Civil War Buffs, Beware . . . .

Although Sherman's March to the Sea, the Battle of Atlanta, and Sherman's burning of Atlanta were pivotal events in the Civil War (or, if you're an un-Reconstructed rebel, "The War Between the States"), please don't come to Atlanta in search of Tara--it isn't here.  If it ever had been, Gen. Sherman would have destroyed it anyway; but there is hardly a vestige of Gone with the Wind here, for better or for worse.  Atlanta was a very young city--and not much more than a railroad depot, the end of the line--when it was torched in the 1860s.

 If it's antebellum mansions you seek, you're better off heading down Interstate 20 east about fifty miles to Madison,  which was spared destruction (so the story goes) because Gen. Sherman knew people who lived there.  If you want to see artifacts of the war closer to the city of Atlanta, you can travel east about 15 miles or so to Stone Mountain, the largest exposed chunk of granite on Earth.  On its side are carved the images of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis.  (There's a fourth person, I believe--maybe John C. Calhoun?)  On the grounds of this state park you can find  glass-case displays of weapons, uniforms, and other relics, as well as some genuine and some replicated Civil War-era structures, mixed in with some blatantly touristy stuff.  (The state recently gave management over to  the same people who are responsible for a tourist attraction elsewhere called "Silver Dollar City." Heavier on tourism than history, sadly.) The Atlanta History Center (AHC), near Peachtree Road in the Buckhead neighborhood of northwest Atlanta, has an extensive, scholarly library for serious research, as well as very well-done permanent and rotating historic exhibits--from slavery and civil rights to politics and Coca-Cola.  Very kid-friendly, too!  On the grounds of the AHC you'll also find The Tullie Smith House, a genuine antebellum house--not the grandiose plantation of  a Twelve Oaks or  a Tara, but  a place that was occupied by people of more modest means, and much more representative of how Southern farm families actually lived.  The yard is planted with indigenous flowers and vegetables, and the house is furnished with some genuine furniture and housewares.  Also available for touring here is the "Swan House," a mansion donated to the Historical Society by a weathy family, if you want to see how a privileged few wealthy non-farm Southerners lived. 

Oakland Cemetery, on Memorial Drive, just a stone's throw from downtown Atlanta, contains remarkable examples of tombstones, family vaults, and memorial statuary dating back to just before the Civil War.  At the center of this massive cemetery are rows and rows of small, blank markers, indicating the bodies of the unknown Confederate dead, most brought up here off the streets following the Battle of Atlanta.  A large stone carving of a wounded lion lies in their midst, a symbol of the dying Confederacy.  Regardless of your politics, it is an emotional sight.  Also buried here are golfing great Bobby Jones and Miss Gone with the Wind herself, author Margaret Mitchell.  But there's also an old, historically significant Jewish section; and, as in other old cemeteries, Oakland's family plots tell their own stories . . . like the parents and children who died within days of each other during the flu epidemic of 1918.   Or the angel statuary, carved by hand, decades before electric stone-cutting tools.

Still, if you want to see real battle sites, you can always drive up Interstate 75 north to Cobb County (Kennesaw) and hike up Kennesaw Mountain.  But Tara's not there, either.