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July 10, 2008: Global Atlanta


A project chronicling Georgia's Civil War history has been nearly a decade in the works and could draw visitors to the state from around the world.

Steven Longcrier, founder and executive director of Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails Inc., said that the project to establish a highway route following Civil War events in the state has drawn international interest from its beginning.

"I was at the State Capitol nearly 10 years ago, when we were in the initial planning stages. I was talking with one of the people in a group from Japan. I hadn't done anything but mention the basic concept of what we wanted to do, and he asked me if we had some information for Sherman's march," he said.

"I said no, we don't yet, but give us a few years. That told me there's interest right there."

He added that it has taken time to compile historical information, decide where to place the markers and attract the necessary partners to do the work, but the first three trails he wants to designate could be finished within three years.

The three routes are to consist of signs along highways and roads with the heritage trails' logo and arrows pointing to the next historical marker. The markers themselves will not be the brass plaques that already exist at most historic sites, but a high-density plastic style designed by the National Parks Service.

The markers, often at lesser-known Civil War sites, are designed to appeal to a broad range of people, rather than just military or history buffs.

"When people think about the Civil War, they think about the battlefields," Mr. Longcrier said. "That's a key and vital component, but we're also trying to tell the social impact of the war, how this cataclysmic event shaped Georgia so radically compared to what it was before."

More than a dozen of the 130 markers included in the three trails have been completed and placed, paid for by local communities or chambers of commerce.

Now that the project is further along, Mr. Longcrier said its Web site has drawn e-mail requests for brochures from around the U.S. and Belgium, Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom, among other countries.

The organization received its first funding, a federal transportation enhancement grant, in 2001. Mr. Longcrier has since consulted with Civil War historians, professors and local historical societies to decide where to place the markers.

He is now working with the Georgia Department of Transportation and Atlanta-based engineering and construction firm MACTEC Inc. to place the signs, and with the Georgia Department of Economic Development's tourism department to plan a marketing strategy.

Charlie Gatlin, the economic development department's deputy commissioner for tourism and marketing, said that the trails are part of the state's preparations for 2011, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's beginning.

He added that the state is working to appeal to "heritage travelers," those visiting an area to explore its history or culture, a significant tourism market in the Southeast.

"It's sort of a phenomenon," Mr. Gatlin said. "If you go to you can go to any of the states in this part of the country the tourism director will tell you the heritage traveler is a big market."

The trails are to be advertised on Georgia's official tourism Web site, www.exploregeorgia.org and arranged in advance for overseas visitors.

Though he is the only full-time employee, Mr. Longcrier said the heritage trails' board of trustees has grown to 14. Its president is Juvenile Court Judge Chris Hughes and members include former University of Georgia Athletic Director Vince Dooley and former mayors of Brunswick and Columbus.

Alex Wiley, transportation design manager at MACTEC's Kennesaw office, said the company has worked with parks services and historical preservation organizations before, but the sheer scope of the Civil War trails project sets it apart.

"We do a lot of different kinds of projects, but this is one of the most unusual I've worked on," he said. "It's been scattered over several hundred miles there are individual sites in little communities you've never heard of in Georgia, as well as the big cities."

MACTEC is using digital and aerial photography to place the signs and design parking at seven of the sites.

Though many of the markers are to be placed on public property like courthouses and city halls, the company is to help obtain easements, legal permission to build on private property.

The first three series of markers at historic sites are to follow the most well-known Civil War events in Georgia.

The "Atlanta Campaign Heritage Trail" is to start in Chickamauga in north Georgia, and follow the route of Union Gen. William Sherman's invading army into the state capital. The "March to the Sea Heritage Trail" will pick up there and go to Savannah.

The final route, the "Jefferson Davis Heritage Trail," chronicles the fleeing Confederate president's journey from Augusta, south through Macon, to Irwinville in his attempt to evade Union soldiers at the war's end in 1865.

Mr. Longcrier said the three trails to be ready by 2011. A first round of 400,000 route maps are printed and ready to be distributed at rest stops and tourism offices all over the state when the sign placements are finished.

He added that the Web site is to be revamped and expanded to include necessary information and possibly Civil War games and quizzes.

Mr. Longcrier also plans to designate another three trails in the future, chronicling lesser-known Civil War events in Georgia. These would follow Union Gen. James Wilson's cavalry raid from Columbus to Macon, events in northeast Georgia near Athens and Gainesville, and a southern trail including the Confederate prison at Andersonville.

Return to: 2008 Feature Stories