By Amy Wenk
There are more than 400 Civil War battlefields in Georgia. Sadly, these historic sites are under threat as developers construct new houses and commercial centers, paving over the land where thousands of Americans gave their lives.
“There should be something other than interpretive markers scattered out among a bunch of buildings,” said John Cissell, Georgia Battlefields Association (GBA) trustee. “These [battlefields] are historic resources. Once they are gone, you can never bring them back.”
Thankfully, the GBA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Georgia’s Civil War history and sites, is helping to increase awareness of this significant terrain.
“We believe strongly in preservation,” said Buckhead resident Charlie Crawford, who has served as GBA president since 2001. “Our objective is to preserve historic sites throughout the state, specifically Civil War sites.”
However, it is not always easy to get government officials to see the significance in preserving historic battlefields.
Such is the case with the GBA’s latest battle at Tanyard Creek Park on Collier Road in Buckhead, the last green space remaining from the bloody Battle of Peachtree Creek during the Atlanta campaign of the war.
While most of the battlefield was paved over and developed many decades ago, GBA was opposed to the Atlanta BeltLine and PATH Foundation’s proposal to install a 12-foot wide concrete path through the meadow on the east side of Tanyard Creek, where between more than 4500 Federal and Confederate soldiers lost their lives.
“We are not opposed to the BeltLine or PATH in general,” Crawford said. “We just don’t want the bicycle path to go right through this green space. It’s obviously been changed a lot by all the construction that happened decades ago, but this is one of the few places where you can give people the idea that this had been something other than a housing development.”
Both GBA and local residents were disappointed when, at a Jan. 9 meeting, neighborhood groups learned that BeltLine officials would proceed with construction despite the opposition.
“The city already owns the park, and the city makes the decision,” Crawford said. “We have been asked for our input by the various groups that are associated, but so far we haven’t had any success. Nor have the neighborhood groups in getting the route of the concrete path changed or put somewhere else.”
Despite the defeat, GBA will continue to educate the public about the Civil War history at Tanyard Creek Park through the many tours the organization sponsors.
GBA was formed in 1995 as a nonprofit affiliate of the Georgia Civil War Commission, a state-run organization created by the Georgia General Assembly.
“In 1993, the Georgia Civil War Commission was established, because the state wanted to charter a coordinating body to capitalize on tourism,” said Crawford, calling the commission a clearinghouse of information for smaller historical societies. “Georgia Battlefields Association was established as the private, 501c3 nonprofit to raise money to support this effort.”
Now a standalone organization due to mandates from the attorney general in 2000, the GBA consists of around 200 members that focus on acquiring, studying, preserving and increasing awareness of historic battlefields around the state. An eight-member Board of Trustees conducts the business of the organization and is responsible for approving the budget and all projects, as well as for setting the goals and objectives of the GBA.
“It’s totally volunteer,” said Crawford, a former Air Force colonel who served in Vietnam and at the Pentagon. “The Board of Trustees meets in person at least one a year, but we do a lot of business by phone and email. We send [members] a monthly newsletter, and we tell them what we are doing with the money they give us.”
Since its inception, the GBA has worked hard to preserve some of Georgia’s most important Civil War battle sites. In 1998, the organization fought to save 18 acres of land at Griswoldville battlefield, the site of the only infantry engagement during the Sherman’s “March to the Sea” until he reached the outskirts of Savannah in 1864. The GBA also owns and maintains four acres of battlefield property near New Hope Church in Paulding County.
“In many instances, we appear before the county board of commissioners to try to influence zoning and rezoning applications so some space is set aside for the most significant site,” Crawford said. “Our objective is not to hold the land. We just want it to be preserved. The best way to have that done is to have it in incorporated into a government park.”
The organization also cooperates with groups with compatible objectives, such as the American Battlefield Protection Program, Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Division, Georgia Civil War Commission, Civil War Preservation Trust and Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails.
“We rarely do anything by ourselves,” said Crawford. “We are normally working with a local preservation group, and in some cases, with national preservation groups.”
This was certainly the case with one of the organization’s greatest successes, Resaca. In 2000, the GBA helped the state acquire more than 500 acres of the Resaca battlefield, the opening battle of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.
Over the years, the organization has presented history and preservation lectures for local civic groups, such as Heritage Sandy Springs, Perimeter Adult Learning & Services, and Senior Enriched Living Services.
Additionally, each spring, the GBA hosts their annual Civil War site tour for its members, which is a principal source of income for the association. Although begun in 2001, the annual tour gained momentum when Ed Bearss, National Park Service chief historian emeritus, agreed to lead the walking excursions in 2002.
“He’s an icon of American history,” said Crawford of Bearss. “Ed is a living legend.”
This year’s tour will be held March 13-16. The cost for the outing is $395 and is only available to members.
“We’ll cover Hardee’s night march and spend a full day on the Battle of Atlanta,” said Crawford. “The second day will cover the Battles of Ezra Church and Utoy Creek and the trench digging contest that followed. We’ll also walk around downtown Atlanta to illustrate the city’s value as a transportation, manufacturing, supply and administration center.”
For more information on the GBA and its activities, visit www.georgiabattlefields.org.