The Battle of Resaca: Atlanta Campaign 1864, Part 3

by Brett Schulte on October 28, 2005 · 0 comments

The Battle of Resaca: Atlanta Campaign 1864
by Philip L. Secrist

PART II – Resaca Rediscovered
Part II of the book discusses the post-battle state of the Resaca Battlefield. Secrist, a noted relic hunter, describes the positives and negatives which have arisen as a result of that practice, and he also dedicates a chapter to the construction of I-75 directly over the battlefield. Secrist concludes with a “State of Preservation” epilogue for Resaca.

Chapter 8 – With The Passing Of Time
The events at Resaca were nearly forgotten in the years after the war, passes over by larger battles. Only one marker, that of the 103rd Ohio, was placed on the field of battle by veterans or those representing veterans. The former Western & Atlantic Railroad eventually fell into the state of Georgia’s hands, and it was used as a tourist line from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Battles of the Atlanta Campaign, including Resaca, were heavily promoted. The U.S. Government searched for and buried Union (emphasis Secrist’s) soldiers in a National Cemetery. State and local authorities did the same for fallen Confederates. Secrist notes that mix-ups inevitably occurred and some men were buried among their former enemies. The creation of these local Confederate Cemeteries led to the designation of April 26 as Confederate Memorial Day. Secrist, who has walked the Resaca Battlefield since the 1950’s, says the battlefield has hardly changed since 1864. The one exception, of course, was the construction of I-75 directly over part of the battlefield. Interest in the battle waned until the 1960’s centennial celebration, and Resaca became a favorite spot of relic hunters. Secrist even notes that you could simply pick up pieces of artillery shells right off the ground in those days! Secrist believes that relic hunting has its pluses and minuses. On the plus side, relic hunting allows for a greater understanding of the battle. On the minus side, obviously, is the destruction wrought by those who do not repair damage.

Chapter 9 – A Century Later–New Interest
Chapter 9 talks about the various contributions of relic hunters to the further understanding of the battle Larry Thornton, a resident of Dalton, Georgia, studies primary source materials and then verifies or refutes this information by careful studies of the battlefield. He then stores this information in a computer. Thornton believes the battlefield should be purchased (as of 1997) due to its pristine nature. Ernest Rutledge found a body in the path of I-75 as it was being laid in the early 1960’s. The body might be that of a Confederate officer who had his right foot amputated not long after the battle. The third relic hunter Mr. Secrist mentions is Jack Melton. Melton has become an expert on field artillery projectiles through his interest in relic hunting. All of these men contributed to the study of the war due to that interest.

Chapter 10 – Construction of Interstate-75
In 1959, Georgia Highway Department archaeologist Dan F. Morse found out that I-75 would pass directly over the Resaca battlefield. He was able to get permission for eleven weeks of excavations before the work began. This work was done in the summer of 1960. Unfortunately, Secrist says, most of the work was done at the intersection of Hardee’s and Hood’s lines. This area suffered very little damage, since just the area covered by the Interstate was disturbed. However, the area of Polk’s battlefield to the south was not studied in any detail, and it was later destroyed due to the need for an interchange at that spot. Secrist says that the area of Polk’s battlefield has been irretrievably lost to historians. On those parts of hills in that area that were not destroyed, Secrist says you can still see well-preserved earthworks. To make matters worse, the survey turned up nothing new to contradict the work of earlier Resaca historians. The intrusion of I-75 has several negative effects, all of which contribute to misunderstandings and misinterpretation of the battlefield, even by historians. Mapping errors and incorrect troop placements have resulted.

Resaca Preservation Progress – An Epilogue
Secrist wrote an epilogue showing the current state of preservation of Resaca. As of 1997, almost 1200 acres of pristine battlefield was on the eve of being purchased. I’m not sure how this turned out. If anyone reading this knows one way or the other, by all means leave a comment for me at the bottom of this entry. Secrist says the battlefield needs to be saved because we have a window to the past. George Barnard took numerous photographs of the area in 1864, and historians can learn a lot by comparing these to modern photos.

Notes, Bibliography, and Index
You should keep in mind while reading the comments below that this book is very thin at just over one hundred pages. I don’t want what I’m about to say to come across as being overly harsh. With that caveat out of the way, let’s proceed. There are only three pages of notes in the book. That doesn’t compare very favorably to a lot of the tactical studies I’ve read. Neither do the one page bibliography and the two page index. Secrist relies almost exclusively on the Official Records for this volume. I get the impression that Mr. Secrist knows a great deal about Resaca, but this book is just not very large. It doesn’t go into much detail, and I believe a much larger book on the battle can be written. Whether that book gets written by Mr. Secrist or someone else remains to be seen.

Maps & Wargaming
1. The maps are pretty good as far as topographic lines go, but the rest of the important items are lacking. Each army is depicted as one large line, and most of the time only Corps-level labels are applied. There are some other maps from the Official Records Atlas and other sources, but they are fairly small and hard to read.

2. Due to the short length of the book and the average nature of the maps, there is not much here for a wargamer. I’d recommend looking around for published scenarios rather than attempting to create your own for Resaca, whether you are a computer, board, or miniatures wargamer.

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