March 7, 2013

Blackman honored for preserving Dalton’s history

Charles Oliver

— When William Blackman first moved to Dalton in 1974, one of the first people he met was D.R. Mahan, a family practice physician and Civil War enthusiast.

“He dropped Civil War bullets into my hand,” Blackman recalled. “He used to go out hunting relics with a metal detector, and he got me started doing it. It is absolutely enthralling to hold in your hands something that some soldier held 150 years ago, and it’s all around us.”

So Blackman said he was honored to be given the Dr. D.R. Mahan Historic Preservation Award for 2012 by the Civil War Roundtable of Dalton.

“I was humbled, and I was pleased that the roundtable has continued to honor and remember my friend with this award,” Blackman said.

Mahan, who passed away in 2004, was a long-time member of the roundtable and was the first recipient of the award.

“It’s given to someone who has made a contribution to the preservation of our local history or who has helped advance our knowledge of that history,” said President Bruce Ellis of the roundtable.

Mike White, the roundtable’s program director, said the award was given to Blackman for two particular achievements.

First, Blackman helped identify and get Whitfield County officials to retrieve three original Western & Atlantic railroad rails that had lain in Swamp Creek near Tilton for some 150 years.

“They had been pulled up, probably by (Union Gen. William T. Sherman), and heated up and folded so they couldn’t be used,” White said.

The rails are now on display at the freight depot in downtown Dalton and at the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center.

Second, as chairman of the Whitfield County Historic Preservation Commission, Blackman has led efforts by the county to acquire 15 acres on the top of Blue Mountain.

“That was a piece of land that Sherman had an observation tower on to view Mill Creek Gap as he was beginning the campaign that became the campaign for Atlanta in 1864,” Blackman said.

Blackman, an ophthalmologist, grew up in Louisiana hearing his grandmother’s stories of the Civil War.

“I had four great-grandfathers who fought on the Confederate side,” he said.

But he admits his real interest in the war didn’t begin until he moved to Dalton and met Mahan.

He recalls finishing up his residency in New Orleans and telling one of his fellow doctors he would be moving to Dalton.

“He said, ‘I know where that is. That’s where Joseph E. Johnston spent the winter of 1863 and 1864,’” Blackman recalled. “I said, ‘Who?’”

Since then Blackman has delved deeply into Civil War history, especially the history involving Dalton. He has found or acquired numerous artifacts, including two swords and a rifle manufactured at the Tilton Armory, which made weapons for the Confederate army.

But he says that possibly his most interesting artifact is a Confederate flag captured by Union forces at the Battle of Ezra Church in Fulton County.

“It’s our heritage, and I think it is important to preserve it,” Blackman said.