Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

William Sherman’s advance across a broad front through Georgia was a strategy borrowed from Napoleon.  I don’t understand why Napoleon is considered a great general–he lost 3 entire armies.  He lost an army to the plague in Egypt, wasted another army while campaigning during a Russian winter, then was finally outmaneuvered at Waterloo.  Nevertheless, Napoleon’s strategy was effective against outnumbered troops, and Sherman had 100,000 troops vs. 65,000 Confederates on this front.  If the rebels made a stand, the numerically superior Union forces merely had to outflank their line, threatening to surround them.  The Confederate forces were continuously forced to retreat to avoid encirclement, a scenario that would have led to the surrender of the entire army group.  Joe Johnston, the Confederate general, had no choice but to form a defensive position on Kennesaw Mountain during June of 1864, even though he was aware of Sherman’s strategy.  He did send a force to outflank Sherman’s flanking maneuver, but it ran into a fixed Union position, and the Confederates lost 1000 men.

Sherman decided to take a chance at Kennesaw Mountain and ordered the only frontal attack of his campaign through Georgia.  He believed it was worth the risk because a) a change in tactics from flanking maneuvers to a frontal assault could surprise the Confederates, b) by pressing the Confederates he could prevent them from dispatching troops to the Virginia front where Grant was struggling to defeat Lee, and c) a breakthrough at Kennesaw Mountain would split the Confederate forces in half and lead to the immediate capture of their supply depot.  However, the 2 pronged attack by 3 divisions of U.S. federal troops failed with a loss of 2500 men.  The Confederates lost 800, mostly to artillery bombardment.  Sherman wisely rejected his subordinate officer’s plans to renew the frontal assault.  Instead, he resumed his flanking actions forcing the Confederates to retreat to the Chattahoochee River on July 2nd.  Jefferson Davis unfairly fired Joe Johnston soon after this battle.  He was replaced by the inferior reckless Hood who also could not stop the inevitable Union advance.


View of metro Atlanta from the top of Kennesaw Mountain.


Confederate cannon.  There was a hell of an artillery duel at Kennesaw Mountain.


Path to the top of Kennesaw Mountain.  The park also protects an oak/hickory forest that is much like the original environment here.


View of Little Kennesaw Mountain from the main Kennesaw Mountain.  The Confederates cut a path through the woods and hoisted artillery to the top of this mountain, using rope.

Though I’m interested in military history, I really visited Kennesaw Mountain to enjoy the natural history of the park.  Kennesaw Mountain is a rare natural area located within the sprawl of metro Atlanta.  Almost 3000 acres of protected forest, field, and wetland are surrounded by heavily wooded suburbs, providing habitat for 538 species of plants and 175 species of birds.  There are 3 types of forest land in the park–oak/hickory, rocky slopes, and rocky outcrops.  The oak/hickory forests are dominated by white oak, southern red oak, mountain chestnut oak, and post oak, along with 3 species of hickories.  Beech, sweetgum, and tulip trees are also present.  The shrub layer consists of dogwood, hackberry, beauty berry, holly, black cherry, blueberry, honeysuckle, and several other species.  Trees and shrubs found on rocky slopes include hickory, American plum, blackjack oak chestnut oak, blackberry, blueberry, and others.  Shortleaf pine, American plum, blackjack oak, chestnut oak, elm, blackberry, and blueberry grow around rocky outcrops.  Wetlands within the park host buttonbush, grass, sedge, rushes, cattails, and arrowleaf.  There are also a few swamps where red maple, buttonbush, basswood, dogwood, tupelo, willow, and ferns grow.

I was excited to see a chipmunk (Tamias striatus) in Kennesaw Park.  Chipmunks don’t live in my hometown of Augusta, just 180 miles southeast of this locality.  Kennesaw Mountain provides ideal habitat for chipmunks, and I predicted I might see 1 here.  Chipmunks like to live in crevices under boulders and rock piles.  Rocky forest lands, their favored habitat, cover most of the mountain.


The chipmunk I saw at Kennesaw Mountain scurried away too quickly for me to photograph it, but I did see several playing around this pile of old wood in my mother-in-law’s backyard the following day.  She lives in Lafayette and has a view of Pigeon Mountain from her backyard.  Click on the picture to enlarge, and 2 sitting together can be seen.

Due to the elevation Kennesaw Mountain was likely the 1st locality to host spruce trees at this latitude during the Ice Ages.  Following the end of Ice Ages, this locality was probably the last at this latitude where spruce trees grew more abundantly than oaks and hickories.


Note all the granite and granitic gneiss.  It is resistant to erosion.  Kennesaw Mountain is composed of this granite, explaining why it hasn’t eroded like the surrounding region.


Lichen-covered granite boulder.

Kennesaw Mountain is a monadnock–an isolated erosional remnant standing 700 feet above the surrounding terrain.  It is 1808 feet above sea level. The granite and granitic gneiss that compose the mountain are resistant to erosion.  Granite is common in the Atlanta area, but much of it is fractured.  Kennesaw Mountain and Stone Mountain are solid and less fractured and therefore stand by themselves.  The mountain consists of a  mixture of igneous and metamorphic rocks.  Some was directly spewed by volcanic action, while others were transformed deep under the earth and uplifted.  Gray migmatite is a common mineral found here.  It has alternating light and dark bands.  The light bands are composed of quartz and feldspar, while the dark bands are made of bratite and hornblende.


Gore, Pamela; and William Witherspoon

Roadside Geology of Georgia

Mountain Press Publishing 2013

Hart, Liddell

Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American

De Capo Press 1993

Zomlefer, Wendy; David Giannasi, and S. Lee Echols

“Vascular Plant Flora of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Cobb County, Georgia”

Southeastern Naturalist 9 (1) 2010




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