This 2,884-acre park, run by the National Park Service, was established in 1917 on the site of a crucial Civil War battle in the Atlanta campaign of 1864. Some two million visitors come annually to explore the Confederate entrenchments and earthworks, some of them equipped with actual Civil War artillery.
The action began in June 1864. A month earlier, General Ulysses S. Grant had ordered Sherman to attack the Confederate army in Georgia, telling him to "break it up, and go into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can upon their war resources." In response to this order, Sherman's army, 100,000 strong, pushed back Confederate forces composed of General Joseph E. Johnston's 65,000 men. By June 19, Union troops had driven Johnston's men back to a well-prepared defensive position on Kennesaw Mountain. Southern engineers had built a line of entrenchments in its rocky slopes, allowing the Confederates to cover every approach with rifle or cannon. An Ohio officer later commented that if the mountain had been constructed for the sole purpose of repelling an invading army, "it could not have been better made or placed."
On June 27, following a few weeks of skirmishing, Sherman, underestimating the strength and still-feisty morale of the rebels, attempted to break through Confederate lines and annihilate the troops in a grand no-holds-barred assault from two directions. Confederate General Samuel French described the onset of the attack: "As if by magic, there sprang from the earth a host of men, and in one long, waving line of blue the infantry advanced and the battle of Kennesaw Mountain began." Weeks of torrential rain had turned these battlegrounds into muddy mire, adding significantly to the misery on both sides.
Sherman's men were repelled by massive bursts of firepower and huge rocks that the Confederates rolled down the mountain at them. Union casualties far outnumbered Confederate losses in this first attack. Meanwhile, 8,000 Union infantrymen in five brigades attacked from another angle; in this battle, the Union lost 3,000 men, the Confederates 500, resulting in a tremendous Confederate victory on these grounds.
Allow at least 2 hours for exploring. Start your tour at the visitor center, where you can pick up a map, watch a 20-minute film about the battle, and view exhibits of Civil War artifacts, medicine, and memorabilia. On weekdays, you can drive or hike up the mountain to see the actual Confederate entrenchments and earthworks. On weekends, it may be too crowded to drive, but you can take a shuttle bus for a nominal fee or you can hike (the steep trail is about 2 miles round-trip, so wear comfortable shoes). You'll find interpretive signs at key spots and, on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day through Labor Day, interpretive programs give further information about the battle. You'll also want to drive to Cheatham Hill, site of some of the fiercest fighting. There are 16 miles of hiking trails for those who want a more extensive tour (trail maps are available at the visitor center), and picnicking is permitted in designated areas, some of which boast barbecue grills. The scenery is gorgeous, so even if Civil War battles are not your thing (that is, if you're reluctantly accompanying an enthusiastic spouse or friend), you'll find some beautiful hiking or driving.