Saturday, October 31, 2015

More names added to database of prisoners held at Camp Lawton in Georgia

A former POW made his living as a musician

An online database of Union soldiers held for about six weeks at a prison in Georgia has grown to 3,808, more than one third of the site’s population.

Through research, online sites – such as findagrave and familysearch -- and the Andersonville Departure Register, archaeologist Debbie Wallsmith has increased that number from a listing of 399 prisoners who died at Camp Lawton.

Visitors at Magnolia Springs State Park northwest of Savannah can assume the identity of a POW at the state’s Camp Lawton History Center. They learn more about the experience of being at Lawton and then find out that prisoner’s fate. The Confederate camp also was known as Millen, a town a few miles away.

Exhibit hall at Magnolia Springs History Center (Ga. DNR)

In a recent newsletter from the Georgia Historic Preservation Division, Wallsmith provided an update on her ongoing effort to learn more about the prisoners and their Confederate guards. She called the project an “obsession” in a 2014 interview with the Civil War Picket.

The average age of enlistment for the Union captives was 24, although the range went from 15 to 45.

“Of 625 survivors with known dates of deaths, 466 died before 1900, including 138 while imprisoned elsewhere before the end of the war; and 10 others who died aboard the Sultana, a steamboat that exploded on the Mississippi River while transporting soldiers home.” One POW died in 1944.

Up to 10,000 Union men, most sent from the infamous Andersonville prison camp, were held at Lawton in late 1864 before they were moved elsewhere. Death estimates range from 685 to 1,330. The database includes more than 3,400 Lawton survivors.

Wallsmith concluded her update with a summary of a few of the most famous Lawton prisoners, including Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett, who killed John Wilkes Booth, and Peter “Big Pete” McCullough, a Missouri soldier known as the “Hanging Judge of Andersonville” for seeking punishment for six fellow Union prisoners who were part of the “Raiders,” a group that preyed on comrades.

Cpl. Alexander T. Butler of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry, Company B, (above) lived to be almost 75 and married four times after returning home. Butler farmed after the war and received a pension because of illness.

Eppenetus Washington McIntosh of the 14th Illinois Infantry survived the Sultana disaster.

McIntosh “found it difficult to stay in one place and spent most of the remainder of his life as a traveling minstrel, and sold post cards that featured a drawing of his emaciated appearance after being released from Andersonville,” Wallsmith wrote.

Wallsmith asks those with questions or possible contributions to the database contact her at 770-389-7864 or

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Civil War Trust photo contest winners

A moody photo of the Chancellorsville battlefield in Virginia is the grand prize-winner in the 2015 Civil War Trust photo contest. A dozen submitted images will grace the organization’s 2016 calendar, which helps support land preservation. • See this year’s and previous winners.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Dumped by Sherman? Utility soon to resume removing 'metallic' objects from S.C. river

Burning of Columbia, Feb. 1865 (William Waud, Library of Congress)

Historic flooding earlier this month in Columbia, South Carolina, put a temporary hold on the removal of objects from a river where Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman is believed to have dumped captured munitions.
“Prior to the flooding, we did work on removing the metallic objects for several days,” said Ginny Jones, senior public affairs specialist for SCANA, parent company of utility SCE&G. “Nothing we found at that time was of historical significance. We plan to resume work on the project on Nov. 2.”

The State newspaper has reported that sonar and metal detection have located where the weapons were likely dumped into the Congaree River near the Gervais Street bridge. But no one is certain the objects are associated with the Civil War.

Sherman, on his way to North Carolina after seizing the South Carolina capital, kept what he wanted of Confederate ordnance and threw the rest into the river in February 1865.

“It is certainly possible that historical objects could still be found; we still just don’t know what’s there until we dig it up,” Jones said in an email to the Civil War Picket.

Gervais Street bridge (NPS)

EOTI, a Tennessee company, has been contracted to help deal with any Civil War-related munitions that are found. “That likely would involve placing a cover over any explosives consultants find, then detonating the material in place,” the newspaper reported, quoting a SCANA official. “The cover would keep the explosion contained to protect the public and the surrounding environment.”

EOTI referred Picket questions to SCANA.

SCE&G is conducting a remediation project in the Congaree River because of the detected presence of tar. It says tests show it to be coal tar created by manufactured gas plants that operated throughout Columbia more than century ago.

