Shoupade at River Line Park in Smyrna

Sometimes, the south has more in common with Europe than with the rest of the U.S. While almost any region can claim at least one major conflict, Georgia’s soil has more in common with Belgium. Here, we have the ghosts of conflicts ranging from ones that pre-date Europoean settlement (Cherokee vs. Creek vs. Seminole) through German U-Boats off the coast during World War 2.

Of course, there’s the granddaddy of all conflicts that have touched Georgia… and metro Atlanta… Sherman’s March to the Sea.

I’d never do justice to the conflict by synopsizing the history here. Suffice to say, the metro area is rife with historical markers, buildings and… most fascinating to me… earthworks.

I don’t know why, but there’s something about ad-hoc structures that have withstood encroachment from both human and nature for a few hundred years. On my first trip to Yorktown, near the Virginia coast, I was in awe of miles of still-visible trenches and the two carefully maintained redoubts (strongpoints in or near a line of trenches). Kennesaw’s battlefields had the same hold on me, particularly Cheatham Hill.

Imagine my joy when, on a whim, a jog at Smyrna’s new River Line Park yielded… earthworks!

At the back of the park, elevated above the 0.6 mile figure 8 path and the many, many soccer fields is part of a line of defense build by the Confederate defenders of Atlanta.

The name of the park, River Line, comes from the name of a series of defenses built on the north side of the Chattahoochee river, principally with slave labor from Atlanta-area plantations. At the heart of the defenses in the Smynra area are a series of emplacements that didn’t exist anywhere else in the war. They’re called “Shoupades” after their designer, Francis Shoup, a Indiana-born Confederate Brigadier General.

The Shoupade is sort of arrowhead-shaped with the business end pointed towards the advancing foe. A particular advantage is that two Shoupades could provide crossfire into an area that would typically be defended by a longer, traditional trench. Focused point defenses can, in the right terrain, be murderously effective. And it could be done with fewer defenders, meaning more would be available for flanking counterattacks.

Shoupade Detail

Detail from the marker at the park. I'm sure I should point out this is someone else's handiwork... I just snapped the picture!

Sherman found the defenses daunting, and had part of his army build trenches and artillery batteries opposite the River Line defenses in order to engage the River Line forces and thus pin them in their defenses. Conferderate General Johnston withdrew his forces south of the Chattahoochee before the River Line was outflanked.

More than just a Civil War relic, these earthworks represent the complexity of our shared American history. The design itself was both effective and ingenious, praised by Union and Confederate officers alike. But Shoup was a transplant from Indiana who moved to the south and supported the Confederacy because he harbored some aristocratic ambitions he thought could best be fed in the south. It was built with slave labor with the express strategic purpose of maintaining a system of government that would keep the builders of the defenses without rights, in poverty and under the yoke.

Still, and let’s set my lame attempts at a dramatic summation of “what it all means” to the side, as an Atlanta native, it’s my history.


Lame attempt at a panorama of the River Line Park Shoupade. This is looking from the Confederate lines toward the Union lines (which, today, would be the soccer fields).

4 Comments so far

  1. abby on March 31st, 2010 @ 9:00 am

    Great post, thanks for the history lesson! Though I’m mildly embarrassed to admit that your shoupade photo looks to me like, er, some piles of leaves. I might need to take a field trip.

  2. jstagg (unregistered) on March 31st, 2010 @ 11:04 pm

    Definitely not my best picture ever :)

  3. HistoryJoe (unregistered) on March 31st, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

    Nicely done. Thanks!

  4. james hervey (jeherv) on April 1st, 2010 @ 8:22 am

    excellent post. a fascinating history lesson that you found on a jog. i love it.

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