The art of war-the battlefields and campaigns-comes into focus again this year with the Peoria Historical Society's history trip, "Sherman Takes Atlanta."

The seven-day, six-night trip, from June 20 through June 26, follows Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's Civil War march from Chattanooga to Atlanta. The trip, via deluxe Peoria Charter Coach, also includes professionally guided tours of various Tennessee battlefields-including Stones River, Franklin, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga-discussion of the battle of Nashville, and the Kennesaw Mountain battlefield in Georgia.

While in Atlanta, the group will see what's reputedly the world's largest oil painting, a 42-foot by 358-foot work depicting the battle of Atlanta. Known as the Atlanta Cyclorama and displayed around a circular room, the painting is one of the last of what was once a popular art form. Before the days of motion pictures, cycloramas gave viewers the ability to move through the midst of epic activity.

Commissioned for Gen. John "Blackjack" Logan's 1884 vice presidential campaign, the painting focuses on the charge Logan led during the battle of Atlanta. Sherman is depicted near an intense fight, but, reflecting the Union perspective, Confederate Gen. John B. Hood isn't shown. The painting originally included more than 20,000 square feet of painted surface and was brought to Atlanta in 1892.

Today, viewers sit on a rotating platform and experience the painting enhanced by music, sound effects, and narration. The site also includes a Civil War museum featuring the 1862 steam locomotive, "The Texas," that appeared in the Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase.

The group also will tour three antebellum plantations: Belle Meade in Nashville, Smith near Atlanta, and Belmont Mansion in Nashville-one of the most elaborate antebellum homes in the South. The mansion's lavish gardens contain marble statuary and the largest collection of 19th century cast iron garden ornaments in the United States. The massive stone columns at Belle Meade still bear the scars of the skirmish there.

Seven of the 12 units that trained in Peoria were among the Illinois regiments that took part in the Atlanta campaign: the 85th, 86th, 102nd, 103rd, and 112th Illinois Infantry and the 11th (Co. G) and 14th Illinois Cavalry. Local soldiers also were well represented in several other participating units, including the 27th, 44th, 51st, 59th, and 82nd Illinois Infantry. Five of the seven Peoria-trained regiments-the 85th, 86th, 102nd, and 103rd plus Co. G of the 11th cavalry-participated in Sherman's March to the Sea.

Regimental histories detail the perils and privations shared by the Peoria soldiers. The Atlanta Campaign lasted from May 6 to September 2, 1864. The 85th noted that every day for four months their regiment "was in hearing of the rattle of musketry and the boom of cannon." "On the 5th of September we…took the first night's rest since the 11th of May without the sound of a rebel gun to lull us to sleep. We had been under fire all that time, and in the front except three days. We had been in every engagement that the Brigade, Division or Corps had in any way been engaged, and were as ragged as any Regiment in the army," they reported. The 103rd saw service in every Confederate state but two-Texas and Florida.

Participants will learn of Sherman's strategy, with talks by tour organizer Bernie Drake. This spring at Bradley's Institute for Learning in Retirement, Drake will teach a course on Sherman, including not only his military career but also his civilian accomplishments.

Last year, Drake organized the PHS tour that followed Gen. Ulysses S. Grant south from Fort Donelson to Shiloh and Vicksburg. Students from his ILR class on Grant were among last year's participants. "Teaching the class benefits me as much as anyone," Drake said.

A pre-trip gathering lets him learn about the specific interests of participants, including any Civil War ancestors. Participants whose ancestors fought on these battlefields will have the opportunity to follow the movements of their units.

The post-tour party last year included the sharing of photographs, as well as suggestions being implemented on this tour. "People want to see historic houses," Drake said.

The stops in Nashville also will include dinner at the Gibson Bluegrass Showcase, home of the Gibson guitar.

A $50 deposit is required by March 20 for registration. For more information on the trip, call 674-1921. AA!