Ghosts of Kennesaw + Why

Another link between Atlanta and NYC: Two identical names get a lot of public use. Robert Fulton (steamboat inventor) and Johann DeKalb (Lafayette’s protégé, a German who fought in George Washington’s Continental Army). Both of these last names get barked out by countless municipal employees and traffic reporters in New York and Atlanta: Fulton and DeKalb counties in Georgia, Fulton Street in Manhattan and DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn…

…William Tecumseh Sherman, commanding three armies, marched south from Chattanooga, Tenn., bent on wreaking destruction. The war had entered its fourth year. The pre-war South no longer existed. The city of Atlanta had grown almost four-fold since 1850, full of sweaty factories cranking out the war machine.

Uncle Billy
Uncle Billy: 43 years of age, under the command of the highest ranking U.S. military officer since Washington, 41-year-old Ulysses S. Grant.

One hesitates to refer to this duo as the Two Towers, a la Sauron and Saruman. But without question the Union command stood united in the spring of 1864 like it had never been.

Can we imagine these two stony, understated, and straight-talking generals–a new breed, really, with no courtly trappings to speak of–can we imagine the two of them having a mutual understanding between them: “Okay. Enough. Let’s finish this thing off for the old ape” (the president).

Joseph Johnston, Leonidas Polk, John Bell Hood, and Co.: They had no thought of prevailing against Sherman’s armies. Outmanned and outgunned more than two-to-one.

But, imagine this! ‘If we can only hold them until the presidential election in the fall. If we can only get Lincoln knocked out of office, then it’s a whole new ballgame.’ (American politics hasn’t changed too much in 37 election cycles.)

Anyway, Polk (our old friend the Bishop-General) baptized Johnston and Hood as Sherman made his way south towards them. Grim? Fatalistic? No. Praise God. We all die, after all.

Johnny Reb had been renewed and rejuvenated by Johnston’s attentions to him, especially when an extra whiskey ration came down the line following a huge early-spring snowball fight…

…Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park attracts more visitors than any other Civil War site, 200K more per year than Gettysburg. But a lovely morning reveals that the Kennesaw count may be inflated by Cobb-county soccer moms slipping away to get some exercise on the short and scenic trail up the mountain.

This sunny Atlanta suburb, though, has a lot of ghosts.

I beheld that which I cannot describe, and which I hope never to see again. Dead men meet the eye in every direction…To look upon this, and then the beautiful wild woods, the pretty flowers as they drink the morning dew, and listen to the sweet notes of the songsters in God’s first temples, we were constrained to say, ‘What is man, and what is his destiny, to do such a strange thing?’*

The Fighting Bishop breathed his last here, felled by a shell as he reconnoitered. The battles on the mountain and in the nearby plains came to a draw. But Sherman kept out-maneuvering Johnston and backed him up to the Chattahoochee. Jefferson Davis did not like Johnston’s “retreat,” nor his lack of a clear plan. So Richmond suddenly put Hood in command instead.

…Taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming, I now provide, for anyone interested, an explanation of the four reasons why I love the Civil War (special hat tip to the dearly departed of Smith Mountain Road)…

McPherson Square's namesake--killed in a skirmish, just north of Atlanta

1. The Civil War made my hometown. I mean, George Washington made it: he chose the spot, surveyed it, gave Pierre L’Enfant the task of designing it. The city has some lustrous antebellum history, like the fact that Thomas Jefferson lived in it for eight years, and Benjamin Latrobe and James Hoban built buildings in it. But Washington before the Civil War could hardly claim to be a city.

Then the confluence of the Potomac and the Anacostia became the point at which everything converged.

2. Knowing the history of the Civil War means knowing the land. Some war travel occured by train, some on horseback, some by boat. But no one took the interstate, and the soldiers of the Civil War covered the majority of their miles on foot.

They moved over hill and dale to achieve the right position. Armies won battles because they started on “good ground” (and the opponent did not.)

A corrollary: The student of the Civil War walks. Hikes. If you like being outside, but can’t get the hang of swinging a golf-club, Civil War-battlefield visits beckon you.

3. The Civil War brought out the best in some great men with amazing minds. And it brought out nobleness of character, discretion, mortification (though, of course, planty of colossal egos managed to make stupendous fools of themselves, too).

4. Above all, the Civil War involved the stunning self-sacrifice of legions of religious men, who underwent extensive hardships and stared death in the face without flinching–all because they believed on God’s Word. They believed that doing right trumped everything, that life is short and eternity long.

Ironically enough, the Civil War came at a period when educated circles were full of obtuse and willful doubt about God and Christ. The fashionable thing was to withhold belief in the specifics of Christian revelation. (The great 16th President was not immune to this himself.)

But the war was fought–and undying glory was won–by men who believed every blessed and holy word of Sacred Scripture–and knew more of it by heart than most seminary professors of today.

* This is my conflation of two eye-witness accounts of the Battle of Pickett’s Mill, west of the foot of Kennesaw Mountain

P.S. If you are wondering, “Where are Father’s homilies?” Don’t worry–my little vacation ends on Wednesday. I will return to the saddle to ash my peeps.

2 thoughts on “Ghosts of Kennesaw + Why

  1. Father Mark,

    Okay, I’m back (from North Chittenden, Vermont, where they’re still pining for a real snow fall — you probably got one yesterday).

    When you speak of the “men who believed every….” it brings to mind Antietem, where more Irishmen died (on both sides) in a day than any other battle in history. I visited the “battlefield” of the “Satlville Massacre”, not too far away from you, one evening at 5:00 PM on a Summer’s day; and as I clambered around on the girders of the bridge I was examining, I thought of the Union Soldiers killed there, and wondered when they would find me if I dropped off the girders into the rocky stream (a very real possibility given the huge deposits of pidgeon poop on the flanges, and the recent rain).

    If you’re in a historic trivia mood, name the U. S. Judge who’s name included “Kennesaw Mountain” (without looking it up; and I’ll give you a hint, it helps to be a sports buff as well, but not necessarily a “round ball” fanatic).



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