Press – Belles and Yells: Herald Civil War Heritage

‘Belles and Yells’ Herald Civil War Heritage

“There are places that need no historical marker because they are haunted, haunted by the spirits of men in blue and gray, now a part of the soil they fought over. If you stand quietly and listen, you can sense the clash of arms and see the skirmish, as if the gnarled old trees can’t forget and whisper their story to your imagination.”

So pens Roswell native Barry Etris, a songwriter, artist and storyteller, about the Civil War heritage in the Georgia cities of Roswell and Marietta, both located in Atlanta’s metro area.

So rich is this history that a special guide was recently created to commemorate it: “Southern Belles to Rebel Yells” highlights the mansions, monuments, museums and mills, cemeteries, slave quarters and other sites in Roswell and Marietta so that visitors are able to step into the footprints of the era. The guide is especially timely as the American Civil War approaches its 150 year mark and statewide commemoration of this tragic chapter in American history unfolds over a four-year period.

Frankly My Dear. . .

Roswell has over 640 acres of vintage homes and historic and heritage, with 122 acres listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Marietta is graced with an old-fashioned town square known as Antebellum Square and five National Register Historic Districts. Both are fitting backdrops for Southern belles and each boasts a singularly famous one.

In the former, real-life belle Mittie Bulloch grew up to become the mother of Teddy Roosevelt and the grandmother of Eleanor Roosevelt. Mittie’s home, the circa 1839 Bulloch Hall, was the site of her 1853 wedding to northerner Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. Little did those in attendance realize that they were witnessing a union that would produce a U.S. president.

The ceremony was so auspicious that ice cream (a rare delicacy then) was served, a first for this part of Georgia. Author Margaret Mitchell found the Bulloch-Roosevelt romance so fascinating that she visited Roswell in 1923, interviewed the last living bridesmaid and wrote an article about it for the Atlanta Constitution.

A Greek Revival-style mansion, Bulloch Hall is one of the most significant houses in Georgia. A reconstructed slave quarters tells the story of “Slave Life in The Piedmont.”

In the latter city, the most famous belle in fiction history holds court at the Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum: Scarlett on the Square. The museum, tucked into the circa 1880s Thomas Warehouse building, holds the privately owned collection of Dr. Christopher Sullivan of Akron, Ohio.

Costumes and jewelry, signed first editions and contracts, movie props and scripts, scene drawings, posters, photographs and dolls—the collection is a time capsule of the life and times of Margaret Mitchell, her seminal novel and the filming of one of the most popular and beloved movies ever made. Of special note: the Bengaline Gown worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett and an exhibit dedicated to the African-American members of the cast, including a letter Hattie McDaniel wrote in which she discusses her role of Mammy.

“We would have only our imaginations to guide us without the artifacts and memorabilia of the museums that provide us with stories of yesteryear,” says Museum Director Connie Sutherland. “Actually seeing a gown worn by Vivien Leigh in her role as ‘Scarlett’ is very different than seeing a photograph of the dress. Reading about Sherman’s ‘March to the Sea’ is very interesting—but standing before a glass display case that houses mini balls and rifles used (or found) at sites along that path to the sea means so much more.”

Bringing History to Life

Looking today much as it did 160 years ago, right down to its original furnishings and 10 outbuildings that include corn crib, carriage house and slave quarters, is the Smith Plantation Home. A living history museum, the home and acreage were kept intact through time by descendants of Archibald Smith who came to Roswell with his family in 1845 to escape the heat and insects of coastal Georgia. The house and grounds are a time capsule of 19th century daily life of that of a well-to-do farm family.

“Visitors are put in touch with Civil War history in a rather unique way here,” says Chuck Douglas, historic site coordinator at Smith Plantation. “We talk about the family, about how people were living during the war here in Roswell and particularly here at the Smith Plantation.”

Using the book, Death of a Confederate, as source material, Douglas notes that the Smith girls wrote to their brothers who were in Savannah fighting.

