Blast From the Past: Brown’s Mill Battlefield dedicated
by W. Winston Skinner
The past was never far away as hundreds gathered for dedication of the Brown’s Mill Battlefield on Saturday.
Re-enactors in Confederate homespun marched, while their Union compatriots in deep blue rode spirited horses. Blasts from muskets and a cannon reverberated across the open field and into the woods — much as they did 149 years ago when blue and gray waged battle along the Rickeyback Road.
Robert Boddie, Jeff Carroll and Robert Ward from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2667 formed a color guard for the ceremonies. They were joined by Robert Lynn and William Lewis, re-enactors who respectively held the Confederate and Union flags from 1864.
During the demonstration of firepower following the presentation of the colors, VFW member Dick Stender reflected on the battle that took place at Brown’s Mill. He asked the crowd to imagine going through the steps to fire a musket or cannon while “musket balls and minie balls and cannon balls fly by you.”
The pathways through the new park along Millard Farmer Road offered a quiet respite, but the dense foliage also gave a sense of a the landscape across which soldiers from a divided nation fought in 1864. “I know it’s warm here today, but it was a lot warmer back then,” Stender said.
About 600 people gathered at the 105-acre county park at the site of 1864 battle for dedication ceremonies on Saturday morning. Dr. David Evans, scholar and author of “Sherman’s Horsemen,” was the keynote speaker — talking about the significance of the battlefield and the importance of its preservation.
Re-enactors from several different groups added authenticity and color to the day, and Boy Scout Troop 144 provided support in various ways during the opening.
County Commissioner Tim Lassetter was master of ceremonies. “This site is unique among Coweta’s recreation areas because it is first and foremost a historic site,” he noted. Lassetter said grants from two state programs and other funding from governmental and individual sources helped make the park a reality.
The Northside Elementary School Environmental Club sold T-shirts in 2000-2001 to raise $1,000 that provided the first funding for purchasing greenspace.
Lassetter talked about the work of the Brown’s Mill Battlefield Association. BMBA joined the county in sponsoring the dedication. Carolyn Turner, BMBA president, said the group’s objective “is to advocate for the preservation and interpretation of this historic site.”
Lassetter recognized Elijah Caldwell, who made and placed benches on the trails for his Eagle Scout project, and several people talked about the work State Rep. Lynn Smith did to help with the project. Turner presented gifts to Evans, former County Commissioner Jim McGuffey and John Ehrenhard, whose late wife Ellen Ehrenhard was a historic preservation planner who was an early champion of the project.
“You’ve got dreamers, and you’ve got doers. I’m a dreamer,” McGuffey said. He said many people had a part in making the park a reality, but he particularly noted the work of Sandra Parker, Pat Tidwell and Turner who led the push for the preservation of the property.
Lassetter, Turner, Caldwell and representatives of contributing agencies and companies cut the ribbon to officially open the park.
Evans borrowed thoughts from Abraham Lincoln in framing his remarks. “Pres. Lincoln was right. We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this Brown’s Mills Battlefield,” he said. That has already been done by the men who fought and died there.
Evans said in finding meaning from visiting the site and gaining understanding of what happened there, “we honor their memory,” remembering those who fought “during America’s darkest hour.”
Evans said Union Gen. William T. Sherman set out to destroy rail lines supplying Atlanta and had successfully neutralized two of three lines when Brown’s Mill occurred. Sherman had sent 10,000 federal troops toward Newnan “to thoroughly wreck the slender ribbon of rails that were Atlanta’s last tenuous connection with the rest of the Southern Confederacy,” Evans said.
Standing in their way was Gen. Joseph Wheeler, a feisty warrior who stood five foot, five and “might have weighed 120 pounds,” Evans said. “He had the heart of a lion.”
In the face of large numbers of Union troops, “Joe Wheeler didn’t retreat,” Evans said. “He attacked.”
Evans described Wheeler’s determined valor and contrasted it with the indecision of Union Gen. Edward McCook.
Evans also described the days of battle in “the tangled thickets” along the Rickeyback Road. Men on both sides fought for days without rest or food, and he gave examples of heroism on both sides. “These woods echoed with the sound of bugles,” Evans said.
“We stand here today — not to celebrate but to commemorate, to honor all of those who fought here,” Evans said. He said the dedication day also was as time to recall the “courage, commitment and strength of character that is their legacy to us all.”