The State, in a preview of this phase of the work, said workers will go through soil in the river and remove 74 objects.

Officials previously told the newspaper that any recovered cannonballs, scabbards, sabers or cartridges will likely be housed at the S.C. Confederate Relic Room.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Q&A: CSS Georgia archaeologist details surprises, disappointments, discoveries

Julie Morgan with casemate portion (USACE)

The Civil War Picket this week spoke with Julie Morgan, archaeologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, Ga. We asked her about concerted efforts since January to recover the CSS Georgia ironclad, a Confederate vessel, and associated artifacts from the Savannah River as part of a channel-deepening project. Responses have been edited for brevity and organization by topic.

Q. When do you expect mechanized recovery to wrap up?
A. We expect Oct. 23 (today) will be the last day for the mechanized. We are striving for 100 percent coverage of the site. It is highly likely that we will have left some artifacts down there. We are trying to get up as much as we can.

Q. What has been the biggest surprise?
A. The grapple bringing up the (9-inch Dahlgren) cannon is right up there, No. 1. In this part of the project, I am amazed by the variety of artifacts we are getting, with the techniques we are using. This is definitely not the norm to use clamshell or grapple. It would not be how you normally do it (previous phases in the project included retrieval of items by hand, baskets and lifts). We are just finding items from the smallest – a few buttons, marbles -- to 24-foot long foot railroad iron (armor). Machinery, large timbers, we have found the whole spectrum. We are getting a lot of ceramic, whiteware, spoons, everyday items. It is very surprising we are finding such small artifacts and these very large pieces.

Q. The biggest disappointment?
A. We were not able to recover the large casemate section. We are not doing it this time. We just really weren’t prepared with the equipment that we have. We will step back and reassess and come back in the future. We had a methodology, using the best information possible. As we got more involved, we realized the way we had planned was not the best way. We did not have the assets to recover the west and east casemates. We have recovered a few pieces of the east casemate. I think we have some really get data. We can reconstruct a section of the southeast casemate. Although we are using unconventional methods, we are recording everything. We will have a very good idea of how the vessel was constructed: the interior considerations, how the wood backing was put together, a lot more about the vessel itself.

Possible Civil War medallion that may have been attached to strap (USACE)

Q. How have the artifacts, at least preliminarily, informed you of  the operations of the CSS Georgia?
A. I think we can all agree that based on the machinery we have recovered it was definitely underpowered. That was alluded to in archival research. We know just from the pieces. The Georgia was a large and heavy vessel. We are scratching our heads, thinking, ‘Why did they use this (item)?’ A lot has to do with maybe they were using what they could just find, products that were readily available. There is no way to know at this point why they chose what they did. We have no estimate on the ship’s length.

Railroad iron was used for armor (USACE)

Q. Any evidence of measures taken to combat the constant leaking on the Georgia?
A. No. And you have to realize when we find this machinery it is not like the whole engine falls on the deck. There are so many pieces. We will have to figure out how they go together. At this point, we are getting pieces to the puzzle but we have not had chance to do that yet.

Q. How about the life of the crew? Did you find evidence of types of food, alcohol?
A. We have found items that suggest it was a pretty dull assignment. We found marbles and a domino. They had to find ways to keep themselves occupied. We are finding spoons, whiteware (ceramic). We will have an opportunity to look at our large database and we may get a better picture. We are starting to confirm it was a pretty dull assignment. We found bits and pieces of wooden barrels. We have found only one complete bottle of alcohol, for extra porter and ale. I imagine sailors haven’t changed much over the years.

Discovery of Dahlgren was a surprise for some (USACE)

Q. How can you describe the experience the two dozen, mostly young archaeologists are receiving?
A. These are all professional archaeologists. Some may be working on degrees. They do this for a living. If they were all terrestrial archaeologists we would call them “shovelbums” who go around to different projects. This is a very unique project. Because they are young, I can’t say this will be the highlight of their career, but it will rank right up there, working on a Confederate ironclad.

Q. What is like to go through all the muck and debris?
A. Sometimes the pieces are very, very small. It was pretty exciting to find something we can attribute to the CSS Georgia. The buttons are very exciting, as were the bayonet and sword handles. We are getting prehistoric ceramic. The crew is on its hands and knees somedays (on a recovery barge) looking through the muck and clamshell debris.

