Clayton County Economic Development Director Grant Wainscott, left, and Frenda Turner, interim director of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, discuss a new Battle of Jonesborough exhibit at the Road To Tara Museum. (Staff Photos: Curt Yeomans)
JONESBORO — Emma Godbee peered through a glass window at the Road to Tara Museum on Tuesday and did a little window shopping.
Godbee, a Clayton County Tourism Authority Board member, was looking at a replica Union soldier’s uniform and she was dying to know where the “soldier” got his accessories. In particular, she was admiring the cartridge box which came with the uniform.
Designed to carry ammunition, it came in black leather with a large gold “U.S.” emblem on the front. It was the “in” accessory for any soldier who wanted to shoot enemy soldiers before getting shot himself.
But Godbee saw a practical, modern day use for it as something that could carry lipstick, a wallet, car keys and a cellphone.
“I would love to have that purse,” she said.
The tourism authority board and local officials got a sneak peak of the museum’s Battle of Jonesborough expansion this week. The permanent exhibit will open to the public Labor Day Weekend.
The exhibit will highlight the real-life local Civil War history that helped inspire Margaret Mitchell to write “Gone With The Wind.” Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the battle and the 75th anniversary of the film version of the book.
“I’m very happy with the way this has turned out and we’re hopeful that we will have a lot of visitors between now and August 2014, which is sesquicentennial date,” said Frenda Turner, interim executive director of the Clayton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which runs the museum.
Clayton County plays a key role in “Gone With The Wind,” with Jonesboro being the location of the fictional Tara plantation. Mitchell’s grandparents lived in Jonesboro during and after the war, and her relatives often told her stories about what happened during the battle when she would visit them.
“This was it,” said Godbee. “This is where Margaret Mitchell got her inspiration to write the book.”
Overall, Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s “Atlanta Campaign” also plays a prominent role in the book, including the evacuation and burning of Atlanta.
The character of Rhett Butler briefly refers to the Battle of Jonesborough, albeit not by name, during the evacuation of Atlanta. The two-day battle was fought from Aug. 31-Sept. 1 and ended with the Union Army cutting the Atlanta-Macon rail line that went through the town.
The rail line was the Confederate Army’s last supply route for Atlanta during the Battle of Atlanta, and the city quickly fell after Jonesborough was captured.
“The Battle of Jonesborough was the second most significant battles of the whole campaign,” said Linda Summerlin, chairman of the tourism authority board. “That gives us historical significance. It really sets us apart because we played a part in history.”
Visitors to the museum will be able to see that history through photographs, charts, illustrations, a diorama, mannequins and items, such as a cannonball, recovered from the battlefield. The Frankie Lyle Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy helped museum staff collect research and materials for the exhibit, which is located in space previously used for offices.
“Everyone who has seen the exhibit has been very pleased with the progress and the state has expressed their delight with us opening this commemorative exhibit,” said Turner.
Godbee called the exhibit a “good representation of what happened” during the battle.
“I think it’s very good and very complete, with the timelines and dates of what happened around here,” she said.
Jonesboro Mayor Pro Tem Pat Sebo said the exhibit was an ”amazing opportu nity” to have the city’s history included in the Road to Tara Museum. The museum’s main focus is to feature exhibits on “Gone With The Wind,” whose home has been decreed by some of Mitchell’s relatives to be Jonesboro.
The new exhibit is intended to be the history lesson visitors receive before they see the “Gone With the Wind” memorabilia.
“This gives a whole new credence to the whole ‘Gone With The Wind’ story,” Sebo said.
And it’s Jonesboro’s intertwining ties in the real and literary worlds that museum and tourism officials want visitors to take away from a trip to the city.
After all, Summerlin said, visitors wouldn’t have a reason to visit the city if those ties didn’t exist.
“If it were not for the Civil War and the fact that Margaret Mitchell’s grandparents lived in Clayton County, there would be no story to tell,” said Summerlin.