Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hip Atlanta neighborhood gets its history back with arrival of Civil War marker replica

Replica marker is installed on Dec. 11 (Georgia DOT)

It was a grand affair.

Georgia Gov. E.D. Rivers was on hand, as were Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield, historian Wilbur G. Kurtz and J.S. McWilliams, son of John W. McWilliams, a soldier in 1864’s Battle of Atlanta.

In between the playing of “America,” “Dixie,” “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Taps,” a crowd bundled for the chill on Dec. 15, 1937, witnessed the unveiling of a marker that described Civil War combat in the East Atlanta community.

On July 22, 1864, hordes of Confederates under Gen. William J. Hardee managed to push a force of Federals northward toward Leggett’s Hill, which became the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in a battle that ended in a crushing defeat for the South.

1937 dedication (Courtesy of Tommy Barber)
The view in East Atlanta today (GDOT)

A cannon held the Union left flank at the present-day intersection of Glenwood and Flat Shoals roads, the epicenter of today’s East Atlanta Village, a hip commercial and residential area calling itself “an urban oasis of community and culture.”

E.A. Minor, associated with the neighborhood’s Marbut & Minor Mercantile Store, on behalf of his F&AM Masonic Lodge formally presented the marker to Atlanta and DeKalb County on that day in 1937. 

No one present at the dedication could have foreseen what would happen down the road.

By the late 1980s, the marker and a larger boulder to which it was affixed had disappeared.

No one knows what became of the boulder, but a historian with the Georgia Department of Transportation several years ago was able to locate the plaque at the Masonic lodge, which had moved about 20 miles east of the neighborhood.

Wednesday morning, to no fanfare, the intersection of Flat Shoals and Glenwood got its history back, with the installation of a replica marker affixed to new chunk of granite.

The original marker is at a Masonic lodge
And here is the replica (GDOT)

“It would have been nice to have some kind of commemoration,” said Chad Carlson, historian with the Office of Environmental Services at the Georgia DOT.

A piece of heavy equipment placed the granite on a semicircular brick structure at the corner. Where a Texas service station once served customers are other businesses, including an ice cream parlor.

The project is part of a streetscape improvement done in conjunction with the city of Atlanta. Carlson said the new marker makes it clear it is a replica.

“It felt great,” Carlson told the Picket. “I was pleased at the quality of it. It felt good to know we are reinstating what was placed there and honoring the soldiers that had died there.”

Carlson tracked the original marker to the E.A. Minor Lodge #603 in Lithonia.

Click to read program for 1937 unveiling (Courtesy of Mary Banks)

In 2007, he met with some of its aging members, who said they had no idea how the marker came to be in their building. “It was right there at their entrance.”

They told him the lodge had 1,700 members during its peak in the late 1940s. Members used to walk to meetings in East Atlanta, which grew into a suburb of Atlanta after the Civil War.

Despite the enormous loss of men and infrastructure, Atlanta began rebuilding within months of its September 1864 surrender to Union troops.

East Atlanta was an unincorporated suburb of Atlanta, and it drew a post office, carriage dealership, a movie theater and the familiar Flat Iron Building, where the Masonic lodge chapter met. The building now houses a bar and a tattoo business.

Marbut & Minor wagon in 1911 (Georgia Archives)

But the once-prosperous community had challenges during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

“Because the Grand Dragon of the KKK lived in an adjacent neighborhood, East Atlanta was targeted by civil rights groups to be an example of racial integration of housing,” according to the East Atlanta Community Association, founded in 1981. “Under the protection of the Fair Housing Act, middle class black families were assisted in efforts to purchase houses in the area. Some real estate agents seized the opportunity to fan the flames of fear and racial prejudice. At their urging, many white families fled the area selling their homes at a loss.”

“During this time many hardworking black families achieved the dream of home ownership in a nice neighborhood with yards for the children and good schools nearby. Many white families remained refusing to give in to social pressures and determined to live in harmony with their new neighbors.”

Property values became depressed and many houses became dilapidated. "Even so, the neighborhood remained stable," the community group says.

The neighborhood in recent years has witnessed the arrival of new businesses and the rehabilitation of  homes. It touts itself as fun, family-friendly, convenient and a place with many activities.

For years, local historians, Civil War buffs and the Battle of Atlanta Commemoration Organization (B*ATL) have worked to educate residents and visitors to the rich Civil War history of East Atlanta, Kirkwood and other Atlanta neighborhoods. B*ATL sponsors an annual Civil War event that includes tours, talks, a living history encampment and memorial services.


Henry Bryant of B*ATL said the neighborhood would like to have some kind of city ceremony in early 2014 -- the year of the sesquicentennial -- for the marker. "I am very happy to have it returned. It is as permanent a reminder as we can have in Atlanta of what happened here," Bryant told the Picket.

Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, a favorite of Union Gen. William T. Sherman, was killed less than a mile from the marker when he rode into Confederate lines.

Gen. William H.T. Walker, a grizzled Confederate veteran nicknamed “Shot Pouch” for the numerous wounds he received during the Mexican-American War, also died in the area. He was knocked out of his saddle by a sniper as his men advanced on a Yankee position.

Carlson said he appreciates the simplicity of the marker’s words, which describe military units and troops movements.

“Today, we are so in to fanfare, embellishment and making things and fast and exciting. Back then, they were very sober about these things.”

Historical interpretation has changed in the decades since the 1937 unveiling. Newer signs tell a wider story of the Civil War, including its impact on the home front and various types of people.

A new interpretive panel (above, near vehicle) also has gone up at the intersection. And while it sticks to military themes, it provides a wider context of the battle and include photos and a map. 

Confederate troops made their attack up Flat Shoals Road after a daring night march to what is now East Atlanta Village.

Carlson said he hopes visitors or those who live in or near the village appreciate its Civil War history.

“I think it was important to show that a number of people died there,” said the historian, citing the importance of the fall of Atlanta to President Abraham Lincoln’s re-election later that year. “It really was a pivotal moment in the war.”


  1. Note the reference to "Federal" on the marker. "Union" is a contemporary appellation. At the time of the war the armies of the north were referred to as "Federal."

  2. I think your use of both is appropriate given that most people probably wouldn't know that the word "Federal" is synonymous with "Union" when referring to the armies of the North.