
The Georgia Civil War Commission is also negotiating for the preservation of three parcels of land containing Union earthworks to the west of Johnston's river line. The earthworks, which line Nickajack Creek near its confluence with the Chattahoochee River, are jeopardized by a subdivision and retail development. The commission is promoting the preservation of these sites as historical pocket parks that would not only protect an important chapter in Atlanta's heritage but would also enhance property values.
In the late 1990s, the commission began working toward the establishment of a system of Civil War driving trails, similar in concept to the extremely successful Civil War trails network in Virginia. A group not affiliated with the commission also began working toward the same end. There was considerable confusion among the state's Civil War preservation community because the activities and aims of each group seemed to overlap with the other. Many people around Georgia assumed the two groups were working in concert. The reality was that the two parties failed to find a common ground where the efforts of each could be joined.
Earlier this year, the commission decided that the establishment of a Civil War driving trails network would be an all-consuming effort for the next several years. Also, members of the commission agreed that the escalating friction with the other trails group would probably have an adverse effect on the state's Civil War community in the long run. The commission voted to discontinue its work on the driving trails and return its focus to the preservation of particular sites and acting as a resource for groups involved in Civil War preservation at the grass roots level.
The commission's most notable successes have come when its efforts have been sharply focused on preserving a particular site, such as the Utoy Creek earthworks. In June 1997 the commission acquired 17 acres of the battlefield at Griswoldville in middle Georgia. Griswoldville was the site of the only infantry engagement during the March to the Sea until William T. Sherman's forces reached Savannah in late 1864.
In early 2000, the commission celebrated the acquisition of a 508-acre tract at Resaca, where the troops of Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston collided in May 1864 in the first major engagement of the Atlanta Campaign. The commission was an active player in the effort to save the pristine property bordering Interstate 75, working with local individuals such as Jim Langford and groups such as the Friends of Resaca.
The commission also urged individuals and groups to contact then Governor Roy Barnes to ask him to take any necessary measures to save the historic ground. The response was overwhelming. Thousands of letters and e-mails flooded the governor's office. Among those sending messages were former President Jimmy Carter, former Georgia Senators Sam Nunn and Max Cleland and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson.
In May 2000, the state purchased the land for $2.36 million. Plans for the site include a visitor center, parking, roads and hiking paths. A wooden rail fence has been erected along the western boundary of the property, and the Friends of Resaca has planned to produce a color brochure for a 10-stop driving tour of the Resaca battlefield.
The Friends of Resaca are currently involved in the acquisition of a tract of land adjacent to but not connected with the 506-acre state-owned Resaca battlefield. The 63-acre tract east of Interstate 75 contains fortifications built by the Confederates and later occupied by the Federals to protect the Western and Atlantic Railroad bridge over the Oostanaula River.
The commission continues to raise awareness of Civil War preservation issues in the state and promote contact between preservation groups through its annual Civil War Preservation Forum. These events, held on the campuses of Georgia colleges and universities, bring together preservationists, historians, public officials and others to examine and discuss the issues, problems and possible solutions related to the state's preservation issues.
Georgia is a treasure chest of Civil War heritage. With many Civil War-related sites across the state threatened by development, the next few years will be crucial to preserving as much of the treasure as possible. The Georgia Civil War Commission plans to be in the thick of that struggle.
You may contact the commission at 156 Trinity Ave. SW, Suite 101, Atlanta, GA 30303; (404) 657-7294; www.ganet.org/civilwar
Dan Childs is vice-chairman of the Georgia Civil War Commission, to which he was appointed in 1998. He has had a deep and abiding interest in the Civil War since his childhood. He is a member of the Civil War Preservation Trust, former chairman of the Geo