Hilt for artillery short sword

Q. Can you describe a typical day out on the barges?
A. It’s pretty fast-paced and the crew is very, very efficient. We are averaging 50 to 70 grabs a day. In the areas we are getting heavy machinery and iron it might be a slower day where we may have to use cranes. We have an amazing crew that is dedicated and enthusiastic. It is hard work, manual labor, but it is very rewarding. Saturday, we will start cleaning off the barge and will go back to our base crew that started in January. We will have reburial next week. Some of the final dives will make sure nothing major is missed.  Toward the end of the next week we will take barges off  the site (near Old Fort Jackson) and start unloading.

Q. What’s next?
A. Once we are off site, we will finish up inerting (rendering safe) the ordnance and getting all ordnance to Texas A&M (University) for conservation. We have found with so much (material) it may take in excess of three years for of all the conservation in this project. Archaeologists will start writing up the report and start the analysis of these artifacts. We will have a technical report at the very end of this project.

A shard of recovered pottery (USACE)

Q. When do you expect to research/write a formal analysis? What variables will be included?
A. This is a data recovery project. We are going to be reburying some of the artifacts. We will have to address those artifacts in the report. It will be pretty straightforward. Because of the conditions of the vessel, site, damage, (the remains) not being complete, there may be some questions we may never be able to answer.

Q. What percentage of items will be conserved?
A. I can’t speculate. Items that are unique are going to the conservation lab in Texas. Railroad items that are bent, twisted or are a segment, we bury those. Essentially, if it cannot tell us more of the story it goes back to reburial (in the river).

Q. Recovery has been ongoing for nearly a year. Can you summarize what’s been accomplished?
A. Looking at the sonar images we always had a pretty good idea of what was left of the vessel itself. Through the past few weeks in mechanized we are finding much more about the CSS Georgia. You look at the images, now we are beginning to get pieces that will tell us so much more about this vessel and the people involved.

Ceramic, bottle
Q. How many artifacts recovered thus far?
A. Up to 1,700 before the mechanized phase (which brought in many more). We don’t give individual numbers. We are giving them lot numbers. Our last count was over 50 tons sent to Texas A&M, including five cannons.

Q. Which artifact most speaks to you?
A. We found a bottle very complete. It was one of my favorite artifacts. Just seeing the domino, marbles, things of daily life that these sailors these had or used. We have found so much that after a while it becomes a blur. What day did we find that or this? I like items that help you learn more what life was like for these people, sailors.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Remembering war's chaplain assistants

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, The National Civil War Chaplains Museum at Liberty University in Virginia has added two relics — a diary and a flag — to its exhibit on a group known as the U.S. Christian Commission. • Article

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Restoration will remove paint from statue

A Civil War statue placed in a famous Rochester, New York, cemetery is being restored. The bronze sculpture was created by Sally James Farnham, a native of Ogdensburg in northern New York. It depicts a flag-bearing soldier standing next to a bugler. Erected in 1908, it stands in a section of the cemetery holding the graves of hundreds of Civil War veterans. • Article

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Update on Burnside Bridge, Observation Tower repairs at Antietam National Battlefield

Roof repair on Observation Tower (NPS)

The Picket reported last week that the Burnside Bridge at Antietam will undergo an extensive repair and stabilization project. The structure closed over the weekend.

Officials at Antietam National Battlefield say the Observation Tower at the Maryland park also is closed. The 60-foot stone tower should reopen the first week of November following roof repairs.

Superintendent Susan Trail responded Tuesday to the Picket’s questions about the bridge restoration project.

Q. When do you expect people will be able to walk over Burnside Bridge again?

A. The bridge is now closed to pedestrian traffic and we anticipate the first phase of the project to end sometime around the end of the calendar year, but much depends upon the weather. The bridge will reopen at that time and remain open until the second phase begins in early spring. Then we anticipate it to remain closed through the summer.

Q. The National Park Service plans in-stream work to strengthen the stone piers. Does that mean rebuilding the piers? 

A. Voids in the piers will be grouted and the piers will be repointed. They will not be rebuilt.

Q. What kind of stones make up the bridge? Are they local, or would you need to bring new ones in, if required?

A. The bridge is constructed of local limestone. At this time we do not anticipate having to bring in additional stone, but we will not know until the work is underway.

