Battlefield Visits: Road Trip to Chattanooga, Part 3: On to Atlanta!

From my travels, May 28, 2019.

This was going to be an exciting day. My nephew and I were going to check a lot of battlefields off the list. We got up early (no small task for a teenager) and got on the road before 9:30am.

Battle of Ringgold Gap – Civil War Battlefield #109

Not too far down the road, we came to our first stop, the Battle of Ringgold Gap. While not considered part of the Atlanta Campaign, this was right along our route, and I’d never visited before.

The story here is that Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s men fought for over 5 hours as a rear guard after the Confederate army was forced off of Missionary Ridge outside of Chattanooga. The Union attack here was not well executed, and Grant made the call not to pursue beyond the gap, returning his troops to the defenses of Chattanooga.

Patrick Cleburne is the Confederate hero of the battle. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Patrick Cleburne is the Confederate hero of the battle. – Photo by the author

We checked out another of the New York monuments – very much like the one at Wauhatchie the day before. It was a little off the beaten path, so that was pretty cool. The main visitor focus for this battlefield is on the small “pocket park” that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back during the Great Depression. It’s a parking area with a few markers and picnic tables right off of US-41.

There are a lot of these "pocket parks" along the route to Atlanta. These maps they have are pretty cool. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
There are a lot of these “pocket parks” along the route to Atlanta. These maps they have are pretty cool. – Photo by the author

The gap itself has clearly been widened over the years to make room for I-75, but you can see that even in its natural state it would have been quite substantial in late 1863.

First Battle of Dalton – Civil War Battlefield #110

Fighting at the First Battle of Dalton took place in Mill Creek Gap. This is another location that is marked by a CCC “pocket park” just in front of the Georgia State Patrol Station on US-41.

I just <i>had</i> to take my nephew here. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I just had to take my nephew here. – Photo by the author

There’s a trail near the parking area that leads a little farther up the ridge to the site of Fort Fisk – perhaps named for some distant relative of his? The surprise of seeing that sign definitely put a smile on his face. A nice memory to be sure.

Second Battle of Dalton – Civil War Battlefield #111

The field of the Second Battle of Dalton seems to have been obliterated by modern development. I had a hard time finding any markers for it, and even a couple of the visitors centers and museums in town were unable to direct me to anything concrete.

There is a statue of Joseph E. Johnston in downtown Dalton, but no trace of the second battle fought here. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
There is a statue of Joseph E. Johnston in downtown Dalton, but no trace of the second battle fought here. – Photo by the author

That said, my nephew and I got to spend a little time driving around the town, and it seems like a pretty nice place.

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The Tunnel Hill Heritage Center and Museum had this cool display outside. What are Sherman’s Neckties? They’re AWESOME – that’s what! – Photo by the author

Battle of Rocky Face Ridge – Civil War Battlefield #112

I know that a park has since been established north of Dalton to help preserve some of the history of the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge, but that did not exist at the time of my visit. My nephew and I took a look at the southern portion of the field, in Dug Gap.

There is a small parking area there and a few markers and waysides to give the visitor a little bit of the story. From there, we walked on a short trail up to the ridge and saw some of the rock formations and cliffs. It was a very peaceful spot.

Battle of Resaca – Civil War Battlefield #113

We hit the first of our disappointments for the day at the next stop: the Battle of Resaca. There is a nice park here preserving part of the Union section of the battlefield, but it is only open Friday – Sunday. Of course, we were visiting on a Tuesday.

Chevaux de frise guard the modern entrance to the Resaca battlefield park. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Chevaux de frise guard the modern entrance to the Resaca battlefield park. – Photo by the author

We were able to park just outside the gate, and see a couple of markers that were nearby, but neither of us wanted to press our luck exploring any farther. One thing that I really liked was the reproduction chevaux de frise that stand right next to the gate. At least there won’t be any cavalry attacks here!

Battle of Adairsville – Civil War Battlefield #114

There isn’t much going on at the site of the Battle of Adairsville. In truth – none of the battles of this campaign produced the kind of fighting and casualties that one would expect from major Civil War battles. This campaign was really a master class in maneuver given by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman.

One of the markers at Adairsville. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
One of the markers at Adairsville. – Photo by the author

We were able to find a few, kind of rough-looking, roadside markers near a cemetery in town, but that was about it.

Battle of Allatoona – Civil War Battlefield #115

There have been a lot of changes to the field of the Battle of Allatoona since 1864. The most obvious one hits you as soon as you park your car and see the huge earthen dam that holds back the artificially-created Lake Allatoona. That means that a part of this field is now underwater. The day we were there featured plenty of activity going on, with people walking along the trails and taking out their boats.

