Atlanta's Growth Imperils Civil War Battlefields Urban sprawl in Atlanta threatens some Civil War battlefields. As the city grows, historians fear irreplaceable parts of the nation's history will be lost to the real-estate market.
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Atlanta's Growth Imperils Civil War Battlefields

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Atlanta's Growth Imperils Civil War Battlefields

Atlanta's Growth Imperils Civil War Battlefields

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This day is Confederate Memorial Day in Georgia. It marks the end of fighting in the Civil War in that state 142 years ago, in 1865. Of course, the Civil War has factored in many battles since then, and now there's one more fight. The battlefields themselves are threatened by urban sprawl.

From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Susanna Capelouto reports.

SUSANNA CAPELOUTO: Dan Brown is in charge of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, near Atlanta. He leans over a map and points to spots just outside the 3,000 acres he controls.

Mr. DAN BROWN (Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park): This acreage right here directly across the street is now all condominiums. This 64 acres down here has now all been bulldozed and cleared. On this approximately 200 meters…

CAPELOUTO: The list goes on and on all around the park. Kennesaw Mountain is about 30 miles north of Atlanta. The once sleepy farmland is now prime suburban property. Just ask developer Larry Thompson. He stands on a fresh path of red clay that snakes through the woods of his newest project called Beauvoir.

Mr. LARRY THOMPSON (Land Developer, Atlanta): There'll be a hundred homes here, and they'll be in the $750,000 to $800,000 price range, and some even will go over a million dollars. It's very expensive real estate, and the mountain and the park is very good marketing so people pay the price for that kind of stuff.

CAPELOUTO: The upscale subdivision will border directly on beautiful, wooded national property. Thompson says the Park Service made sure the new homeowners will not be able to use the battlefield as a backyard.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yes, we agreed to build a fence down that property line. And the park wanted that to protect the artifacts. There were some cannon emplacements just on the side of that hill right there.

CAPELOUTO: The cannons were part of the Battle of Kennesaw in 1864, 3,800 soldiers from both sides died there. It was the last Confederate victory before Sherman burned Atlanta. History buff Fred Bentley, Sr., says there were at least four other battle lines in Cobb County, where many more soldiers lost their lives.

Mr. FRED BENTLEY (Historian): General Leonidas Polk, he was killed in my front yard.

CAPELOUTO: Bentley owns the top of Cobb County's Pine Mountain, where Confederate soldiers dug out earth mounds to hide their artillery. Today, a 15-foot obelisk commemorates General Polk's death. Right behind it, remnants of the earths mounds rise up about five feet. Bentley has vowed never to turn over his land to developers, much to the delight of Charlie Crawford.

Crawford is president of the Georgia Civil War Battlefield Association. He loves the feeling of standing in the trenches of Bentley's front yard.

Mr. CHARLIE CRAWFORD (President, Georgia Civil War Battlefield Association): You see where the artillery position was. You see where General Polk was standing. You see where the federal lines would be. You get a perspective. So your understanding of it is much better for having been here.

CAPELOUTO: I can't see how you can hide behind here.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Well, yeah.

CAPELOUTO: And not get shot.

Mr. CRAWFORD: Imagine when it was full height, you would be the more protected. So if this is gone, how do people come and understand?

CAPELOUTO: Crawford attends county zoning meetings and challenges developers. His group has had limited success, saving snippets of Civil War trenches here and there. One such trench is in the Barrett Green subdivision, oddly preserved on an empty lot at the end of a cul-de-sac.

Mr. CRAWFORD: This is a portion of the Lost Mountain-Brushy Mountain line that was held by General Ector's brigade. And so we call this the Ector Trench. The fact is, on the way in here you might have noticed almost every street is named Ector something, Ector Point, Ector Chase, Ector Drive, Ector Lane.

CAPELOUTO: Crawford's group was successful in adding what's left of these trenches to this year's list of most endangered battlefields, published by the National Civil War Preservation Trust. With Metro Atlanta now at five million residents and growing, those who care deeply about the remnants of the Civil War may soon become rebels with a lost cause.

For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto in Atlanta.

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