Q. Will the closure of the bridge change the park's interpretation in the area?

A. Visitors can still walk down to the bridge. It should not impact interpretation in this area too much, except that visitors will not be able to cross the bridge.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Illegally removed remains of soldier at Wilson's Creek to be buried this weekend

Flat marker that will go over grave (Springfield National Cemetery)

The soldier’s identity went with him to a shallow grave following the second major battle of the Civil War. More than four years after part of his remains were illegally removed by a relic hunter, the soldier will be reburied Saturday

The Department of Veterans Affairs will conduct the public service, in conjunction with the National Park Service, at 10 a.m. CT at Springfield National Cemetery in Missouri

Re-enactors and staff members at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield will perform honors, including the firing of a cannon and a 21-volley salute. A marker will state the identity of the soldier remains unknown.

“I just want to honor this soldier and give him proper burial rites,” Wilson’s Creek Superintendent Ted Hillmer told the Picket.

Gary Edmondson of the cemetery said the soldier will be buried among Confederate fallen and veterans who served during more recent conflicts.

Officials are not certain which side the man -- believed to be at least 20 years old -- fought with, but they believe he may have been a Confederate because of the manner and haste of burial.

An NPS investigation found the skeleton was about 29 percent complete. The recovered bones were from the knees and below. There was not enough of the right material to test for DNA, Hillmer said. “There is no confirmation or history of the family.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the western district of Missouri, Coy Matthew Hamilton, then 31, of Springfield, admitted to removing remains from the Wilson's Creek battlefield.

Hamilton said he and a friend found the remains on Feb. 27, 2011, while paddling down Wilson's Creek, looking for archaeological artifacts.

Recent heavy rains had eroded parts of the riverbank, and during the early afternoon, Hamilton saw a bone sticking out of an eroded embankment by the creek,” prosecutors said in a November 2012 press release. “Hamilton attempted to remove the bone, breaking it in the process. He then began digging into the embankment, removing additional bones. Ten days later, Hamilton, through an intermediary, turned the bones in to the National Park Service.”

Confederates won a victory at Wilson's Creek (NPS)

A subsequent excavation of the remaining skeleton found eight handmade, machine-tooled buttons made of bone, near the ankles. They were manufactured between 1800 and 1865 and consistent with buttons used during the Civil War.

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, on Aug. 10, 1861, resulted in a Confederate victory after its forces made multiple assaults on Union lines. Eventually, Federal troops retreated to Springfield.

“The remains were found in a location that would have been in an area of intensive fighting,” federal prosecutors wrote. “Mounted, infantry, and artillery units were in and near the vicinity of the find, which was just north of a road crossing the creek. The shallow grave suggested an expedient but respectful interment, head to the west in concert with Christian practices of the time.

Hamilton avoided federal prosecution for disturbing and removing items from an archaeological site by agreeing to pay $5,351 in restitution to the NPS and performing 60 hours of community service.

Hillmer, who said the park was involved in a similar burial in 2003, has invited the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to take part in Saturday’s event. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Antietam's Burnside Bridge closing Saturday for repairs on walls, arches and piers

Damage to upstream wall in January 2014 (NPS)

A $1.7 million project will stabilize Antietam National Battlefield’s iconic Burnside Bridge, which lost a section of stone wall in January 2014 after the bitter “polar vortex."

Temporary repairs were made, but a deeper engineering assessment found the 12-feet wide by 125-feet-long stone has substantial deterioration of the walls and significant water infiltration, the park in western Maryland said in a Wednesday press release.

The bridge over Antietam Creek will close Saturday (Oct. 10). It was not immediately clear when the pedestrian structure is expected to reopen.

The investigation also found that the instability extended to bridge piers with voids that need to be filled, officials said.

Phase 1 of the preservation will focus on strengthening the stone piers and arches, the National Park Service said. Portable dams will be installed in the creek to divert the water. Phase II will begin in early spring with repairs that require selectively dismantling and rebuilding sections of the bridge walls.

Superintendent Susan Trail last year told the Picket that rapid freezing and thawing after weather systems likely added to the natural wear on the stones.
NPS photo

Originally known as Rohrbach's or Lower Bridge, the battlefield landmark was built in 1836 by John Weaver at a cost of $3,200 as a wagon, horse and foot crossing southeast of Sharpsburg.

