When Bo DuBose was younger, he spent many a weekend following his father around Civil War battle sites in search of artifacts.
They were quite good at it, amassing what is believed to be the largest private collection of its kind, which includes more than 7,500 Union and Confederate objects. I have heard Bo talk about his impressive collection on several occasions, about spending holidays driving from historic site to historic site, his father studying Civil War military journals in search of arms caches with remarkable success. Their collection has been the backbone of the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead since it opened.
We’d all love to have Bo’s skill and good fortune hunting for artifacts, but most of us were equipped only with metal detectors and our imaginations. Our backyard off West Wesley Road in Buckhead yielded the occasional buried metal toy or coin, nothing of any historic significance. Our grandparents’ backyard on Brighton Road in Brookwood Hills was another story.
Perhaps my cousins and my brothers were aware, but I did know that land on which our grandparents Mary Adair and Buster Bird’s house sat was in close proximity to the first strike that began the Battle of Peachtree Creek.
Confederate soldiers had retreated past Peachtree Creek when the general of those armies, Joseph Johnson, was essentially fired for constantly — what else? — retreating. Union troops were marching south toward Atlanta, constantly trying to outflank the retreating rebels. The Confederate brain trust in Richmond wanted a change, assigning the more aggressive Gen. John Hood the task of defending the most important city in the South during the war.
The result was inevitable. On July 20, 1864, Hood tried to catch the Yankees crossing Peachtree Creek, unaware. An offensive that was supposed to begin at 1 p.m. didn’t get under way until closer to 4. Those three hours and miscommunications sent the soldiers into the teeth of an army that was prepared to defend itself. The battle raged on from Howell Mill to Brookwood Hills along present-day Collier Road. There was a lot of confusion, and huge losses on the Confederate side. There were some minor successes for the Rebels, but the Union lines essentially held and repelled the attack. Atlanta wouldn’t fall until Sept. 2, 1864, but the battle is seen as the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.
At the time of the battle, this area was to the north of the city and was densely forested. To see the photos from before and after is to get a sense of the devastating impact of the fighting and the artillery. Where there once were forest and trees, there was open landscape.
At our grandparents’ house, we dug small metal shards from the ground, and our grandfather would guess what they were — a piece of shell, a mini-ball, a piece from a broken gun. Our cousin, George Bird, still has one of the mini-balls he dug up in their back yard. We were looking for gold, for a chest full of ill-gotten money. The treasures were right there though, some 100 years after the historic battle.
Thornton Kennedy is a fifth-generation Buckhead resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.