Last December, I had the opportunity to make my first trip to Georgia. Although there for only about twenty-four hours, I took the chance to see some historic sites in Atlanta and Kennesaw, and I counted many reasons to go back and spend more time.
A friend offered to take me on the “cliff-notes” tour at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, and I happily accepted. Fighting occurred here between June 19 and July 2, 1864, and was an important part of the Atlanta Campaign. So…if you only have three hours to see this battlefield, here are a few suggested sites!
- Big Kennesaw Mountain
Depending on the day, you may be able to drive a vehicle up the mountain or you may need to take the Park Service shuttle bus. (Or if you have lots of time, hiking is an option!) Along the drive up, look for earthworks in the woods. Since it was December when I was there, the leaves had fallen and these fortifications were clearly visible. Also, notice Little Kennesaw Mountain rising beside the larger prominence.
At the top, get out and enjoy the view! My friend told me that it was one of the clearest days he’d ever seen, and we took in the topography and spotted downtown Atlanta and, farther beyond, Stone Mountain.
Then, follow the steps and trail higher up to see the cannons and artillery fortifications. Yes, the Confederates actually moved cannon up to this elevation and the sides of the mountain were just as steep in 1864.
2. Pidgeon Hill
If you’re feeling adventurous, park in the lot at the intersection of Old Mountain Road and Burnt Hickory Road, carefully cross the road, and follow the steep trail up Pidgeon Hill. As you ascend, look back. Union troops attacked across the open field across the road behind you. Confederates had fortified in the rocks and the fighting was desperate.
I chose not to go beyond the interpretive sign explaining the fortifications and the photography with the fallen tree since the trail gets significantly rockier, steeper, and slick. But the view and exertion is worth it to that point to get a sense of what the attack Federals faced in the terrain.
3. Cheatham Hill
My battlefield guide took me to the Union side of Cheatham Hill. We are both quick walkers and wanted to follow the Union attack route. If you don’t feel like walking, but still want to see Cheatham Hill, see Option B in my notes.
A) Park in the lot at Cheatham Hill Road, carefully cross the modern road and follow the trail straight ahead into “Activity Area #3” on the park maps. Descend the gentle sloping hill which had been soaked at the time of the battle and turned into a natural “slip’n’slide” for Union troops attack over this ground. Enter the woods and continue following the trail. You’ll cross the creek on bridges that weren’t there during the battle and Cheatham Hill rises in front with the Illinois Monument at the top. As you ascend the hill, notice how the ground rolls. Pinned down by Confederate fire from the top, Union wounded and combatants sought shelter in these ground depressions.
B) If time or activity level does not permit the hike in Option A, there’s another great way to get to the Illinois Monument and explore Cheatham Hill. Follow directions on the park maps and park in the lot at the end of Cheatham Hill Drive. Take the trail and observe the Confederate earthworks as you walk the few blocks of flat ground to the Illinois Monument
At the Illinois Monument, look back over the slope that Union troops assaulted in their attack. Confederates waited at the top in the trenches which were not in an ideal location at the crest (natural or military) of the hill. Federal survivors discovered that their safest place on the hill was lying pressed against the outer side of the Confederate trenches since head logs prevented the Rebels from angling their rifles in that direction. Union soldiers started tunneling (you can see the remains of the tunnel entrance near the base of the monument), intending to blow up part of the enemy’s line. But…the night before the explosion was set to take place, Confederates secretively withdrew and the crater was never made.
4. Visitor Center
I toured the National Park Visitor Center at the end of my adventures at Kennesaw Mountain due to my battlefield guide’s schedule. If you’re not familiar with the battle or don’t have a guide, I’d recommend starting there. The film gives a good overview of the battle and you can pick up maps and other helpful tools for your battlefielding journey.
Let’s be honest: three hours is rarely enough time at any battlefield. Especially to explore the 2,965 acres preserved at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield. This national park has an amazing network of hiking trails and a lot of history to explore. Still, three hours can be a great introduction…and it’s always good to have yet another reason to go back to the battlefields, right?
What should I be adding to my list of places to hike or visit when I go back to Kennesaw?