Wednesday, March 19, 2014

'Magnificent' restored Kennesaw monument will be focal point of 150th anniversary events

The Illinois Monument shines like new atop Cheatham Hill. Click to enlarge. (NPS)

Fittingly, what’s now known as Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park grew from the scene of the battle's most desperate fighting -- a bloodied spot on Cheatham Hill dubbed the Dead Angle.

Elderly Union veterans from the Midwest purchased a parcel where the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain occurred in June 1864 and decided to erect a monument in memory of more than 1,500 comrades killed and wounded while trying to push Confederate troops from the top of the hill, named for one of Rebel generals.

The Illinois Monument, dedicated in June 1914, is one of only a few monuments on the bloodied battleground in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta. That’s because by the time the battlefield was designated a national battlefield park in 1935, the vast majority of the veterans of the war were dead and the move to place memorials at Civil War sites had ebbed.

Before and after shows dramatic changes (NPS photos)

“The Illinois Monument comes in the last stages of the prominence of Civil War soldiers in state and local politics,” says Willie Johnson, park historian. “You think of it in the same way we ran out of World War II veterans in Congress.”

The handsome eagle-topped marble monument, featuring a soldier flanked by two female figures, recently received a much-needed overhaul by the National Park Service’s historic preservation training center in Maryland.

The team, which cleaned and waxed the figures, pressure washed and did repairs to the monument and plaza, fixed drainage and made other improvements, drew praise from the Kennesaw Mountain park staff.

“I think it came out really good,” says facility manager Tom Sparks. “It is 100 years old … but people ask if it’s a new monument.”

The Illinois Monument will be rededicated as the high point of the four-day 150th anniversary commemoration of the battle from June 26-29. The ceremony is set for 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 28. The program includes a wreath-laying and the lighting of about 3,100 luminaries in a field below to remember those lost in the battle, which was part of the larger Atlanta Campaign.

“Our emphasis is that this is where the park started. That tract of land was purchased by some actual soldiers that fought there,” Superintendent Nancy Walther tells the Picket. “So that’s where the whole commemoration of this battlefield started.  … The luminaries will emphasize why we need to remember what happened here.”

Brig. Gen. McCook (LOC)
It wasn’t just Illinois men that charged up Cheatham Hill, says Johnson. McCook’s, Harker’s and Mitchell’s brigades included many regiments from Ohio and a few from Kentucky and Indiana.

But the state of Illinois was the largest contributor for the monument. James Dibelka was architect, J. Mario Korbel was sculptor and the marble was produced by the McNeel Marble Co., based in nearby Marietta.

Walther said the park received National Park Service funding for the work on the monument.

“It is pretty magnificent,” she says. “The work is much-needed. It is evident they knew what they were doing. It is beautiful.”

The NPS team arrived in early January to find weathered Georgia marble, erosion problems and graffiti. The project was wrapped up by the end of the first week of March.

Scott Jones, an exhibit specialist at the historic preservation center, was project leader at Kennesaw. 

The team assists park staffs that are not large enough to do sustained maintenance of such fixtures.

“We do everything from top to bottom,” Jones says. “We got conflicting reports that it was hit by lightning. We did not see any lightning damage. But a falling tree knocked off the eagle in 1986.”

Weathered tunnel entrance in 2009
The team did “repointing,” which includes making repairs on marble joints and replacing or installing mortar. They also did a deep cleaning of the marble and also power washed and repaired the plaza holding the Illinois Monument.

Surprisingly, the century-old monument had little water damage. But there was some shifting and mortar in some places had faded away.

Walnut-shelling blasting was done on the bronze statue to remove corrosion. After further cleaning, a unique waxing takes place.

After flame torching, wax is applied to hot metal, says Jones. After a buffing, cold paste wax is applied, than buffed out.

The new wax darkened the green patina of the statue. “It goes from being a bright green to a dark olive, drab green,” says Jones.

The team removed “scratch” graffiti made by knives or keys and put a channel drain at the base of the concrete staircase to help with water flow. New sod and wood chips spruced up the site and will help combat erosion.

