Our Georgia History

The Battle of Allatoona Pass
by Randy Golden
exclusively for Our Georgia History
Allatoona Pass
October 5, 1864
Estimated casualties: 1,505 (Union: 706, Confederates 799)

General Alexander P. Stewart [CS] advanced from the hills of west Cobb County and gained the Western and Atlantic Railroad in early October, 1864. As they moved northwest his Rebels battled the Union garrisons established by General William Tecumseh Sherman to protect his all-weather lifeline. With cavalry sweeping Stewart's front, the Confederates easily defeated Yankees stationed at Big Shanty (now Kennesaw), Moon's Station and Acworth on October 3rd. Less than 500 men defended the three garrisons.

Working through the night the Confederates tore up track for eight miles north of Big Shanty. On October 4th General Samuel French (of Stewart's Corps) received orders instructing him to advance on Allatoona Pass, fill it with "...logs, brush, rails, dirt..." then continue on to the Etowah Bridge and destroy it. As is typical with virtually all of John Bell Hood's battles after his assumption of command of the Army of Tennessee, his descriptions of the events vary greatly from the description given by the participants.

The Confederate Army had a significant portion of northwest Georgia within striking distance and the bulk of the Union Army either behind it in Atlanta and Kennesaw or further north in Tennessee. Less than a week earlier General George Thomas had moved north of Dalton (History of Dalton, Georgia) to protect Sherman's supply line while troops under the command of John Corse moved to Rome. President Jefferson Davis told about the plans for Hood's Army in a speech given at Macon and a similar speech given to the troops at Palmetto. Newspapers carried the information to General Sherman.

As the Western and Atlantic Railroad winds towards Chattanooga (History of Chattanooga, Tennessee) it passes through Allatoona Pass, a man-made gorge drilled deep into a high ridge in the rugged mountains east of Cartersville, Georgia (History of Cartersville, Georgia). Sherman had avoided a direct assault on the pass during the Atlanta Campaign, having made a note of the impressive defensive nature of the pass while stationed in Georgia in 1844.

The evening of October 3rd, 1864, Sherman realized that Hood's objective was the storehouses at Allatoona, bursting with rations for the Union Army in Atlanta. His order to Corse to advance from Rome to Allatoona with a division arrived in Rome early October 4th. Corse began to move men and munitions east to the pass, arriving early on October 5th with about 1,000 men. This doubled the size of the garrison. As senior officer, Corse assumed command from Colonel John Tourtellotte. A message was sent to Sherman. Now standing beside the signalman at the top of Kennesaw Mountain he made out the message "Corse is here" then remarked, "He will hold it; I know the man."

Two fortified areas ("...two small redoubts" according to Sherman) at the top of the ridge both east and west of the railroad tracks had been built by Confederate forces and reenforced by Union soldiers after their capture on June 1, 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign. An outer defensive position was added, about 100 feet from the eastern fort and the fort itself was modified into the shape of a star so that troops within the fort could support each other during an assault. A wooden plank spanned the distance between the two hills above the tracks so that soldiers would not have to climb down the hill and back up to get across the pass. This bridge would play an important role in the battle.

The Confederates were approaching Allatoona Pass at 3:00am on the morning of October 5th, 1864 and had deployed to the west of the Star Fort by 8:00am. Troops to the north of the fort were delayed. Frantic dispatches were signaled to from a crow's nest near the eastern redoubt to Kennesaw Mountain asking, "Where is General Sherman?" Sherman had indicated that help was on the way, but it would be up to Corse and his men to hold the forts although outnumbered 3 to 2.

At 8:30 Samuel French's adjutant advanced towards the Union position under a flag of truce and presented a surrender demand to an officer of the 93rd Illinois Regiment. It was passed up to General Corse at a position near the inner wall of the western fort. The adjutant waited, leaving when he felt no response was forthcoming. Corse's reply would not be known to the Confederates until after the war was over.

During the truce some Confederates may have tried to gain a better position for the coming assault, which was clearly against the established rules of warfare. Regardless of the attempt to better their position, at 10:30am the Rebels began the assault.

