National Parks in Georgia: Live Oaks, Civil War Sites, and Beaches

sunrise seen from white sandy beach of Cumberland Island National Seashore's undisturbed wilderness in winter
Sunrise seen from white sandy beach of Cumberland Island National Seashore's undisturbed wilderness in a winter morning. Michael Shi / Getty Images

The national parks in Georgia feature Confederate Army battlefields and prisons, as well as live oak and salt marsh preserves and the United States' southernmost trout river.

Map of the National Parks in Georgia
U.S. National Park Services map of the national parks in Georgia.  National Park Service

According to National Park Service statistics, nearly seven and a half million people visit the 11 parks in Georgia each year, including historic sites, scenic trails, heritage and recreation areas, seashores, and military parks.

Andersonville National Historic Site

View of Andersonville National Historic Site
Holding more than 45,000 federal prisoners during the U.S. Civil War, Camp Sumter covered 17 acres when it was built in 1864. It was enlarged later the same year to cover 26.5 acres. Many of the prisoners died there due to exposure to weather, malnutrition, and disease. The area has become a National Historic Site in Andersonville, Georgia. Corbis/VCG via Getty Images / Getty Images

Andersonville National Historic Site's most prominent landmark is Camp Sumter, the largest Confederate Army military prison. Over 45,000 Union Army soldiers were held and nearly 13,000 died in the prison between February 25, 1864 and the end of the Civil War in April 1865. 

Early in the Civil War, the North and the South had agreed to exchange prisoners or parole prisoners who promised to lay down arms and go home. But beginning in 1864, differences arose regarding the treatment of captured African American Union soldiers, including both escaped slaves and freed men.

In October 1864, Confederate General Robert E. Lee wrote "negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange," to which Union General Ulysses S. Grant replied, "the government is bound to secure to all persons received into her armies the rights due soldiers." As a result, the prisoner exchange ended and military prisons were maintained in both sides. About 100 black soldiers were held at Andersonville, and 33 of them died there. 

Clara Barton, the famous nurse and founder of the American Red Cross, came to Andersonville after the end of the war at the request of Dorence Atwater, a clerk and former prisoner who had maintained death records while working at the hospital. The two pored through captured hospital records, letters, and the Anderson death register in an attempt to identify the missing soldiers. They were able to identify 20,000 missing soldiers, including 13,000 at Andersonville. Eventually, Barton returned to Washington to set up the Missing Soldier's Office.

Today the park includes a collection of monuments, a museum, and a partial reconstruction of the prison where reenactments are held.

Augusta Canal National Heritage Area

Augusta canal at Augusta in Georgia
The Augusta canal at Augusta in Georgia. Paul-Briden / Getty Images

The Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, located in the city limits of Augusta, features the only fully intact industrial canal in the United States. Built in 1845 as a source of power, water, and transportation, the canal proved an economic boon for Augusta. The canal generated a capacity of 600 horsepower (450,000 watts) in its first year. Factories—a saw mill and a grist mill—were built along its towpaths within two years, the first of many that would eventually line the canal. 

During the Civil War, Confederate Colonel George W. Rains selected Augusta as the location for the Confederate Powder Works, the only permanent structures built by the Confederate government. In 1875, the canal was enlarged to its current size, 11–15 feet deep, 150 ft wide, with an elevation of 52 ft from its head to where it empties into the Savannah River, approximately 13 miles; the expansion boosted the horsepower generated to 14,000 hp (10 million W). 

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
Waterfront in Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Danita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, located in north central Georgia, northeast of Atlanta, preserves the southernmost trout river in the United States, made possible because the Buford Dam releases cold water into the river from the bottom of Lake Lanier, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources stocks the river.

The park, in particular the region known as the Island Ford, is home to a large diversity of wildlife, 813 native species of plants, over 190 species of birds (tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, Carolina wren); frogs and toads, newts and salamanders; and 40 species of reptiles. 

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
Battlefield site and monuments at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia and Tennessee, USA. Richard Cummins / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images

The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, near Fort Oglethorpe on Georgia's northern border with Tennessee, pays homage to the city of Chickamauga, which was an important location to the seceded states of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The town of 2,500 was sited on the banks of the Tennessee River, where it cuts through the Appalachian Mountains, a space in the hilly countryside that allowed four major railroads to converge. 

Over a period of three days, on September 18–20, 1863, Union General William Rosecrans and Confederate General Braxton Bragg met in the Battle of Chickamauga, and again in November in the Battles for Chattanooga. The Union took the cities and established a supply and communications base for Sherman's March on Georgia in 1864. 

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore
Backcountry dirt road in the live oak forest deep inside the national wilderness of Cumberland Island National Seashore. Michael Shi / Moment / Getty Images

Cumberland Island National Seashore is located in far southeast Georgia, on Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island, where salt marshes, maritime forests of live oaks, and golden-hued beaches and sand dunes harbor a diverse habitat. 

