Book Review: The Complete Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Trail Guide

The Complete Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Trail Guide
By Brad Butkovich
Historic Imagination, 2021, $21.95 paper
Reviewed by Stephen Davis

Hundreds of thousands of Civil War enthusiasts drive to Georgia to visit Chickamauga and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Parks, which are close to the well-traveled Interstate 75. But a visit to Pickett’s Mill battlefield, a bit off the beaten path (two dozen miles northwest of Atlanta) offers Civil Warriors visual delights well worth their travel.

The 765-acre site was acquired in the 1970s by the state of Georgia, which maintains the battlefield today. Open Thursdays through Saturdays, the park features a great visitor center, museum and research library. A highlight is the Model 1841 twelve-pounder howitzer that as part of Capt. Thomas J. Key’s Confederate battery was actually engaged in the battle of May 27, 1864. Long housed (and forgotten) in the basement of the Atlanta Cyclorama, it was rediscovered a few years ago and moved to Pickett’s Mill.

Outside, woodlands protect pristine earthworks; the park preserves the battlefield as it looked in the spring of 1864. Hikers can walk along the Confederate and Federal battle lines. A newly restored 1850s log cabin is reminiscent of the lodgings of Benjamin and Martha Pickett, whose creekside gristmill gave the battle its name.

I wrote this for America’s Civil War , which carried my piece on the battle of Pickett’s Mill in its issue of May 2019. I’ve been to the battlefield quite a few times, which is why I so enthusiastically greet Brad Butkovich’s The Complete Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Trail Guide.

The battlefield park, which opened in 1992,  has four walking trails. Probably the most popular is the Blue Trail (1.5 miles). It takes you from the Visitor Center along the Confederate line down to Pickett’s Mill Creek and the mill site. A little upstream you trek west, then south. From this initial position Federal soldiers charged into a ravine and up the ridge where Cleburne’s infantry mowed them down.

The Red Trail (2 miles) leads to the cornfield, the Confederate right, where the Federals gained their only success that day. The White Trail (1.1) traces the Federal line, complete with artillery emplacements. Longest is the trail to the Brand House site (3 miles), again offering well-preserved trenches. The shortest hike, half a mile, leads to the restored cabin.

The author has taken clear and colorful photographs of nearly fifty sites. He notes that he took some of them in winter, when through the Georgia greenery a viewer may best get the lay of the land. A dozen four-color maps round out a good list of reasons to buy this moderately priced gem.

What I don’t see (perhaps my eyes are blind) is a map superimposing the four park trails on the contending fortified lines of May 27. In my walks over the years, I’ve seen plenty of breastworks. Chief among the battlefield’s charms are the impressive trenches, long protected by forestry and conservative landowner management over the years.

The author is well qualified to produce this book. A resident of the Atlanta area, Brad is author of The Battle of Pickett’s Mill (History Press, 2013), for which he took pictures of modern battlefield scenes and even designed his own maps. In this work he presents a cogent eight-page summary of the battle, again with those colored maps (red, Rebels; blue, Yankees).

A few years ago I visited Pickett’s Mill on an anniversary weekend of the battle. There was a reenactment outside the Visitor Center, with Confederates firing from their predecessors’ actual trenches. I remember one Rebel calling out, “Come on up here! We’ll send you to Andersonville!”

Who says wartime passions subside with time?

4 Responses to Book Review: The Complete Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Trail Guide

  1. One point worth noting is that the entire park is closed on the off days. You can’t get in to hike the trails. That was a disappointment, but the next time I’m in Atlanta I’ll make sure to include one of the open days for the park.

  2. Thanks for this tip; I’d never heard about this battlesite. The next time I’m in the Atlanta region, I will try to stop by.

  3. Pickett’s Mill is a great park! You cannot understand the battle without walking this ground and see for yourself what the Federals had to contend with. One of the best preserved battlefields I have ever visited!

  4. This will come in handy in a couple of weeks. Thanks for the review and recommendation!

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