Bike from Athens to Macon on the Antebellum Trail

Biking in Georgia

Savor spectacular scenery while biking the Antebellum Trail in Georgia.

One of Georgia’s newest bicycle trails travels through some of Georgia’s most historic communities on the Antebellum Trail. Cyclists can ride along sun-dappled country roads, past grand antebellum homes and quaint downtowns at just the right pace to take in the rich history of the old South. The Antebellum Trail Bicycle Route winds through seven historic communities that escaped Sherman’s march of fire and destruction through Georgia.

From Athens to Macon, the communities of Watkinsville, Madison, Eatonton, Milledgeville and Gray make up a collection of Georgia’s most beautiful towns and impressive architecture.

Fuel up for a long ride at Mama's Boy in Athens. Photo courtesy Mama's Boy, Facebook.

Fuel up for a long ride at Mama’s Boy in Athens. Photo courtesy Mama’s Boy, Facebook.

When exploring the Antebellum Trail by bicycle, you will experience an abundance of unique history, much tied to the American Civil War as well as Georgia’s Native American heritage. For fuel, finger-lickin’ good Southern cuisine just like Grandma made can be found in many locations along the path.

The cities of Athens and Macon, the largest along the route, anchor the trail at the north and south ends. In Athens, home of the University of Georgia, you will find one of the most vibrant biking, music and culinary destinations in the state. Bike lanes, wide shoulders, bike riders and considerate motorists are in abundance in the city limits. A stop at Mama’s Boy, outfitted with bike racks that cater to cyclists, is a must do for breakfast, brunch or lunch. Sit and stay to savor options from the “Southern fun” menu, such as chocolate cake for breakfast or Georgia peach French toast for lunch.

Traveling south, the next community on your way is the “Artland of Georgia,” Watkinsville. This friendly town has a thriving artists’ community known for its small-town charm. Make time to stop at The Eagle Tavern Museum, a stagecoach stop and tavern built in 1801.

Bike through beautiful Madison, Ga., on the Antebellum Trail.

Bike through beautiful Madison, Ga., on the Antebellum Trail.

As you continue to ride south, catch a glimpse of the Clydesdales running along the rolling countryside to Madison. A picturesque community and host to Bike Ride Across Georgia’s Spring Tune Up (April 15-17, 2016), this Southern gem survived General Sherman’s “March to the Sea” and is the second largest National Register Historic District in Georgia.

Carrying on over the scenic countryside, through a section of the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll arrive at the beautiful town center of Eatonton, the hometown of authors Joel Chandler Harris and Alice Walker. As you pass the residential district, featuring more than 100 antebellum and Victorian era structures, keep your eyes open as you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Sylvia the ghost at Panola Hall.

See the South on the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia

See the South on the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia

Now you are ready for the most challenging terrain leading in and out of Milledgeville, but it will be worth the sweat. The First Lady of Georgia, Milledgeville, was the Capital of Georgia during the Civil War. The town’s stately antebellum architecture, Civil War history, vibrant town center, nightlife, college culture and restaurants are welcome sights for cyclists. Park your bike at the Welcome Center and rest your legs as you hop aboard a guided trolley tour through town.

As you roll further south, follow the path of the Union soldiers during the March to the Sea down the streets of historic Old Clinton. You can tour the one-room school house museum and a Methodist cemetery, where many notable Georgians are buried. Gray, established in 1908 as the county seat of Jones, has antique and collectible shops, as well as local eating spots and a hotel. Enjoy the peaceful, easy feeling of these two countryside communities.

Sample soul food favorites at H&H in Macon.

Sample soul food favorites at H&H in Macon. Photo courtesy H&H, Facebook.

The southernmost point of the Antebellum Trail Bicycle Route concludes at the Visitors Center in Macon. Nearly 22 miles from Gray, Macon is known for its soulful music history and also offers opportunities to explore Native American, African American and Civil War heritages. Refuel at H&H Soul Food, an Allman Brothers Band favorite. They serve up plates of delicious smothered fried chicken; after all, you earned it.

