Today, we are pleased to welcome guest author Bobby Novak
When one thinks about 1864, the cities of Petersburg, Richmond, and Atlanta all come to mind, capped by Sherman’s March to the Sea. The battles for Atlanta happened nearly right down the street from my front door, but the rest of those famous events and places occurred tens, hundreds, and thousands of miles away, and to a child who grew up loving the Civil War, Northern Virginia seemed like the place I had to live. Surrounding my front door are numerous neighborhoods and roads that have constant traffic. My house stands in the shadow of Kennesaw Mountain whose numerous trails and preserved earthworks look more like a dog park than a historical landscape. And growing up in this area I thought Kennesaw Mountain was it – the western armies were in Tennessee and all of a sudden they were near my house, and then they were outside of Atlanta. I followed the National Parks that preserve some of the land that made up the Atlanta Campaign and it was not until I got much older that I learned of the many battles and skirmishes that brought the Union and Confederate armies to my back yard.
When I say “my back yard,” I mean that not a mile from my front door are the remnants of skirmish lines and earthworks that made up Hardee’s Corps’ section of the Mud Creek Line. While the eastern armies were busy flanking each other around Richmond and Petersburg, Walker’s Division of Hardee’s Corps was being driven back through drenching thunderstorms and crossed Mud Creek on the night of June 16, 1864. The following morning, the 97th Ohio and the 28th Kentucky pressed the Confederates, captured their skirmish line and held the position through the night. The morning of June 18, 1864 began with a driving rainstorm and the 26th Ohio, 57th Indiana, and 100th Illinois relieved the 97th Ohio and 28th Kentucky and prepared to move forward. Their commander, Colonel Frederick Bartleson, who had lost an arm at Chickamauga and had recently been released from Libby Prison, ordered them forward. The regiments crossed two swollen creeks and took the Confederate works, captured many prisoners, and pushed back the main Confederate. The Federals were then able to bring fresh regiments forward to Bartleson’s position where Federal artillery were able to enfilade the Confederate lines. The next morning, Johnston ordered his army back toward the defenses on Kennesaw Mountain.
Where was this story while I was a kid?! Small forces bashing away at each other in a thunderstorm is the thing of Hollywood, but not here – not a mile from my front door! Inner-child excitement aside, the question of why I had not heard this story is one that I have been thinking a lot about recently. There are probably countless other stories like this one that get shuffled away and lost inside reports in the O.R.s or in diary entries. Nowhere on the ground near my house is any monument or plaque placed by the veterans. In a rough two square miles, there are four roadside markers placed there by the state of Georgia that give a bullet-pointed view of the action that took place there. Are these signs adequate? I’m not sure there is anything else that could be done. Marietta Country Club did an archeological survey of the ground that they built their neighborhood and golf course over (the same land that the June 18th assault took place) and published it, giving historians a good idea of what was there and what the ground looked like.
But where are the monuments? In the great monument-building boom through the 1870s and 1880s, remembrance organizations and the veterans themselves erected monuments all over the country, a few of the many sit today within the boundaries of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Because of their great expense, most organizations could only afford one monument on one battlefield to commemorate their regiment’s actions there but also their entire wartime experience. In that sense, it is understandable that places like Gettysburg and Antietam have so many monuments while Spotsylvania Court House’s can be counted on two hands.
Can it be said that the soldiers forgot places like Mud Creek? Were small engagements and skirmishes just stepping stones to larger clashes? What about the soldier who lost a relative or a friend? Is that seemingly insignificant brush with the enemy something to be forgotten?
I write not to call for a mass reclaiming of every spec of ground a Civil War soldier fought on. I write to ask how professional historians, amateur buffs, and weekend warriors should remember the things that the soldiers seemingly forgot. If the soldiers did not place a monument or spent more than a sentence explaining their experience on a piece of ground, is it worth remembering? In my previous post I wrote of how the average American really does not care about the war and it is because of this that places like the Mud Creek Line are virtually bulldozed over. But what about us, the contributors and readers of the Emerging Civil War Blog, how do we go about remembering these places lost to development and expansion and telling the stories that inhabit that landscape? How can we, how could we, and how should we remember what the soldiers forgot?
Sources for the June 18 assault on Mud Creek