By Doc Lawrence –
History viewed first-hand often opens many opportunities for cultural and culinary enrichment. Over the past three years, I’ve traveled many of the Civil War trails established by state tourism departments, hoping to uncover and share more that battleground and cemetery stories. Introducing the monumental events of 150 years ago in a straightforward manner should be interesting to all generations, but I suspect that’s not the case. Early on, I learned to add outdoor recreation, the arts, winery visits and a broad range of dining to attract a broader, more receptive audience.
While the Civil War in Georgia, particularly in 1864, was horrific for those in Sherman’s path, the conqueror and his adversary counterpart (and after the war very close friend) General Joseph E. Johnston enjoyed days between battles much better than you might imagine. Vineyards existed from Virginia on down through Georgia where the fruit ranged from Muscadine to Cynthiana, Champagne, brought into the South by blockade-runners, wasn’t uncommon. The food served then compares to the fare of today’s Southern table: Cured country ham, chicken, trout, sausages, stews, grits, and all manner of vegetables and fruits.
Madeira, one of my favorite fortified wines and a delight with chocolate desserts, was highly popular in both the North and South. There are accounts of many generals on both sides regularly enjoying Madeira and Sherman often had it with meals. Cynthiana, sometimes labeled Norton, is a native wine grape and the red wine’s taste and texture resembles the French version of Syrah. It is widely available throughout Southern wineries and vineyards.
While generals often dined in homes, soldiers ate rations or foraged. The Union Army ration was largely hardtack, a biscuit of sorts while the Confederate counterpart was Johnny cake, fried cornmeal resembling pancakes and still popular in many places for breakfast, often served with Sorghum syrup.
The 1864 events in Georgia juxtapose total destruction with today’s prosperity. The vacation advantages traveling from Chattanooga to Atlanta to Savannah are breathtaking. Wonderful parks, outdoor recreation, museums galore, guided tours, wineries, and food that includes much of the South’s finest from country cooking to fine dining. Local farms are in many instances less than an hour from restaurants that use their products.
With Atlanta as the ultimate Civil War destination this year, the journey from Chattanooga south takes you to Dalton where the Atlanta Campaign began. The battle sites here are approachable and well preserved. Along with a group of writers, I spent a full day on foot exploring six of them, working up a lumberjack’s appetite. Dalton has a number of excellent restaurants ranging from barbecue at Miller Brothers Rib Shack and country cooking at Oakwood Café to elevated dining at Hamilton’s and The Dalton Depot.
The Dalton Depot Restaurant is the site of the historic Western & Atlantic Railroad station, once a stop on the trade routes connecting the Chattahoochee and Tennessee Rivers with the Atlantic ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Sherman destroyed North Georgia depots in Marietta, Acworth, Etowah, Cartersville and Atlanta’s Depot was destroyed in the burning of Atlanta, dramatically depicted in “Gone With The Wind.”Dalton’s survived with minimal damage.
Long before becoming a restaurant, the depot was part of the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862 when Conductor William A. Fuller, aboard the steam-powered engine Texas chased The General, an almost identical locomotive, hijacked by Captain James J. Andrews, a secret agent for the Union.As the Texas
passed through Dalton, Fuller dropped off a man at the Depot to telegraph a message to Chattanooga to intercept The General. Andrews and his men were captured just a few miles up track and executed. The classic Disney movie “The Great Locomotive Chase,” starred Fess Parker as Captain Andrews. Parker retired from Hollywood to become a noted winemaker and highly regarded wines bearing his label are still produced.
Miller Bothers Rib Shack, a Dalton landmark, features barbecue as it should be done. The best restaurants of nearby Chattanooga influence Hamilton’s. The menu is varied and the wine list is on par with one in a big city.
The Atlanta Campaign Sesquicentennial spans several months and Dalton expects visitors interested in well-preserved Civil War locations to increase. Many will want to stay and dine. Few places offer the opportunity to walk the same grounds that Union and Confederate soldiers fought over 150 years ago that feature undisturbed breastworks, entrenchments and artillery platforms.
A day of walking these hallowed grounds stimulates the appetite and the urge for something delicious to drink. A memorable dinner with cocktails and wonderful wine is a well-earned reward for the experience.