I like to experience history rather than read about it, whenever possible. So when I heard Landmark Events was giving a two day history tour focusing on the Atlanta Campaign of the American Civil War, I was inspired to put together a history road trip through Georgia, to coincide with our study of the Civil War.
We came away from this road trip with lots of answers, a few more questions, and a working understanding of the how and why the Civil War played out, at least in the southeast. We got a visual on how these battles went down and on the devastation of war. It was well worth the time and effort. Here is our five day Georgia Civil War itinerary:
We drove to Milledgeville, capitol of Georgia at the time of the Civil War. We had already read the hands-down best novel on the Civil War, written for children,
|Rifles for Watie|
By Harold Keith
so we were looking for another solid Civil War novel to listen to in the car. We used Overdrive to find free audio and ebooks from our library system. What we could not find on Overdrive we found on Audible. We made an excellent choice in this gentle Civil War novel where a young boy experiences the War while barely leaving his farm,
|Across Five Aprils|
By Irene Hunt
In Milledgeville we took the trolley tour. It is available only once per day and includes stops to tour three historic buildings, two of which are not fully available for tours otherwise. Since Milledgeville was the capitol of Georgia during the Civil War there was much to learn about the destruction resulting from Sherman’s March to the Sea.
We also snapped pictures of Flannery O’Connor’s home, having recently read and developed an appreciation for her short story Revelation while going through Adam Andrew’s excellent curriculum,
|Worldview Detective: A Socratic Method for Investigating Great Books (DVD Seminar & Workbook)|
By Adam & Missy Andrews
After lunch in historic downtown we drove to north Atlanta to hike the Sope Creek Mill Ruins. This is beautiful, fairly short trail to see the ruins of a paper mill that printed Confederate money. It was burned by Sherman’s troops. It was rebuilt and later abandoned, but its condition is reminiscent of the state Sherman left it in.
Do not confuse the biking trail with this Ruins trail. Though the trails are clearly marked, it is not always easy to figure out which one leads where. The trailhead starts out the same as the biking trail but quickly diverts off to the left as a walking only trail. The stone ruins are beautiful and full of windows and openings that aid thorough exploration. The creek that it fronts once had a covered bridge over it. We stayed the night at a lovely Airbnb in Grant Park.
On the second day, we joined our Landmark Event tour, beginning at the lovely historic Oakland Cemetery. There is a map available, but we had the good fortune to have our guide tell us the stories of several famous Civil War generals buried there and the Lion of Lucerne inspired statute, weeping, wounded, and dying over a Confederate flag, representing scores of unknown soldiers.
We also visited the grave of Margaret Mitchell, having watched Gone with the Wind with my teen and preteen daughters, before we left for the trip. It was an entertaining way to grasp the impact of the Atlanta Campaign on the people and the area.
We visited the State Capitol Building in Atlanta where our guide walked us through the statues on the grounds outside, including an interesting one of Civil War era governor of Georgia and Senator Joe Brown and his wife. Next he guided us through the paintings in the rotunda inside, highlighting major characters in the Civil War drama such as Alexander Stephens, and his various rivals for the vice presidency of the Confederacy. There is a scavenger hunt that covers all of the exhibits through the decades of Georgia history, and well as a self guided tour, more of a monument identification guide, available on their website. I would recommend taking a look ahead of time and sharing one or two interesting people with your kids.
After lunch we headed to the Atlanta History Center. First we viewed the must-see Cyclorama, an amazing 360 degree painting and diorama that puts you in the middle of the battle of Atlanta. The 12 minute film was uninspiring, more defending why they would house that particular piece of art than explaining anything about the actual battle, but the docent explained quite a bit with her laser pointer. Reading up on the battle of Atlanta beforehand would be helpful.
After the cyclorama, come out into the atrium and view the Texas, the engine from the “Great Locomotive Chase” of the Civil War. There is a really entertaining Buster Keaton silent film about the incident called The General. Disney apparently also made a film about it in the 1950s called The Great Locomotive Chase. The kids can climb aboard and check out the engine.
