Buff revives Civil War's distant bugles: Neighbors find historic sites in their back yards

BYLINE: By Actor Cordell STAFF WRITER
DATE: 04-09-1992
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
EDITION:
SECTION: Newspapers_&_Newswires
PAGE: H/15

Just back from a business trip to France, Clifford Sears was jogging along the Chattahoochee River on Sunday when he saw 100 fellow residents of Huntcliff subdivision wending their way into thick woods and scampering up steep ravines.

The Cincinnati native said later that he had never been keen on Civil War history, but he became an instant buff after joining the enthusiastic band of hikers.

"I never knew there were actually rifle pits less than 100 yards from my house," said Mr. Sears, an international consultant on speechmaking.

Many others from the community of about 420 homes were equally surprised to learn how close they were living to traces of the torturous summer of 1864, when Northern and Southern forces clashed at the Chattahoochee.

Civil War expert Michael Hitt, a Roswell police officer, was literally bringing history to Huntcliff residents' back doors. Many in the group were familiar with his exhaustively researched map of battle sites along the river south of Roswell and his book, "Charged With Treason," about 400 Roswell mill workers shipped north by the invaders.

"We knew this area was heavy in history, but we didn't know it was this well-documented," Huntcliff resident Jerry Thompson said after the hike.

"We think there are breastworks in our yard," said Mr. Thompson's wife, Peggy, pointing to the location of their Huntcliff Trace home on the map, which was printed in December after eight years of research by Mr. Hitt and Chuck Brown of Norcross, an illustrator and participant in living history events.

It was the first time Mr. Hitt and Mr. Brown had presented an on-the- spot program to a community, and the capacity audience at Mr. Hitt's talk in the main room of the Huntcliff clubhouse before the hike ranged from schoolchildren to octogenarians.

A short stroll away on the riverbank, Mr. Hitt, in a federal officer's uniform, pointed with a sword to vestiges of the war days, like the chimney of the Kelpin home across the river and sites of vanished landmarks along the Hightower Trail.

Large homes built in the past 20 years dot the wooded hillsides overlooking Chattahoochee River Park and Azalea Drive, which was known as River Road in the 1860s.

"There's a tiny little island just downstream," Mr. Hitt said above the buzz of jet skis. When the Federals' XVI Army Corps of 10,066 men was crossing, the band set up on the island and played marches.

"There's a sketch in my book by an Ohio soldier from that side of the river looking this way. The terrain matches up perfectly" with the present, Mr. Hitt said.

As the group struggled up a hill between the river and Buckhorn and Huntcliff Lake cul-de-sacs, he explained: "A trench means a place where several soldiers get in line and shoot from behind it. A rifle pit was for from one to four or five. You can tell where a pit was. They're these depressions next to trees with the bright green moss around them. Moss covers the dirt that was dug out."

Nathan Reese, 10, found a leaf-filled pit a comfortable spot for a pause during the hike.

These pits, Mr. Hitt said, were occupied by the 53rd Alabama Cavalry and constituted the right flank of the Confederacy's river line.

When Gen. William T. Sherman's troops crossed the river, routing the enemy, the stage was set for Sherman's final push of the Atlanta campaign.

Stephen Schmeiser, president of the Huntcliff Home Association, said Mr. Hitt and Mr. Brown will be invited to repeat their program in the fall for residents who were away on spring-break trips Sunday.

A second map by Mr. Hitt and Mr. Brown, showing details of the town of Roswell's Civil War role, is due out in a few days. Like the first, it will be on sale at Bulloch Hall for $15.