Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Rocky Face Ridge: Civil War Trust announces preservation of Atlanta Campaign site

Charlie Crawford/Georgia Battlefields Association

A 2,000-foot long continuous entrenchment and pristine earthworks at the Rocky Face Ridge battlefield will be preserved and become a historic and recreational site in northwest Georgia, Civil War Trust and local officials announced Tuesday at the end of a national campaign.

“This acquisition is one of the most important pieces of land we have ever saved in Georgia, and is one of those priceless few places where not one but two Civil War battles were fought on the same hallowed ground,” Trust President James Lighthizer said in a statement.

The Trust said the 301 acres known as Grant Farm will be transferred to the park system of Whitfield County, which has an adjoining 625-acre tract. Fortifications were built by Confederate troops trying to halt the advance of Sherman’s Federal legions. Whitfield County is believed to have the most surviving Civil War fortifications in the country.

The 301 acres that were purchased for $1.38 million were part of the May 1864 Battle of Rocky Face Ridge and the February 1864 Battle of Dalton.

The transfer will create a seamless interpretive experience, giving visitors a greater understanding of both the battle and the movements of the opposing armies during the opening days of the decisive Atlanta campaign,” the Trust said. 

“I hope Whitfield County will become a benchmark on bringing divergent interests together to help preserve our environment, history, and health,” Commission Chairman Mike Babb said in a statement.

(Courtesy of Whitfield County)

Plans for the site have not been without some controversy.

The Georgia Battlefields Association withdrew its offer of $45,000 to help in the recent property purpose because of concerns about possible damage from proposed mountain biking trails. Officials said trails would be installed under supervision of a historic preservation planner to avoid rock trenches and entrenchments, the GBA noted in a newsletter in September.

“In a discussion among the GBA trustees, we were especially influenced by a trustee who had seen off-road bike trails attract not only responsible bikers but also those who view earthworks, rock formations, and ecologically sensitive sites as challenges on which to hone their biking skills,” said the GBA. “We concluded that damage to the rock trenches on the top and the slope of Rocky Face Ridge was likely and would be impossible to reconstruct accurately, despite the existence of conservation easements requiring the repair of any damage.”

Mitch Talley, communications director for Whitfield County, told the Picket plans are still on for the bike trails, “but they will not be allowed in the actual battle areas to prevent damage to the historic features.”

The trails will likely be on both tracts, he said.

A Whitfield County park will bring new synergy to the northwest corner of the state as a Civil War tourism market.

More fortifications on preserved property (GBA)

Upon the opening earlier this year of Resaca Battlefield Historic Site to the south, Jim Ogden, historian with Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, told the Picket he could direct those interested in the Atlanta Campaign to a well-preserved site between Chickamagua and Pickett's Mill or Kennesaw in suburban Atlanta. Now it looks like Whitfield County will be adding another site.

“This also means, for Civil War round tables or other history-based groups, particularly if they'll do a little walking, there's now … enough in the Tunnel Hill-Dalton-Resaca area to make a multi-day tour of just that part of the campaign,” Ogden said in the spring. 

The Whitfield County site was purchased for $1.38 million using a grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, along with private donations by Trust members and other groups, officials said.

Local historian Greg Cockburn contacted the county in 2014 and took  Babb on a tour of the property to point out the reasons it was important to local Civil War history, said Talley.

(Courtesy of Charlie Crawford)

A recent wildfire (above) covered a large portion of the 625-acre tract, and the GBA has expressed concern about damage to historic features, including sections of rock trenches of both Federal and Confederate lines. The smaller Grant Farm also had fire damage.

“Other than vegetation very little damage was done by the fire,” said Talley. “The fire breaks did cross some Confederate trenches but (did not do) much damage because they were blading, not plowing.

On May 4, 1864, Sherman led 100,000 men into northwest Georgia against the Army of Tennessee camped at Rocky Face Ridge. The general ordered one quarter of his men to strike a railhead at Resaca, cutting the Confederate supply line, while the rest of his forces acted as a diversion.

“The fighting began in earnest on May 7, with Union columns pressing toward Mill Creek and Dug Gap. Hurling rocks when they ran out of ammunition, the deeply dug-in Confederates held their position, and the Federals moved to meet Southern forces at nearby Resaca," the Trust said.

There is no current timetable for the site's opening and its name, Talley said.

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