Ken Padgett was a young North Georgia boy at the time, but he still remembers the first re-enactment of the Battle of Resaca.
“There were men in overalls carrying modern shotguns and with some horses,” he said.
What the event lacked in numbers and authenticity was compensated by an interest in remembering the bloody clash, one of the early battles in the Atlanta Campaign, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s eventually successful bid to take the key Georgia city.
The re-enactments weren’t a mainstay until the early 1980s. This year’s May 16-18 event at Chitwood Farm is a big one -- given it is officially the 30th re-enactment and comes on the 150th anniversary of the battle.
And where the 1964 affair, 100 years after the battle, had only a few participants, Padgett said he expects perhaps 2,000 to 2,500 re-enactors on the field, twice as much as most years.
“We have units coming in from California. With all our preservation work going on nationwide, and people’s interest in Resaca, the excitement of the sesquicentennial seems to be drawing people,” said Padgett, 58, who is head of the Georgia Division Reenactors Association, which is putting on the re-enactment.
Local officials also tout two venues where visitors can go before or after taking in the reenactment:
The Gordon County-owned Fort Wayne Civil War Historic Site and Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site, along a stretch of Interstate 75 on the western part of the battlefield. Although the latter may not be officially completed by May 16, it will be open for visitors to walk interpretive trails.
Re-enactment organizers expect more artillery pieces to be on the field this year. They also are touting an old-style baseball game, a Civil War medicine tent and a cavalry competition.
But the marquee events remain the two 2 p.m. battle re-enactments (Saturday and Sunday).
The clashes will recall outnumbered Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s determined effort to hold off Federals on May 14-15, 1864, after he had withdrawn from Rocky Face. There was no clear winner on the field at Resaca, but a Union flanking move forced the Army of Tennessee to retire.
Johnston had begun what historian Shelby Foote referred to as the “Red Clay Minuet” with Sherman, giving up ground grudgingly.
Michael Shaffer, assistant director of Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center, cited the comments of one Federal soldier after the Battle of Resaca: “Brave men were falling on every hand. This was one of the days that will occupy a conspicuous page in our country’s history.”
“Visitors to the re-enactment will catch a glimpse of the action after the initial fighting of the campaign along Rocky Face Ridge, have the chance to inspect earthworks and inspect the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the lifeline of both forces as the campaign unfolded,” Shaffer told the Picket.
Tickets are $5 for adults; $2 for children 6 to 12, and admission is free for children 5 and under. A shuttle service will carry visitors from the parking area. Vendors will sell period and contemporary food and offer various wares. Military and civilian camps will be open to visitors at certain times. The event will be held rain or shine.
Remembering the dead
As is customary at the re-enactment, a memorial service will be held, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 17, at the picturesque Confederate Cemetery in nearby Resaca. According to the National Park Service, the battle casualties totaled 5,547 (US 2,747; CS 2,800).
Mary and Pyatt Green, daughters of Col. John F. Green, were shocked to see the bodies of Confederate dead lying in the rolling fields of Resaca or in shallow graves. In 1866, they and their African-American cook began relocating bodies to a 2.5 acre site provided by their father.
James Lay, president of the Gordon County Historical Society in Calhoun, said the Green sisters established the first Confederate cemetery in Georgia. It contains about 400 remains.
“The women put the boys as far as they could determine by states with wooden markers.” Markers and a wall eventually were added, and memorial services became a community mainstay.
|Flagmaker Robert Banks at Resaca Cemetery|
The historial society, which sponsored the first re-enactments, currently leads the re-enactment’s memorial service and ladies’ tea.
“That is the reason we held the whole battle (re-enactment), because of the cemetery, in appreciation of what they did before they even knew what their dreams were,” said Lay.
The historical society is a co-sponsor of the re-enactment, which is getting special attention this year because of the 150th anniversary and the new parks. Gordon County also is hoping for an economic boost.
Sarah Husser of the Gordon County Convention & Visitors Bureau said the promotion effort includes a billboard on I-75 north a few miles below Exit 320, flyers, a re-enactment program and new lamppost banners (below) in downtown Calhoun, the county seat.
“We are encouraging the local stores to decorate their windows and hope to have a couple of volunteers in period attire walk around downtown Calhoun during lunch time the week of the re-enactment,” she said. “We hope to build interest for locals and visitors.”
|Calhoun lamppost banner|
What visitors will see
The event kicks off Friday, May 16, with visits from school groups.
“It is letting them to look and see the guns fire and hope when they get to that point in American history school, they will say, ‘Wow I went to Resaca. I went to that and they showed me that,’” said Padgett.
