Smyrna Marks Anniversary Of Civil War Battle

Smyrna_City_Hall_PANEL_2-1The city of Smyrna will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Smyrna with a series of exhibits and speakers July 1-3.

“The Battle of Smyrna was the last stand of the Confederacy before Sherman crossed the Chattahoochee River into Atlanta,” said Smyrna Councilman Charles Welch.

The exhibit of Civil War artifacts will open Tuesday, July 1 at Brawner Hall. A speaker is scheduled for the opening ceremony that evening which will include the presentation of an original Smyrna City charter. Found in an estate sale, the charter has been framed and donated to the city.

The display at Brawner Hall will include items from the Cox/Armstrong Collection of Civil War era items donated to the city. Items from that collection that have already undergonepreservation are currently on display at City Hall, the Library and Brawner Hall.

The Exhibit opens on Tues., July 1 and runs through Thurs., July 3 (10 a.m. – 9 p.m.) and is hosted in Brawner Hall at 3180 Atlanta Road, Smyrna.  Information about the Battle of Smyrna and the Cox/Armstrong Collection is featured in this listing following the exhibit schedule.

Tuesday, July 1 – 5:30 p.m.

The Opening Reception will feature the unveiling of the original Smyrna Charter (Historical Document) as well as acannon demonstration (at 6 p.m. and 6:30/45 p.m.) and re-enactors in uniform and costume along with the following speakers: 

Michael Shaffer – former Assistant Director of Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center in Kennesaw, Georgia before retiring to pursue research, writing and lecturing offers a program described as follows: “On July 4 and 5, 1864, as the Confederate Army of Tennessee headed toward the Chattahoochee River Line, elements of Major General William T. Sherman’s force clashed with the Southern troops along the Smyrna-Ruff’s Mill Line. Civil War historian Michael Shaffer will share insights on the struggle during this special lecture.

Dr. Brian Wills – Director of the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era and Professor of History at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, after a long tenure at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He is the author of numerous works relating to the American Civil War, including a new volume – The River Was Dyed with Blood: Nathan Bedford Forrest and Fort Pillow. His presentation is described as follows:  Georgia Experiences Total War in 1864 – In 1864, Union general William T. Sherman brought three armies to the doorstep of Atlanta, Georgia. Despite suffering bloody setbacks at New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill and Kennesaw Mountain in May and June, the Federals continued their march toward the city, targeting the vital infrastructure as well as the defending Confederate Army of Tennessee. With the bloody struggle stalemating in Virginia, the loss of Atlanta could also have important political ramifications, as President Abraham Lincoln stands for re-election and Northern support for continuing the terrible conflict totters. One thing was certain: the dark clouds of war loomed large in the Georgia skies.

Other attractions Tuesday evening include cannon demonstrations with simulated live fire and re-enactors in uniform/costume along with the opening to the public of the three-day exhibit.

Wednesday, July 2, 6 p.m., Join Dr. William Marchione for a presentation on events that took place in and around the Smyrna area relative to the Battle of Smyrna Camp Ground. Marchione, Ph.D. and the author of the recently published “A Brief History of Smyrna, Georgia” will present a slide /lecture on “Smyrna, Georgia: Civil War Battlefield” that will demonstrate that the battles and troop movements in and around Smyrna (at Smyrna Camp Ground, Ruff’s Mill, and at the River Line fortifications) were far more important and decisive than is generally recognized. His talk will deal with such facets of the Atlanta campaign as General Francis Asbury Shoup’s two defensive barriers constructed in South Cobb–-the Smyrna Line and the River Line (the latter dubbed by historians “The Maginot Line of the Confederacy”); the near death experience of General William Tecumseh Sherman, not once, but twice here in Smyrna and the likely consequences had Sherman been killed on our home turf; the critical importance of the W&A railroad in the Atlanta Campaign as a line of supply for the federal army; and finally, how the conquest of Atlanta and the collapse of the Confederacy were virtual certainties once Sherman’s federal juggernaut breached that last great physical barrier on the road to Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River. 

