Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Remembering Atlanta's formidable defenses

Engineer Lemuel P. Grant had quite a chore ahead of him beginning in the summer of 1863. The possibility of Union forces one day besieging Atlanta was becoming a reality.

With seed money of $5,000 to buy property and equipment, Grant, a native of Maine, and Col. Moses Wright began erecting the South’s fiercest defenses.

“They told him put to a fort on somebody’s pasture,” said living historian Robert Mitchell of Loganville, Ga. “It doesn’t matter whose.”

Grant (photo below) began buying private property and placating homeowners who had to move out of the way.

The 12-mile circle around the city had 25 forts/redoubts when it was completed using civilian and slave labor by the summer of 1864. The photo by George Barnard above was taken near the current Georgia Tech campus.

Using old maps and photos, Mitchell (bottom photo) gave visitors at the recent B*ATL an overview of just how dug in the city had become.

The defenses roughly track the boundaries of modern downtown Atlanta. You have to remember this was a pretty small city, although it had become the industrial and transportation center of the Deep South.

Union Gen. William T. Sherman knew a frontal assault on Fort Peachtree and Fort Hood, for example, would be costly.

His chief engineer found the fortifications “too strong to assault and too extensive to invest.”

"They completely encircled the city," Capt. O.M. Poe reported, "at a distance of about one and a half miles from the center and consisted of a system of batteries, open to the rear and connected by infantry parapets, with complete abatis, in some places in three or four rows, with rows of pointed stakes, and long lines of chevaux-de-frise.

"In many places rows of palisading were planted along the foot of the exterior slope of the infantry parapet with sufficient openings be¬tween the timbers to permit the infantry fire, if carefully delivered, to pass freely through it, but not sufficient to permit a person to pass through, and having a height of twelve to fourteen feet. The ground in front of these palisades was always completely swept by fire from the adjacent batteries, which enabled a very small force to hold them."

In the end, attacking the defenses wasn’t necessary. After three key battles outside the defenses, Sherman won the vital railroads he wanted. Gen. John Bell Hood and his forces had to evacuate Atlanta on Sept. 1, 1864.

Today, practically nothing from the fortifications survives.

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