Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mystery of the marker: Group wants sign back at scene of pivotal Atlanta battle

Robby Mitchell has a simple mission that will take some work to accomplish: Returning a marker to a piece of land where Abraham Lincoln's presidency's may have been saved.

Mitchell (left), of Loganville, Ga., came across the plaque at an antiques mall east of Atlanta. How and when it got there remains a mystery.

Entitled "Leggett's Hill," the marker briefly recounts failed Confederate efforts to take the rise (then called Bald Hill) during the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864.

The monument was erected by the East Atlanta chapter (No. 108) of the Order of the Eastern Star, a fraternal organization.

Mitchell, a past president of the Georgia-based Armory Guards living history group, paid about $250 on the organization's behalf for the marker.

"The long-term plan is to get it back out there in some shape or form," Mitchell took the Picket during the recent B*ATL (Battle of Atlanta) weekend in East Atlanta, where he displayed the tablet.

"It's quite possible that the most significant battle of the entire war took place in Atlanta," said Mitchell. "This (marker) is a secondary piece of history that has been misplaced. It is a way to attach to these events."

Mitchell will have to use the skills of a detective to find where the monument stood, where it could fit in now -- and who even owns it.

The East Atlanta chapter of the O.E.S. folded in 1989.

Because of its size and configuration, the marker likely was screwed into a piece of rock, wall or a table, Mitchell said. (Click photo to enlarge)

Most of the hill was erased in the early 1960s to make way for Interstate 20. Mitchell suspects the marker, likely made in the 1940s or 1950s, may have been removed during construction.

Two larger Battle of Atlanta and Leggett's Hill historical are in place today along Moreland Avenue at I-20.

Even if the Armory Guards can donate the plaque or receive permission to erect it, finding the original or appropriate location could present challenges.

"Where do you put it where it is visible to everyone and it has some kind of meaning?" asked Mitchell.

He might find an ally in the B*ATL and other East Atlanta/Kirkwood associations that have helped revive interest in the Civil War and the combat that occurred across the neighborhoods.

Many historians write that the Union's success at Atlanta ensured the re-election of Lincoln, who faced stiff opposition from Democrat George McClellan. The victory proved the war was winnable.

Following is a National Park Service summary of the July 22, 1864, Battle of Bald Hill, which became known as Leggett's Hill after the commander of the XVII Corps division that defended it, Brig. Gen. Mortimer Leggett (above).

"On the evening of July 21 Hardee's Corps, accompanied by Wheeler's cavalry, began marching southward with the object of swinging around the Union left flank to Decatur, where it would strike McPherson's forces, after which it was to join Cheatham's and Stewart's Corps in sweeping the rest of the Union army toward the Chattahoochee. When it became evident that Hardee could not reach Decatur by morning, Hood authorized him to attack the immediate rear of McPherson. Hardee could not accomplish this until afternoon on July 22. His two right divisions, Walker's and Bate's, encountered Dodge's XVI Corps, which repulsed them. Only Cleburne's and a portion of Maney's division succeeded in penetrating a gap between the XVI and XVII Corps, in the process killing McPherson, and then bending back the XVII Corps until it occupied a line facing southward that was anchored on an elevation called the Bald Hill (No. 19 in map). Hood sought to transform this partial victory into a complete one by having Brown's and Clayton's Divisions attack the XV Corps. Two of Brown's brigades broke through along the Georgia Railroad. But a counterattack by the XV Corps drove back Brown's troops and ended the Confederate threat in this sector. Even though Hardee continued to assail the Bald Hill until nightfall, he failed to seize it and the battle ended in another bloody defeat for Hood."

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