Sunday, August 19, 2007

Leggett's Hill

I mentioned in a post several months ago that I visited Atlanta in 2001. I spent most of my time there at a highrise hotel in North Atlanta that was hosting a meeting my wife was attending, but I did find time for a round of golf, for an afternoon at the Stone Mountain Monument and also for a visit to one of my wife's colleagues who works at Emory University and lives in East Atlanta.

The visit to Stone Mountain awakened in me a slumbering interest in the Civil War. I knew at that time that a brother of my mother's great grandfather from Ohio had died at Andersonville Prison, but I wasn't aware then that any of my father's ancestors or inlaws in Wisconsin had even participated in the Civil War. I've since learned that the same Confederate general, Patrick Cleburne, whose men captured my mother's great uncle in Chattanooga, also commanded the men who shot my dad's great grandmother's brother in Atlanta.

During the past five years, using almost exclusively information freely available on the internet, I've discovered that my dad's great grandfather died in the Civil War, that he served in the same unit with a man married to his wife's sister, and that his wife's younger brother, William, enlisted in the 12th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on February 22, 1864. William Ebert fought and was wounded in the Battle of Atlanta on July 21st and was discharged in January 1865, after convalescing for nearly six months at an army hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. He received his "red badge of courage" when he was 21 years old, a gunshot wound to his upper left arm. He sailed across the Atlantic from Prussia to Wisconsin at age 11.

The last time I posted about him I began wondering if I might have passed anywhere near the scene of that historic battle on my visit to Atlanta. We rented a car while we were there and, thanks to Dave Buckhout and his site, Tracking the Battle of Atlanta Today, I now know that I actually passed, more than once, through the battlefield where my great great uncle was shot.

Bald Hill was renamed Leggett's Hill as a direct result of that battle. General Mortimer Leggett commanded the brigade that included both the 12th and the 16th Wisconsin infantry regiments. His orders from Sherman on the 21st were to take that hill and to hold it. He did. And the Battle for Atlanta on the 22nd involved the unsuccessful efforts of the Confederate army to dislodge him from that strategic location. Nearly 12,000 men were killed, wounded or taken prisoner in that battle. It was the decisive battle in what became the Siege of Atlanta.

Abraham Lincoln was in the middle of a heated election campaign that summer, running for reelection against his Democratic challenger, General George McClellan. Soldiers who favored the challenger were disparaged and shunned as "copperheads", men who thought that the war was a catastrophic standoff that could only be resolved through a negotiated compromise.

When Atlanta fell, burned to the ground in September, and when Sherman's March to the Sea in October was well underweigh, it became clear that the war was indeed winnable. Lincoln won the election in a landslide. If General Patrick Cleburne's men had reclaimed control of the trenches on Bald Hill on July 22nd, Atlanta could easily have been a hopeless stalemate on election day and Lincoln might only have had until January to win the war.

Present day pictures of Bald or Leggett's Hill and vicinity, more than fifty of them, can be seen at Dave Buckhout's Inheritage website. Many of the pictures indicate the location of plaques that tell the story of the many different incidents and events that were part of the battle. The hill itself was leveled quite some time ago and is now a twelve-lane freeway.

A bridge crosses the freeway at Moreland Avenue, the street we took to visit our friend who works at Emory University. The view from the Moreland Avenue overpass is essentially the same view that the men in the trenches had from the brow of Bald Hill. Cleburne's men mounted their valiant attempt to reclaim the hill from an area now under construction that will soon be a large shopping mall.