Thursday, January 16, 2014

Scene of wild fight in Georgia to mark 150th

Living history event (Georgia DNR)

American literary giant Ambrose Bierce called it "The Crime at Pickett's Mill." The topographical engineer in the Union army wrote about the carnage suffered by comrades who never received reinforcements in their bid to "accomplish the impossible."

That desperate day is being remembered as the state of Georgia ramps up activities related to the 150th commemoration of the battle, which resulted in a bloody, if brief, setback for Federal forces moving on Atlanta.

Brad Butkovich, author of "The Battle of Pickett's Mill: Along the Dead-Line" will give a 10 a.m. lecture on Feb. 8 before a guided interpretive tour in the historic site, located in Paulding County.

At 10 a.m. on March 8, Michael K. Shaffer of Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center will discuss Camp McDonald, a Confederate training center in Cobb County. On April 12, visitors can learn about camp life in the vicinity of Pickett's Mill.

The signature event is set for May 31. Details have not been finalized, but the park website has this description: "Come watch real-time troop movements, infantry and artillery firing demonstrations, and see what life was like on the line. See how civilians survived as the Civil War came to Pickett's Mill."

The programs will have fees ranging from $2 to $4.

Union Gen. William T. Sherman learned some tough lessons when he tried to flank and push back the enemy at Pickett’s Mill on May 27, 1864. Troops under Gen. O.O. Howard clashed with those of Gen. Patrick Cleburne.

"The Confederates were ready for the attack, which did not unfold as planned because supporting troops never appeared," says the National Park Service battle summary.

The Federals charged down ravines and uphill against the Confederates, fighting at extremely close quarters. At least 700 of the men in blue died and the advance on Atlanta was delayed a week. The Union suffered about 1,600 total casualties, compared to the foe's 500. Sherman continued maneuvering and attacked Confederate lines at Kennesaw Mountain about a month later.

Bierce remained bitter about the doomed attack at Pickett's Mill. His short story included these lines:

"Most of our men fought kneeling as they fired, many of them behind trees, stones and whatever cover they could get, but there were considerable groups that stood. Occasionally one of these groups, which had endured the storm of missiles for moments without perceptible reduction, would push forward, moved by a common despair, and wholly detach itself from the line. In a second every man of the group would be down. There had been no visible movement of the enemy, no audible change in the awful, even roar of the firing — yet all were down. Frequently the dim figure of an individual soldier would be seen to spring away from his comrades, advancing alone toward that fateful interspace, with leveled bayonet. He got no farther than the farthest of his predecessors."


  1. I remember doing a BUFU (By Us For Us) re-enacting event at Picket's Mill a few years back. I was a Union guy. It was a good event. The organizers had high standards for authenticity and it was carefully scripted to follow the events as they unfolded in 1864.

    It was a tough march. People don't realize how rugged the ground is around Atlanta before we level it and pave it and sod it over. Lots of up and down, ravines, large rocks and fallen trees. Lots of starts and stops, waiting and then hustling with your 10-pound musket, your gear, slick-soled brogans, and wool uniforms. And it was very hot.

    Finally, we came up on the Confederate works up a steep slope. I was portraying a farmer from Ohio who survived the battle. We formed a line of battle, and on command, we gave a cheer and surged forward to where the Rebels waited behind breastworks.

    We went up the hill three times, but I was so exhausted from all the marching around and running up that hill that I took a hit on the second charge. But for a few brief moments, it was like time travel. I recall the serried ranks of blue uniforms, the crackling gunfire, the drifting smoke, the yells, the thirst, the determined looks on the Confederates, men dropping.

    The event gave me a whole new appreciation for what transpired that day in 1864, and the courage shown by those brave men.

    Doug Nurse

  2. Great recollection, Doug. Thanks for sharing.