Like so many of the battlefields we are seeing on this trip, the reason it came to be was all about the railroad. The Western and Atlantic Railroad cut right through a gap here, and that narrow channel through the mountain still exists. The railroad has been converted to a walking path, and about half way down the trail, there is a set of stairs leading up the side to the star fort which commanded the approaches here.

This trail lies where the railroad once came through. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
This trail lies where the railroad once came through. – Photo by the author

Apart from the remains of the fort, there are several waysides and even a few monuments – the coolest of which are stone markers that commemorate the different States that supplied men for this fight. I couldn’t resist having my nephew pose with the North Carolina one, since that is where he grew up. Sadly, there was no Maryland monument.

My nephew poses with the monument to North Carolina troops at Allatoona. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My nephew poses with the monument to North Carolina troops at Allatoona. – Photo by the author

Battle of New Hope Church – Civil War Battlefield #116

The church from the Battle of New Hope Church still exists, and while there is another of the “pocket parks” here, I get the sense that the congregation takes a certain amount of pride in the field. There are worm fences and even some earthworks here, and they were in pretty good shape.

My nephew tries out the defenses at New Hope Church. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My nephew tries out the defenses at New Hope Church. – Photo by the author

As we get closer to Atlanta, less and less land is preserved in the sprawl of the modern metropolis. Only small little landmarks are left in the wake of countless new neighborhoods. That’s the story here as well.

Battle of Dallas – Civil War Battlefield #117

I’ll be honest – I was very confused by the Battle of Dallas. And it isn’t like this is my first time on a battlefield. There are plenty of markers scattered around town, but the places that they seem to label as being part of the defensive lines don’t seem all that defensible to me. Maybe the terrain has changed in the last 150+ years with the massive growth of Atlanta?

I found these isolated signs, in the midst of new development, difficult to follow. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I found these isolated signs, in the midst of new development, difficult to follow. – Photo by the author

This feels like the kind of place that I would need to study a lot, and come back with some period maps to try to get my head around it. I just wasn’t able to grasp it on the field.

I will add: the best wayside that I found was over behind the Chamber of Commerce building.

Battle of Pickett’s Mill – Civil War Battlefield #118

The Battle of Pickett’s Mill has been partially preserved as a Georgia State Park, but like Resaca, it wasn’t open on the day I can through. It’s a shame, because it seems like it may be pretty solidly interpreted. For now, my nephew and I had to settle for the marker in the small parking spot out front.

Pickett's Mill was closed. Bummer! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Pickett’s Mill was closed. Bummer! – Photo by the author

Battle of Marietta – Civil War Battlefield #119

I was initially confused by the Battle of Marietta. It turns out that this was really a series of smaller actions that occurred around the area rather than one concerted fight. We visited the site of Gilgal Church, which had some cool reconstructed earthworks.

Field fortifications at Gilglal Church. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Field fortifications at Gilglal Church. – Photo by the author

11 battlefields was a fine number for one day. As it was starting to get late, we decided to head back to Chattanooga and resume closer to Atlanta in the morning. There would be a few surprises coming for us – mostly pleasant ones.

Fort Delaware

Even before I moved to Delaware, I had my eye on a visit to what I had heard was an excellent mid-19th century, Third System fort that sits on a small island in the middle of the Delaware River, appropriately named Fort Delaware. Back on May 25, 2019, my boys and I made our first trip over to Pea Patch Island to take in the sites of this wonderful old defensive structure. We have since returned a few more times – it’s a really nice experience.

Entry to the fort is from a small gift shop in Delaware City. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Entry to the fort is from a small gift shop in Delaware City. – Photo by the author

Today, the island and fort are contained within Fort Delaware State Park, and park staff engage in living history presentations on the island as if it was 1864. Most everyone on the island is “in-character” demonstrating various aspects of life in a coastal fortification turned prison during the Civil War.

Since the fort is located on an island, the only access is by ferry boat from Delaware City. It also operates seasonally, shutting down visitor access between October and April. We bought our timed tickets in advance online, but I think it is also possible to get walk-up tickets from the gift shop. After a quick stop at the restroom, we were ready to board the Delafort for the 10-minute ride over to the park.

The <i>Delafort</i> is the ferry that runs from Delaware City, to Pea Patch Island, to Fort Mott, NJ, and back. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Delafort is the ferry that runs from Delaware City, to Pea Patch Island, to Fort Mott, NJ, and back. – Photo by the author

Once the ferry docks on the island, a tram takes visitors across the marshy part of the island over toward the historical fort. An audio presentation during the ride talks about some of the history of the island, as well as describing some of the wildlife that can be seen in the marsh as you go by. Eventually, as you make the transition to dry land, the massive fort comes into view.

