They have been reduced to dirt mounds covered by ivy and weeds, but they are clearly man-made due to their distinct shape. Not that I had any clue what we were looking for when I set out with my son Thornton a few weekends ago.
All I had was a website about the River Line Historic Area, www.riverline.org, that my friend Arch Davis forwarded to me. The River Line Historic Area follows the defensive fortifications established during the War Between the States extending 6 miles along the west side of the Chattahoochee River from Vinings to Mableton.
There is no shortage of historic Civil War sights in Buckhead, but there is something unusual about the River Line. It was this unique fortification for which we were hunting. It is called a Shoupade, named for its creator, Confederate Brig. Gen. Francis Asbury Shoup, a West Point graduate. An arrow-shaped fort made of logs and dirt stacked about 10 to 12 feet high, a Shoupade could accommodate up to 80 riflemen.
They are only found in Georgia. That they were so close to our house made the historic fieldtrip absolutely necessary. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, the head of the Army of the Tennessee and the man charged with defending Atlanta, gave the go-ahead for Shoup to build his extensive fortifications in summer 1864 as Union troops advanced on Atlanta.
The Confederate Army commandeered more than a 1,000 slaves from Atlanta and the surrounding area to build 36 Shoupades connected by log walls and trenches. The forts would allow Confederate riflemen to fire into the sides and backs of the advancing army from a higher position.
Even if the opposing army got past the forts, they ran into two large artillery cannons that were back in the trenches and logs in between the chain of forts. The Shoupade and the River Line are often referred to as “impenetrable.”
Gen. William T. Sherman obviously felt that way as he opted not to run his army directly into the teeth of such a well-defended position. Instead, he opted to cross the river to the north and south of the series of forts. As awesome as the forts were, they were essentially useless because they were too good.
In order to get an idea of what we were looking for, we started at Shoupade Park in Smyrna off Atlanta Road. In between a newer neighborhood and an apartment community are three beautifully preserved Shoupades with signs clearly explaining what we were seeing and how the Shoupade worked.
Back in Vinings there is another at the back end of a gated neighborhood near the train tracks that cross over Woodland Brook. Before the area was developed, the line extended through Polo Lane. Many of the Shoupades are on private or government-owned property and require written permission to see them.
Roberta Cook, the founder of the River Line Historic Area, discourages relic hunting and notes the forts are fragile and should not be disturbed — walked over, gone into — in any way. Much of Buckhead, especially the area around Piedmont Hospital, Collier Hills, Brookwood Hills and Memorial Park, was a Civil War battlefield, but trying to imagine what it looked like 149 years ago is difficult.
While 36 Shoupades were originally constructed, nine remain. That is impressive given these were built in July 1864 and Atlanta, and in particular this area, has changed substantially.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.