Recently, while touring historic Jonesboro in Georgia, we visited a Confederate Soldiers Cemetery. This cemetery contains the bodies of several hundred soldiers who fell in the Battle of Jonesboro. Far outnumbered by Federal forces. these brave soldiers died trying to protect the last of the rail lines supplying Atlanta. And although it was a small battle when compared to some, it was pivotal because when Jonesboro fell, Atlanta’s last lifeline was severed and the city forced to surrender. Only then could General Sherman begin his march across Georgia from Atlanta to the sea (Savannah).
When the Union soldiers died, their bodies were removed from the battlefield and taken for burial in a Federal cemetery. The Confederate soldiers were buried where they fell. In 1872 it was decided that the soldiers be exhumed and reburied in the Patrick Cleburne Memorial Cemetery. Patrick Cleburne , an Irish American, fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. His strategic use of terrain and his ability to hold ground when others failed , earned him the nickname “Stonewall of the West” He commanded Hardee”s Corps in the Battle of Jonesboro. He was killed in 1864, in the Battle of Franklin. The headstones of the soldiers are laid out in the shape of the Confederate battle flag.The walkways form the X and the headstones fill the triangles. A large magnolia tree graces the cemetery with its shiny green leaves and white flowers. A footpath leads to an engraved memorial: TO THE HONORED MEMORY OF THE SEVERAL HUNDRED UNKNOWN SOLDIERS REPOSING WITHIN THIS ENCLOSURE WHO FELL AT THE BATTLE OF JONESBORO AUGUST 31-SEPTEMBER 1, 1864.
I often find visiting cemeteries to be a sobering experience, and even more so those of soldiers. so many of them young and idealistic,willing to give up their lives in service to their country. It begs the question, where does such patriotism come from? I don’t know, but it takes a person of courage and strength to make such a commitment. One thing I do know is that the leaders, both civilian and military, should think long and hard before putting the lives of their soldiers on the line because they are our future, the best of us.
I wonder how many families who lost soldiers in the Battle of Jonesboro wandered these paths, wondering if one of them held their son, or husband, or father. Since these soldiers are unidentified, their headstones are unmarked , their place in history carried only in the hearts of their descendants. Young Margaret Mitchell spent many a Sunday afternoon, sitting on the porch of these now historic houses, and listening to the stories told of the War Between the States and the Battle of Jonesboro. Years later they served as her inspiration for Gone With the Wind.
We came to Atlanta to follow the Gone With the Wind Trail, and we learned a lot about Margaret Mitchell, her epic novel and the inspirations she drew from people and homes in and around Jonesboro. But it was in Jonesboro that we found history, in the modest cemetery of their fallen soldiers.
Note: Quote on collage taken from the song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” by Pete Seeger
If you ar ever in the vicinity of Atlanta, make a stop at The Road to Tara Museum and sign up for the Gone With the Wind Tour. Ask for Jack.