The 170-mile Antebellum Trail Bicycle Route can be covered all at once or divided into shorter segments. Follow the 50-mile, three-day itinerary for the northern section of the trail, or the 130-mile, four-day itinerary for the southern section. More information on planning a bicycling tour of Georgia’s Antebellum Trail is available at www.bikeantebellum.com, including turn-by-turn directions from Georgia Bicycle Adventures.

Or drive the vehicle; we won’t tell anyone.

bonnie-webBonnie Simmons is the social media voice, website whiz and project coordinator for the Milledgeville-Baldwin CVB. Bonnie fell in love with the communities along Georgia’s Antebellum Trail while she attended Georgia College in Milledgeville and worked at the downtown staple establishment, The Brick. Now married and chasing a toddler, she appreciates the area’s family-friendly adventures, from walking at the Oconee River Greenway and touring the Uncle Remus Museum to attending all the local farmers markets.

An Antebellum Christmas in Milledgeville

Ever wonder how Georgians celebrated the holidays before and during the Civil War? Milledgeville, Ga., brings that world to life with the Old Governor’s Mansion. Make a weekend of it with a stay at the Antebellum Inn and dinner at a restaurant in an old bank building.

The Christmas tree in the rotunda of the Old Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville

The Christmas tree in the rotunda of the Old Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville.

Southern Holiday Traditions Tour at the Old Governor’s Mansion. Antebellum Christmas transforms the mansion into a Christmas wonderland. Take a step back in time and see how the elite of Georgia celebrated this holiday. Tours are held on the hour, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sundays from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. until Dec 23. Candlelight tours also take place December 17 at 6 and 7 p.m.

Three fun facts to get you excited about visiting:

  • The rotunda Christmas tree is decorated according to Charles Dickens’ short story “A Christmas Tree,” with 1,500 candles and 1,600 lights. Additionally, 2,800 crystal icicles and ornaments made from natural materials found in the yard or around the house deck the Tannenbaum.
  • Decorations throughout the home are made with large amounts of live greenery, fresh fruits and other materials that would have been available within the household or around the grounds. Fruits, including the newly introduced exotic pineapple, were used in the decorations show the wealth of the family.
  • The children’s room includes a gum drop tree and a traditional tree, but also a ribbon cob web. Usually on Christmas eve, the children and their parents would “web” the room with various colors of ribbon. On Christmas morning, the children would be assigned a color and follow the ribbon through the maze to find their presents left by Santa.
The Antebellum Inn in Milledgeville features period-style Christmas decorations

The Antebellum Inn in Milledgeville features period-style Christmas decorations.

Christmas at Antebellum Inn Bed & Breakfast. Christmas décor in the common area and elaborate outdoor decorations ring in the season. You’ll feel history come alive in the 1890 inn, featuring period-style rooms with Wi-Fi, luxurious linens and private baths. Breakfast includes farm-fresh eggs, bacon, sausage, jams and fruit. Don’t miss the famous raspberry French toast and homemade quiches, as well.

A romantic dinner at Aubri Lane's in Milledgeville

Reserve a table in the bank vault for a romantic dinner at Aubri Lane’s in Milledgeville.

Dine at Aubri Lane’s. Located in downtown Milledgeville, the family will enjoy a delicious contemporary Southern dinner in a truly unique setting. Aubri Lane’s sits inside what was once the 1884 Milledgeville Banking Company. It’s suitable for the entire family; don’t miss the crispy calamari, which was named by Explore Georgia as one of the 100 Plates Locals Love. If you happen to escape to Milledgeville for a date night, then be sure to make reservations for a private dinner inside the bank-vault-turned-wine-cellar.

LesliLesli is the Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

Civil War Wednesday: Gilgal Church

Confederate earthworks at the Gilgal Church site in Kennesaw, Georgia

Confederate earthworks at the Gilgal Church site in Kennesaw, Georgia. Photo by Michael Shaffer.

Major General Patrick Cleburne

Major General Patrick Cleburne. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Witnessing the death of Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk atop Pine Mountain on June 14, 1864, General Joseph E. Johnston ordered the removal of all troops from the exposed salient the following day. Establishing the Gilgal Church Line, a position the Confederates would hold for 48 hours, Major General Patrick Cleburne’s Division occupied the center of the line near the church. The troops worked quickly to tear away logs and other materials from the house of worship to use in fortifying their earthworks.

