Monday, February 28, 2011

Momentum grows for park, re-enactment at site of Confederate cavalry win in Georgia

A rejuvenated group of citizens is helping a county southwest of Atlanta move ahead with plans for a historic site that will recognize a smashing Confederate cavalry victory during the Atlanta Campaign.

The Friends of Brown’s Mill Battlefield recently elected new officers and will aid work on the 105-acre site owned by Coweta County. It plans to continue mapping this northwest corner of the cavalry clash and begin clearing some areas for future trails and a meadow.

The county and the organization expect that phase 1 -- a trailhead, trails, interpretive signs, a small parking lot and a field -- will be ready for a re-enactment battle to mark July 30, 2014, the battle’s 150th anniversary.

“We need to take care of that battlefield,” said Carolyn Turner, president of the Friends of Brown’s Mill Battlefield, which is moving forward after relative inactivity in recent years.

Three camps of the Sons of Confederate Veterans are excited about the plans at Brown’s Mill Battlefield Historic Site and will assist, said Turner, a retired teacher.

The county eventually would like to build a visitors center and museum, when funding for those is available.

For now, it is working with a $300,000 federal grant administered by the Georgia Department of Transportation, said Coweta County comprehensive planner Sandra Parker. The county's match was $75,000.

The county wants to take advantage of the grant before it expires and recently authorized an 18-acre land swap with the Coweta County Water and Sewerage Authority, which may build a reservoir near the historic site.

In exchange for land for a reservoir spillway, the water authority will give the site land where a wartime cabin and federal artillery pieces likely stood, Parker said.

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

Union Gen. William 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 failed 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, a few miles southwest of Newnan (photo below).

The county’s parcel is along Millard Farmer Road at the intersection of Old Corinth Road. It was the scene of much of the heaviest fighting.

The Confederates attacked south toward Union forces along Rickety Back Road (now Millard Farmer).

“Wheeler had his best day as a soldier,” says Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association. “This is where McCook lost control and was broken up.”

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 David Evans, author of “Sherman’s Horsemen.”

The Union cavalry failed to attain its goal, forcing Sherman to besiege Atlanta and use infantry at Jonesboro.

A passer-by would not know the battle occurred unless he or she spies a United Daughters of Confederacy marker placed on the northwest corner of the 105 acres more han a century ago. An auto salvage yard lies across Millard Farmer Road at the intersection with Old Corinth Road.

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.

But the county believes it is on to something with its plans.

A master landscape plan includes trails, a memorial garden, a meadow for re-enactments and other activities, a pavilion, displays and extensive interpretive signs.

The friends group plans to do more extensive mapping of the county site, which has been heavily picked over by relic collectors.

Turner said individuals so far have raised about $3,000 to assist the effort. Another 60-acre site is available just northwest of the county’s park property, but it is too early to know whether the group can buy it.

The friends plan to launch a web page and expand its membership, Turner said.

“We want to do it right,” Turner said.

The battle covered a much larger area than the tract owned by the county.

The fighting comprised at least 1,000 acres, said Crawford, most of it east and south of the county site. There’s even more if you count the federal advance and retreat. The area is currently rural, with homes, a few businesses and timber forest.

Crawford is not thrilled with the water authority’s tentative plans to build a reservoir near the historic site.

Ellis Cadenhead, general manager of the Coweta County Water and Sewerage Authority, said he is not certain how much of the battlefield may lie under water if the reservoir, which will cover more than 300 acres, is built.

Plans call for it perhaps being built in 20-25 years, “if then,” he said.

There’s been no final decision and there are many required state and federal permits.

“To say the threat is imminent is not true,” said Crawford.

The authority bought the property in 2007 and 2010 and may build the reservoir for drought relief and flood runoff.

“We have excess water [now],” Cadenhead said. “You have to look after the next generation.”

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently released a new population estimate saying Coweta County’s population will double to 250,000 by 2040.

Crawford said at least part of the battlefield will lie under water.

But that may be better than residential development, he says.

“Once it is covered by houses you never get it back.”

Parker said the land swap, which requires state approval, will allow site visitors to see an area where George Cook’s home likely stood. Cook wrote a letter to a surgeon with the Federal army, asking for the return of his horses taken from his farm during the battle.

Soldier accounts indicate Union artillery was fired from that property, she said.

“The county and the [water authority] are willing to put together a win-win situation for the community by saving important (core) areas of the battlefield as well as prepare future water supply that the community will need,” she said.

In 2004, before the economy went south, the Georgia Battlefields Association nominated Brown’s Mill as an endangered site with the Civil War Trust because of development, which of course may return one day.

“You don’t want to be in the preservation business if you get depressed easily,” says Crawford (left).

The county purchased the 105 acres in 2001 for $450,000 under a state greenspace initiative, said Parker, a member of the friends group and a liaison between it and the county.

Most of the site will be south of a trail along Millard Farmer Road, she said.

The Georgia Battlefields Association is supporting the Friends of Brown’s Mill Battlefield and may provide donations for specific project.

“This is a positive step,” said Crawford. “Our goal is to help them exercise their potential.”

For more information on the Friends of Brown’s Mill Battlefield please call Carolyn Turner at 678-571-7718. Photo of the UDC monument courtesy of Charlie Crawford.

See Battle of Brown's Mill on this page for study, landscape plan

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