From the bombing of Fort Pulaski in 1862 to the capture of Confederate president Jefferson Davis in 1865, Georgia played a significant role in the Civil War (1861-65). The fall of Atlanta in 1864 was pivotal in determining the war's outcome; this important Union victory assured U.S. president Abraham Lincoln's reelection and ultimately led to Confederate defeat.
The many historic sites located throughout Georgia attest to its rich Civil War history. The following selection of battlefields, forts, prisons, cemeteries, and museums represents some of the best-preserved Civil War monuments and memorabilia in the state and the country. The Georgia Civil War Commission is largely responsible for the planning, preservation, and promotion of many of these sites and structures.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Battlefield Park, near Lookout Mountain in Walker County, is the first and largest memorial Civil War battlefield in the country. The site of the Battle of Chickamauga, one of the Confederacy's most decisive victories and one of the bloodiest engagements of the war, the battlefield park was conceived by two Union veterans in 1888. They won federal legislative backing two years later, and the site was dedicated in September 1895. Veterans of both sides were invited to mark the battlefield with monuments in their honor, funded by state legislatures from the North and the South. The U.S. government provided metal plaques detailing events of the battle.
Pickett's Mill Battlefield State Historic Site is one of the best-preserved Civil War battlefields in the nation. The 765-acre tract near Dallas, in Paulding County, was acquired by the state in the 1970s and retains the pristine woods-and-ravines topography of May 27, 1864, when 10,000 Confederate troops thwarted a Union assault. This victory resulted in a one-week delay of General William T. Sherman's advance on Atlanta, which would eventually lead to the city's demise as a Confederate home front. Visitors to the site can retrace the events of the battle on roads and trails used by Union and Confederate troops.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park dates from 1917, with the federal acquisition of sixty acres of the battlefield surrounding Cheatham's Hill, the scene in June 1864 of some of the heaviest fighting of the Atlanta campaign. Further land purchases followed: Kennesaw and Little Kennesaw mountains, Pigeon Hill, and other acreage to cover the full eight-mile Confederate line. The National Park Service has administered the property since 1933. Today Kennesaw Mountain Park comprises some 3,000 acres and remains the largest wilderness area in the metropolitan Atlanta area. An additional feature south of the battlefield is an antebellum log house used as a Union general's headquarters.
Fort Pulaski National Monument, maintained by the National Park Service, marks the site of the first significant military engagement on Georgia soil. Built in the 1830s and 1840s on Cockspur Island, the masonry fort was designed to defend Savannah, twenty miles upriver. Once considered invincible because of its seven-and-a-half-foot solid brick walls, Fort Pulaski was doomed by the advent of rifled artillery in the 1850s. Federal forces landing on Tybee Island in early 1862 built batteries and opened fire on Pulaski on April 10. Just thirty hours later, with the fort's walls breached, the Confederate garrison surrendered. This defeat left the state's coast under Northern control and encouraged black regiments to join Union lines. Designated a national monument in 1924, Fort Pulaski is surrounded by some of the most pristine and scenic marshland on the Georgia coast.
Fort McAllister State Historic Park, in Bryan County, is a well-preserved earthen fortification constructed by Confederates after the fall of Fort Pulaski. Fort McAllister withstood Union gunboat attacks until Sherman's approach in December 1864. On December 13 Union infantry overwhelmed the fort's small garrison. The fort was restored as a historic site for the public in the late 1930s through funding provided by automotive pioneer Henry Ford, who owned the property at that time. Today Fort McAllister Park encloses 1,690 acres and is maintained by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The park features original battery positions on the Ogeechee River emplaced with thirty-two-pound smoothbores and other artillery.
Historic Sites and Museums
Andersonville National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service since 1971, is ten miles northeast of Americus and marks the location of one of the most notorious Civil War prisons. More than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined here between February 1864 and May 1865, and 13,700 Union soldiers are buried at the site, which was preserved as a national cemetery largely due to efforts by Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross. The fifteen-foot-high wooden stockade is gone, but stone pillars mark its corners and gate. Within the grounds nine northern states have dedicated monuments to Union soldiers confined there. Home to the National Prisoner of War Museum, Andersonville has become a memorial to all American prisoners of war.
Liberty Hall, the Crawfordville home of Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens, is a National Historic Landmark maintained by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Stephens bought the estate in 1845 and lived in its house until 1875, when he tore down the main structure to build Liberty Hall. The two-story "big house" is a traditional four-by-four (four rooms on each level). Many of Stephens's books are housed in a smaller structure behind, where he spent much of his time after the war. After Stephens's death in 1883, Liberty Hall, owned by his descendants, served as a boarding house until 1932, when it was donated to the state. The vice president's grave is on the front lawn, beneath a marble statue in his honor.
National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus demonstrates Georgia's role in weapons-making for the Confederacy. It opened in 1962 to display the wooden hulls of two Confederate gunboats that had been destroyed near the end of the war to prevent enemy capture. One boat, the CSS Jackson, was built at the Columbus naval yard, and the other, the CSS Chattahoochee, was brought there for repairs. Both hulls were raised in the 1960s from the Chattahoochee River near the city and were displayed for years beneath open-air roofing. In 2001 the museum expanded to its present facility, which allows complete housing of the Confederate warships' hulls as well as replicas of famed Union vessels, including the USS Monitor and USS Hartford.
The Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, located in Atlanta's Grant Park, is the largest painting in the country and one of only two cycloramas—building-sized paintings hung circularly for viewing from the inside—in the United States. The painting depicts a view of the Civil War battle from just inside the Fifteenth Corps lines at about 4:30 p.m. on July 22, 1864. Begun in 1885, the painting was made by the American Panorama Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Cyclorama underwent an $11 million restoration between 1979 and 1981.
Atlanta History Center's Turning Point: The American Civil War ranks among the nation's largest Civil War exhibitions with 1,400 objects, including artifacts, manuscripts, uniforms, and weapons, on permanent view. The most striking artifacts come from the DuBose Civil War Collection, the largest private collection of Civil War memorabilia at the time of its donation to the center in the late 1980s. The exhibition also includes the Thomas Swift Dickey Civil War Ordnance Collection, the largest array of artillery projectiles in the country. In 2005 the center acquired fifty-two of Sherman's Atlanta campaign field orders, as well as approximately 1,000 artifacts from the private holdings of George Wray, an Atlanta collector.
Stephen Davis, Marietta
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.