Monday, June 30, 2014

'Blood of heroes': Kennesaw Mtn ceremony remembers the fallen 150 years later

Boy Scouts light memorial luminaries below Cheatham Hill

“We are the country’s millions ….”

The words rolled forth Saturday night from the hilltop where men in gray poured out lethal fire 150 years ago.

The words rushed downward, into the audience sitting where men in blue desperately dug into the earth, seeking protection from that windstorm of projectiles.

“… Our country was founded in 1776. But our nation was forged between 1861 and 1865.”

The words kept on, pushing into the wide, green meadow where bodies once were piled in heaps. They traveled over memorial luminaries – 3,138 of them – that flickered in the night.

“. … The ground on which we stand today was soaked with the blood of heroes in 1864.”

When the words finally reached the tree line, they echoed back up the hill. They told of a momentary Southern victory that gave way to defeat less than a year later.

… Confederate independence failed. The Union restored,” said Gordon Jones, senior military historian and curator at the Atlanta History Center. “Slavery abolished. One nation, not two. One vision of the future realized. Another denied.”

Jones was among the speakers at the centennial dedication of the recently-restored Illinois Monument on Cheatham Hill at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

The ceremony was the most solemn event at the weekend commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in North Georgia during the Atlanta Campaign.

Jones referred to Sgt. Josiah Chaney of the Union Army, who wrote he and his comrades fought “for the sake of the country’s millions who are to come after us.”

While Saturday’s audience, which included re-enactors -- some portraying Confederate, some portraying Federals -- listened, Jones told the crowd that “we are the people they fought for.”

He spoke of the bravery of thousands of Union troops who had to cover 580 yards up Cheatham Hill, the strong center of the Confederate line, on the morning of June 27, 1864.

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

Two divisions were assigned to take Cheatham Hill, taking on boys who fought for Benjamin "Frank" Cheatham and Patrick Cleburne.

The assault ended in disaster for Federal troops, who were pummeled by an enemy that held a much better position with seasoned troops. Hundreds were pinned down at the “Dead Angle” for several days, before the Confederate troops were withdrawn.

Click to enlarge to see luminaries panorama

It wasn’t just Illinois men that charged up Cheatham Hill, says park historian Willie Johnson. McCook’s, Harker’s and Mitchell’s brigades included many regiments from Ohio and a few from Kentucky and Indiana.

Harker and McCook descendants were among the guests at the dedication, 100 years after the Illinois Monument was installed by Union veterans.

Brig. Gen. Dan McCook, a member of the “Fighting McCooks” family, gained fame in the assault. He rallied his troops at the top of the “Dead Angle” before he was cut down. He died three weeks later.

“The Confederates won the battle, but lost the war,” park Superintendent Nancy Walther said at the dedication.

Sherman continued his relentless move on Atlanta, before taking it only a couple months later and continuing on to Savannah, Ga., and the Carolinas.

Union veterans of the battle bought 60 acres on Cheatham Hill in 1899 and set about raising money for the monument, which was dedicated in 1914. Vintage automobiles were parked on the grounds Saturday night as a reminder of that first event.

David Crass, head of Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division, lauded the efforts of those early battlefield preservationists.

Memorial luminaries (Larry Knight, Kennesaw Mtn Trail Club)

Dozens of Boy Scouts set out the luminaries, one for each man who died within a few short hours of each other. LED lights inside flickered at the end of the ceremony, providing a powerful image of human courage and sacrifices. The overwhelming majority of the fallen fought for the North.

Park Chief Ranger Anthony Winegar talked of an ancestor who served as a Federal artilleryman. He encouraged the crowd to do their own research.

“You may not be as far removed (from the war) as you think.”

Catherine Shannon, deputy director at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, thanked volunteers, Georgia officials and the National Park Service for their efforts to keep alive memories of the fallen “for future generations.”

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