Originally, a brigade under the command of Claudius Sears was to attack the ridge from the north. Getting impatient with a delay, French ordered Confederate forces to the west of the fort to move east along the Alabama Road towards the fort on the western side of Allatoona Pass. They faced a series of impediments to their advance including abatis and debris. After the abatis lay the outer wall of the fort. The men of the 93rd Illinois had greeted French's adjutant at this spur only a short time before under a flag of truce.

Withering fire had halted the initial Rebel advance when a second attack was launched on the Federal left, centering on the point where the outside wall of the fort crossed the Alabama Road. Fierce hand-to-hand combat marked this battle for Rowett's Redoubt, which Union soldiers named for an injured commander. As the Rebels overran the Federal's first line of defense, Claudius Sears began a belated attack up the north side of the mountain. The Confederates advanced across a broad front, forcing Corse to withdraw to the Star Fort and pressuring the Eastern Redoubt. It was now 11:00am.

Quickly Union soldiers worked to strengthen the perimeter of the Star Fort. Over the next two and a half hours Confederate forces would attack four times. During these attacks a brave private kept the Star Fort supplied with ammunition by repeatedly crossing the wooden footpath between the two sides of Allatoona Pass. At 1:00pm Corse was hit in the face with a bullet and command passed to the somewhat less injured Colonel Richard Rowett, who had led the fighting at the outer redoubt. The final assault occurred at 1:30pm.

View to the south from Allatoona Pass
View from the Allatoona Mountains above Allatoona Pass. The Mooney House is on the right
Now attention turned to Samuel French. The able Confederate commander had been repulsed repeatedly while assaulting the Star Fort. He had reason to believe a large Federal force was advancing on his position, as reported by his cavalry. And he knew that Sherman had signaled "Hold the fort, we are coming." Without much of choice, he retreated from Allatoona without a victory, without rations and without 1,000 of the men he began with.

As he withdrew, French launched an attack against a blockhouse on Allatoona Creek about 2 miles south of the pass. After setting the structure on fire, he captured four officers and 85 men who were stationed there. Fearing the approach of the Union Army, French left abruptly.

Aftermath and AfterMyth

The Battle of Allatoona Pass was the introduction of Hood's ill-fated Nashville Campaign. It would be the last great Confederate offensive of the Civil War.

Within 6 weeks Sherman would launch his "March to the Sea" from Kingston, a few miles west of Allatoona, and introduce the "Age of Modern Warfare" on the populace of Georgia. The first step in this great march would be the destruction of the track between Dalton (city history) and Marietta (city history), including the track running through Allatoona Pass.

Major General Corse would marry the niece of United States President Franklin Pierce and move to Boston, where President Grover Cleveland appointed him as postmaster of that city.

General Sherman never actually made the statement "Hold the fort for I am coming," as popularized in a hymn by that name. The communications that may have inspired the hymn follow:

ALLATOONA, GA., October 5, 1864, at 10:35

General SHERMAN:
Corse is here.
Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding.

During the battle:         

We still hold out. General Corse is wounded.
                             Signal Officer.

After French began to withdraw:

We are all right so far. General Corse is wounded. 
Where is General Sherman?
                              Signal Officer.

KENESAW MOUNTAIN, Octobcr 5, 1864.
        Near you.
At this point an unsigned message stating "Tell Allatoona hold on. General Sherman is working for you." was sent. This appears to be the source of the quote.

After the battle the following communication occurred:
Chief Signal officer to Lt. Fish at Kennesaw Mountain: "Ask Allatoona for news."
Fish to Allatoona: "How is Corse? What news?"
Allatoona [Corse]: "I am short a cheekbone and an ear, but I am able to whip all..."

An overview of the fighting at Allatoona

How to get there:

I-75 Exit 283 in Bartow County, Ga., go east on Old Allatoona Road, 1.5 miles, cross railroad tracks, go 1 mile, markers on left.

The Cartersville area is rich in history. For more information on local attractions, stop by the Cartersville Visitors Center for more information 24 hours a day or order an informative brochure that highlights Allatoona Pass and other local attractions from them on-line.
The trails at Allatoona Pass
Battle of Allatoona Pass links
Allatoona Pass, Cartersville, Georgia

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