Monday, July 22, 2013

'Stepchild' cavalry clash in Georgia finally gets its due at site's grand opening Saturday

Cavalry insignia in bench made by Eagle Scout
Armed with revolvers and a photograph, Sgt. Josiah Conzett and two Army buddies left their Atlanta-area camp for a farm outside Newnan, Ga., where Conzett’s brother was believed to have been buried after he fell during the Battle of Brown’s Mill on July 30, 1864.

The three men planned to spend a peaceful night at a Newnan hotel before heading out to the battlefield. But an armed man taunted the Union soldiers and worked a crowd – sullen in wartime defeat -- into a ‘dangerous mood.” Conzett and his comrades barricaded themselves in their room overnight and were all too happy to get out of town the next morning.

Josiah Conzett
Conzett, of the 5th Iowa Cavalry, Co. E found the farm of G.W. Cook, a merchant and minister, according to historians and an account provided by a Conzett descendant. The horseman showed Cook a photo of his brother, David, and learned his older brother was one of three soldiers buried on the property. Cook, these several months after the cavalry clash, remembered that David Conzett, 26, had been stripped of his new uniform.

“Mr. Cook gave us a nice smooth board, on which I carved with knife and pencil his name, company & regiment, his age, time of death, his city and state,” Josiah Conzett wrote in his recollections. “I asked Mr. Cook to care for it, that I would see he was well paid for it. He promised to do so, and faithfully kept it up to the time the government took charge of it.”

The remains of Swiss-born David Conzett and about 30 other troopers, killed in a resounding defeat during the Atlanta Campaign, were moved a couple years later to Marietta National Cemetery just north of Atlanta.

One of a half dozen signs that will provide context (Courtesy of Coweta Co.)
The site of the Cook farm lies in Brown’s Mill Battlefield Historic Civil War Site, which will have its grand opening this Saturday (July 27), the culmination of 13 years of work by Coweta County and a rejuvenated, small group of preservationists and historians.

The opening is one year ahead of the 150th anniversary of the battle. A re-enactment is planned for October 2014, after the hot summer months, on the 105-acre site.

Mounted re-enactors will be on hand Saturday, along with food, music, a rifle salute and a scavenger hunt. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for 9:45 a.m. and activities continue until about 2 p.m. at the park near the intersection of Millard Farmer and Old Corinth roads.
Carolyn Turner (left) and Sandra Parker at site
“We’ve just got started,” said Carolyn Turner, president of the Friends of Brown’s Mill Battlefield Association. “We have something we can show people.”

Phase 1 of the new county park includes two trails, a meadow for re-enactments and other activities, an observation pavilion and seven interpretive signs, which feature QR codes by which visitors can use smartphones and other devices to download additional information of the battle.

Phase 2, which is not funded, is several years down the road, said Sandra Parker, comprehensive planner for Coweta Park. A master plan calls for a visitor’s center with exhibits not far from the Cook homestead.

Union cavalrymen were routed south of Atlanta

“What the county has out there now is a good start,” said David Evans, author of “Sherman’s Horsemen,” an account of Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s use of cavalry during the Atlanta Campaign. “From a tourism point of view, it is easy access to Interstate 85.” 

A 2004 master plan prepared for Coweta County said, “The Brown’s Mill Battlefield Historic Site will be the only Civil War park south of Atlanta as well as one of only two Civil War parks in the nation featuring a cavalry battle.”

A challenge, it said, would be attracting Civil War visitors south of Atlanta to a battle few members of the general public know much or anything about.

The Battle of Brown’s Mill on July 30, 1864, took place between Union cavalry under the command of Brig. Gen. Edward McCook, and pursuing Confederate cavalry units under the command of Gen. Joseph Wheeler.

Sherman had tasked McCook and Maj. Gen. George Stoneman with cutting vital railroads south of Atlanta so that he would not have to engage in a prolonged siege.

McCook was unable to meet up with Stoneman and his 2,400 troopers left Lovejoy and headed north back toward the Chattahoochee River. Wheeler’s smaller force pursued him and ambushed the exhausted Union forces.

They clashed near Brown’s Mill, three miles southwest of Newnan, a town known for its historic antebellum homes.

Confederate Gen. Joe Wheeler
The county’s parcel was the scene of much of the heaviest fighting.