Attacking on June 15, the lead elements of the Federal XX Corps included Major General Daniel Butterfield’s Third Division: soldiers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The assailants struggled to dislodge Cleburne’s stubborn defense. A colonel from Indiana joining the advance noted his men faced “…a tremendous fire of artillery and musketry, coming from what proved to be the enemy’s great line of earthworks….”[1] Colonel Benjamin Harrison, a future U.S. president who led the 70th Indiana Infantry, numbered among the Northern soldiers engaged in the fighting.

Major General Daniel Butterfield

Major General Daniel Butterfield. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Realizing their inability to take Cleburne’s position, the Federals fell back. The following day, as fighting occurred near the church, Major General John Schofield moved to the right of Butterfield and managed to turn the Southern flank. He brought up his artillery and placed enfilading fire along the Confederate line. This made the position too hot to maintain and forced Johnston to retract his lines. Major General William Hardee’s Corps fell back to the Mud Creek Line for two days and then occupied the defenses along the Kennesaw Mountain Line. Of the fighting at Gilgal Church, one Federal soldier remembered, “I have visited the battle grounds of ‘Stone River’ and ‘Chicamauga’ [sic] neither of which exhibits near the ‘Scars of Battle’ as does the battle ground of ‘Golgotha.’[2] (Several period accounts contain references to Gilgal as Golgotha.)

Located on Kennesaw Due West Road in Kennesaw, the Gilgal Church site contains remains of original Confederate earthworks, with a rebuilt section of a defensive position. Entering and exiting the small parking section remains difficult, so use caution when visiting this Atlanta Campaign spot in Cobb County.

[1] U.S. Government, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, vol. 38, pt.2 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1985), 384.

[2] Charles Harding Cox, “Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Charles Harding Cox,” Indiana Magazine of History 68, no. 3 (September 1972): 204, accessed November 30, 2015, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/viewFile/9663/13038.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.

Exploring Georgia’s National Battlefields

Cannon at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

Cannon at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. Photo by Candy Cook.

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park preserves the history of the Civil War battles for Chickamauga & Chattanooga, as well as 12,000 years of Indian presence in the area. The park features a self-guided driving tour of the battlefield, archeaological sites, stunning monuments, and a variety of trails. In fact, there are more than 50 miles of trails designated for hiking or horseback riding throughout the park.

Exploring Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park by foot

Exploring Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park by foot. Photo by Candy Cook.

Exploring the park by foot is a great way to experience the open fields and shaded paths that lead to creek crossings, historical tablets, memorials and scenic vistas. The National Park Service leads guided interpreted hikes and offers informational resources for visitors to combine trails into fun learning experiences.

Trail to the top of Kennesaw Mountain

Trail to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. Photo by Candy Cook.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, not far from Atlanta, offers 18 miles of interpretive trails exploring various historical sites and natural features on nearly 3,000 acres. A 35-minute movie and expanded museum overview the military campaign, civilian life, and other aspects of the time. The trails at Kennesaw offer a variety of terrain from rolling hills to wooded climbs with boulders and rock outcroppings. Many trails intersect and are often combined by hikers customizing their experience. The mile-long Kennesaw Mountain Trail leads visitors to a distant view of Atlanta from the top of the mountain.

The view from Little Kennesaw Mountain

The view from Little Kennesaw Mountain. Photo by Candy Cook.

The hike is extended by continuing on the Little Kennesaw Mountain Trail, which leads to a lower elevation peak and enchanting rock gardens with large boulders.

candycookCandy is Georgia’s official Outdoor Explorer and the author of the blog “Happy Trails Wild Tales.” Click here for more Outdoor content from Candy.

Civil War Wednesday: Chattahoochee River Line

“No general, such as he, would invite battle with the Chattahoochee behind him.”[1] Or so Major General William T. Sherman believed when he wrote this dispatch on July 3, 1864. The officer Sherman referenced, General Joseph E. Johnston, had weeks earlier granted permission to begin construction of a defensive position along the Cobb County side of the Chattahoochee River. The Atlanta Campaign unfolded as a series of maneuvers, as Sherman’s armies continually tried to flank the left of the various Confederate positions. Johnston, outnumbered roughly two-to-one, continued to fall back ever closer to Atlanta, hoping he could eventually catch the Federal forces separated and defeat them before they could unite. Thus, before the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, the Southern officer already anticipated yet another retrograde movement.

