The June 21, 2014, march will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the June 27, 1864 Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and consist of hundreds — or hopefully thousands — of blue and gray-clad Civil War re-enactors.
While the usual parade route in recent decades has begun at Roswell Street Baptist, headed east on Roswell Street and ended somewhere around Marietta Square, next year’s parade will step off from Marietta Square and proceed up Kennesaw Avenue to the battlefield park, a distance of approximately 3½ miles.
The parade has the full support of Mayor Steve Tumlin and City Manager Bill Bruton, who have been working closely with park Superintendent Nancy Walther and Kennesaw State University professor of Civil War History Dr. Brian Wills on the project.
And the parade is not the only unusual feature planned for the weekend. The park has cannon-firing demonstrations planned not just on the lawn of the Visitors Center (as usual), but also atop the mountain and at Cheatham Hill.
“They’ll be volleying back and forth,” Superintendent Walther says.
Six cannons will be involved — four atop Kennesaw (one more than was there during the actual battle) and two at Cheatham Hill.
The “dress rehearsal” for the artillery show took place during with the 149th anniversary of the battle, Walther said.
Park personnel taking part in the firings will have a big advantage over their 1864 predecessors — namely, a paved road to the top of the mountain. The Confederates had to use teams of hundreds of soldiers to literally manhandle the guns with ropes up the steep slopes of the mountain. And every cannonball, shell and powder charge had to be hauled up by hand as well.
ONE OF THE BIGGEST HIGHLIGHTS of the weekend of the 150th will be a concert on the lawn by Grammy-nominated Americana/bluegrass singer Claire Lynch and The Front Porch String Band. Sure to be on her playlist that day is her hit song “Kennesaw Line,” which was written by Don Oja-Dunaway with lyrics taken in part directly from the book “Company Aytch,” the well-known autobiography of Confederate infantryman Sam Watkins of Company H of the First Tennessee Infantry.
Watkins was one of just seven of the 120 original members of the unit to survive the war unscathed, and fought at (among many other places) Resaca, Adairsville, New Hope Church and Kennesaw Mountain. “Kennesaw Line” paraphrases Watkins’ vivid description of the vicious hand-to-hand fighting at “the Dead Angle” atop Cheatham Hill, and its popularity is a prime example of the way that war’s echoes continue to resonate a century and a half after the event.
But Watkins’ book should be taken with a grain of salt, warned National Park Service Historian Emeritus and national treasure Ed Bearss, star speaker at the July 6 meeting of the Cobb County Civil War Roundtable.
“I think Watkins was a bit of a B.S. artist,” Bearss, 90, told the crowd of nearly 300.
Bearss also noted that Union commander William T. Sherman should have continued his flanking maneuvers for one more day rather than launching what proved to be a bloody, fruitless attack against Kennesaw Mountain. He added that Sherman had “a mean or perverted” sense of humor, especially when it came to his subordinate, Gen. George H. Thomas.
On another note, Bearss said the obelisk atop Pine Mountain in west Cobb that marks the spot where Confederate Gen. and Episcopal Bishop Leonidas Polk was killed is one of his favorite Civil War monuments.
ANOTHER KEY PART of the 150th anniversary weekend will be the rededication of The Illinois Monument on the 100th anniversary of its June 28, 1914 dedication. The monument, the park’s largest, was erected by Illinois veterans of the battle, who also purchased a few surrounding acres that later became the nucleus of today’s park.
The park has invited Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and that state’s U.S. Senators to take part in the rededication.
Ironically, the original dedication took place on the same day that Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated halfway around the world in Sarajevo, the event that precipitated World War I.
WALTHER SAYS the park also has requested the U.S. Postal Service issue a commemorative stamp in connection with the 150th anniversary of the battle.
The park plans to add signage at the remains of the 24-gun Union artillery battery on Gilbert Road at the western edge of the park for the anniversary. And it also is working to enlist a slate of well-known speakers for the June 21-28 anniversary week.
Next year’s anniversary week will conclude with a public reading on June 29 of the names of those who were killed at the battle.
“We’re going the full enchilada,” the superintendent said. “They may not come, but we’re going to invite them!”
Joe Kirby is Editorial Page Editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and author of “The Bell Bomber Plant” and “The Lockheed Plant.”