Hangman’s Hill – It’s All in a Name

Vinings, it seems, has always been in a constant state of change. Researching information on the Overlook/Mt. Wilkinson Pkwy area (near the corner of Paces Ferry Rd and Cumberland Pkwy) led to the discovery of six different names being associated with just this section alone – Vinings Hill, MacRae’s Hill, Mount Wilkinson, Vinings Mountain, Signal Mountain (different than the one in Tennessee) and the most intriguing name by far, Hangman’s Hill.

Being the highest elevation point between Kennesaw Mountain and Stone Mountain, on a clear day the view of the Atlanta skyline is stunning.  Apparently, Gen. Sherman, Gen. Thomas, and Gen. Baird found the point to be quite advantageous. They planned their advances on Atlanta from these heights, noting the city in the distant clearing by its church steeples.


During the first week of July, 1864, as the generals and other top Union officers made their way up the mountain, they stumbled upon a most unusual site. The body of a man was found hanging with his feet merely inches from the ground. The dangling corpse had been there for many a day, being black both of face and body from rot.


Papers in the hanging man’s pocket declared him to be a Western and Atlantic Railroad worker from Griggsville, Georgia, named Ben Duncan. The Union troops inquired of the locals about the reason for the hanging. No one professed to know anything about the incident; at least, they weren’t talking.


Since money was found in his pockets, robbery was ruled out, leaving many to believe he had committed suicide. Others felt there was a more sinister side to the event. Seeing that there was no city in Georgia known as Griggsville, but there was a Griggsville, Illinois, rumor had it that he was hanged as a spy by rebel soldiers for giving information to the Union troops in the area.


The man is said to be buried in a shallow grave somewhere atop the mountain. This story was quite well publicized in its day – as far north as the New York Tribune on July 15, 1864. Another mention of the hanging man can be found in Capt. George W. Pepper’s Personal Recollections of Sherman’s Campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas, 1866.


The mention of the mountain as Hangman’s Hill comes not from the recount of this story, but from a soldier’s diary referencing the “hill” that union forces ascended as they began their march toward Atlanta on July 5, 1864 (Charles D. Gammon’s: Diary of the Battle for Atlanta).


The area, first traversed by Cherokee and Creek Indians, then battlegrounds of fallen men, became pathways for wandering Boy Scouts at Bert Adams summer camp.  Finally, the area yielded to suburban sprawl – complete with condos, office complexes and a gigantic mall (predicted by a psychic to collapse one December day- but that’s another story).


Over the years, many an artifact has been found on and around Vinings Mountain. Stories abound – some true, some not so true, fascinating nonetheless. But for me, it’s the names attributed to the area, written and then buried by time; each name given, reflects a person or a moment worth discovering.

Other posts on Smyrna/Vinings history:

The Tale of Joe Chaney’s Arm

Memory of Place and Space

Nellie Mae Roe Where Did You Go?

Additional reference: (local historian) Anthony Doyle’s book – Vinings Revisited, 2008. This book is not only a wonderful reference source for Vinings history, but a good read as well. 


6 thoughts on “Hangman’s Hill – It’s All in a Name

  1. So, there is no more info on this hanged man? Sad how people can die with no notice and/or their history dies with them.

    The view is stunning on a clear day, and equally shocking on those summer days when the urban smog has settled in. The view makes me think of the marshalling yards off the West Marietta Street bridge

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In 1970 when we moved to Smyrna we traveled through Vinings to Hwy 41 and passed by a small black community centered by a white frame black church. One of the houses had a front yard filled with hanging and sitting ‘junk’ (for lack of a better word) to scare away bad spirits. I think this house was written up in the Atlanta Journal. Does anyone know the backstory on this? Just interested.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jacqueline there is a link at the bottom of this article called “Nellie Mae Row Where Did You Go” it is about her. Her house always fascinated me. You will be surprised what all that “stuff” was really about! I know I was. I would love to hear your thoughts after you read it 🙂


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