Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The ascent of Kennesaw Mountain

At over 420,000, the population of Atlanta is more than seven times that of Greenville. Occasionally we’ll make a stop in the 'big city', such as on our recent trip to see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the High Museum of Art, other times it’s just a race to beat the traffic as we follow the brake lights through to Florida. Most recently it was a combination of both as we bounced around the perimeter to Marietta, and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield.

Union and Confederate forces maneuvered and fought near Kennesaw Mountain from June 19, 1864 until July 2, 1864. Today, the 2,965-acre park is managed by the National Park Service, and features a visitor center and a driving tour, as well as monuments, historical markers, cannon emplacements, and 22 miles of hiking trails. The visitor center is a great place to start your tour of the park; a short film, exhibits and knowledgeable staff will help you get oriented.

Trail to summit of Kennesaw Mountain

Although there are trails that ascend Kennesaw Mountain, we opted to take the shuttle bus to the top of the mountain. On weekends it is not possible to drive to the top; visitors have to either hike the road or trails (ranging from 1-2 miles to the mountaintop), or take the shuttle. The fee was $3/adult, $1.50/kids ages 6-12, and we felt it was well worth due to the time we saved and utilized on a couple of later hikes. From the shuttle stop near the top of the mountain there was an overlook with a panoramic view of Atlanta, and a short trail to the summit.

Atlanta, just the way I like it - from a distance

The driving tour of the battlefield includes seven major points of interest, each with parking and wayside exhibits. After descending from Kennesaw Mountain, we loaded up the car and headed on to stop #2 on the tour, the 24-Gun Battery. Located on a small, wooded rise facing Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, this Federal gun emplacement is called the 24-Gun Battery because it housed four batteries, each one with six artillery pieces. From their location the Federals bombarded Confederate forces on Kennesaw Mountain for 10 days. Although it’s less than 1.5 miles from tour stop #2 to the visitor center by trail, we opted to park at stop #2 and walk in to the battery – it was less than a mile in and out. Some cannons have been positioned along the trail to assist in visualizing the emplacement.

24-Gun Battery cannons

The third point of interest is the Wallis House, dating back to about 1853 and abandoned upon the approach of Sherman’s armies. We continued on to stop #4, Pigeon Hill (where a trail leads to Confederate entrenchments where one of Sherman’s two major attacks was repelled), and then to Cheatham Hill.

View from the 'Dead Angle'

The mounds at Cheatham Hill are the remains of earthworks defended by the Confederate army; 11 miles of these defenses stretch through the park. At Cheatham Hill (tour stop #5) Confederate Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham created an angle in their lines that due to the high casualty count came to be known as the “Dead Angle.” We hiked ¼ mile along the earthworks to the Illinois Monument, then looped around back to the parking lot, stopping to read the markers. The Illinois Monument is the largest monument on the battlefield, and near its base is a monument at the entrance of a tunnel constructed by Union soldiers intending to blow up a section of the Confederate defenses.

The Illinois Monument

Stop #6 on the driving tour is the Sherman/Thomas Headquarters where the two Union generals met to discuss the assault on Confederate Gen. William Hardee’s troops on Cheatham Hill. And finally, at stop #7 is Kolb’s Farm, where on June 22, 1864, Union soldiers repulsed Confederate General Hood’s attack. The Kolb house is not open to the public, although there is a small wayside with a placard adjacent to the Kolb family cemetery.

The Kolb Farmhouse, restored in 1964

Kennesaw Battlefield provided more than we had envisioned when we first planned our stop. Not only does it preserve a historic Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign, but it interprets the events of those two years and presents it as part of the larger Civil War story. Kennesaw also provides a valuable greenspace in a what is densely populated urban area. The wildflowers and forest we saw there provided a glimpse into what the woodlands of this part of Georgia looked like hundreds of years ago.

Fire pink, found along 24-Gun Battery trail

Luckily, we were headed west, and so wouldn’t have to fight traffic once we concluded the driving tour of the battlefield. As we continued on our journey, Kennesaw Mountain shrinking in the rearview mirror, we followed the sinking sun into Alabama and another adventure. 

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