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July 4, 2008: Marietta Daily Journal


During the Civil War, Atlanta quickly developed into a leading industrial city in the South.

Vital railroad lifelines supplied the Confederate Army with goods and provisions. The city's warehouses stored war materials; numerous factories churned out essential items like cannon, rifles, saddles and rail cars.

No surprise then that from the fall of 1863 through the spring and summer of 1864, the Union Army's chief objective was to capture Atlanta. President Lincoln was fully aware that his re-election in November 1864 hinged upon the military success of the campaign to seize the city. Gen. William T. Sherman's military success assured Lincoln's re-election and set in motion the collapse of the Confederacy.

More than a century later, the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman's famous 250-mile March to the Sea will soon lead visitors on an experience back in time. These historic trails follow the opposing armies' route from northwest Georgia near Chattanooga to Atlanta, and then both wings of Sherman's "March to the Sea" from Atlanta to Savannah. (Sherman divided his army into two forces, marching along almost parallel routes about 20-40 miles apart.)

All told, six driving routes are planned, with interpretive markers along the way to provide information on what happened at each location. The other four are the Jefferson Davis Heritage Trail, Wilson's Raid Heritage Trail, Northeast Georgia Heritage Trail and South Georgia Heritage Trail. The Jefferson Davis Heritage Trail, for example, follows the route and capture of the Confederate president from Hester's Ferry on the Savannah River east of Athens, to the capture site at Irwinville near Tifton in south Georgia, and the route to Macon from where he was sent to prison.

A 501(c) (3) tax-exempt Georgia nonprofit corporation was initially established, Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails, Inc. The estimated budget for the trails is $4.3 million. About $500,000 has been spent. About $1 million in federal grants has been obtained.

Local communities have also chipped in more than $300,000. In fact, as part of the federal grant requirements, local communities must pay at least 20 percent of the total. The grant sponsor for the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea Heritage Trails is Whitfield County. The City of Fitzgerald is sponsoring the Jefferson Davis Heritage Trail.

Nothing of this magnitude has ever been attempted in Georgia. More than 100 local jurisdictions are involved, along with GDOT, the Tourism Division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Other stakeholders include the U.S. National Park Service, Chamber of Commerce representatives, visitors' bureaus and centers, historical societies, and college professors.

Alpharetta-based engineering firm MACTEC Inc. was retained to provide a full range of surveying/engineering services, which include land survey, preparation of construction plans, and construction administration for placing 116 historic interpretive markers in 45 counties. The firm is also working closely with GDOT, jurisdictions and landowners to coordinate/create available parking, or to relocate a proposed marker to a historic site where public parking already exists. In order to facilitate the drive from one interpretive marker to another, in addition to providing maps, there are approximately 800 trailblazer signs proposed from northwest Georgia to Savannah for the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea Heritage Trails and approximately 200 for the Jefferson Davis Heritage Trail.

Each marker requires developing a right-of-way and construction plan. In some places, this includes making a location drawing and sketch to show the actual location for the sign placement. In other areas, in addition to the map and sketch, more extensive/comprehensive easement drawings are required. On some sites, parking pull-offs are being designed.

The markers to be used will follow an exact design that the U.S. National Park Service currently uses. Each marker will be publicly accessible and every local jurisdiction will be consulted on the visuals and verbiage that will be used.

The historic driving trails will encourage and raise public awareness about existing historic preservation activities, with numerous scenic, environmental and economic benefits. In some rural areas the same dirt road the soldiers marched on will be used - no telephone wires, few mailboxes, no interstate highways nearby. The Atlanta Campaign, March to the Sea and Jefferson Davis Heritage Trails will direct visitors from major cities through mostly rural counties where the economic benefits are most needed.

The first three trails are expected to open next year. Civil War buffs, school kids, tourists from within Georgia and nationwide will all find the trails educational. They'll see places where history was made and learn why Georgia played a pivotal role in a war that shaped America's greatness.

Return to: 2008 Feature Stories