Atlanta Group Aims To Restore, Not Remove Civil War Cannons | WABE 90.1 FM

Atlanta Group Aims To Restore, Not Remove Civil War Cannons

May 1, 2017

These days, East Atlanta is a diverse, urban neighborhood with bars and music venues.

But once it was a battlefield. Two cannons, a mile apart, still point up to the sky as reminders.

Like us on Facebook

Henry Bryant examined the cannon near his house. It stands on a landscaped island in the middle of a residential street.

“It really hasn’t had much done to it," Bryant said, "since 1877 is when this monument got here.”

He said federal soldiers placed the cannon at what became McPherson Ave. and Monument Ave. to mark the spot where Union General James McPherson was killed in the Battle of Atlanta.

It hasn’t aged well.

“If you get up close on it, you can see the rust and the corrosion on it,” he said.

That’s the result of about 140 years of rain.

Bryant said that the other cannon, while installed in 1902, is also in bad shape.

It’s farther east where a Confederate general, William Walker, died in the same battle. The spot, along Glenwood Ave., is now a busy intersection with an Interstate ramp and a Texaco station.

“And that monument has actually been struck numerous times by automobiles,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s goal is to get these issues repaired.

He’s the chairman of the Battle of Atlanta Commemoration Organization, which teaches about the Civil War history in East Atlanta. The neighborhood group is trying to fund a big overhaul of both cannons, Union and Confederate.

“We want something that the city can be proud of and not have something that looks shabby,” Bryant said.

The two cannons around East Atlanta are in bad shape. The monument for Confederate General William Walker stands at a busy intersection.
Credit Stephannie Stokes / WABE

The effort comes as Civil War symbols have been a charged topic nationally.

Last week, New Orleans began removing its Confederate memorials in the middle of the night, after construction workers allegedly faced death threats.

In East Atlanta, the renovation plan isn’t provoking many strong reactions.

A lot of people, including Lenora Scott, one of the neighborhood's longtime black residents, see the cannons as part of the neighborhood. Years ago, she decided to take care of the grounds around McPherson’s Union cannon after noticing the city wasn’t.

“I kept looking, watching it, seeing it growing up,” Scott said. “And so one day I just took it on my own, just started doing it.”

She planted flowers and put down stepping stones, even though she didn’t know much about the man the cannon was memorializing at the time.

“Not really,” Scott said. “But I had heard about Sherman burning the city of Atlanta down and all that.”

Scott said she doesn’t get worked up over discussions about the Civil War. She is mainly interested in improving her street.

Lewis Cartee, East Atlanta Community Association president, said that’s a big reason why the cannons’ restoration has support in East Atlanta.

“They’re here. The monuments are here, and why not make them look better?” Cartee said.

The neighborhood also has recognized the two generals before.

The association put the men’s faces on T-shirts that read “Hipster since 1864,” the date of the Battle of Atlanta. The generals had thick beards – a stereotype of hipsters, Cartee said.

Despite the memorials’ long history in East Atlanta, the cannons do make some people uneasy.

Jen Sarafin, a young white woman originally from Wisconsin, was walking near the McPherson cannon with her husband and 18-month-old son.

“We’ve been here I think about four years now,” Sarafin said. “It’s just a really nice neighborhood. So I love it.”

Sarafin said East Atlanta has a lot of historical signs that tell about events in the Battle of Atlanta and appreciates those more than a monument.

A t-shirt designed by the East Atlanta Community Association featured General Walker and General Sherman.
Credit Courtesy of Lewis Cartee

“The monument itself feels a little bit weirder,” she said. “It feels less neutral, in a way. The signs feel fairly neutral. And the monument feels a little bit more one side or the other.”

She said she’s not that comfortable with the Confederate side.

Military historian Gordon Jones of the Atlanta History Center pointed out that the two cannons are less like courthouse monuments than like markers on a battlefield similar to the ones at Gettysburg.

It’s just that this battlefield became an urban neighborhood.

One of the surprising aspects of the two cannons, according to Jones, is that there is a monument for McPherson. You wouldn’t expect to see a memorial for a Union general in a Southern city, he said.

“To me, the fact of having these two markers, one Union and one Confederate, is really unique to Atlanta,” Jones said.

So far, the Battle of Atlanta group has raised about $150,000 of the $200,000 needed for the cannon renovations.

The funding comes from a variety of donors, including the sons and daughters of Confederate veterans and the sons and daughters of Union veterans. 

Bryant said his group won’t consider restoring one monument and not the other because it’s important to tell the full history of the Battle of Atlanta.

“What I like to say is it took two sides to fight that war,” he said. “You can’t do just the Confederate side and you can’t do just the Union side. You have to do both sides.”