Thursday, July 3 at 6 p.m. there will be a Closing Reception featuring a presentation by Dr. Keith Bohannon, Department of History atUniversity of West Georgia will focus on the advance of Union General William T. Sherman’s Army from Smyrna to the Chattahoochee River and the actions that took place along the Chattahoochee River Line. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had hoped that the fortifications along the Chattahoochee River, constructed in large part by slaves, would hold back the Union advance against Atlanta for some time. Instead, Sherman sent men upriver to cross the Chattahoochee in the vicinity of Roswell and the mouth of Sopes Creek. These Federal crossings, which occurred with little Confederate opposition, forced Johnston to abandon the Chattahoochee River Line and retreat across the river. Only days after this action, the Confederate President removed Johnston from command and replaced him with General John B. Hood, a controversial action that dramatically altered the course of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.

Until now, the Battle of Smyrna Camp Ground has simmered as an untold and unanalyzed potential turning point in the Atlanta Campaign of 1864.

The South Cobb phase of the Atlanta Campaign was more significant than is generally recognized. The fighting on the Smyrna Line (the Battles of Smyrna Camp Ground and Ruff’s Mill) were the last pitched battles fought before the fateful crossing of the Chattahoochee River. Once that important physical barrier was breached by the contending armies, the fall of Atlanta was virtually certain. The Smyrna Line and the River Line were thus the last opportunities to significantly delay Sherman’s advance on Atlanta. But, the strategy that General Shoup recommended was never fully implemented. If it had been implemented it might have changed the outcome of the war.

Had the Confederates succeeded in significantly delaying the progress of Union forces with a strong stand at the Chattahoochee River, they might, at the very least, have slowed down the advance of Sherman’s federal juggernaut long enough to change the results of the November 1864 presidential election, in which Lincoln’s Democratic opponent, General George B. McClellan, was committed to a negotiated settlement. A McClellan victory in that election would almost certainly have saved the Confederacy.

Another potential game changer was the possible death of General Sherman on the Smyrna Line, and the impact his death might have had on the Atlanta campaign. Sherman was almost killed in the Smyrna area not once, but twice. It almost happened when the Confederate soldiers opened fire on the Federal commander and his officers in the woods near Windy Hill (described in detail in General Oliver Otis Howard’s memoirs). Confederate artillery opened fire on a house that Sherman was visiting (which oral tradition identifies as a house on Gilbert Street) resulting in a second near-death experience which is briefly described in Sherman’s memoirs. The death of Sherman could have changed everything.

The Cox/Armstrong Civil War Collection will be Displayed at Smyrna City Hall, Library and Brawner Hall.

Gerald Cox was born in 1945 in Atlanta, growing up in a family of Civil War historians. When he was a boy in the 1950s, Gerald spent many weekends at Uncle Quig’s home in Smyrna. Quig often took Gerald to the Carmichael Plantation, currently near I-285 and Atlanta Road. With his ancient metal detector, Gerald searched the area where the Yankees battled through Smyrna to reach Atlanta in 1864. Gerald found his first Civil War relic, a lead .58-caliber bullet. After that, he was hooked. He and his family continued exploring, building a huge collection of artifacts through the years.

Gerald and Smyrna’s Mayor A. Max Bacon crossed paths many times since the 1970s. Shortly before he passed on Christmas Day 1996, Gerald invited Max to the 100-year-old family home in Cartersville, Georgia. Gerald showed Max the relics one last time and asked Max to find a home for them when he was gone. He wanted the public to see an enormous slice of history.

A portion of the collection is displayed on the second floor at Smyrna City Hall (2800 King Street, Smyrna Ga 30080) with two additional displays on the second levels of the Smyrna Public Library (100 Village Green Circle, Smyrna Ga 30080) and Brawner Hall (3180 Atlanta Road, Smyrna Ga 30080). Visit the collection when offices/facilities are open.

From the June 2014 issue (plus additional information)  of The Bright Side, Cobb County Georgia’s Newspaper covering Smyrna, Vinings, Mableton and Austell, GA.