Sunday, June 19, 2011

Atlanta neighborhoods to restore aging monuments to Union, Confederate generals

At 35, James Birdseye McPherson, a favorite of Union Gen. William T. Sherman, was awaiting a furlough so that he could return to Ohio to marry his sweetheat.

William H.T. Walker, 47, was a grizzled Confederate veteran nicknamed “Shot Pouch” for the numerous wounds he received during the Mexican-American War.

On July 22, 1864, their paths nearly intersected. About a half mile from each other, the major generals were shot from their horses during the Battle of Atlanta.

Monuments, each featuring a centerpiece cannon, went up years after the war in East Atlanta.

Time and, in one case, traffic have taken a toll on the memorials. They sit on dislodged or structurally weak foundations. The cannons have water damage and are rusting in places.

Restoration and preservation are riding to the rescue.

The Battle of Atlanta Commemoration Organization, which marks the 147th anniversary of the battle with a variety of events the week of July 12-17, has won a grant through the state of Georgia to begin the process.

BATL was awarded $13,000 in federal dollars to hire a conservator and other experts to study the monuments, research their history and make a proposal on the restoration. BATL, through fund-raising, must come up with another $9,000 to launch the effort.

BATL hopes to sign a contract with the city soon, which will allow the study to go forward, said chairman Henry Bryant.

BATL must follow National Park Service preservation guidelines.

“You don’t just go in there with heavy-duty chemicals,” said Bryant.

The monuments today are a study in contrasts.

The McPherson monument was put in place by the 1880s, surrounded by simple fence. It remembers the youthful general (above) killed near his front lines when he tried to escape Confederate troops.

Like many cities, portions of Atlanta went through a period of decline and, by the 1970s, the monument was in a transitional neighborhood and had seen hard times.

Revitalization in the 1980s and 1990s brought a new wave of upscale residents to East Atlanta, Kirkwood and East Lake -- communities where soil was bloodied during the Atlanta Campaign.

Delegates as the Democratic National Convention in 1988 wanted to see the city’s Civil War history and some residents of East Atlanta began to learn more about the battle and its significance, said Bryant.

“Each monument has a history in its own right,” Bryant told the Picket.

The McPherson monument is surrounded by homes. A longtime resident, supported by BATL, has made it a beautification project.

A bench, mosaic tiles, trees and flowers surround the fence and the monument, fittingly located on McPherson Avenue at Monument Avenue.

“When you drive past it, it looks OK,” said Bryant.

But a closer look shows the foundation is in rough shape and mortar has disintegrated (left). It’s as if the pedestal and cannon are floating by their own determination, Bryant said.

The name “MCPHERSON” is fading on the white granite. The cannon is not sealed and is rusted at the base.

The Walker monument to the east is more easily seen, but doesn’t get the protection the McPherson monument receives.

It sits on a busy road (Glenwood Avenue at Wilkinson Drive) near Interstate 20. Walker (below) was shot while leading his forces across the backwaters of Terry’s Millpond in Kirkwood and East Atlanta.

“It’s been hit more than once,” said Bryant. “That’s why it sits off-kilter on its pedestal.”

The red granite monument’s steps and plaque are gone. At least two feet of water and gunk are in the cannon barrel. An inscription is difficult to read and the stone has turned orange, apparently from rust.

Bryant said the monument was dedicated in 1906. It used to rest on a nearby hill, but was moved in the 1930s (top photo).

“There was a reverence for everything Civil War here,” said Bryant. BATL will hold wreath-laying ceremonies at both markers on July 16.

Bryant expects the study to be completed by July 2012. After that the real work begins – the pursuit of even more dollars for the actual restoration of the two monuments.

BATL is dedicated to educating residents and visitors about the battle, through living histories and storytelling. “When we first began, people would say, ‘So what, it was a battle.’”

BATL website on July events marking battle anniversary
Boyhood home of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson

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