DALTON, Ga. - Almost 150 years ago, a line of earthen breastworks and a four-gun Confederate battery on Mount Rachel served a dual purpose - as the northern defense against Gen. William T. Sherman's crushing march to Atlanta and a protection for the railroads in downtown Dalton that were crucial to supplying Georgia's Confederate army.
With the planned construction of five miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails on Mount Rachel, that part of Dalton's Civil War history will be accessible to the public for the first time.
"The earthworks remain almost entirely intact," said Dalton historian and attorney Robert Jenkins. "They are easier to get to than some other sites and are easily accessible to tourists and residents in the downtown area."
Last week, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources awarded Dalton a $100,000 grant to build the trails as part of $2.1 million in Recreational Trails Program grants to 25 government agencies. The city will provide a 20 percent match to complete the project, located about a mile north of downtown.
Work will start as soon as possible, City Manager Ty Ross said. Shaw Industries owns most of the land and will work with the city to provide access, he said.
An archaeologist must evaluate the site and provide a plan to preserve the historical aspects of the area. After that is completed, environmental experts and volunteers will work together to engineer and build the trails.
"We want the proper balance of preservation and protection and accessibility to educate people about the area," Ross said. "We have lots of trail enthusiasts in this area who are champing at the bit to get started."
Jenkins, who serves on Whitfield County's Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, said the earthworks are part of a fishhook-shaped defense the Confederate Army built in the winter of 1863 and 1864 after falling back from Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain.
"Whitfield County has more undisturbed earthworks than any other county in the United States," Jenkins said. "It also has more Civil War battle sites than any other county in the state of Georgia."
In May 1864, 108,000 men from three Union armies and 45,000 Confederates fought numerous battles around Mount Rachel, Rocky Face, Crow Valley and Dug Gap, Jenkins said. The Confederate Army eventually realized Sherman had outflanked them, so they fell back and abandoned their trenches in Dalton.
"These were the first in the series of battles in the Atlanta campaign," Jenkins said.
Dalton leaders also have applied for a $1 million grant through the Georgia Department of Transportation that would be used to build a network of walking, biking and running trails, connecting the city's central business district to other areas north of town.
The city will find out if it will receive that grant before the end of April, Ross said.