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if a few decided to take up re-enacting when they become older.
“It is getting the young people interested to do it. You will see a lot of gray heads in the field,” he said. “We have young people coming into the hobby, but it does not seem as many as it used to be. The impact of the war is not taught in the school like when I was taught.”
Organizers said they could see 10,000 spectators over the weekend. “It all depends on the weather,” said Padgett. In 2013, six inches of rain slammed attendance.
He and others in the Georgia Division have spent several months preparing the site, assembling massive quantities of firewood for soldier camps, doing electrical work for vendors and gathering hay and bedding straw for horses and mules.
This year’s re-enactment will probably be the largest in Georgia and Padgett is excited about the increase in re-enactors.
Most years, there are 12-16 artillery pieces. This year will have at least 21.
“We have four so far that have been horse-drawn, maneuver, unlimber and hitch. As the battle progresses, they will change positions,” said Padgett.
One of three original cannons on site will be a Noble gun, forged at a foundry in Rome, Georgia, in 1861. “It makes a sound like no other gun in the field. It is a bronze cannon. Even the spectators turn to look because of a distinctive ring.”
|1864 Battle of Resaca (Library of Congress)|
He said he did not have an exact number of re-enactors who have registered, but it appears 2,000 to 2,500 could take the field. “It is so seldom they get to re-enact on an original battlefield.”
Among the units coming are the S.C.A.R. Battalion, the 125th Ohio, the Georgia Division and Rambo’s battalion from Alabama.
New this year is a display and discussion of period medical instruments.
After a nondenominational service Sunday morning, organizers will have a period baseball game.
“We are using 1860s rules and period-correct instruments (rawhide ball and sticks),” said Padgett. “We hope to have a friendly game between the Rebs and Yanks.”
“(Also) after the church service, spectators can go on the main field and watch the cavalry competition, where they take their sabers and ride through, in demonstration of precision.”
|Terre Lawson at Chitwood Farm in 2010|
Meanwhile, back at Interstate 75
Resaca Battlefield State Historic site, built by the state and to be operated by Gordon County once open, will have loop trails, interpretive signs, pulloff areas, picnic tables and a comfort station, though no museum, due to budgetary limitations.
Construction, which has seen delays, continues on the site, said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator with the parks division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“Hopefully, most will be done in May. There are plans to allow visitors into the site for a 150th event May 16-18, even if it’s not completely finished,” she said.
Padgett said he expects the new site will be nearly complete by May 16.
“I am very pleased. We knew there were going to be snags,” he said. “You cannot go into a site that large and not have some problems. We had wet areas and different things like that. The trail system goes down one ridge and up another ridge.”
An elevated roadway will keep traffic above flood-prone areas on the south part of the site and the six miles of interpretive trails are on high ground, he said. “They will be able to go through nearly 100% of it,” he said about May visitors.
|Portrait time at Chitwood Farm|
The state also has been widening a road that goes above I-75 and doing bridge work adjacent to the new site, at times limiting or slowing access to the site.
Charlie Crawford, head of the Georgia Battlefields Association, was dismayed all work may not be complete before the Resaca re-enactment and associated events.
“If the state cared enough, the agencies involved would have arranged for the road work to be complete and the park to be finished in time for the event, rather than having to make an exception and then finishing the work after,” he told the Picket.
The Fort Wayne site, which opened last summer, is also just off I-75 Exit 320, on Taylor Ridge Road.
It was built in 1862-1863 by the Confederate militia to protect the railroad and bridges over the Oostanaula River, said Crawford. For much of the war, Fort Wayne was used as a staging area for reinforcements there were sent north by rail.
Artillery in the fort fired the first round toward Federals advancing on Resaca.
‘Camps stirring to life’
|Riders in 2010|
Padgett said he will be stepping down as leader of the Georgia Division in the coming months and will become an adviser, rather than a primary organizer, of the annual re-enactment.
He said he is pleased there are nearly 600 acres protected at Chitwood Farm through various preservation and conservation efforts.
“I don’t think anything is more pleasant than walking through the campfires at night, talking to the troops and exchanging a few kind words.”
Padgett, who has been Georgia Division commander for nearly 15 years, said he will continue to research the battle and educate the public.
And he will savor just being there.
“My favorite time is to get up at dawn and just look down at all the campfires from the hill and the camps stirring to life,” he said. “It is always so quiet. Sometimes there are deer. It is strange knowing anything that beautiful and peaceful could have had so much carnage during that period.”