On Sept. 17, 1862, America's bloodiest single day, a small force of Confederates on high ground for three hours defended the critical crossing against troops belonging to Ambrose E. Burnside's 9th Corps.

“Topography at the site heavily favored the few hundred Confederates who defended it. The road approaching the east end of the bridge swung on a course paralleling that of Antietam Creek; in the last few hundred yards before reaching the bridge, the road plunged into a funnel-like depression between the opposing bluffs of the creek,” the NPS says. 

“Confederate troops were in rifle pits on the west bluff overlooking the bridge and the approach road.

Critics say Burnside did not do adequate reconnaissance before the attack, which cost him about 500 casualties. 

"After taking the bridge at about 1 p.m., Burnside reorganized for two hours before moving forward across the arduous terrain -- a critical delay. Finally, the advance started only to be turned back by Confederate General A.P. Hill’s reinforcements that arrived in the late afternoon from Harpers Ferry," according to the NPS.

Gen. Robert E. Lee's army was saved, but he had to end his Maryland invasion and return to Virginia.

After the battle, the bridge was actively used for traffic until as recently as 1966, according to the NPS.
The last significant work occurred in the late 1980s.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sculptor uses knowledge of artistic, medical anatomy to create Shiloh monument

Early model for Shiloh project. (Courtesy of Kim Sessums)

To capture a person's essence, Mississippi artist Kim Sessums wants to know as much as he can about the subject’s circumstances, background and outlook.

His works of figurative sculpture also strive to be anatomically accurate. Clay is shaped through écorché, the practice of sculpture with exposed muscle structure.

There are no artistic exaggerations, such as is the case with the subjects’ hands and feet in Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais.”

“It feels real because it has to be real,” Sessums says of his finished products, which include bronze busts of Andrew Wyeth, Eudora Welty, Sonny Montgomery and the Rev. Billy Graham.

That attention to detail -- where the viewer is not distracted from the work’s central theme -- is reflected in a towering bronze and granite monument that will be unveiled Saturday (Oct. 10) at Shiloh National Military Park near Savannah, Tenn. Three young Mississippi soldiers converge to protect a flag during a doomed attack on Union positions in April 1862. The monument will honor about 6,000 Mississippians who fought at Shiloh.

Dr. Kim Sessums
Sessums, 56, said that Carmel, Calif., artist Richard Macdonald once told him he might be “cheating.”

That’s because Sessums is a physician in Brookhaven.

While “medical anatomy is different from artistic anatomy,” Sessums says it has informed his work. He made a reference to artist Jamie Wyeth, who studied cadavers at the New York City morgue.

The artist told the Picket he has parallel careers, as an OB/GYN during the day, while spending time on his art early in the morning, at night and on the weekends. He has created sculpture since 1995. “I would sculpt my kids to get the human likeness and humanity.”

Sessums grew up in rural Scott County, Ms. At 4, Sessums lost his father in an automobile wreck; his mother died of cancer a year later. He was raised by grandparents and continued his interest in drawing, eventually branching out into mixed media, pastels and bronzes.

The latter include former Ole Miss football coach John Vaught, campus benefactor Frank R. Day and the African-American Monument at Vicksburg National Military Park (below). That work consists of two black Union soldiers and a field hand.

NPS photo

“The field hand and one soldier support between them the second soldier, who is wounded and represents the sacrifice in blood made by black soldiers on the field of battle during the Civil War,” according to a National Park Service description. “The field hand looks behind at a past of slavery, while the first soldier gazes toward a future of freedom secured by force of arms on the field of battle.”

Sessums said he wanted to honor a people who had been through a tremendous hardship.

The Mississippi monument on Rea Field at Shiloh is not meant to show specific soldiers, but it is based on the 6th Mississippi, which suffered horrendous casualties in several assaults.

“They came up against the 53rd Ohio from a snake-infested swamp. They were trying to make a surprise attack," he said. “This is to show the dedication and valor of these young men.”

Sessums and Dale Wilkerson, superintendent at Shiloh, said artistic sensibilities have changed since the first monuments went up at the park a century or so ago.

Before the dedication of the Tennessee monument in 2005, artistic themes at Shiloh were allegorical, said Wilkerson. “They are kind of meant to represent a theme.”

NPS photo

The 1906 Iowa memorial (above) features a female figure at the base, fashioning an inscription. A bronze eagle is affixed to a small globe at the top of the monument.

