To mark the 150th anniversary of one of the most significant military campaigns of the Civil War, 90 people boarded two Fun Bus motorcoaches for the Ohio History Connection’s five-day “Travels Through Time” Tour of Sherman’s March to Atlanta.
As we made our way from Columbus through Kentucky and Tennessee to Georgia, we might not have witnessed the destruction and death that 100,000 Union soldiers experienced during General William Tecumseh Sherman’s historic march, but I certainly gained a greater appreciation for what my ancestor, Henry Heinmiller, experienced during the campaign as a soldier in Company F of the 108th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
Our first stop was Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. After passing dozens of beautiful homes on East Brow Road, we arrived at Point Park and surveyed the stunning view of Chattanooga, the Tennessee River and the Cumberland mountain range from historic Point Lookout, the northernmost promontory of the mountain. A National Park Service ranger described how important Chattanooga was to both the Confederate and Union forces, because of its strategic position as a junction of four railroad lines leading into northern Georgia, Atlanta and the heart of the South.
In the visitor center, we saw James Walker’s The Battle of Lookout Mountain, a 13’ by 30’, 700-pound painting that Hooker commissioned to commemorate his victory in the Battle of Lookout Mountain, also known as “The Battle Above the Clouds.” Hooker is mounted on a white horse, surrounded by an immaculate cavalcade that belies what must have been the scene on the battlefield.
After an overnight stay at the Sheraton Read House Hotel in downtown Chattanooga, we visited the Chattanooga and Chickamauga Battlefields. As our ranger guide took us to key locations and told us the story of the terrible battles fought in the rugged wooded terrain near Chickamauga creek, we realized how amazing it was that Henry survived them. These sections of trees taken from the field after the battle show how ferocious the fighting was.
A few weeks before the sesquicentennial celebration of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, we visited Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park in Georgia. Brian Wills, director of the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era and professor of history at Kennesaw State University, joined park rangers to take us around the park.
Seeing the steep, rocky slopes, densely wooded terrain, and the earthen trenches that the Confederates built to protect themselves against the enemy helped to visualize what soldiers under Sherman and Confederate General Joseph Johnston experienced at Kennesaw Mountain. We also gained a greater appreciation for Dan McCook, one of Ohio’s Fighting McCooks, who recited a stanza from Thomas Macaulay’s Horatius, beginning “Then how may men die better than facing fearful odds?,” before he led the assault on Kennesaw Mountain and was killed at its Dead Angle.
The natural beauty of the area was equally unforgettable. Hearing that Pigeon Hill was a favorite roosting place for Passenger pigeons was a clue in discovering that the park has been designated an Important Bird Area where sightings of over 200 species of birds have been reported.
With the Artmore Hotel as our home base, we began our Atlanta sightseeing tour with a visit to the famous Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum on Henry’s 172nd birthday.
From a giant 184-seat rotating platform, we listened as our guide pointed out the historical details behind this striking depiction of the Battle of Atlanta. In July 1864, Confederate General John B. Hood launched an offensive against Sherman and his troops that would result not only in nearly 12,000 casualties, but also in an important victory for Sherman signaling that the end of the war was in sight.
We also learned how important taking control of Atlanta was for both the Union and the Confederacy, again because of the railroads that linked it to the rest of the South. No wonder that the railroad tracks twisted around tree trunks known as “Sherman’s neckties” symbolized the Atlanta campaign.
After describing the battle, our guide explained key features of the 358’ by 42’, 9,334-pound painting that was commissioned by Civil War General and Illinois Senator John Alexander Logan for his 1884 vice-presidential campaign. A 30’ space between the painting and the observation platform is filled with a three-dimensional landscape populated by 128 statuettes of soldiers, ranging from 17 to 42 inches tall, all sculpted to scale with the painting. One resembles Clark Gable, to commemorate his visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama during the celebrations surrounding the opening of Gone with the Wind.
At Stone Mountain, in the eastern outskirts of Atlanta, we checked out the dome-shaped granite hunk featuring a three-acre, nine-story-tall bas-relief carving of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis on horseback. It was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1915 and begun by the same artist who crafted Mount Rushmore. After admiring the pretty pink-flowering Calliandra shrubs, or powder-puff plants, during a five-mile ride on a 1940s train around the mountain, we had a picnic supper and watched a laser light show and fireworks display that uses the sculpture as a backdrop.
In Stone Mountain’s surrounding park, we toured the Antebellum Plantation, a collection of original, restored buildings from around Georgia that were built between 1792 and 1875. After peeking inside a one-room schoolhouse from DeKalb County, we wandered around the Dickey House, a 14-room Neoclassical home with Palladian arches from Albany. Twin exterior stairways represent welcoming arms and are supported by columns of handmade, curved brick.
All this was interesting, but it was nothing compared to the Andersonville National Historic Site in rural southwest Georgia.
Between February 1864 and May 1865, Camp Sumter Military Prison in Andersonville was a Confederate military prison that its 41,000 Union inmates called “hell on earth.”
Two sections of log walls hint at the 15’ stockade that originally surrounded the prison, while a white post-and-rail fence indicates the “deadline,” which no prisoner could cross without the threat of being shot by guards. Other markers show where prisoners dug tunnels in an effort to escape.
The 16 ½-acre space was crammed with shebangs, small A-shaped tents fashioned from overcoats, blankets or whatever else that prisoners could find to shelter them.
The only source of water was a stream that ran through the camp, so it was used for drinking, washing and sanitation. Roughly 13,000 prisoners (1,055 from Ohio) died from typhoid, gangrene, malnutrition, starvation, diarrhea or dysentery.
In nearby Andersonville National Cemetery, a permanent resting place of honor for over 19,000 deceased veterans, a sea of tightly packed white gravestones mark the prison’s casualties. Dorence Atwater, a prisoner who survived, smuggled a copy of Andersonville’s death records when he was released and turned it over to the U.S. Army. In 1865, Atwater and Clara Barton used the register to identify missing soldiers.
“The scenes on this field would have cured anybody of war,” Sherman wrote to his wife on April 11, 1862 after the Battle of Shiloh. After seeing these battlefields of such magnitude and quality, we had a lot to think about as we drove home.
Our suggested reading list featured The Buckeye Vanguard: History of the Forty-Ninth Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1865, by Richard F. Mann, which was edited by Mark Holbrook, one of our guides who accompanied us on the tour who also is a former Ohio History Connection colleague of mine.
Other books I checked out include Chickamauga: A Battlefield Guide with a Section on Chattanooga, by Steven E. Woodworth; Chickamauga: A Battlefield History in Images, by Roger C. Linton; and Voices of the Civil War: Chickamauga, by the editors of Time-Life Books. Three books by Richard A. Baumgartner and Larry M. Strayer — Echoes of Battle: The Struggle for Chattanooga; Echoes of Battle: The Atlanta Campaign; and Kennesaw Mountain, June 1864: Bitter Standoff at the Gibraltar of Georgia — were all worthwhile reading. More good titles include Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign, by Earl J. Hess; History of Andersonville Prison, by Ovid L. Futch, with an introduction by Michael P. Gray; and Prison Life Among the Rebels: Recollections of a Union Chaplain, by Henry S. White and edited by Edward D. Jervey.
For an overview of the battlefields we toured, visit the National Park Service Civil War Battlefields website at http://www.nps.gov/civilwar. If you have an ancestor in an Ohio Civil War unit, you should be able to find an overview of his service at http://ohiocivilwar.com.