Georgia Civil War sites/reenactments
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Did You Know … ?
- Confederate soldiers escaped from Lookout Mountain at night under a full eclipse of the moon (Nov. 25, 1863).
- In 14 months, nearly 13,000 of the more than 45,000 Union soldiers incarcerated at the Andersonville POW camp died.
- The Atlanta Cyclorama, showing the Battle of Atlanta, is the world’s largest oil painting.
- For “Gone With the Wind” (1939), 1,400 actresses were interviewed for the part of Scarlett O’Hara.
- Georgia was the last state to be readmitted to the Union (July 15, 1870).
March across Georgia
Major Civil War campaigns of late 1863 through early 1865 took federal troops across Georgia from its northwest corner to Savannah and the sea. That sweep of military activity unites much that a Civil War buff wants to pursue when taking on the war as a travel theme in Georgia.
Taken chronologically, the starting point would be the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, on the Georgia-Tennessee border; it was the scene of several battles for control of Chattanooga, a rail center and gateway to the heart of the Confederacy. The South prevailed at Chickamauga, but late in 1863, after several fights, the North had Chattanooga. The Atlanta Campaign was next.
As with all these battlefield parks, visitors are met with museums, living history events, ranger-led experiences and self-guided auto or walking tours. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga site is particularly instructive for the hiker who gains more than an intellectual understanding of the challenges faced by combatants on its mountainous terrain.
The story of the Union drive to capture Atlanta — not yet the state capital — is centered on the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park although combatants clashed in many places before Union forces succeeded in September 1864.
Sherman’s March to the Sea forms the basis for one of several Civil War trails Georgia created for visitors. Sherman’s men destroyed much in a 60-mile-wide swath, causing $1 billion in damage in five weeks. But much remains standing, too, and is marked for the visitor’s convenience.
Another must-see is the Andersonville National Historic Site, location of the worst of the Civil War POW camps. Today, it is dedicated to POWs from all America’s wars.
National parks host living history sessions but not reenactments. The latter are staged elsewhere, sometimes at battlefields that are now state parks.
A Civil War itinerary isn’t limited by battles, prisons and cemeteries. Georgia offers the Antebellum Heritage Trail, focused on largely unscathed historic towns and homes. Savannah, Sherman’s end point and the city he did not burn, offers an upbeat ending to a Civil War itinerary. Finally, a few museums remember Margaret Mitchell and her indelible take on the war.
Things to do for Venturers
- Get your grandest view of the battlefield area around Lookout Mountain while hang gliding, either solo or in tandem.
- Drive the roughly 250-mile Atlanta Campaign Heritage Trail, which leads you along routes taken by Union and Confederate soldiers in 1863 and 1864. Georgia has created other routes — including one dubbed the March to the Sea Heritage Trail — that also follow paths taken by the combatants.
- Make use of the horse trails while traversing the Chickamauga Battlefield.
- At the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, there are several hiking trails with monuments and markers of various kinds. Trails vary in difficulty and length, up to 14 miles. Or, hike on any of the 18 miles of interpretive trails at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park where terrain varies from rolling hills to rock outcroppings.
- Volunteer to join the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club, also a group of volunteers, to help maintain the trails at the Kennesaw Mountain park. The option is available on the second Saturday of each month.
- Seek out reenactment events that intrigue you most. The Georgia Division Reenactors Association participates in several each year.
Things to do for Centrics
- Travel the 100 or so miles of the Antebellum Trail, a Civil War trail that takes you to seven towns, from Athens to Macon, that escaped destruction during the Civil War and provide a window today on the antebellum way of life in Georgia.
- Join ranger-led hikes over the Chickamauga Battlefield and the Lookout Mountain Battlefield. Or, if your timing is right, join a ranger-guided car caravan tour at Chickamauga.
- Pause to enjoy the natural beauty of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Use your camera, or if a birder, use the binoculars to watch for feathered residents.
- Attend a reenactment of the 1864 Battle of Resaca (part of the Atlanta Campaign), held each May on more than 650 acres of the original battlefield at Resaca. A multifaceted weekend, it also includes a period base ball game, period medical demos, period church service, period Saturday night dance and a ladies tea with speaker.
- Time your visit to Andersonville National Historic Site to coincide with a living history event illustrating what life was like for its imprisoned Union soldiers. Visit the National Prisoner of War Museum at the site, too, then walk into the Andersonville Civil War Village.
- Visit the Atlanta History Center for its extensive Civil War exhibition. Another of Georgia’s several Civil War museums is the National Civil War Naval Museum in Port Columbus.
Things to do for Authentics
- Tour the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in Atlanta. Or, if more focused on the movie, choose between the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro and Gone With the Wind: Scarlett on the Square in Marietta.
- Time your visit to Clinton’s Old Clinton Historic District to coincide in May with Old Clinton War Days featuring Civil War reenactments. The district itself boasts a dozen homes built before 1830.
- Overnight in a plantation house converted to a hotel or B&B.
- Unusual events produce unusual attractions. For one, the Blue and Gray Museum in Fitzgerald tells the story of Fitzgerald’s founding as a community for Civil War vets from both sides. And, a marker at the courthouse in LaGrange recalls the day a Union colonel, also named LaGrange, opted not to engage with the all-female militia that mobilized to defend the town in 1865.
- Join a ranger-led or volunteer-led tour of the museum at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Also, see the museum’s informative 35-minute film on the Atlanta Campaign and the fighting that occurred at Kennesaw Mountain.
- Take a break in charming Savannah, the city Gen. William Sherman spared at the end of his March to the Sea.
For more information, consult the Georgia Department of Economic Development at www.exploregeorgia.org