More than any other place on the CW Forum's Atlanta Campaign itinerary, I was looking forward to my first visit to Pickett's Mill. Driving from Resaca, we arrived around mid-day (last Friday). The caterer met us there with some delicious box lunches, and after a quick repast, we met up with State Historian James Wooten (pictured at right), portraying a Confederate soldier.
He guided us on one of the park's numerous trails—in this case a hike along the Confederate side of the fateful ravine, down to the Pickett's Mill Creek and mill site, and back up to view the impossible topography from one of the Federal jumping off points.
There are no monuments at Pickett's Mill, no distracting signage beyond color-coded trail markers. Just trails in the woods. To me personally, this kind of park facilitates the most transcendent experience for the visitor. There's nothing there but the landscape. That's not to say that the great memorial parks at Vicksburg, or Gettysburg are not deeply moving, but one gets the sense at Pickett's Mill that this is as close to what it looked like as we're ever going to be able to imagine. The same holds true for Port Hudson, another state park, and one of my favorites.
The Pickett's Mill visitor center is situated a short walk from the Cleburne side of the ravine, so within moments the visitor is standing more or less in the heart of the battlefield. I have read a great deal about this battle over the years, even worked on maps of how it all unfolded to accompany an essay by Jeffrey Dean, who plotted out the trails there, and whose research laid the groundwork for the state's interpretation of the site. So I had a pretty good picture in my mind of what to expect. Nevertheless, it was something of a shock to see the severity of the depression—the steep grade of the ravine—across which the Federals attacked Cleburne's men, the last troops in the Army of Tennessee one would wish to assault under even the best of circumstances. One reads of the inordinate number of head wounds among the Federal casualties in this battle, and standing where Cleburne's men stood that day, there's no mystery to that gruesome detail.
There's no substitute for walking the ground to spark a better understanding of what the soldiers recorded. But even beyond settling matters of historical accuracy, there's something to be gained by simply visiting the scenes of valor and sacrifice, which are also, necessarily, the scenes of fear and horror marking the experience of ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances.
[photo above: Pickett's Mill Creek; below: the ravine from the Federal side, looking up to where Cleburne's veterans were waiting—click on images for enlarged view]