A Battle at Pickett’s Mill

“Is there anything here worth seeing?” a tracksuited woman asked us in the Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Park lot as she was getting back into her car. She told us that the man in the visitor’s center wouldn’t let her in because it was too late—just about closing time. The sun was about to set, and she was mad.

“Not really—just a bunch of trees,” I said to calm her down, but I wasn’t stretching the truth all that much. For a preserved Civil War battlefield, Pickett’s Mill is surprisingly plain. It doesn’t have the grand monuments of Chickamauga or the mountain views of Kennesaw. There aren’t many markers along the wooded pathways, so if you want to get a good idea of what happened where you’ll have to pay close attention to the trail map from the visitor’s center.

There’s something to be said for the park’s lack of descriptive markers. Pickett’s Mill is one of the most rustic battlefield parks I’ve been to; if you ignore the cleared trails and the few waymarkers painted onto the trees, it’s easy to imagine what the area was like during the Civil War. The fields are there, as is the creek and some of the entrenchments dug by soldiers. If you follow the map, you’ll see the ravine where the Federals ended up losing the battle. They were ordered to charge uphill, only to be repulsed by Confederate troops above. Author Ambrose Bierce, fighting that day under Union General Hazen, would write about the battle in his essay The Crime at Pickett’s Mill, still shaken some 24 years after the fact:

Suddenly there came a ringing rattle of musketry, the familiar hissing of bullets, and before us the interspaces of the forest were all blue with smoke. Hoarse, fierce yells broke out of a thousand throats . . . The uproar was deafening; the air was sibilant with streams and sheets of missiles. In the steady, unvarying roar of small-arms the frequent shock of the cannon was rather felt than heard, but the gusts of grape which they blew into that populous wood were audible enough, screaming among the trees and cracking their stems and branches.

Of course I hadn’t read that at the time. As it was, the moment was heavy enough. Standing on the ridge, we could hear gunshots fired by distant hunters as we looked down into the ravine.

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  1. Posted February 7, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Rhiannon, honestly, I think you get better and better at writing every day. This was so well written, and all of your Southerly posts have been so amazingly evocative. Keep em coming!

    • admin
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      Meaghan, thanks for thinking that! I’m bad at updating, but this makes me want to write more. Need to get back into it. : )

  2. Posted February 7, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    This is absolutely beautiful. I’ve never been here, but it sounds a lot like Shiloh. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this to you before, but you guys should definitely go if you haven’t. It’s one of the biggest and most well preserved Civil War battle fields. I still have such vivid and haunting memories of going there.

    I’m going to add this to my growing list of places to visit!

    • admin
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      I really want to go to Shiloh! My parents have been there twice already and I always bug them with questions about it. That and Gettysburg. Went there as a kid, but I need to see it as an adult.

  3. Posted February 8, 2013 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the inspiration! The photos are stunning.

    • admin
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:47 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Elena! I liked these photos a bunch too—Drew’s good!

  4. E
    Posted February 10, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    This is an amazing piece, and the photographs are beautiful. I’d love to have a book full of things like this.

    • admin
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      Thanks, E, I’m glad you like it. : )

  5. Posted February 15, 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    i hail from maryland, the old line state; up in the northeast, where i now live, everyone calls it the south. my best friend from university, a carolina girl, laughs at this. anyway, the only civil war parks i’ve been to are antietam, in maryland, and gettysburg. they could not be more different. gettysburg is scattered, in organized chaos, with large and impressive stone monuments. there is a large visitor center, and certainly a large gift shop. antietam is quiet; the land has not changed since the battle was fought. both are beautiful, and reverent, in their different ways.

    just found your blog, beautiful. feeding an already intense desire to move.

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