Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Battle of New Hope Church

One of my resolutions for 2015 is to spend more time exploring my local surroundings.  So to start off, I thought I'd back up a few months and show you one I finally got to see last July.  I'd been wanting to go look at the site and the historical markers for a long time, but I was waiting for my self-proclaimed history buff companion to decide he could be bothered.  I gave up on that and went with a visiting friend.

Located where the present day Dallas Acworth Highway intersects E. Paulding Ave (which continues west from there as Old Cartersville Road - have I mentioned lately how confusing I find roads that suddenly change names at a random intersection?) is the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, that of New Hope Church, fought in May 1864.  Yes, the battle was fought in and around this very simple and unpretentious little church!

New Hope Church as it appears today.

One of 12 "Unknown" soldiers buried at the
New Hope Cemetery.
"Unnamed, unknown, remain and still remain the bravest soldiers. Our manliest, our boys, our hardy darlings: no picture gives them. Likely, the typical one of them (standing, no doubt, for hundreds, thousands) crawls aside to some bush-clump or ferny tuft on receiving his death-shot; there, sheltering a little while, soaking roots, grass, and soil with red blood; the battle advances, retreats, flits from the scene, sweeps by; and there, haply with pain and suffering…the last lethargy winds like a serpent round him; the eyes glaze in death;…and there, at last the Bravest Soldier, crumbles in Mother Earth, unburied and unknown."  --  Walt Whitman, Drum Taps 1865
Confederate Cemetery at New Hope Community.
 There’s a cemetery within the cemetery at New Hope Community just outside of Dallas, GA.  It’s a tiny plot with just 13 slightly unkempt graves under a worn Confederate flag.  All but 1 mark the final resting spot of some unknown soldier who paid the ultimate price defending the only life he knew.  History, especially when it involves a conflict, is told (and accepted as true and complete) from the perspective of the winner and these soldiers were on the losing side.  It's easy to overlook them and forget that each was someone’s son… perhaps a brother, husband, father, friend.  Their names and stories are unknown but I'm sure someone's heart hurt when their loved one didn't come home after the war.  And the tragedy of that makes my heart hurt still today.

Another part of the site that I found particularly haunting is the battle trenches just east of the church building.

Confederate dug battle trenches.
A friend with some military history knowledge explained the battle tactics of the time this way.  Because the guns used were neither uniform nor accurate, the soldiers would take aim in groups of 3.  The man in front would lie on his belly, the second man was down on one knee behind him and the third, standing at the back.  All would fire at the same time and then fall to the back of the line to reload.  Picture in your mind's eye that scene happening in a shallow trench like this one!  Fighting in this way increased the odds that one of their combatants would be struck down greatly over having every soldier in one long line.  It's so hard to imagine the brutal conditions of this kind of hand to hand combat.  And it was literally hand to hand...
Front of Sesquicentennial marker.

May of 2014 marked the Sesquicentennial of the Battle of New Hope Church and one of the town’s civic clubs erected a marker honoring the soldiers of the Army of Tennessee, led (I think) by General Hardee. They were the primary Confederate forces trying to block Sherman’s march on Atlanta.  And even though this is counted as Confederate victory, they were outflanked and Union forces advanced on to Kennesaw Mountain (I'll document a visit in another post - it is a better known site maintained by the National Park Service and host to many re-enactments and events).

There are a number of historic markers at this site describing with both text and picture how the troops moved parallel to one another.  You can also get a glimpse of today’s landscape in these pictures and imagine how difficult the journey must have been 150 years ago in dense woods, heat, and humidity.

Markers in the park at the battle site explaining the
logistics and tactics used by the soldiers fighting here.
Visiting these sites that previously were only brief descriptions in a text book sure brings history alive to me in a whole new way.  Those who fought on both sides have my utmost respect!

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