In 1864, Marietta and nearby Kennesaw Mountain were hubs of Civil War activity and obstacles standing between Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his target: Atlanta.
Now, city officials and local historians are gearing up for a series of events to take place this spring and summer commemorating Marietta’s role in the war. The events dovetail with a nationwide commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The events began in 2011 and will last through 2015.
A series of lectures, art exhibits and recreational activities presented by different civic groups will take place throughout the year. A scavenger hunt will be held at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park on April 26.
It’s a yearlong commemoration, but most sesquicentennial events are set for June, when Sherman took Marietta. Some activity will be featured on the Square almost every day throughout that month.
Historical re-enactors and musicians will perform, blacksmiths will make an appearance on the Square and plays, musicals and movie premieres will take place.
Several events will be at the Square and Marietta Museum of History the first weekend in June celebrating the 75th anniversary of the novel “Gone with the Wind.”
A Juneteenth program will be June 13 to 15 on the Square commemorating the end of slavery. The National Parks Service will hold an event themed “Civil War to Civil Rights” from June 26-29 coinciding with the anniversary of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.
Not everyone will be inspired to become a historian or Civil War enthusiast, but it’s important that residents remember men who fought for what they believed in, whether right or wrong, died in Cobb a century and a half ago, said Michael Shaffer, assistant director of The Civil War Center at Kennesaw State University.
“Any time you have a war split a country in two and young men killing each other to the tune of 750,000 in four years, that’s a major event in the history of any nation,” Shaffer said. “I think it’s important for people to know that here in 1864 there was a tremendous loss of life.”
By comparison, about 57,000 Americans died in Vietnam and a little over 5,000 died in Iraq.
Current generations have had little or no exposure to Civil War history, Shaffer said, making Marietta’s remembrance of the war all the more significant.
It’s still a relevant story, he said.
“You can still now almost 150 years later feel their pain,” Shaffer said.
Anne Strand, secretary of the Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club, said many locals see the mountain as a simple landmark or a recreation area.
“What they don’t realize is it’s really very historic,” Strand said. “It was a turning point in the war.”
Kennesaw Mountain stood between Sherman’s troops and Atlanta. Successfully crossing the mountain would mean a shot at winning that prize.
“When they began the campaign that was Sherman’s ultimate goal: capture Atlanta,” Shaffer said.
President Abraham Lincoln was also up for re-election in 1864 and thought he had little chance of hanging onto the White House. Meanwhile, the armies of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee were in a stalemate in Virginia.
“That placed a great deal of importance on what Sherman could do here in Georgia,” Shaffer said.
As the war progressed, Shaffer said, Marietta’s occupation shifted. Union forces took over the city’s railroad, cutting off supplies to Confederate troops.
“In those days the rail line was like Interstate 75 for you and I today,” Shaffer said.
Sherman had been to Marietta twice before the war began, said Brad Quinlin, local historian, giving him an understanding of the lay of the land.
“He knew exactly the resources he had,” Quinlin said.
Much of Marietta was used to set up hospitals, including many buildings on the Square, amounting to about 2,000 hospital beds throughout the city.
Sherman burned Marietta in November, beginning what would be his “March to the Sea,” destroying most of what stood in his way to the coast.
Shaffer said the stories that have been handed down show desperation.
“There are incredibly sad stories about these women trying to grab everything they owned, literally, and put it on a wagon,” Shaffer said.