Wednesday, July 11, 2012

B*ATL to unveil plans to restore monuments to two generals killed at Atlanta

A group leading the effort to restore monuments to two generals killed July 22, 1864, during the Battle of Atlanta is planning to unveil plans next week and move forward on necessary fund-raising.

Since it received last year a federal grant to begin the study, the Battle of Atlanta Commemoration Organization (B*ATL) has gleaned fascinating tidbits about the monuments' histories.

B*ATL chairman Henry Bryant said the group is finalizing plans through the city of Atlanta, which has oversight of the small parks. The group also must meet U.S. Interior Department and Georgia Department of Natural Resources requirements.

The aim is to restore the monuments so that they will appear to be "bookends" of the fierce fighting in East Atlanta, Kirkwood and other neighborhoods.

Bryant said the results of studies by an architectural firm and researchers will be unveiled during the eighth Battle of Atlanta (B*ATL) weeklong event, which culminates with living histories, lectures and tours on July 21. B*ATL will hold wreath-laying ceremonies at both markers.

B*ATL has provided about $12,000 of the nearly $30,000 needed to conduct a thorough study of the monuments' condition, their history and a restoration proposal.

Bryant estimates the restoration will cost between $150,000 and $200,000. B*ATL would like to see at least some work complete before July 2014, the 150th anniversary of the major battle.

“The first priority is to stabilize the monuments in some way," said Bryant. “They both need to be dried out, cleaned and both will be taken apart to one degree or another.”

Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, a favorite of Union Gen. William T. Sherman, was killed when he rode into Confederate lines.

Less than a mile away, Maj. Gen. William H.T. Walker, a grizzled Confederate veteran nicknamed “Shot Pouch” for the numerous wounds he received during the Mexican-American War, was knocked out of his saddle by a sniper.

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.

Research shows the McPherson monument was erected in 1877, earlier than what historians estimated, according to Bryant.

After McPherson's death, Union Brig. Gen. Andrew Hickenlooper rode to the mangled woods where McPherson died. There were no homes in the area at the time. Hickenlooper nailed a sign to the tree at the death site, which was photographed by Atlanta Campaign photographer George Barnard (left).

An early fence surrounding the monument featured gun barrels at the corners, said Bryant, but they disappeared. “From the very beginning there was problem with vandalism.”

The McPherson monument, now surrounded by homes, was moved in 1906. Eventually it was raised to make it more visible.

A search at the DeKalb County Courthouse indicate Sherman's name is still on the deed for the property used to build the monument, according to Bryant. “You can imagine my excitement when I saw Sherman’s name all over the deed.”

Sherman served as an officer in the Society of the Army of Tennessee after the war.

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

A close look shows the foundation is in rough shape and mortar has disintegrated. 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 (left) was shot while leading his forces across the backwaters of Terry’s Millpond in Kirkwood and East Atlanta.

Federal snipers reported seeing a man on a large horse.

“He rode across the creek into the woods, checking things out," said Bryant. "When he rode back out of the woods, they shot and fired (at him) in the clearing.”

Motorists have hit the marker several times, knocking it 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 from rust.

Bryant said the monument was dedicated in 1902. It used to rest on a nearby hill, to make it convenient for visitors, but was moved to its current, more accurate location, in the late 1930s.

B*ATL would like to move the monument to the center of a triangle and build steps to raise it, so it will match the appearance of the McPherson monument.

“We are trying to make it seem more monumental," said Bryant. “We want to tie them together more. They tell the same story.”

McPherson death site photo courtesy of Library of Congress

B*ATL website on July events marking battle anniversary

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