“Fame” writes:

Brave of the brave, the twice five thousand men
Who all that day stood in the battle’s shock,
Fame holds them dear, and with immortal pen
Inscribes their names on the enduring rock.

Elsewhere at Shiloh, an angel cradles a Wisconsin soldier.

The 1917 Confederate Monument, the informal name for a work sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, is very allegorical, said Wilkerson.

Picket photo of Confederate Monument detail

According to the NPS, the central group in this sweeping work represents a "Defeated Victory." The front figure, representing the Confederacy, is surrendering the laurel wreath of victory to Death, on the left, and Night, on the right. Death came to their commander and Night brought reinforcements to the enemy, and the battle was lost.

“None of this was meant to represent real people, but ideas,” said the superintendent.

NPS photo

The Tennessee monument (above) was meant to represent what happened on the battlefield. It, too, depicts three men, one cradling a dead or dying comrade.

Sessums’ new work, Wilkerson said, is even closer to reality. “The 6th Mississippi did charge across the field and had seven color bearers shot down. The one is the middle has been shot, one of them is reaching for the colors and one is reaching to hold up the color bearer.”

The artist said he first made smaller figures after “very rough sketches" before crafting a miniature version. He focuses on physiology. “It gets in my arms, brain and my eyes.” When he goes to the full-size figures, in this case 8 and a half feet tall, “they always take on a life of their own. You hope it changes for the better.”

Sessums submitted a couple design ideas to the Mississippi Veterans Monument Commission. They turned down a camp scene (below), choosing the one that will be unveiled this weekend.

“I love it,” the artist said of the camp scene. “(It is) very intimate and contemplative. Less heroic. Have thought about finishing as a separate study for the monument. Would be a really moving small bronze.”

In an essay with his submission to the commission, Sessums included the story of a real Mississippian at Shiloh, Augustus Mecklin of Choctaw County. The private wrote, “No day of my life has been so full of stirring terrible events as this. Never may I see such another.  Even now my mind is agitated & as I think of what I have seen this day visions dark & bloody float before my eyes & sounds of death & suffering fill my eyes.”

The artist’s aim was to give the man of the ranks “his rightful measure of consideration.”

His son, Jake, 32, helped with  the Shiloh project. Jake helped apply the clay, and then his father scored the surfaces, using different tools.

“It starts taking on life right before your eyes,” Kim Sessums said.

• More on new Mississippi monument at Shiloh

Jake, who operates a food truck in Oxford, with Kim Sessums

Monday, October 5, 2015

State finalizing work on Resaca battlefield, will turn it over to NW Georgia county

Ed Bearss discusses Confederate trenches at Resaca (GBA)

John A. King may have put it best when talking about the protracted birthing of a historic site that will interpret the Battle of Resaca during the Atlanta Campaign.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said the Gordon County administrator. “Sometimes, good things take a while.”

That “while” refers to a 20-year campaign to build and open a park just off I-75 in northwest Georgia. Supporters have been frustrated by false starts, permit problems, negotiations by state and local governments, construction delays and a massive road project at the interstate interchange. Officials had hoped Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site would be open well before May 2014 for the battle’s sesquicentennial – but that didn’t happen.

Now there's good news.

David Clark, chief engineer for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, recently told the Picket that final items of additional construction should be completed by the end of the month, with a transfer of the operations and maintenance to Gordon County after that.

Ken Padgett, a leader of the Gordon County Historic Preservation Commission and Friends of Resaca Battlefield, said, “It looks like we are close, but the final punch list (to do list) is in the very near future and hasn’t been agreed upon as yet.”

King says the county will need a few months to inspect the site, ensure all infrastructure is ready and have it up and running. He said he’d like to see it open by May 2016 for the battle’s 152nd anniversary. Officials may be able to provide some access before a grand opening.

Master plan for the historic site (DNR)
Old GBA map shows visitors' center that was dropped

Initially, King said, the 505-acre park will be open from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on the weekends.

“What a wonderful place to go on a Saturday afternoon and walk with your family,” he said.

The state has provided infrastructure, including a 2.2-mile road to the center of the site and walking paths.

“There is a lookout pavilion at end of the road, parking and roadside stops along the way with parking,” said Clark. “Further, there is interpretive signage in several locations to inform visitors of the historical significance of the site. There are and over 5.5 miles of trails, mostly in the woods.”