Jones says the tablets that appear to emerge from the monument center have a “unique feel” that give the 25-foot-tall memorial distinction. “They appear to be headstones.” A few of the tablets have inscriptions about the attack and participating Illinois units.

(Tom Sparks, NPS)

Interestingly, the figures are facing the direction from where the attack came, rather than its objective.

Over the years, the nonprofit Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club has made repairs on the vast network of trails at the park, including those leading to the Illinois Monument.

Regarding the monument, “we’ve spent literally hundreds of hours beautifying the area, erosion control and better trail grade, among other things,” says communications director Fred Feltmann.

Three trails converge at the site: the Unknown Soldier trail, the Illinois Monument trail and the Cease Fire trail.

Maj. Gen. Cheatham (LOC)
The park has invited Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to attend the rededication ceremony. It has not heard from Illinois, but Deal will be unable to attend. An invitation has since been extended to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, says Walther.

A descendant of Union Brig. Gen. Daniel “Dan” McCook Jr. is among the invitees.

McCook, a member of the “Fighting McCooks” family, gained fame in the assault on Cheatham Hill. He was mortally wounded and died three weeks later.

Federal army commander William Tecumseh Sherman was determined to dislodge Confederate troops from Pigeon Hill and Cheatham Hill.

On June 27, 1864, two divisions were assigned to take Cheatham Hill, taking on boys in gray who fought for Benjamin "Frank" Cheatham and Patrick Cleburne.

McCook, 29, uttered this line from the poem “Horatius” before his brigade's assault: "Then how may man die better than facing fearful odds?"

While moving uphill and crossing a field that is larger than the one that lies today below the Illinois Monument, Federal troops lost hundreds of men within a half hour.

“As elsewhere on the battlefield, terrain, undergrowth, and Confederate fire caused command and control to collapse,” reads an article on the Civil War Trust website. “Musketry decimated the compacted Yankee formation as it approached the Confederate entrenchments, and concentrated fire from previously concealed Rebel batteries sent torrents of canister ripping through their ranks. Despite this maelstrom, Union troops reached the Confederate trenches along Cheatham’s Hill at a spot that will forever be known as the “Dead Angle” and engaged the defenders in savage hand-to-hand fighting.”

(Tom Sparks, NPS)

McCook was wounded while leading one of the brigades and the Union troops became pinned down at the Dead Angle.

A tablet about McCook’s brigade on the monument reads: “Brigade reached Confederate works and at less than one hundred feet from them maintained a line for six days and nights without relief, at the end of which time the Confederates evacuated.”

Johnson, the park historian, said the Rebels left on July 2. The campaign for Atlanta continued and Sherman maintained the initiative, despite staggering losses at Cheatham Hill, Pigeon Hill and elsewhere at the battle.

“Some historians are the most critical of him,” Johnson says of Sherman. “My take is had it worked, it might have shortened the campaign by a couple months. It didn’t. …. I think it was a reasonable assumption, but I tell you this, he did not make any more frontal assaults.”

Confederates suffered about 500 casualties at Cheatham Hill.

Johnson says Federal attackers had a stretch of about 25 yards during the uphill charge to avoid enemy fire. Once at the top, they dug a tunnel in an attempt to place gunpowder under the Confederate lines and blow a hole. “Initially, they are digging in with bayonets and cups. After darkness, they bring in shovels and picks.”

Confederate troops withdrew before the tunnel was completed.

New monument for regular Army units (Tom Sparks, NPS)

The staff historian gives visitors a grim account of what happened.

“I just talk about the intense nature of it. They said you could walk across that field stepping on one blue-clad body to another. That might be some hyperbole, but that was said.”

Georgia and Texas are the only other states that have monuments at Kennesaw Mountain.

A new monument, which has a temporary home in a field off Burnt Hickory Road, honors the Kennesaw service of Union regular Army infantry units – the 15th, 16th, 18th and 19th.

The 15th Infantry Regiment Association raised money for the new monument. Its dedication is scheduled for noon on June 27.

It will be moved later a bit south to an uphill location off Hardage Mill Trail, also maintained by the trail club.

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