Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Battle of Pickett's Mill

With my interest in history, I was excited to learn that the home we're buying if all the inspections go well this coming week is only about 2 miles from the Pickett's Mill Civil War battle site.  And even more excited when I found out they do re-enactments here.  What a great way to learn more about American history and the local culture!

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The Battle of Pickett's Mill, a Confederate victory, happened in May 1864 and delayed Federal troops advancing on Atlanta for a week.  Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman attempted an attack on the right flank of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's army hoping to hit what he thought was an exposed right flank.  Instead he found the Confederates well prepared and his own supporting troops didn't show up for the battle.

Author Ambrose Bierce fought for the Union at Pickett's Mill as a topographical engineer. Bierce's condemning short story The Crime at Pickett's Mill is about this battle and was written to commemorate its 25th anniversary.  It's a story I'd never read before and while I was reading it now, I realized that, until very recently, I wouldn't have even understood it.  A few weeks ago a friend of ours (and fellow amateur historian) was home on leave from the Marines and attempting to explain to me some of the mechanics of weaponry and battle tactics from that time period.

Matt told me how the guns were not so dependable or accurate and, partly because you had to hand load a single bullet, it was slow and took a lot of effort to reload between each shot.  To compensate for these challenges, soldiers were taught to advance in long side-by-side columns.  The man in front would lay on the ground to shoot while the man directly behind him would go down on one knee and the third would take aim from a standing position.  Then they'd all fire at the same time.  This allowed for three shots at the enemy forces instead of just 1.  As soon as their shot was off, they'd immediately fall to the back of the column to reload and the next 3 men in line would take those positions.  By firing more shots at the same time, they had better odds of hitting their target.  This was especially advantageous if troops could be shooting from different directions so the trajectories overlapped but did not pose a threat as incoming friendly fire.

Obviously my understanding is still pretty rudimentary.  But, hopefully, as I explore my surroundings more and more it will get better.

Everything I can find says this reenactment happens in early November each year so I'm adding it to my list of things to go and see.  I'm learning a new appreciation for an important part of our country's history and all the stories and personal sacrifice that seemingly never made it to our history books.

Our realtor told us Pickett's Mill was one of the most well known battles of the Civil War.  Why did I not know anything about it?  Seriously, I don't remember ever even hearing the name before yesterday. Sometimes these kind of things make me kind of frown on the schooling of my childhood and feel like it failed me...  But, when I stop and think about it isn't the goal of education to instill a sense of curiosity and give you the skills to fulfill it?  That, I learned very well.  So well, in fact, that a lot of people call me hyper-observant.

Enough so, that under the brush and last fall's leaves in the backyard at the house, I noticed a couple of spots that looked like they'd been dug out just past the tree line and asked what they were.  The realtor didn't have a definitive answer, and I didn't really expect him to, but he lives in the area and told us they could, conceivably, be trenches dug in 1864 by soldiers advancing on the battle site.  He said that there were  confirmed period trenches in some of the yards nearby and that someone he knew had talked about people knocking on his door for permission to go poke around the trenches in their yard to look for Civil War artifacts.  I don't know how to verify if that's what we saw or not but it is intriguing to think about what we might find when we start cleaning up the yard.

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