The Cumberland Island salt marsh is located on the lee side of the island, a maritime forest sits in the middle, and the beach and sand dunes are located on the ocean side. The maritime forest is dominated by live oaks, whose branches are dramatically draped with Spanish moss, resurrection ferns, and various forms of fungus. The salt marsh includes cedar trees, palms and palmettos. Few animals live on the island, although marine animals visit with the tide and bio-luminescent plankton glow at night.

The fairly sparse animal population includes 30 mammals, 55 reptiles and amphibians (including the endangered loggerhead turtle), and over 300 birds. One unusual population is that of feral horses, about 135 horses descended from escaped Tennessee Walkers, American Quarter Horses, Arabians, and Paso Fino, according to recent DNA studies. The herd is the only one in the United States that is not managed at all—not fed, watered, or examined by veterinarians. 

Fort Frederica National Monument

Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Frederica was built in 1736 to defend the fledgling British colony against Spanish attack from Florida. roc8jas / iStock / Getty Images

Fort Frederica National Monument is located on St. Simons Island, off the southeastern Atlantic coast of Georgia. The park conserves the archaeological remains of an 18th century fort built to protect the British colony from the Spanish, and the site of a battle which secured Georgia for the British. 

In the early 18th century, Georgia's coast was known as the "debatable land," a wedge of no-man's land between British-owned South Carolina and Spanish-owned Florida. Fort Frederica, named for Frederick Louis, then Prince of Wales (1702–1754), was established in 1736 by British colonist James Oglethorpe to protect himself and his new colony from the Spanish. 

The battle which decided Georgia's British fate was part of the "War of Jenkin's Ear." The war, known as "Guerra del Asiento" in Spain, which is best translated as "Settlement War" or "Contract War," was fought between 1739 and 1748 and was given its silly-sounding name by Scottish satirist Thomas Carlyle in 1858. The battle of St. Simons Island took place when the Spanish, led by General Manuel de Montiano, invaded Georgia, landing 2,000 troops on the island. Oglethorpe rallied his forces at Bloody Marsh and Gully Hole Creek and succeeded in repelling the Spanish.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Displays inside visitor center at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Athens, Georgia, USA. Danita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in northwestern Georgia is a 2,965-acre field that preserves a Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign. The Union Army, led by William T. Sherman, attacked the Confederate forces led by General Joseph Johnston's army between June 19 and July 2, 1864. Three thousand Union troops fell, compared with just 500 Confederates, but it was only a marginal victory and Johnson had to retreat at the end of the day.

Kennesaw is also an important part of the Cherokee Nation story. The ancestors of the Cherokee people lived in the area beginning before 1000 BCE. Originally a nomadic people, they became farmers and, by the 19th century, they had adopted the culture and lifestyle of white people in an attempt to keep their land. 

But in the 1830s, gold was discovered in the North Georgia mountains, and the resulting Georgia Gold Rush inflamed white settlers to expand the country's territory and forcibly remove the Cherokee people to Oklahoma. The forced removal led to the infamous Trail of Tears—16,000 Cherokee people traveled by foot, horse, wagon, and steamboat to Oklahoma, and 4,000 people died on the way. 

After the Cherokee were forced from the area, land was parceled out to white men in 40 or 150 acre lots. Settlers—merchants, large scale farmers, yeomen/small scale farmers, free blacks, and enslaved blacks—began to move into North Georgia by late 1832.

Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument
Ocmulgee National Monument preserves traces of Southeastern Native American culture. Posnov / Moment Open / Getty Images

Located in central Georgia near Macon, Ocmulgee National Monument preserves temple mounds and earth lodges built by the southeastern United States Native American people known as the Mississippian culture. 

Ocmulgee is part of the Mississippian complex, which archaeologists call the Macon Plateau. It is one of the earliest Mississippian sites with multiple mounds, built between about 900 CE and 1250. Excavations identified earth lodges, the most elaborate of which has been reconstructed—it contained a bench with 47 molded seats and a bird-shaped platform with three more seats. The discovery was interpreted as a council house, where important members of the society would gather to talk and hold ceremonies. 

The people farmed primarily corn and beans, but also squash, pumpkin, sunflowers and tobacco. They also hunted small game, such as raccoon, turkey, rabbit, and turtle. Pots made of clay were sometimes elaborately decorated; the people also made baskets. 

The park was established in 1936, after archaeological excavations had been underway for three years. Ocmulgee was the focus of the largest archaeological excavation ever conducted in the United States, which lasted between 1933 and 1942 and was led by Arthur Kelly and Gordon R. Willey of the Smithsonian Institute.