Francis Shoup

Francis Shoup, Courtesy http://www.mkwe.com/ohio/pages/H019-09.htm

Johnston’s chief of artillery, Brigadier General Francis A. Shoup, approached the commander of the Army of Tennessee, around June 18, 1864, with a novel idea for a defensive line along the river. Johnston approved, requested a train up from Atlanta, and before nightfall of the same day, Shoup stood along the banks of the river surveying the task ahead. To hasten construction of the works, Shoup impressed around 1,000 enslaved persons to build the fortifications. He also canvased local hospitals and brought convalescing soldiers out to lend a hand. Work began, in earnest, and within a few days, strongholds – later named “Shoupades” – began to take shape.

Shoup crafted an original design, which called for the northern point to rest at a position above where the Western & Atlantic Railroad bridge crossed the river, then extending southward below Proctor’s Creek. Johnston, fearing yet another effort to turn his left flank – a valid concern, as Federal cavalry forces indeed neared the river – ordered the line extended below the Mayson-Turner Ferry. The extension resulted in the River Line stretching for six miles or so.

Shoup’s concept of self-supporting fire

Shoup’s concept of self-supporting fire, Courtesy William R. Scaife and William E. Erquitt, The Chattahoochee River Line: An American Maginot (Atlanta: William R. Scaife, 1992).

The forts, built aboveground – per Shoup’s instructions – should rest between 60 and 175 yards apart, so they could preserve the capacity to cross-support, if the position come under attack. Shoup ran what he called palisades, at angles back from each fortification. The palisades met at, in Shoup’s terms, a reentrant position, where he placed artillery pieces, one gun facing to the left, the other to the right. If the Federals charged the line, the cannon would open fire, at first with shell, and switch to canister if the advance continued. Those soldiers able to weather the artillery barrage, and boldly progress, would then face rifle fire from the Army of Tennessee troops in each Shoupade. Shoup designed each Shoupade to hold 80 men. Nearly half of them would stand on the banquet (a ledge running the sides of the fortification), and pour down fire, while the balance of the soldiers reloaded the rifles from the safety of the 12-foot-high walls.

Falling back through Marietta during the evening hours of July 2, the Confederates fought a delaying action on Independence Day along the Smyrna-Ruff’s Mill line. Under cover of darkness, on July 4, Johnston’s soldiers first occupied the various positions along the River Line. No dispatches had gone out to the corps commanders in the Army of Tennessee alerting the troops of the unique design awaiting them at the river. Some of the soldiers who had grown comfortable fighting behind more traditional earthworks – positions, which had saved their lives at Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, and other engagements – began tearing down portions of the line and using the material to build standard defensive positions. Others, notably Major General Patrick Cleburne, understood Shoup’s design, and began working to complete the yet unfinished parts of the line.

Seeing what stood between his armies and Atlanta, Sherman wired Washington on July 6, noting, “…I must study the case a little….”[2] Sherman did not want a repeat of Kennesaw Mountain, where he had attacked the Confederate forces along a strongly fortified position, so after consulting with his chief engineer, Captain Orlando Poe, the two decided to go around the River Line instead of launching a frontal assault. However, this time, instead of moving to their left, they flanked to the right. Portions of Major General John Schofield and Brigadier General Kenner Garrard’s forces crossed the Chattahoochee River on July 9 near Roswell. Holding a position, no longer tenable, Johnston ordered the Army of Tennessee across the river during the evening of July 9.

Shoup poured his heart and soul into the design and construction of the line, and carried a sadness over the evacuation with him for the balance of his life. “I could not then, and I have never been able since, to see why the position should not have been held indefinitely,” he lamented.[3] Today, the River Line Historic Area works to preserve, protect, and interpret these remaining portions of the River Line. For more information, please visit www.riverline.org.

[1] U.S. Government, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, vol. 38, pt.5, 30.

[2] O.R., vol. 38, pt.4, 433.

[3] Shoup, Francis. ‘Dalton Campaign – Works at Chattahoochee River – Interesting History’. Confederate Veteran III, no. 9 (September 1895).

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.