About 200 hundred people came to the battle site Friday at the hill next to Kennesaw Mountain to relive the progression of the fight between Confederate and Union troops on a real-time hike, said Brent Everitt, spokesman for the National Park Service.
Although I wasn’t wearing a uniform or carrying a musket, I climbed that hill with a group of about 70 people.
I was joined by locals who wanted to learn more about the battle sites they’ve lived close to for years, such as Anne Girod, a stay-at-home mom from Marietta.
“We came because it’s right in our backyard,” Girod said. “It’s history.”
Girod brought her 2-year-old son, Julius, and let him climb the hill on his own two legs for the first time.
“One-hundred-and-fifty years isn’t that long ago, but we’re a young country,” Girod said. “I don’t know if (my son) will know anything about it.”
Standing at the base of Cheatham Hill with the hot sun in our eyes, Fred Finzer, a retired United Methodist Church pastor, who lives minutes away from Cheatham Hill, got us ready for the hike and the battle.
“Imagine the Union troops,” he said. “It’s a hot day like today, and they’ve been sleeping in tents all along these muddy fields.”
As the sun bore down on us, much like it had on those hundreds of soldiers wearing wool uniforms and burdened by pounds of ammunition, the crest of the hill was visible. At the top, Confederates were waiting.
But, before we could reach where the Confederates were dug in, we had to climb the hill. And, to climb the hill, we had to leave the safety of the tree line and venture into the open, where there would be no cover and fire coming from two sides.
Even today, the base of the hill is without cover, a startling sight.
Although we couldn’t imagine exactly how those troops felt as they ran up the hill to fight the enemy, some members of the group empathized with the soldiers. Just walking up the hill, not running as the soldiers did, most of us were out of breath by the halfway point. By the time I reached the top, my heart was racing and I was looking for a seat.
Unable to imagine myself as a soldier in the trenches, I could imagine myself as a journalist covering the war. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that another journalist took the same trek, taking notes in his reporter notebook as he climbed.
This type of real-life enactment was exactly what Steve Borlsma, a contractor for the Army from Huntsville, wanted from the tour.
“I wanted to come because you can’t picture (the battle) on a 2D map,” Borlsma said. “You have to walk the grounds to be able to really picture it.”
Because there are still mounds of dirt piled high around 3-foot-deep trenches at the top of Cheatham Hill, where the Confederates took cover, it’s not hard to recreate the scene.
I spent two hours trudging through the same mud, along the same trails as Union soldiers did decades before. By the end, I could imagine the battle, but I could also imagine what real bravery was like.
Those soldiers looked danger right in the eye and marched toward it at a jog, and it only takes one climb of that hill to know that.