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July 23, 2008: Revitalization Online


During the Civil War, Atlanta quickly developed into a leading industrial city in the South. Vital railroad lifelines supplied the Confederate Army with necessary goods and provisions. The city's warehouses stored war materials; numerous factories churned out essential items such as cannon, rifles, saddles, and rail cars. Atlanta was also home to important military hospitals.

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 Abraham Lincoln was fully aware that his re-election in November 1864 hinged upon the military success of the campaign to seize the city.

Major General William T. Sherman's military success ultimately 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, Tenn., to Atlanta, and then both wings of Sherman's March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah, Ga. (Sherman divided his army into two forces, marching along almost parallel routes about 20 to 40 miles apart).

All told, six driving routes are being planned, with interpretive markers along the way to provide information on what happened at each location. The other four are known as 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, Ga., to the capture site at Irwinville near Tifton in South Georgia, and the route to Macon, Ga., from where he was sent to prison.

Bringing the trails to life

A 501c3 tax-exempt Georgia nonprofit corporation was initially established, now known as Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails, Inc. The estimated budget for the six trails is $4.3 million; about $500,000 has been spent to date. About $1 million in federal grants have been obtained in the form of transportation enhancement funds that are being administered by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). Local communities have also chipped in more than $300,000—from governments and organizations situated in communities along the trails, and a similar amount from the state and numerous private donors. 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 before in Georgia. More than 100 local jurisdictions are involved thus far, 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 (for example, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center), historical societies, and college professors.

Key tasks

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 statewide. The firm is also working closely with GDOT, jurisdictions, and landowners to coordinate or create parking, or to relocate a proposed marker to an historic site where public parking already exists. 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 signs for the Jefferson Davis Heritage Trail.

Each interpretive marker requires developing a right-of-way and construction plan. In some places, this includes making a location drawing and sketch to show the location for the sign placement. In other areas, in addition to the location map and sketch, more comprehensive easement drawings are required for placement of the interpretive marker, access to it, and for parking. On some sites, parking pull-offs are being designed, which includes grading, drainage, and paving, in addition to easements and location information.

The markers to be used will follow a 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 text 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, with no telephone wires, few mailboxes, and 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.

Following is a snapshot of some of the proposed markers:

Atlanta Campaign Heritage Trail

Davis's Cross Roads: Advancing east through mountain passes, Union Major General James S. Negley's division of the 14th Corps escaped a potentially crushing defeat here when Confederate units three times their number failed to properly coordinate an attack from Sept. 9-11, 1863, approximately 10 days prior to the Battle of Chickamauga.

Dug Gap Battle Park: As a feint to help hold General Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate army at Dalton, a Federal division aggressively attacked then withdrew from here on May 8, 1864. Meanwhile, the Federal Army of the Tennessee was flanking Dalton by secretly moving south toward Snake Creek Gap.

Battle of Atlanta: This portion of Confederate General John B. Hood's second major attack in three days, on July 22, 1864, is dramatically represented on the Cyclorama painting in Grant Park. This attack again resulted in heavy losses and Confederate defeat.

March to the Sea Heritage Trail

Left Wing

Statehouse Square: Georgia's capitol grounds from 1807-1868, and now home to Georgia Military College, were damaged from the explosion of the state magazine in November 1864. The gothic-styled former capitol building was recently renovated and now houses a museum.

Fort Jackson: Construction began in 1808 and continued to 1861, at which time it was seized by Georgia troops and additional equipment installed. It was then used as Confederate headquarters for Savannah River batteries until captured by Sherman's army in December 1864.

Right Wing

Ocmulgee River: From Nov. 18-20, 1864, the entire Union Army's right wing and cavalry—33,000 men—crossed the Ocmulgee River on pontoon bridges at Seven Islands. Planters Factory was also burned—it had been making cotton cloth for the Confederacy.

Millen Station: Founded in 1835 as an important railroad junction, Millen was entered by some 12,000 Federal soldiers of the 17th Corps on Dec. 2, 1864. They burned the old depot, hotel, and warehouses, then camped that night in this area.

Jefferson Davis Heritage Trail

Ball's Ferry: Arriving late on May 6, 1865, the Davis party stopped here near the east bank of the Oconee River to camp. But learning of a possible threat to his family located just to the south, Davis decided to ride all night on this unfamiliar river road.

Irwinville: During the evening of May 9, 1865, Davis sent members of his party here in order to gather supplies and information. Then about 1:00 a.m. on May 10, troops of the 4th Michigan arrived. Posing as Confederates, they were told the Davis party and wagons were encamped about 1-1/2 miles north. Guided by a local slave, the Federal cavalry surrounded the camp about 4:00 a.m., then waited for daybreak.

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

Return to: 2008 Feature Stories