he Atlanta Campaign secured the reelection of Abraham Lincoln and elevated William T. Sherman to the highest esteem in the Northern press, and in the administration which sponsored him and supported all his methods. Today, only a fragment of the many battlefields of those crucial months of the Civil War have been preserved, but the memory of those battles and causes still linger in memorials that have survived.
Beginning at the End... Oakland Cemetery
We begin our tour at Oakland Cemetery. Have you ever read a book that begins with the outcome in the first chapter and then works backward to how the story unfolded? Oakland is the final resting place of thousands of southern soldiers who were killed in battle or died in hospital. Many veterans who survived the war were buried at Oakland over the following century. We meet first at the grave of Confederate Major General John Brown Gordon, one of the most successful officers of the Army of Northern Virginia. A Georgian by birth and an outspoken Christian by new birth, Gordon and his wife Fanny achieved almost legendary status among the veterans and general population during the war.
Afterward, he worked for reconciliation and served as Governor several times. Wounded five times in one battle, Gordon’s story amazes us every time it is told. We stand at the foot of his equestrian statue that faces north just outside the Capitol and view his portrait adorning the walls inside the “Gold Dome.” He was a founder of the Presbyterian Church across the street and was involved in other ministries and veteran’s groups during his long life.
We also pause at the grave of General Clement Anselm Evans — as providence would have it — named after two great post-apostolic church fathers. Also a Christian, Evans determined to enter the Gospel ministry when the war ended, if he survived. Courageous in battle, competent in command, he rose through the officer ranks behind Gordon. As a Methodist preacher in the ante-bellum period, he also served in Confederate veterans organizations and civil government, as well as editing the Confederate Military History (CMH) and other written memorials to the men who served in the war from Georgia.
The Lion of Atlanta memorializes the unknown Confederate soldiers who lie in anonymous graves at Oakland, and in a sense, all the battlefields of the war. Modeled after the “Lion of Lucerne,” the great king of the beasts lies dead on a battleflag in a mourning posture. Carved from the local granite of Stone Mountain, it is a reminder that thousands of widows and orphans never knew where their fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, and grandfathers were buried after they went off to defend their homes and hearths.
The Georgia State Capitol — Inside and Out!
Our visit to the Capitol includes a stroll around the outside grounds, pausing at General Gordon and the wartime Governor of Georgia, Joseph Brown. Eccentric and clever, Governor Brown became a burr in the saddle of the Richmond government. Brown determined to defend Georgia first and last, occasionally withholding troops and supplies to the main armies. Governor Brown was also known as a man devoted to his wife and she appears with him on the monument—not a fragile wall-flower as the erroneous stereotypes of southern womanhood that are sometimes suggested by historians.
Inside the Capitol we view the portraits of the men who made the Confederacy — Alexander Stephens, Vice-President, his best friend General Robert Toombs, and the bombastic Howell Cobb. Time does not permit the stories behind other Confederate heroes depicted there, both political and military, but it is easy to see that Georgia took a leading role in secession, the war, and its aftermath.
Atlanta History Center
Our visit to the Atlanta History Center is highlighted by the return of the historic Cyclorama painting of the Siege of Atlanta. Now restored to its original size of 49 feet tall and 371 feet in diameter, it is truly a sight to behold! One of my personal favorite artifacts is a Georgia battle flag with the blood stains of the color-bearer still visible. It is a powerful reminder that the men of that era were real, flesh and blood civilian-soldiers who sacrificed everything for their independence.
Sweet Fellowship and Good Food
Our supper at the Olive Garden includes a quiz and prizes for those who remembered the teaching of the day, and a brief but interesting talk by historian Bill Potter on the great spiritual awakening in the Army of Tennessee. We see once again, that God is at work even in war, building His church, advancing His Kingdom, and providentially directing history to His desired outcome.
Kennesaw Battlefield Comes Alive!
On Thursday morning we gather at the Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park. The NPS film in the visitors’ center is one of the best in the nation — sobering, realistic, and well balanced. We drive up to Cheatham Hill where we learn about the days leading up to the battle, from one of the Confederate artillery positions. We then walk to the “dead angle,” the spot defended by Tennessee regiments and assaulted by an overwhelming force of Midwesterners, especially Illinois and Ohio troops. We will read some of the accounts by survivors as we gaze out over the attacking space, a wide killing ground on a blistering hot day in June of 1864, and be reminded that Christian men called a halt to the carnage to help the wounded when fires broke out. We end our visit there with the traditional charge up the hill at the rail fence, our soldiers from the age of seven to (perhaps) sixty three . . . It is a stirring and fun reenactment but intended as a memorial to the men who fought there, blue and gray.
Marietta — Burning Bridges and Chasing Trains
Marietta Square is the final stop in the Atlanta Tour. You will hear the story of the great train chase of 1862 which was secretly mounted by twenty or so Union volunteers, beginning in that town. Hoping to destroy tracks and bridges in conjunction with a Union attack on Chattanooga, the brave effort failed when the Andrews raiders were chased down by persevering trainmen and the Union military effort turned back. Although a failure which resulted in the execution of a number of raiders, the first army Medals of Honor were awarded for their bold and innovative secret raid. A visit to the Marietta History Museum follows, where we look out over the exact spot that the raid leader viewed the train arriving for its brief encounter with a Providence which denied their success.
We hope to pique the interest of all who attend to learn more about the Atlanta Campaign and the men who fought it. While we are not privy to God’s eternal counsels, we can study their results and learn to appreciate the lives and fortunes of our ancestors. These men found much worth fighting and dying for and their willingness to do so should inspire us today.
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