Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The History of the Park, Part 1: The Illinois Monument

By 1899, the U.S. Congress had begun to preserve several of the more prominent battlefields of the Civil War, such as Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Antietam and Shiloh, as national parks within the Department of the Interior. The area in which the Atlanta Campaign took place had not yet been considered for inclusion, yet even so, the first steps toward preservation came from the action groups most concerned with Kennesaw: the men who had fought there.

That year, Lansing J. Dowdey, who had served as adjutant of the 86th Illinois Infantry, purchased 60 acres of land from one Virgil Channell, a resident of Cobb County, Georgia. Dowdey, a member of the Colonel Dan McCook Brigade Association, intended to use this parcel for the site of a memorial to McCook (seen below), killed in the fighting at Kennesaw, as well as the other men of McCook's brigade who had perished there.

From this initial 60 acre tract, the park would eventually expand to include over 3,000 acres.

After initial plans to raise money through the Mccook Brigade Association fell through, the Kennesaw Mountain Association of Illinois stepped in with extra funding from the state of Illinois. Eventually they were able to purchase a $25,000 monument, built by the McNeel Marble Company of Marietta, which had carved monuments for similar organizations.

Finally, on June 27th, 1914, the 50th anniversary of the battle, all was ready. Illinois veterans and Marietta townspeople alike (including the author's then-three-year-old maternal grandmother) converged on the site for the unveiling, along with such organizations as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Marietta Chamber of Commerce. Even Illinois Governor Edward F. Dunne was in attendance.

Afteward it was rumored that there occured some "discussion" between the Kennesaw Mountain Association and the City of Marietta as to the placement of the monument. According to the story, the Association wanted to place the monument atop the Confederate trenches, in recognition of the ultimate victory of the Union; the city fathers insisted that the monument be placed within a few yards of the outer works---or, in other words, as close as the Federal attackers got to the trenches that day. Whether or not this is story is anything more than apocryphal, visitors today can clearly see that the farthest eastern edge of the monument is located about 5 to 6 yards short of the Confederate trenches.

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