Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Midtown Atlanta: Popular area was mostly 'underdeveloped wilderness' during 1864 siege

For those largely unfamiliar with Atlanta, Midtown is exactly that -- a hip neighborhood between downtown – scene of war time habitation and activity – and tony Buckhead to the north.

We were in Midtown over the weekend to take in “The Lion King” musical at the venerable Fox Theatre. While waiting for family members, I snapped these shots several blocks to the northwest of the venue. (You can click the images to better read the text)

The intersection of Spring Street and Peachtree Pace is just to the east of the Downtown Connector and Georgia Tech. It’s amazing how much development continues to fill in Midtown parcels.

Georgia Tech is the pink area on the left.

The sign describes the Confederate fortifications, built by slaves, just to the south. Capt. Lemuel Grant, a former railroad engineer, led the construction of the strong defenses that helped keep Union forces at bay until action south of Atlanta forced the Rebels to leave and city officials to surrender.

Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, said of this corner: “This corner in July 1864 would have been out in the country, albeit between the lines from 21 July through the two weeks thereafter. The Federal line ran roughly along Tenth Street. Three earthworks for Federal siege guns still remain in the belt of trees north of the Turner complex.  Looking at the relevant OR (Official Records) maps, I can't even find a residence nearby.”

10th Street and the Turner complex are just to the west of the Publix grocery store.

Archaeological map of Tech campus includes Confederate, Union lines

The distance between the Northern and Southern line, in the summer of 1864, was a no man’s land – home to rifle pits and picket posts – that now is the heart of the Georgia Tech campus, shown in this map overlay.

The original defensive line, built July-October 1863, was closer to the city and downtown, with its apex near the current Fox Theatre. Atlanta was vulnerable.

Slaves and other workers, in July 1864, furiously threw up more defenses, to the north and west of the old line, as Federal Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops closed in. “When the Confederates built the line they cut down almost all of the woods” that covered the current campus, according to Crawford. Lt. Gen. Alexander Stewart took command of the forces.

Main battle in Atlanta was to southeast of intersection (Picket photo)

The Confederates used letters, X, Y and Z, to name their forts in the area. Fort Z was near the current administration building, known for the familiar Tech Tower. Fort Y rests below the campus student center or a nearby parking deck.

Fans of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets football team might be interested in knowing that the east-west Confederate line ran through what is now the south end of Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, right next to the Downtown Connector. The Southern line also ran near what is now the landmark restaurant The Varsity, just east of campus.

The view looking to the north.

While the text of the marker is accurate, Crawford says, the photo caption is incorrect. That may be because the photo might have been used more for illustrative purposes.

“Only a handful of people would know that the fort shown was actually southeast of the city, not east of Peachtree Street; and it's a Federal fort, at least at the time of the photo (October 1864).”

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