Time and time again we see large Atlanta organizations go silent on properties with historical significance they obtain. My guess is fear of internal plans being interrupted by public outcry is most likely to blame. But that’s just a guess.
History repeats itself. We are seeing it again with the treatment of Fort X, aka Fort Hood. The Georgia Institute of Technology obtained the property at 793 Marietta Street in 2012, and repeated requests to Georgia Tech’s public relations team have failed to reveal the plans for the former site of this Confederate fort (it sucks being ignored by three people).
Today Fort X on Marietta Street is more approachable than it was for most of its recorded history. During the Civil War it was one of the 36 major forts that defended the city of Atlanta from General William Tecumseh Sherman.
And until late 2012, when Georgia Tech obtained the grounds, the site of Fort X offered a guarded Loomis/Wells Fargo facility, complete with armed sentries and video surveillance all surrounded by a seven foot security fence with barbed wire.
Georgia Tech is a much more friendlier occupant than the desperate troops and armed Loomis guards that haunt its past – today the only thing that prevents visitors from approaching the former grounds of Fort X is the security fence (GT has removed the barbed wire).
But Tech’s recent treatment of the Crum & Forster Building shows they can demolish parts of a structure with historical significance while ignoring outside input. So what are the institute’s plans for this piece of Atlanta history? And what exactly is that history?
According to Dr. Larry Krumenaker, author of Walking the Line, a book about the forts, Fort X was named Fort Hood by its Confederate defenders and was built by late July of 1864 (the marker at the site indicates July 23rd, 1864). Krumenaker indicates it was not part of the original plan to defend the city drawn up by Lemuel P. Grant, rather conceived as Union forces marched across Georgia (after the war L.P. Grant would give the land that would become Grant Park to the city).
Grant’s original defenses called for a series of linked forts surrounding the entire city, each roughly a mile from the city center. But Federal forces had cannons that could reach further than prepared, and Confederate engineers realized these Federal guns could be placed northwest of the city. So the defenses in that area (which is now Midtown, Howell Mill Road, Georgia Tech, Marietta Street, etc.) were extended further out.
At some point in the spring of 1864 the Confederates added Forts W, X, Y and Z to their defenses of Atlanta. Most of these forts were placed in isolated spots with no connections, but Fort X and Fort Y were connected by many small emplacements with cannons… mini-forts, you could call them. So rather than just the typical defensive fort or battery, Fort X served a reinforcement purpose.
If we look the following map of Atlanta in 1864 drawn by Robert Knox Sneden it shows a battery in the area of Fort X with four guns, and three other redoubts extending to the east protecting a creek or river with six, six and three more guns respectively. It was a dangerous area.
And the additions of these “outer branch” forts turned out to be a good idea, even though they were not fully effective. Federal forces accumulated out near Howell Mill Road, and while they never broke through the Rebel defenses, they were able to bomb the city of Atlanta from this area (think about that while sipping espressos at Octane).
Most of the forts that defended Atlanta during the Sherman invasion had between three and six cannons. “The forts were placed on a hill,” said Dr. Krumenaker, commenting on the structures that defended the city. “The walls were made from earthen banks reinforced with trees, lumber, timber… to create a fort it took a lot of digging and building, with trenches, chevaux de frise, branches and debris placed in front.”
But did Fort X see any action?
“Yes, because Federal troops were at Howell Mill Road, it was hit by cannonballs all of the time,” shared Krumenaker. “There were no attempts to scale Fort X as far as I could determine. None of the forts that defended Atlanta were ever broken.”
The marker on the building indicates Fort X was the most formidable of the forts that surrounded Atlanta, with “huge earthen banks” with “a trench in front”. It was built by Georgia state troops and Confederate regulars – the fort was reinforced using timbers taken from homes in the immediate area.
Federal guns were placed at 8th and Howell Mill Road, and Fort X faced daily bombardment from them. The plaque at the site of Fort X indicates 20 Atlanta civilians lost their lives due to errant cannonballs and other pieces of ammunition fired at the fort that missed.
As mentioned above, it was named Fort Hood by the Confederate troops that originally called it home. Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood had replaced Gen.Joseph E. Johnston as leader of Confederate forces in Atlanta after the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in July of 1864.
It was Hood who would lead the defense of Atlanta over the summer of 1864, and it was Hood who eventually led the retreat out of Atlanta on September 1st, 1864.
The next day on September 2nd, 1864, Atlanta Mayor James Calhoun, along with several pro-Union citizens, passed Fort Hood along Marietta Street on their way to surrender to Union forces, who they heard were near the Howell Mill and Marietta intersection. They were stopped by soldiers serving under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum at the what is now the intersection of Northside and Marietta, and they immediately surrendered the city of Atlanta to the North.
A historical marker at the intersection right across the street from Delia’s Chicken Stand marks the spot of the surrender. Gen. Sherman himself would be in Atlanta by September 7th, where he would stay until mid-November, when he started his vaunted “Sherman’s March to the Sea.”
During that time much of the defenses, redoubts and forts that surrounded the city were documented by Union Captain Orlando Poe, an engineer that was basically the Union’s opposite to Atlanta’s L.P. Grant.
Dr. Krumenaker indicates after the surrender many of the forts remained in place, with Federal forces occupying the original inner branch and their own forts. While the city was mostly evacuated, there were probably between 50 to 100 people left. Three weeks later people started their return to the city.
According to Krumenaker, by Christmas of 1864 Union forces started to dismantle the forts that surrounded Atlanta. Hood’s army was eventually obliterated in Tennessee. Gen. Lee would surrender at Appomattox in April of 1865, and the war would come to an end.
So what happened to the Atlanta Confederate forts? After the war many were just large hills. Starting in the 1930’s urban sprawl began destroying many of them – after World War II they started to really disappear. Some of them are now under highway ramps, destroyed by buildings and other structures.
Two of the best remaining examples can be found in Renaissance Park and Grant Park. Are you interested in visiting them? Dr. Krumenaker’s book, Walking the Line, recounts his attempt to locate each of the 36 forts by foot (and bicycle); learn about Walking the Line here.
Surprisingly, the strategic location and defensive features of Fort X can still be seen if viewed from behind the building from Tech Parkway. The old trench and the fort walls create a ridge that runs between Tech Parkway and Marietta Street, overlooking the campus of Georgia Tech.
Speaking of the school, they now own the grounds, but what are their plans? Sources from inside Georgia Tech indicate the building will be renovated and the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering will be relocated to this property. The building on the grounds lacks any historic attributes (it appears to have been built in the 1970’s or 80’s), but the land is a different story.
Are there archaeology opportunities at the site? Are there remains of the fort or other structures? And Civil & Environmental Engineering? Geez, the School of History, Technology & Society would be more appropriate… Right?
Several emails and phone calls to Georgia Tech officials have not been returned. It’s in a location where coffee shops, start-ups, and technology companies abound, such as MailChimp., so it’s a bustling area of the city. You would imagine Tech would be a bit more transparent in their plans. But then I remember history repeats itself.
We will add updates to this story as they come in.