“They asked them about the girls in Savannah, about what kind of dresses and hats they were wearing. They also asked their brothers to send them some flowers, which seems somewhat strange given the fact they were fighting in the war.

“I think our visitors find it relevant because they relate it to themselves and their families.”

The book was written by Lister and Arthur Skinner, professors and heirs to smith Plantation, and was published by the University of Georgia Press in 1996.

Visitors find more living history at The Root House Museum. Located just a block off Marietta’s picturesque Square is the circa 1845 house, one of the oldest surviving frame houses in town. Inside, visitors get a peek into the middle class home life of merchant William Root, Marietta’s first pharmacist, and his family.

The house is owned and operated by Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society and tours are unscripted, so each docent gives a different tour. The home is furnished with period furniture in the fashion of the 1850s. The home’s detached kitchen and garden are favorite exhibits with visitors.

“The garden features heirloom plants including herbs that Mr. Root sold in his pharmacy on Marietta Square,” says Daryl Barksdale, executive director of Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society.

For the Cause

The area’s Civil War heritage is further (and poignantly) illustrated at the final resting place of thousands of soldiers—from both sides of the conflict. At the Marietta National Cemetery, more than 17,000 men are buried here—all of them Union soldiers—plus more than 3,000 unknown. Many of the soldiers died during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and a total of 10,072 died during the Civil War alone.

The Marietta Confederate Cemetery, created from a corner of donated plantation land, was started in 1863 for the burial of 20 Confederate soldiers who died in a train wreck. It is the final resting place for more than 3000 soldiers, with every Confederate State represented, as well as Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. The cemetery remains the largest Confederate Cemetery south of Richmond, Virginia. A large number of the buried soldiers fought nearby in The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and The Battle of Kolb’s Farm.

Sherman’s Shame

On the banks of Vickery’s Creek, ruins of the Roswell Mills can still be seen. From its beginning, Roswell’s mills became some of the most critical in Georgia. During the Civil War, they were one of the leading suppliers of goods to the Confederacy. When Union soldiers arrived in Roswell to take the river bridge, they discovered two things: the bridge had been destroyed by Confederate troops (the Union would hastily rebuild it, only to burn it down) and the mills were still in operation. Flying over the mills in an attempt to disguise their purpose was a French Flag.

Unfortunately, Roswell’s neutrality claim was untrue; while the mill manager Theophile Roche was indeed from France, the letters “C.S.A.” were woven into the fabric. The action so enraged General W.T. Sherman that he ordered the mills burned. The 400 mill workers, mostly women and children, were charged with treason and shipped north to uncertain fates. It was an action that enflamed the emotions and the anger of citizens both north and south, causing even northern newspapers to criticize the Union general. Although the women and children were eventually released, the fates of most remain a mystery. Today, the Lost Mill Workers of Roswell Monument located in Old Mill Park pays tribute to these citizens.

Step back in time at the monuments, museums and other heritage sites that commemorate the rich Civil War history in Roswell and Marietta.

If You Go

Visit the “Southern Belles to Rebel Yells” website at www.belles-rebels.com  to download a brochure or contact the convention and visitors bureaus below.

Marietta Welcome Center and Visitors Bureau, 4 Depot St., 770-429-1115, www.mariettasquare.com . Purchase a Marietta Heritage Passport for savings on admission to the Marietta Museum of History, The Root House Museum and the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum: Scarlett on the Square. Pick up a Marietta Cannonball Trail brochure for a self-guided tour through Marietta\’s Civil War sites, historic buildings and battlefields.

Roswell Visitors Center and Historic Roswell Convention & Visitors Bureau, 617 Atlanta St., 800-776-7935, www.visitroswellga.com . Purchase a Roswell Passport for savings on admission to Barrington Hall, Bulloch Hall and the Smith Plantation Home. Roswell Historical Society docent led tours are available on Wednesdays and Saturdays, by appointment.

The hardback book, Death of a Confederate, written by Lister and Arthur Skinner and published by the University of Georgia Press in 1996, may be purchased from The Smith Plantation for $20.