|An 1864 illustration of Confederate dead inside their entrenchments at Resaca, Ga. (Library of Congress)|
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series of stories later published in The Times and other U.S. newspapers. Nearly two decades after the end of the war, the gifted writer often found evidence of combat in plain sight -- in farm fields, in woods and elsewhere.
At Resaca, a local man told Morgan of finding 10,000 pounds of lead and iron on the battlefield since 1864. Years before the reporter's visit, the man said he made a shocking discovery: six skulls arranged in a row in the remains of Union breastworks.
"Plentiful Reminders of a Sharp Struggle," a headline read above Morgan's Page 1 Resaca story published in The Times on Sept. 25, 1882. Here's the full account of his visit to the battleground where Sherman's armies slugged it out with Joseph Johnston's Army of Tennessee from May 13-15, 1864:
Special Correspondence of The Times
RESACA, Ga., September 21
I found all Resaca playing checkers. When the Chattanooga express, dropping its only passenger for this point as though I were a mail-pouch instead of a bag of bones, had shrieked on and away across the Oostanaula river, I confess that the small boy's "I-want-to-go-home" feeling crept over me. What I saw upon looking around were four rows of small frame houses, forming a sort of square, a dozen villagers seated on a store porch drawing excitement from the aforesaid game, and the upper red rim of the sun fast sinking beyond tree-tops in the west. At this first sight Resaca, named from General Zach Taylor's battle-ground of Resaca de la Palma, "ravine of the palm," was a disappointment. I had expected from the name to find the town in a narrow valley, but there was no hint of a ravine anywhere in sight. Indeed, it occurred to the object of distress in a duster that he had mistaken the station, and he was gazing down the railroad with the idea of whistling to the vanishing train for heaven's sake to come back and pick him up when one of the checker-players advanced and took him hospitably in.
A place of many battle-scars
|The scarred landscape of Resaca, site of May 13-15 1864, battle. (Library of Congress)|
"Are you not afraid of soldiers' ghosts?" I asked a lad who was leading me into a dark cellar that he might indicate some of Sherman's relics there to be found.
"No, indeedy," replied the little shaver; "that's what I'm feared of, though!" and he introduced me to a ten-pound shell, which, having passed whirling and whizzing through the building, had imbedded itself in a sill, there to remain unexploded for eighteen years.
Forts that will outlive the builder
Veteran Joe Johnston, worn with the rubs of war and marked under the harness of many political heats, must end his campaigning soon in surrender to the grim fellow with the scythe, but the cover that he built for his army at this place bids fair to stick the century out in perfect form. When Storekeeper Brown, who became my guide, shut up shop and led me a few hundred paces westward to the southern end of the rebel line of works, I was surprised to see how well the fortifications are preserved. We were near the Oostanaula river, and it was our purpose to walk along the works more than three miles to the Conasauga. At the time of the battle Johnston's army was in the elbow made by the two rivers, which unite above Resaca, and Sherman was stretched across the country to the northwest. On some battle-fields it is hard to understand the positions of the opposing forces, but at this place the scratches upon old Mother Earth are too plain to let the visitor lose the trail. The reason for the good condition of the works may be found in the peculiarity of the soil, which is of yellowish slate. Bits of slate cover the sides of the mound, which runs waist-high on an average wherever it passes through timber.
A walk on the breastworks
|A war-time view of the Resaca battlefield. (Library of Congress)|
A bonanza left behind
'That," said the guide, in answer to the question, "is what we call Egyptian clover. We didn't have it before the war, and none of us ever saw it or heard of it until Sherman and Johnston came. The seed was left on the ground by the armies, and now we wouldn't take anything for it." The grass, which has a tiny leaf more like that of the native white than that of the red clover, grows all over the hillsides, at the edges of the woods, along the earthworks, and even forces its way into the tilled fields. In its growth it chokes out other herd grass and all weeds, though fortunately it may be killed itself by plowing, or there might be too much of the good thing. Horses and cattle get fat upon it, so that on the battle-field there is pasturage in places where before the fight nothing of value grew, This, truly, was an odd revelation --- that two opposing hosts, halting here, like beasts of the jungle, to snap up trees, to tear the ground, to burn and to slay, should leave behind not bones to bleach only, but seed wherefrom has sprung dainty carpets and soft borders of green that enrich the waste places.
Many signs of gallant work
|In a Theodore Davis sketch for Harper's Weekly, Federals charge at Resaca on May 14, 1864.|
An expert in bullet picking
Pieces of cartridge-boxes, rusty canteens, breast-plates and the what-not scattered in the onslaught were engaging my attention when a man came striding up through the underbrush. His home was a short way beyond, near where the Federal line had been.
"Picken 'em up like hickory nuts, are ye?" he said, pointing to a number of bullets in my hand. "No; I haven't found many."
"It's kase yo dunuo how to spy 'em out; there's one by yor toe an' there's another by that saplin'."
Sure enough, he was right, and after that I did not doubt his assertion that he had picked up ten thousand pounds of iron and lead on the battle-field since the fight. He brought up the rear as we walked along the earthworks, and it was amusing, until it grew monotonous, to hear him say every half minute "Here's another." Not the least grim of this entertaining native's stories was one to the effect that he got a shock several years ago at the sight of six skulls ranged in a row under the head- log of some Federal breastworks. These works are not nearly as numerous nor as well preserved as the rebel lines because Sherman, being the assailant, built few fortifications.
In this way Guide Brown showed me the whole line of defense until we came to the thick timber on the western bank of the Conasauga, where the works end. Having seen this line and having visited several points occupied by the Union troops, we found ourselves almost at the end of our Resaca rope. A ruined house or so, with chimneys standing in the midst of rank weeds, particularly fine patches of Egyptian clover, to which now clung romantic interest, and a few forgotten graves in the woods served to make the rest of the ramble interesting. Nor were those populous acres found at every place of combat left unvisited. The Federal dead of Resaca were moved to Marietta, but the Southerner who fell remains on the field. Many Georgians, Alabamians, Tennesseans and men from Mississippi rest in a cemetery near the village. Some of the graves have white headboards, while others are marked by iron plates shaped like scrolls. A marble monument is to be seen in one corner of the enclosure, while in the centre is a granite cross topped with cannon balls.
The game of strategists
|The Resaca antagonists: William Sherman and Joseph Johnston.|