McCook’s forces fled and, eventually, more than 1,000 were taken prisoner. Wheeler freed about 500 Confederate prisoners and also seized supplies.

The fighting at Brown's Mill cost McCook about 100 killed and wounded, while Wheeler's casualties probably numbered less than 50, according to Evans. 

The Union cavalry failed to attain its goal in the McCook-Stoneman raid, forcing Sherman to change tactics and besiege Atlanta and use infantry at Jonesboro, wrote Evans.

The property is near an auto salvage yard, which unwittingly benefited preservation efforts over the years.

“People fuss about it,” Turner, a retired longtime teacher, said of the business’s proximity to the park. “(But) we owe them a debt of gratitude. If they were not out there, many parts would have been developed by housing.”

Will park one day have reservoir for neighbor?

According to Parker, Coweta County has spent about $310,000 on the project, with assistance from state and federal sources totaling about $659,000. The Friends and other groups have raised nearly $8,000 for the $976,000 total cost for land acquisition, planning, interpretation and construction.

The Coweta County Water and Sewerage Authority at some point may build a reservoir right next to the county site. 

But CEO Jay Boren told the Picket that plans for the 300-acre reservoir have “been put on hold.”

The county made an 18-acre land swap with the authority. In exchange for land for a reservoir spillway, the authority provided vital high ground where Cook’s cabin and federal artillery pieces likely stood, Parker said.
“They found something like an old well, period, nails glass and crockery,” Parker said of an archaeological survey.

Preservationists and historians have not been thrilled with the possibility of portions of the battlefield lying under water, although some speculate whether water over land might be preferable to homes that would disturb the ground.

Turner at UDC monument
The fighting comprised up to 1,000 acres, most of it east and south of the county site. There’s even more if you count the federal advance and retreat, Charlie Crawford, head of the Georgia Battlefields Association, two years ago told the Picket. The area is largely rural, with homes, a few businesses and woodlands.

Crawford, whose group supports the Brown’s Mill Friends, said that at least part of the entire battle area would be under water. Boren said "no portion of the Browns Mill Battlefield property will be affected by the water"  if a reservoir were built.

Water demand currently is flat in Coweta County and its one reservoir is adequate and can be expanded, said Boren.

At Brown’s Mill, the authority has acquired much of the needed spring-fed land, which sits in a natural bowl, but has been thus far unable to negotiate the purchase of two smaller tracts, according to Boren.

“We currently have more water than we can even sell,” said Boren. “We haven’t seen the growth.”

The Atlanta Regional Commission in 2010 released a new population estimate saying Coweta County’s population would double to 250,000 by 2040, but local officials say the economic slowdown has brought slower growth and water needs.

“It could be something we possibly not even need to look at (for) 20 to 30 years,” said Boren.

Still, Boren says, the authority board always has the topic on the table, given projected growth and revenue possibilities.

A master plan rendering shows a reservoir and spillway forming a peninsula around much of the battlefield site.

“You will have to convince people this was not an amphibious assault by Joe Wheeler’s cavalry,” Evans said of the scenario if the reservoir is built.

“Three Ladies” made their case, raised awareness

Turner told the Picket there are no projections for daily visitors at the historic site, although she has received calls.

And while officials expect walkers and joggers (but no dogs) to use the venue, the county will discourage picnics and parties. While there are no entrenchments, the site, full of sloped ravines, was the scene of ferocious, if brief, combat.

“This needs to be a commemorative park,” said Parker. “This is hallowed ground.”

Evans told the Picket that "Brown's Mill is the stepchild of Civil War" battlefields, because it did not make a congressional list of important battles, and is finally getting its due.

The Coweta County Convention & Visitors Bureau regularly touts Newnan’s charm and history and welcome packets include a brochure about Coweta’s ties to the Civil War. The county’s historical society also promotes tourism and visitors can learn about Confederate graves at Oak Hill Cemetery; Buena Vista, a home used by Wheeler; and the railroad depot where McCook’s raiders entered Newnan.

Turner speaks of efforts of the “Three Ladies” – she, Parker and retired teacher Pat Tidwell – to help make the battlefield site a reality, by raising awareness and funds.

They would make appearances before local politicians to make their case.

“We had taught some of them,” said Turner.

• Upcoming in Picket: Detailed account of battle

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