History Lives in the American South East

By Conry, Jaci | American Heritage, April-May 2004 | Go to article overview
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History Lives in the American South East

Conry, Jaci, American Heritage

This spring, take a journey through the history of America's Southeast. Against a backdrop of rugged natural beauty, you'll encounter diverse cultural landmarks that have shaped this nation. Across these states, you'll hear stories about spies and Civil War struggles. You'll see Colonial settlements, re-created Indian reservations and battlefields from the American Revolution. You'll come upon the nation's premier railroad cars and majestic plantations that withstood the ravages of war. In some places along this trek, the centuries-old streets still echo with the hymns of the earliest African-Americans, and if you listen carefully, you're likely to catch the sweet sound of an Appalachian folk song.


Evidence of the many Native American tribes that settled in Georgia can be found at the Etowah indian Mounds Historic Site in Cartersville. Here are six earthen mounds--the largest covers three acres--on which leaders' temples once stood, as well as a plaza, village area and defensive ditch. In 1825, the Cherokee legislature established a national capital called New Echota. Today, the New Echota Cherokee Capital State Historic Site in Calhoun offers tours of the original Cherokee capital, including the supreme courthouse, council house, missionary home and print shop for the bilingual Cherokee Phoenix.

Georgia has an abundance of Civil War history, which was made famous by Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone With the Wind. The Blue & Gray Museum in Fitzgerald features a rare collection of Civil War battle relics and the "Roll Call of the States" that is a mecca for both Union and Confederate descendants across the nation. The Andersonville Civil War Village, once the arrival point for Andersonville Prison's Union inmates, features a collection of Civil War uniforms, artifacts and a working pioneer farm. The Smithsonian-affiliated Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History demonstrates the locomotive's impact on history and includes the famous Civil War-era locomotive The General.

During the racially turbulent 1960s, Atlanta became the scene of a thriving black middle class. At the King Center, visitors may pay homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through unique exhibits illustrating his life and teachings. It's also possible to tour Dr. King's birthplace and final resting place, as well as the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he was baptized and later served as co-pastor.


The slavery question that tore at the fabric of the nation left the Commonwealth of Virginia equally divided. One of the most incendiary events connected with the slavery issue took place on what is now West Virginia soil, with the seizure of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859 by the fiery abolitionist John Brown. Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times during the war, eventually becoming the base of operations for Union invasions into the Shenandoah Valley. Stonewall Jackson achieved his most brilliant victory here in September 1862, when he captured 12,500 Union soldiers. Today, through a living history program, members of military and civilian history groups depict life in Harpers Ferry during the mid-19th century.

Along the Civil War Trail, other sites from that harrowing period are represented, such as Camp Allegheny, established by Confederate forces in the summer of 1861 to control the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. The camp, at 4,400 feet above sea level, was one of the highest of the Civil War. Also on the trail is the Lewisburg National Register Historic District, site of a Civil War battle that occurred on May 23, 1862, when Union forces attempted to gain control of the B&O Railroad. In town, there is a Confederate cemetery, a library with Confederate graffiti on the walls, a church with cannon ball holes and another church, which served as a confederate morgue. The former home of Belle Boyd, West Virginia's best-known Civil War spy, is another stop on the trail.

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History Lives in the American South East


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