Next, skip the other exhibits and head to the Civil War exhibit. You will want a solid hour to spend in there. One of the most fascinating things to me was the series of maps, a set for each year of the Civil War, outlining Union strategy, Confederate strategy and then what actually happened. It really brought the events of the War into focus for me. There were many well preserved artifacts: uniforms, tools, bottles of medicine, condiments, games, and weapons. There are also historic houses on the grounds to explore. We could have easily spent all day there.
We spent the morning at the Kennesaw National Battlefield. The short film in the Visitor’s Center was excellent for understanding the battle that went on there. We had a tour guide to help us understand the strategy at Deadman’s Angle and “reenact” the battle a little ways down the path, away from the area the National park is trying to preserve. Another fun item we had were flags and wooden “rifles” to spark the kids’ historical imagination.
We parked at Cheatham Hill and marched up the path like the Union soldiers would, then peered from the top like the Confederates who couldn’t see the Union digging entrenchments just below. A ranger tour would be very helpful in exploring the battlefield. I always recommend the Junior Ranger programs in the historic national parks. They help children explore the details of the people and events.
We drove to Marietta Square, had lunch, and listened to our guide tell us the tragic story of the Roswell Girls, female factory worker POWs that were shipped north and abandoned there after the war. Some made their way back home, only to find their husbands remarried. Others ended up making a desperate living on the streets of Chicago. Still others married former Union soldiers and never returned to homes and families in the South.
Next our guide told of the Great Locomotive Chase. We visited the hotel where the plan was carried out, now a little museum. While the museum had little else to do with the Civil War, there were lots of interactive play opportunities that my toddler enjoyed.
We enjoyed artisan coffee, tea, and treats from shops along the Square. We shopped and enjoyed the perfect weather for a while. Then we hopped in the car and started another audiobook to prepare us for the next day: Iron Thunder by Avi, a book about the ironclad ships.
We drove to the most unimpressive town of Columbus, Georgia, to see a most impressive museum, The National Civil War Naval Museum. The museum tells the entire story of both navies involved in the Civil War. Some of the ironclads have been pulled out of rivers and are displayed. There are replicas like the turret of the USS Monitor and the full ironclad USS Abermarle, as well Admiral Farragut’s USS Hartford.
Take your time in this museum and soak in the entire story of how the Civil War Navies forever changed how war is waged. The flag collection is impressive. The huge paintings of the full fleets of brown, green and blue navies of both sides really gave a big picture (literally) of the hodge podge of new and old that blockaded the Southern ports and rivers and ultimately won the war. See what I learned? Go to the museum to find out what the colors mean. This is a Civil War must-do!
We drove a little further south to the little town of Andersonville, Georgia, to the Andersonville National Historic Site. We spent the night in the the tiny nearby town of Americus. On this last tour day we explored all three sections of this free National Park. We listened to the audio tour from their website as we drove through the Andersonville Cemetery where Union POWs that died in the most infamous POW camp of the Civil War were buried.
At the Visitor’s Center we met up with the Park Ranger giving the 11 a.m. guided tour of the prison grounds. The tour was very helpful for understanding the layout of the camp and the activities and atrocities that went on there. It is one thing to read about it, it is quite another to picture yourself as a prisoner drinking from the small, muddy creek, avoiding the dead zones near the guard tower and sleeping in make-shift tents made of blankets and coats. It was easy to imagine the soldiers suffocating in the summer humidity and freezing in the winter.
Finally we toured the museum within the Visitor’s Center. It has an excellent, but disturbing exhibit telling the stories of American POWs from the Revolutionary War through recent conflicts. We were concentrating on the Civil War, so we spent most of our time in the center hall. This is another little known, but very important part of the Civil War.
My kids worked their way through the Junior Ranger program. They always love to get the Junior Ranger badges at any National Park that we visit.
We needed some cheering on the way home, after our tour of the Prisoner of War camp, so we listened to The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. This is a humorous, a bit more light-hearted look at the characters and events one may have encountered during the Civil War.
Some links affiliate links are provided for your convenience. For other great history road trips check out my post on The American Revolution through Boston!
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