Thursday, April 24, 2008
Down the road at Kennesaw, things were really cooking.
One glance at the Visitor Center parking lot and you could see that here was a major battlefield that tourists and locals alike had discovered. It is a good place to hike, and a good place to walk the dog, but the Visitor Center itself was relatively empty. I had heard or read that, like Chickamauga and some other battlefield parks, Kennesaw is visited more by outdoor enthusiasts than by history buffs in solemn reflection of the heroic and tragic history of that ground. It's not surprising—the park offers nearly 3,000 acres of green space within an ever-tightening circle of development.
After leaving the hotel in Atlanta at an early hour, driving to Resaca, then down to Pickett's Mill and Pine Mountain, we were running pretty late by the time we reached Kennesaw. Still, we had time to fit in the highlights. First stop, the gift shop/bookstore, where a couple of things caught my attention. With respect to the gifts, souvenirs, and so on, I can't remember seeing such a product selection geared toward little kids. It may be that I've simply lost touch with what's being stocked in battlefield parks now, but clearly there are a lot of families passing through. It was the first time I'd seen a U.S. Grant doll, and no puny action figure either, but one easily knee-high to a five-year-old.
On the book side, I was impressed by the wide selection of titles on the Atlanta Campaign, including small press or effectively self-published works you would not easily find elsewhere, like the various William Scaife books with his beautifully drawn "architectural" overlays of troop movements on modern topo maps.
With the souvenirs bagged, Park historian Willie Johnson, our guide for the afternoon, herded our pack into the theater to view the park's video production—a 20-some minute film that would set the stage for and interpret the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. We've all seen a bunch of these at various parks, and oftentimes the film itself is a historic artifact. The Kennesaw Visitor Center film is fairly new, but I thought one thing was odd.
It's possible that I'm wrong about this, but I don't think so, since I'm very tuned in to how the National Park Service treats the causes of the Civil War. It's always interesting to me to see how various films deftly craft a condensed summary of the lead-up to war, and the war to the point featured at their particular park. The Kennesaw film began as might be expected, outlining the sectional differences of the antebellum era. The Industrial Revolution was named as a driving force in the inescapable regional friction. I was curious to know when they were going to slip in talk of that other thing—the thing about an involuntary labor force.
On and on it went without mention of the "S" word. At one point, I actually leaned over to my sister and whispered, "do you think they'll say the word?" I'm fairly certain they didn't. I say "fairly certain," because even though I listened to it closely, I still can't believe the Park Service produced a film giving the background to the Civil War without mentioning the thing that literally divided the nation along slave and free soil lines.
Following the film, we went up to the top of Big Kennesaw for some spectacular views, and a talk by Willie. The next stop, at Cheatham Hill—the Dead Angle—was the highlight of our Kennesaw visit. There, Greg Biggs, standing before the Illiniois monument, read a powerful passage from Sam Watkins's account of that very struggle—the close-in lodgment of U.S. soldiers in front of the Confederate line, and the C.S. efforts to dislodge them.
[photo at top: Willie Johnson at Cheatham Hill; two middle photos of Sherman and Johnston are from the Visitor Center exhibits; photo at bottom: the Illinois monument, Cheatham Hill]
Next: the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History.