Author’s note: Part twelve of the sory of Major Ramon T. de Aragon. After the fall of Atlanta, French’s Division is sent to capture Allatoona Pass and fill up the railroad cut.
Hood’s Tennessee Campaign
The Battle of Allatoona Pass
Abraham Lincoln declared September 4, 1864 a day of thanksgiving in the North in honor of the occupation of Atlanta by Union forces. Politically, the fall of the city might be called the turning point of the war, with equal military significance. In addition to the loss of the munition train destroyed by the departing Confederate cavalry, large amounts of supplies were destroyed or abandoned to the enemy. The Confederacy also suffered irreplaceable loss in its ability to produce war material in the form of the cannon factory, foundries, and innumerable machine shops and factories located in the city.
Confederate General John Bell Hood now commanded an army reduced in size from its peak of almost seventy thousand, when Major De Aragon and the rest of the Army of Mississippi joined them at Cassville, to something less than forty thousand. There was a feeling of dissatisfaction in the ranks and Major General French, on behalf of himself and several other general officers, wrote the following letter to President Davis:
“Mr. PRESIDENT: Several officers have asked me to write to you in regard to a feeling of depression more or less apparent in parts of this army, and I have declined doing so, but for your own satisfaction it might be well that you send one or two intelligent officers here to visit the different divisions and brigades to ascertain if that spirit of confidence so necessary for success has or has not been impaired within the past month or two. They might further inquire into the cause if they find in this army any want of enthusiasm. I am sure you will pardon my writing to you thus when I tell you it is dictated by the purest of motives and in the spirit of friendship.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. G. French
Hood sent a wire to the capitol at Richmond notifying Davis that he intended to cross the Chattahoochee River and form in line of battle across Sherman’s supply line at Powder Springs, Georgia and force Sherman into a fight. On September 25, Davis arrived at Palmetto Station for a conference with Hood and his corps commanders. In route, Davis made a speech during a stop at Macon, Georgia and he openly referred to Hood’s designs. On September 26 the Army of Tennessee passed in review before Davis and Hood, some units expressed their dissatisfaction by boldly shouting “give us Johnston” as they marched past.
In a private meeting Lieutenant General Hardee told Davis that he was no longer willing to serve under Hood, and that Davis should either replace Hood or Hardee himself. He suggested General Joe Johnston be returned as commander of the army. As was his habit, however, Davis stood by his chosen man and on September 28 issued an order relieving Hardee and giving him command of the Department of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Major General Cheatham was given command of Hardee’s Corps. For an offering to his critics in the army and in congress, Davis created the “Military District of the West” and put Beauregard in charge. This new command included the forces under Hood and General Richard Taylor to the West, but gave Beauregard no real authority over either. After further discussion, Hood and the president agreed on a plan which called for the army to go north toward Tennessee and if Sherman followed turn west into Alabama to draw the Yankees from their supply line. If Sherman turned east toward the Atlantic coast, Hood would follow and attack Sherman from the rear. On September 29, Hood and his army crossed the Chattahoochee River and moved north.
In September Sherman, for the first time, suggested to Ulysses. S. Grant that the Union army leave Atlanta and cut eastward across Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean. He continued the theme into October. Union Major General George Thomas was sent north to organize defenses at Nashville and, forewarned by the information of Hood’s plans gained from newspaper reports of Jefferson Davis’ speeches, Sherman sent Major General John Corse’s Division to Rome, Georgia and the division of Brigadier General John Newton to Chattanooga. Major General Slocum was left to hold Atlanta while Sherman crossed the Chattahoochee with forty thousand men in pursuit of Hood.
When the Army of Tennessee left Palmetto Station, Major De Aragon’s brigade moved out with the rest of French’s Division on Pumpkintown Road. They crossed the Chattahoochee and camped at a place beyond Villa Rica. The next day they continued to the Brownsville Post Office.
On October 1, Hood met with his corps and division commanders and discussed by what method Sherman’s line of communication could best be damaged. As a result Hood moved on toward Lost Mountain with the corps of Lieutenant Generals S. D. Lee and Benjamin Cheatham. Lieutenant General A. P. Stewart, Major De Aragon’s Corps commander, was ordered to march with his force to Sherman’s rear at Big Shanty and there destroy the Atlantic & Western Railroad.
