ATLANTA—Walking in the 100-acre Hampton-Beecher Nature Preserve in southwest Atlanta, the long, ditch-like indentations in the earth are easy to miss.
Natural erosion, sidewalk construction and stands of mature trees hide what may be the last vestiges of Civil War encampment earthworks in Atlanta.
Some 157 years old, these earthworks are now being mapped and catalogued by Perimeter College history professor Richard Blackmon and his students.
The students’ data collection surveys, authorized by Atlanta Parks and Recreation, can help provide the basis for their historic preservation for the city, Blackmon said.
A long-practiced military fortification technique, earthworks were built by Union and Confederate troops to provide a strategic vantage point against enemy encroachment on their position, he said.
Many earthworks have been uncovered on battle sites across metro Atlanta, but some are lost to time.
“These are quite possibly the only earthworks remaining to date from the Civil War within the city limits of Atlanta.” Blackmon said. “Some people knew they were here somewhere—they just didn’t know exactly their extent,” he said.
The peacefulness of the nature preserve belies the earthworks’ purpose: At Hampton-Beecher, more than 12,000 Union troops camped several days in August 1864, waiting for orders to attack, Blackmon told his students at the site. The earthworks were built quickly by mounding earth to one side.
“This is how you tell that this is not from erosion—it’s not equal on both sides,” Blackmon said, as the group walked gingerly around the grounds.
A mile south, in Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, Blackmon’s students have mapped several sites where Confederate troops waited in their own earthwork trenches. That fight, now known as the Battle of Utoy Springs, occurred as Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops continued to press toward Atlanta, Blackmon said.
Blackmon uses old maps of the 1864 siege of Atlanta to help locate the earthworks sites. During July, his students also mapped earthworks near golf courses in the area.
Once surveyed and mapped, Blackmon will make preservation recommendations to the city of Atlanta, including stabilizing and maintaining the earthworks to preserve them for future generations.
Eventually, his students will assist in placing interpretive placards in the area for historical context. Blackmon points out he’s not taking sides in this hunt for history.
“As a historian, my approach should be as unbiased as possible to present the actuality of what happened within an interpretative framework to be understood by the public,” Blackmon said.