July 29, 2013

Mark Millican: They gave their ‘last full measure’ here too

— It’s at the end of the road, a quiet place and graveyard solemn. It’s peaceful here, the silence broken only by intermittent birdsong and a crow cawing — and the dull roar of nearby I-75. If not for Dug Gap Mountain on the western side of the interstate, where a skirmish of the Civil War was contested at the ridgetop level on May 8, 1864, it’s likely the noise of traffic wouldn’t be echoing back this way.

The Confederate Cemetery at Resaca is a little-known gem except to Civil War buffs. It’s a leisurely road trip that can be complemented by a visit to the Dug Gap Battlefield site on the mountain above the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center, where the rock wall defenses built by Confederate troops still stand.

A week after that engagement between Federal troops and the Confederates who held the ridge line, the Battle of Resaca was waged. An old photo near the entrance to the cemetery, where around 400 Confederate soldiers are buried, shows trees shredded of their branches by the dense and fierce artillery shelling during the May 14-15 conflict.

Lumpy white clouds scudded effortlessly across a deep blue sky on a recent Saturday at the cemetery. White oak, tulip poplar and shagbark hickory stand guard as hardwood sentinels inside a low stone wall enclosing approximately two acres. A Confederate flag stands mast at the arched stone entrance, with the graves arranged in a circular fashion, spreading outward from a monument topped by a carved granite cross that reads, “To the Unknown Dead.”

A gurgling branch swollen with overnight rain bisects a quadrant of the funerary grounds. One area covered in green moss is like walking on plush carpet. Could it be where God treads in this sacred garden?

The numerous gravestones with “Unknown” carved in them also bear the names of just about all the Southern states whose sons died trying to stop Sherman’s March to the Sea. The Rebels flooded the gap where Highway 41 passes through Rocky Face, and with the bluecoats unable to advance over Dug Gap ridge, Sherman bypassed Dalton and met Gen. Joseph E. Johnston at Resaca as he was retreating toward Atlanta.

One headstone reads, “Sacrificed for our lost cause — erected by his brother.” A larger monument under the heading “Georgia Confederate Soldiers” says, “We sleep here in obedience to law; when duty called we came; when country called we died.” An epithet possibly written by a mother states, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” Another says in the quaint language of a more genteel time, “I now consign this sheaf of garnered grain to the pious workers in memorial fields.”

This reverent, out-of-the-way place in Resaca has the feel of many sites where men gave their lives for a cause. The hundreds of small marble headstones emplaced upon the soil bear mute testimony to another era when duty was more insistent — when duty meant breaking rocky soil for home and farm, when it meant keeping powder dry and musket balls handy not only for hunting food but in preparation for the perilous incident that could arise at a moment’s notice, whether from man or animal.

It’s as if one can sense the commitment, the passion, that burned bright here for a few hours almost 150 years ago. To these, duty was standing for homeland and family, and they fell in honor defending it. Most of these men never owned slaves, but died just south of Dalton where a Confederate general (Cleburne, who strategically held off the Federal advance at Ringgold) had the audacity to suggest slaves be freed to help defend the Southland.

Lincoln said at Gettysburg, in part:

“We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here. It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain.”

Both sides gave their last full measure at Resaca also.

Mark Millican is a former Daily Citizen staff writer.