Major General French received the order to move on October 2. According to plan, his division of thirty-three hundred captured Big Shanty while the division of Major General Loring struck at Acworth and that of Major General Walthall took Moon’s Station. All troops then went to work destroying track and filling up railroad cuts. They also cut telegraph lines and the Yankees were forced to communicate via signal stations, one of which was atop Kennesaw Mountain and another eighteen miles to the Northeast at the town of Allatoona. According to Stewart, some ten to twelve miles of track were made unusable.
Hood moved on to New Hope Church and on the morning of October 4, Stewart received an order to rejoin the army with Loring’s and Walthall’s divisions while French’s Division was sent to fill up the railroad cut at Allatoona. A second order that came at 11:30 a. m. added Hood’s wish that French also destroy the bridge over the Etowah River if possible. Hood thereby expected French ‘s men to move the eighteen miles from Big Shanty to Allatoona, capture the garrison and fill in the railroad cut there, march an additional five miles to the Etowah River bridge and burn it, then double back about seventeen miles to the main body of the army at New Hope Church. All this was to be accomplished by the next day – less than thirty hours.
The town of Allatoona was on the west side of the railroad and consisted of the John Clayton House, a few stores and the railroad depot. On the east side of the tracks were two warehouses containing 1,000,000 rations of bread. The Yankee garrison guarding the pass also protected a herd of some nine thousand cattle five miles to the North. The railroad cut called “Allatoona Pass” was approximately three hundred sixty feet in length, one hundred seventy-five feet deep, and sixty feet wide. In addition to the monumental task of filling in the cut, the men of French’s Division were going to have to contend with a Federal garrison apparently much larger and more heavily fortified than Hood believed.
French took his men out of Big Shanty at 3:00 p. m. and in his words:
“… went all alone into the land occupied by the enemy, and Gen. Hood moved farther and farther away, leaving me isolated beyond all support or assistance.”
The division arrived at Acworth at dark, but was delayed there till 11:00 p. m. waiting on the arrival of expected supplies and finding a guide. French talked with two young women who had visited Allatoona that day, and from them learned that the Union garrison there was commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel John E. Tourtellotte and that he had a force on hand of approximately one thousand men. Captain James R. Taylor of the 1st Mississippi Cavalry was dispatched to strike the railroad near the Etowah River bridge and pull up track to prevent the Allatoona garrison being reinforced, but he failed in his effort.
On October 3, Sherman ordered Corse’s Division from Rome to Allatoona. Corse left Rome by train at 8:30 p. m. on October 4 with Colonel Richard Rowett’s Brigade numbering one thousand one hundred thirty-seven. The twenty carloads of reinforcements and 165,000 rounds of ammunition arrived at Allatoona at 1:00 a. m. and as ranking officer Corse took command.
The division crossed Allatoona Creek, about halfway between Acworth and Allatoona, at 2:00 a. m. and arrived in the vicinity of Allatoona an hour later. French left the 4th Mississippi Infantry of Sears’ Brigade and one cannon to capture a blockhouse at Allatoona Creek and ordered Major John Myrick to place the eleven remaining guns on the hills south and east of the railroad to lay fire on the railroad cut. The 39th North Carolina Infantry and the 32nd Texas Cavalry (dismounted), both of Ector’s Brigade, were sent to defend the artillery. Colonel Julius Andrews of the 32nd Texas Cavalry was placed in command of the two regiments.
French wished to approach the enemy positions atop Allatoona Pass from the West, and as the rest of the division moved in that direction, their guide became lost in the dark woods and French called a break. The men had been on the march for most of the twelve hours since leaving Big Shanty. They moved out when it became light enough to see and arrived at a ridge six hundred yards west of the pass at about 7:30 a. m.
In May of that year, Sherman had declined the opportunity to assault Allatoona Pass when it was in Confederate hands, as it was too strong a position. Now facing the Southerners were the men of the Union garrison behind their well placed and constructed fortifications. Colonel Tourtellotte’s men occupied a fort about three hundred yards to the east of the cut. It was fifty feet wide with twelve foot thick walls. Major General Corse and his troops were in a larger fort, seventy-five feet across, known as the “Star Fort”. It was protected by a redoubt to the West with two lines of trenches parallel to the only road leading up the ridge. A series of entrenchments and ditches connected the forts and redoubts. French wrote the following of the place:
“The whole formed a mountain fortress with immense entanglements of abatis, stockades, stakes etc. to check any assault on the works.”
