November 19, 2007

Pickett's Mill: Foredoomed to Oblivion

My 14-year-old-son and I had the opportunity this past weekend to traipse over the pristine Pickett’s Mill battlefield just northwest of metro Atlanta. Though somewhat familiar with the fight, I have to admit that I didn’t know the battlefield had been preserved until about a week prior to my visit. It’s a relatively “new” battlefield, the land having been bought by the state in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The Pickett’s Mill Battlefield State Historic Site was interpreted in the late 1980’s; a visitor’s center was built in 1990, and then officially opened to the public in 1992. The 765-acre park is described as one of the most pristine battlefields in the country and I believe it. Several somewhat-rigorous hiking trails totaling just over four miles take the visitor over the deeply wooded hills, fields, and creeks that appear just as they did during the May 27, 1864 fight. Along the way, the remnants of numerous trenches are still clearly visible. Especially poignant is the deep-cut ravine, which is the focal point of the park and marks the place where scores of Union men met their fate in a futile rush up a gorge whose sides are at much more than a 45 degree angle.

The battle of Pickett’s Mill (see image) was a minor one during Sherman’s Atlanta campaign, being sandwiched between the better known engagements at New Hope Church and Dallas. Its result was the loss of 1600 bluecoats to only 500 Confederates making it a clear-cut Rebel victory. According to the video at the park’s visitor center, Sherman chose to completely ignore the battle when penning his official report as well as his post-war memoirs, perhaps due to not only the battle’s obscurity but also the tremendous Yankee losses. Based on the ratio of casualties to troops engaged, this was one of the bloodiest battles during the Atlanta campaign.

Apparently, only one book-length study has been written over the years that describe this battle. Written by Morton McInvale, that book is titled The Battle of Pickett’s Mill: Foredoomed to Oblivion and was published in 1977 by the state of Georgia. The subtitle is taken from the story The Crime at Pickett’s Mill, which was written by a young Ambrose Bierce and who was also a participant in the battle. It can be found in Shadows of Blue and Gray: The Civil War Writings of Ambrose Bierce. McInvale’s 175-page paperback is long out of print though a park ranger told me that the state is considering reissuing it. It’s also quite scarce for I could find only one copy on ABE and it’s priced at $50. Though the retelling of the battle itself may have been initially “foredoomed to oblivion,” the battlefield has been wonderfully preserved. Any civil warrior visiting Atlanta will want to check it out.

4 comments:

Drew W. said...

Thanks, Paul. I haven't heard of this one. It continues to amaze that none of the battles of the Atlanta campaign have received full book length treatment (there are some short overviews, like Kennesaw and Resaca). I hope they do reprint it. Do you know anything of its quality?

Paul Taylor said...

Drew,

No, I'm not familiar with it either. Thre's a copy in the library at Kennesaw State Univ. I've asked my daughter, who is a student there, to check it out and send it to me. I'll let you know what I think when I have it.

Paul

Tree Climbing History Buff said...

Hello,

I am an employee of Pickett's Mill Battlefield State Historic Site. The book you mention, "The Battle of Pickett’s Mill: Foredoomed to Oblivion" is not recommended as a source for historical information. Much of the book is riddled with inaccuracies and the cited sources are questionable. For information regarding the Battle of Pickett's Mill, we recommend the website, http://pickettsmillpark.org. The site newly refreshed in 2005 and the information gathered from personal journals, memoirs, and letters from those who fought in the battle make the website one of the best sources. Other sources would be the "Campaign for Atlanta: William R. Scaife" and "Decision in the West: Albert E. Castel” Each book offers a different take on the battle.

Thanks,

Steve

Paul Taylor said...

Steve,

Thanks for your insight. Paul