My crew at the sally port. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My crew at the sally port. – Photo by the author

Built with the intention of defending Wilmington and Philadelphia from naval attack, the fort was completed in 1859 – just in time to be garrisoned at the outbreak of the Civil War. Like many of the Third System forts, Fort Delaware went through a series of Endicott conversions in the late 1890s to install larger caliber guns in huge concrete emplacements. The remains of the Endicott batteries can be seen on the south side of the island near the modern restrooms, and immediately to the right as you enter the fort. These days, the concrete structures serve mainly as bat habitats.

One of the Third System-era structures within the fort houses a small museum and shows what mess, quartermaster, and medical facilities were like. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
One of the Third System-era structures within the fort houses a small museum and shows what mess, quartermaster, and medical facilities were like. – Photo by the author
Officers serving at the fort brought their families along. Here my boys learn about how laundry was done before the electric washing machine. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Officers serving at the fort brought their families along. Here my boys learn about how laundry was done before the electric washing machine. – Photo by the author

Every time we have gone, the interpretation of life at the fort has been wonderful. The staff does an excellent job of making the place feel alive as you tour through the various areas within the fort. Favorites for us have been the laundry, mess hall, and blacksmith shop.

But this was a fort after all, so the real draw is the artillery! Sadly, there isn’t much here in the way of guns, and I believe that what they do have are reproductions. They do a LOT of artillery demonstrations here and it’s generally not safe to do those with weapons that are over 150 years old at this point. A favorite memory for me is from our first visit, when the boys were able to man one of the guns themselves and participate in a firing drill.

My boys with one of the big seacoast guns. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
My boys with one of the big seacoast guns. – Photo by the author

As cool as the guns and casemates are, none of the fort’s defenses were ever tested by an enemy in any era. The main Civil War story here is of the island’s use as a prison camp. Thousands of captured Confederates were confined here. Many died, and there were even a few daring escapes that took place. At the height of it, there were dozens of prison barracks built outside of the fort walls for enlisted men. Captured officers were generally kept within the fort itself. The park has rebuilt one of the barracks from a set of original plans to give visitors a feel for what the conditions would have been like, but it doesn’t do justice to the scale of the prison population that was kept here.

The view inside the rebuilt prison barracks. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The view inside the rebuilt prison barracks. – Photo by the author

As a fort nerd, I really enjoy going to Fort Delaware. Between the ferry ride and the in-character interpretation of the place, each visit is a true experience. And the fort is in terrific shape – so many of the Third System forts have been messed with over the years – with some becoming almost unrecognizable after going through Endicott conversions. Seeing one that is still at its original height and with many of the interior structures still intact is a real treat. I can’t wait to plan my next visit in the spring.

Battlefield Visits, Revolutionary War Edition: Fort Montgomery

From my travels, May 21, 2019.

About halfway between the previously-mentioned Stony Point Battlefield and the famous United States Military Academy at West Point, is another Revolutionary-era fortification: Fort Montgomery.

The sign at the entrance to Fort Montgomery State Historic Site. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The sign at the entrance to Fort Montgomery State Historic Site. – Photo by the author

Built to defend a chain that was stretched across the Hudson River to prevent the British Navy from sailing upstream, the fort was still under construction in the fall of 1777. It was defended by a small garrison and by the mutually-supporting fort that was built on the south side of Poplopen Creek, Fort Clinton. The British attacked both forts on October 6, 1777. Since Fort Montgomery was still unfinished at that point, it was particularly vulnerable. The American forces were overwhelmed, and both forts fell with heavy casualties taken by the Continentals – mostly as prisoners.

Ruins of a barracks that once housed soldiers at the fort. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Ruins of a barracks that once housed soldiers at the fort. – Photo by the author
The "Necessary" - as you might imply from the name - was the 18th century version of toilets. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The “Necessary” – as you might imply from the name – was the 18th century version of toilets. – Photo by the author
More ruins - this time of the fort's powder magazine. This was central to the soldiers' ability to defend themselves. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
More ruins – this time of the fort’s powder magazine. This was central to the soldiers’ ability to defend themselves. – Photo by the author

Today, the site is preserved as a New York State Historic Site, and like Stony Point, affords the visitor lovely views up and down the Hudson River Valley. There are plenty of ruins of foundations of many of the fort buildings, but its somewhat difficult to get a sense for what the fort was like just from that. It is very clear that a lot of archaeological work has been done in recent decades to get to this point, but the site doesn’t read as a “fort” to the modern visitor without a lot of imagination. It also doesn’t help that modern US Route 9W cuts a path directly through the original footprint of the fort.

The view to the southeast of Bear Mountain Bridge and "Anthony's Nose" is quite lovely. There is plenty to interest nature-lovers here, as well. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The view to the southeast of Bear Mountain Bridge and “Anthony’s Nose” is quite lovely. There is plenty to interest nature-lovers here, as well. – Photo by the author

There were 3 artillery pieces (a 32-pounder, 16-pounder, and 3-pounder) displayed at one point along the walking tour of the fort, but they are unfortunately all reproductions. When I visited, the museum was closed, so I can’t say whether that would have helped with the interpretation. Sadly, it’s sister Fort Clinton was largely erased from the landscape in order to make way for the Bear Mountain Bridge and US-202. I’ve heard that there may be some remnants still within Bear Mountain State Park, but I did not explore myself.

