Eighty-eight years after its founding, America’s precarious future would be decided in the summer and fall of 1864, in the remote mountains of northern Georgia.
After three long years the people of the North had grown tired of the war, tired of the draft, tired of the inflation, tired of incessant debates about The Negro Question.
They desperately wanted the war to end, but the end was nowhere in sight. What was in sight was the upcoming presidential election of November 1864. If Abraham Lincoln won, the war would continue. If Northern war hero John McClelland won, he would sue for peace–and allow slavery to continue and even expand.
If the North didn’t win a tangible victory soon, Lincoln would lose.
Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee were wrestling to a stalemate in Virginia. The Union army had conquered most of Tennessee. So General William T. Sherman was instructed to win the war by capturing Atlanta–the South’s economic and railroad powerhouse that was feeding and equipping soldiers across the Confederacy.
Sherman had to go through those northern Georgia mountains. That’s what I did today, spending the morning at Pickett’s Mill State Battlefield and the afternoon at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield.
I saw the trenches dug by each side in 1864. I walked the wooden bridge over Little Pumpkin Vine Creek. I hiked the emergency road built by the Confederates to support their interior lines–which saved countless lives when their Right Flank cavalry was routed. I saw the hills and ravines that defined who would attack and who would defend, who would live and who would die.
So many soldiers died that their comrades had to step on their corpses to move forward. I stepped where those dead soldiers had lain.
My world-class guides brought the ground, trees, and rocks to life: one young research historian living full-time at the Pickett’s Mill site, and one retired researcher and author in full Union uniform, quoting soldiers’ letters, using their own words to describe their last hours the night before dying in battle.
We ended the day at Marietta National Cemetery, where the Union soldiers from Kennesaw Mountain are buried–each one lying next to the comrades with whom he had died.
The battle for Atlanta had just begun. Many more men would die.