The largest Civil War military training camp in Georgia, Camp McDonald, served as home for several thousand soldiers at various times during the first three years of the conflict. Located in Big Shanty (modern-day Kennesaw), the installation opened on June 11, 1861, when troops stationed at Camp Brown in nearby Smyrna relocated to the new 60-acre installation. Brigadier General William Phillips, founder of the Phillips Legion, named the camp in honor of his former law mentor and twenty-ninth governor of Georgia – Charles J. McDonald.
Georgia’s wartime governor, Joe Brown, spent a great deal of time at the camp, as he eagerly sought to answer Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s request for troops. The location of the camp, near an abundance of water, and adjacent to the Western & Atlantic Railroad, assisted in the training exercises and eventual transport of the initial groups of soldiers to Virginia. The citizen turned soldier, faced a 60-day training schedule, with military drill the order of each day. Eager volunteers spent four hours learning maneuver tactics, as cadets from nearby Georgia Military Institute in Marietta served as their instructors. The men observed the Sabbath with a rest from training, while preachers espoused the gospel and the tune of familiar hymns echoed across the parade ground.
Big Shanty residents witnessed a significant event in April 1862, when members of Andrews’s Raiders stole the locomotive General, setting-off a dramatic chase through the north Georgia countryside. One of the companies in-training at Camp McDonald at the time of the ‘Great Locomotive Chase’ later decided to name their unit after William Fuller, the engineer who pursued, and eventually reclaimed the General. Thus, the ‘Fuller Guards’ honored the heroic railroad man, as the soldiers believed, “It is a fitting testimonial of our appreciation of the vast importance of that service, and the untold amount of mischief to the Confederate States, which was thereby prevented.”
Many people traveled from near and far to watch the troops go through their daily training exercises, especially encouraged from reports in various newspapers across the state, like the one from the Southern Confederacy, as reported in their July 2, 1861 edition. “A few hours spent at the encampment is very well ‘put in,’ and we advise every citizen, who can spare the time, to lay over one train at Big Shanty and see the soldiers.” One young lady who visited the camp later described the Irish Volunteer soldiers she saw as “…beautifully uniformed in dark green with gold trimmings and large dark hats with drooping white plums…an exceedingly fine-looking body of men.” Among the more colorful names of the companies calling Camp McDonald home - Newton Rifles, Davis Invincibles, Cotton Guards, Gold Diggers, Governor’s Horse Guards, and the Cherokee Dragoons.
In 1980, Dr. Philip Secrist, a local educator and historian, submitted an application detailing the site’s historical significance, thereby earning Camp McDonald a designation with the National Register of Historic Places. The low laying area around the springs and streams made the area difficult to develop while Kennesaw’s downtown grew around this portion of the original camp. However, the property continued to dodge development attempts, until 2009, when Cobb County purchased 3.85 acres, with another 3.65 acres donated for green space and use as a passive park.
As we forge ahead in the twenty-first century, the City of Kennesaw, Cobb County, along with the Friends of Camp McDonald Park, remain committed to preserving the site and its history for the benefit of current citizens and future generations. We solicit your support in joining with the Friends of Camp McDonald, to help preserve, protect, and interpret this special ground! Help us maintain the scenery one Camp McDonald soldier described in a July 1861 letter. “I find myself seated beneath the spreading branches of our shade trees, with the songs of birds, the hum of the locust and katy-did ringing in my ear.”
Governor Brown, in a November 1861 message to the state legislature, eloquently described the men who trained at Camp McDonald as a “…noble, patriotic, chivalrous band of Georgians, and I hazard nothing in saying, military men being the judges, that no brigade in the Confederate service was composed of better material, or was better trained at that time for active service in the field.” We need your support, to continue our mission of protecting, preserving, and interpreting Camp McDonald, all the while remembering the brave young men who trained here, and later died on some distant field of battle.
by Michael K. Shaffer
For inquiries, please contact Mr. Shaffer at www.civilwarhistorian.net