All in all, the site is well-interpreted, and has a lot to offer in terms of archaeology and natural beauty, but the uninitiated may have difficulty piecing everything together from what is left here.

Battlefield Visits, Revolutionary War Edition: Stony Point

From my travels, May 20, 2019.

The next battlefield I visited on my New York trip was the Battle of Stony Point – and what a field it is!

It was here that I first learned of my now-favorite Revolutionary War figure: Brig. Gen. Anthony “Mad Anthony” Wayne. Using the same type of tactics that had been used by the British against his own forces in the 1777 Battle of Paoli, Brig. Gen. Wayne launched a midnight surprise attack, against a fully-manned British fortification atop steep cliffs, located on a peninsula. The only approaches were through swamps. In order to ensure that the surprise was complete, and that there were no accidental warning shots fired, Wayne ordered his troops to make the attack with unloaded weapons. The Continental Corps of Light Infantry would only use bayonets in the assault.

Map of the successful American attack against the British Position at Stony Point. – Map from the United States Military Academy History Department

The plan worked to perfection. The British were completely caught off-guard and Wayne’s troops executed a double-envelopment and took the fort and hundreds of prisoners.

Today, the field has been made into a really lovely New York State Park. It seems pretty well-preserved to me (at least when compared with other Rev War battlefields, which all seem to be neighborhoods or shopping districts these days). There are several interpretive markers that do a great job of telling the story, and even a few artillery pieces.

A lone cannon points up-river at Stony Point. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
A lone cannon points up-river at Stony Point. – Photo by the author
The center of what was once the British fort on Stony Point. The terrain on the top of this peninsula is really unique with multiple rock outcroppings. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The center of what was once the British fort on Stony Point. The terrain on the top of this peninsula is really unique with multiple rock outcroppings. – Photo by the author

I’m not primarily a Revolutionary War nerd, but the Battle of Stony Point really prompted a lot of interest from me. It doesn’t get the big headlines like Valley Forge, Saratoga, Yorktown, or even Brandywine, but its story is every bit as worthy.

Battlefield Visits: Defenses of Washington

When Virginia seceded at the start of the Civil War, it put the US Capitol right on the border with the rebel forces. There were immediate efforts to secure at least some portion of the southern shore of the Potomac river, and the Federal City became one of the most highly-fortified places in the world. There are still some remnants of those wartime earthworks, but you have to know where to look. Luckily, there is an NPS unit for that: The Civil War Defenses of Washington.

A couple years ago, I took a day trip through two of the more famous ones – mostly so that I could visit the site of the only Civil War battle to take place in the District of Columbia.


Fort Washington

Directly south of the city, in Maryland, this transitional second / third system fort was meant to defend against naval attacks coming up the Potomac river.

Fort Washington looms over the Potomac river. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
Fort Washington looms over the Potomac river. – Photo by the Author

The terrain here is a little steep (like the $10 NPS entrance fee), and combined with the fort itself makes for some impressive view sheds. The grounds are in good shape, and they are interpreted fairly well, but there was never any “action” here, so there’s no really story to grab visitors’ attention. In addition to the main fort, there are a few Endicott-era batteries, too.

The view upriver from the top of the fort. Note the Endicott batteries closer to the shoreline. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
The view upriver from the top of the fort. Note the Endicott batteries closer to the shoreline. – Photo by the Author

Being located within the DC suburbs, and without a clear “battle” story to tell, the fort seems to get used more as a general purpose park by locals. I noticed a few families on the grounds with picnic lunches during my visit.


Battle of Fort Stevens – Civil War Battlefield #59

The Battle of Fort Stevens is the only Civil War battle to take place in DC. In the years since the war, there has been a great expansion of the city, and what was once an open field that the Confederates attempted to attack across, is now a neighborhood with shops and even some taller buildings.

Only a small section of Fort Stevens has been preserved / reconstructed. Modern development continues. - <i>Photo by the Author</i>
Only a small section of Fort Stevens has been preserved / reconstructed. Modern development continues. – Photo by the Author

What is here of the fort is largely a reconstruction with more durable materials. Where there were wooden pilings and gun platforms, there are now reproductions made of poured concrete. And because of the modern development that has taken place, only the western portion of the fort has been retained.

There are a few markers, and a pair of 30-Pounder Parrotts to represent the heavy artillery that once stood guard here, but the site doesn’t feel at all how it would have in 1864 when President Lincoln came under fire here.