“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.