The state dropped plans for a visitors' center during the economic slowdown a few years back.

King said county officials will ensure the site is preserved and, in conjunction with other facilities -- including Fort Wayne and the Resaca Cemetery -- educate visitors and schoolchildren about the Civil War’s significant impact on Gordon County.

Pavilion and trail at new site (Photos: Georgia Battlefields Association)

“We see it as a lot of different opportunities. Not only does it reinforce the value of the historical significance of site, it gives us opportunity to promote greater tourism, community development and recreation.”

Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, said visitors will see well-preserved trenches from both sides and most of the battlefield on the early afternoon of May 14, 1864. Late-afternoon action is on the east side of the interstate. The GBA helped pay for a conservation easement in 2010 that protects the site.

On May 13-15, 1864, Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Tennessee bloodied each other at Resaca. There was no clear winner, but Sherman continued his march toward Atlanta, which he took several months later.

The fighting at Resaca demonstrated that the outnumbered Confederate army could only slow, but not stop, the advance of Union forces.

An annual re-enactment is held on a different portion of the battlefield, at Chitwood Farm.

Interstate 75 actually runs through the middle of the Resaca battleground, making the Civil War site literally just an exit ramp away. Exit 320 currently has no hotels and little fanfare. 

Example of sign at Resaca historic site (DNR)

The state site at the Ga. 136 exit covers a portion of the western side of the clash.

In March 2012, the Civil War Trust closed on the purchase of 51 acres of another portion of the Resaca battlefield, about three miles northeast of the new park.

Local residents began pushing for the park in the 1990s and the state acquired the property. The Friends of Resaca organized support and raised money. Finally, Georgia appeared poised to build the visitors center after a October 2008 groundbreaking.

The Department of Natural Resources realized it did not have the money to finish the project. 

Frustrated, Gordon County stepped in and took over, agreeing to do the construction and staff and maintain the facility. But in March 2010, citing costs and inherited permit problems, Gordon County punted on building the site. The state agreed to take the project back, with the caveat that the county would operate it once the work was done.

Fall 2008 groundbreaking was a tad premature (GBA)

The construction contract was awarded in May 2012 and the contractor started work in the fall of that year. The work was mostly done a year later but the Georgia Department of Transportation project produced some “complications,” including access to the site. A second contractor finished work on a redesigned entrance, Clark said.

The ongoing DOT project includes interchange widening and reconstruction on Ga. 136, two bridges and approaches. The DNR has been able to install a main gate and front signage for the battlefield site.

“Because of its limited access, to a significant degree this historic site is also a good nature preserve,” said Clark.

Resaca Battlefield State Historic Site is in a flood plain and the state built a raised road.

There have been some very heavy rain periods that have flooded the site since construction was completed but the road has remained well above the water level,” Clark said. “In the rare event that water does raise to the road elevation, the site will simply be closed for a week or two, cleaned and reopened.”  

103rd Ohio is the only monument on the battlefield (GBA)

Padgett, a longtime advocate for the historic site, said he and King stopped by on Oct. 5.

“Several issues are still to be addressed by DNR. I do think that we are close and DNR is having final site work actively underway at this time,” Padgett said. “I appreciate the work that Gordon County and DNR has done to ensure that the park is open to the public very soon.

(Padgett told the Picket on Nov. 3 that rain has delayed final site work, but he expects work to be done around the end of the month.)

King said while the site will be self-guided he expects a park guide to serve as a host and to provide maintenance. The estimated cost of operating the site is $84,000. While no admission charge is forecast, visitors will have an opportunity to donate to help the upkeep.

The administrator said Gordon County has worked with the state to ensure the trails are easily identifiable and walkers don’t get lost. The site will have controlled access so that employees can ensure its cultural resources are not disturbed.

King said he expects a related website to be built and the county will want some kind of billboard on I-75.

Clark said his agency has not had discussions with the DOT regarding an I-75 sign. “There are criteria regarding the projected number of yearly visitors to get a sign approved, which may prove to be a difficult hurdle for this site.”

Padgett said the Friends of the Resaca Battlefield are seeking donations to complete the historic trails interpretation signage and other projects, such as trail benches. 

Gordon County, King says, is excited about the park.

“It is going to be a unique location,” he said. “(It’s) one of the few battlefield sites that have not been available to the public. It is an untouched site.”