French had on paper somewhere around thirty-two hundred men at Allatoona, but with his earlier deployments, only about two thousand were available to make the attack. Brigadier General Sears and his force consisting of six hundred fifty men in four regiments plus one battalion were sent to the north end of the pass to begin the attack in the enemy’s rear. Sears was delayed by high water, but when in position, the 35th and 39th Mississippi Infantries formed in line of battle east of the railroad and the 36th and 46th Mississippi Infantries on the West. Sears’ entire line faced south. Brigadier General Cockrell had nine hundred fifty men in four regiments placed in line on the ridge west of the railroad. The 2nd/6th Missouri Infantry were deployed on the left, then the 1st/4th Missouri Infantry, the 3rd/5th Missouri Infantry, and the 1st/3rd Missouri Cavalry extended to the right. Colonel Young formed his force of four hundred north of the Cartersville Road behind Cockrell’s line. His 4 regiments were deployed, from left to right, the 29th North Carolina Infantry, 10th Texas Calvary (dismounted), 14th Texas Cavalry (dismounted), and the 9th Texas Infantry. The right flank of the 9th Texas rested on the Cartersville Road.
The Rebel Artillery began firing on the Yankee positions at 7:00 a. m., but because of the extremely rough ground the infantry were not in position till 9:00 a. m. At 8:30 a. m., French, still unaware that the Allatoona garrison had been reinforced, sent Major David Sanders, his Assistant Adjutant General, down the Cartersville Road with the following demand for surrender:
U. S. Forces, Allatoona
Sir: I have the forces under my command in such positions that you are now surrounded, and, to avoid a needless effusion of blood, I call upon you to surrender your forces at once, and unconditionally. Five minutes will be allowed you to decide. Should you accede to this, you will be treated in the most honorable manner as prisoners of war.
Samuel G. French, Major General, C. S. A.”
Sanders said he waited fifteen minutes for a reply and when none seemed forthcoming returned to report to French. Corse, however, later reported that he sent the following response:
“Major General Samuel G. French, C. S. A.
Your communication demanding surrender of my command, I acknowledge receipt of, and respectfully reply, that we are prepared for the ‘needless effusion of blood’ whenever it is agreeable with you.
I have the honor to be very respectfully
John M. Corse, Commanding U. S. Forces”
The redoubt which straddled the wagon road six hundred feet west of the star fort was manned by the 7th Illinois and the 39th Iowa under the command of Union commander Colonel Richard Rowett. The 93rd Illinois was placed to their rear in reserve, but three companies were soon deployed forward as skirmishers. The three hundred men of the 7th Illinois were armed with the new Henry repeating rifles. A Napoleon of Amsden’s 12th Wisconsin Battery was placed near the road. In the fort to the East of the railroad cut, Tourtellotte commanded the 4th Minnesota Infantry, the 12th Illinois Infantry, the 50th Illinois Infantry, and four companies of the 18th Wisconsin Infantry. All told, the Yankees had eight cannon.
Early that morning Confederate Brigadier General Frank C. Armstrong’s cavalry, who was guarding French’s rear, detected an enemy force that had moved north of Kennesaw Mountain and was camped fifteen miles south of Allatoona. French received a message from Armstrong concerning this about the time he was waiting for an answer to his demand for surrender. He tired of waiting for Sears to begin the attack and about 10:20 a. m. ordered Cockrell forward. Cockrell’s troops were stalled in their attack temporarily by musket fire from Rowett’s redoubt. Young then brought his troops up after addressing them briefly and together the men of the two brigades charged the enemy, becoming entangled in chaotic hand to hand fighting. James Bradley of the 3rd/5th Missouri described the assault:
“The enemy fought like men and when within 20 yards of the entrenchments so deadly was their fire that our line halted and the contest seemed doubtful. Here many of those brave men, officers and privates, fell to do battle no more. But another deeper, louder yell, and Gen. Young’s Texans joined the charging ranks and the men leaped over the breastworks. Here sabers clashed, bayonets crossed, and clubs and rocks were hurled back and forth in a desperate struggle.”
From the Union perspective, Captain Mortimer Flint of General Corse’s staff wrote this description of Young’s attack:
“Now from out the woods and up the valley they came; a solid mass of sombre brown and clouded gray; no vacant places in their ranks; their artillery on each flank keeping up a constant roar… Young hurled his brigade of Texans on Rowett’s command. Well for us that their first attack was on the 7th Illinois, who were armed with Henry rifles, a fifteen shot magazine gun, which the rebels declared were loaded up on Sunday, and fired all the rest of the week…They had both a destructive and moral effect upon the enemy, who were now thrown into confusion and for a moment wavered, but soon rallied and with magnificent courage again breasted the storm.”
During the charge, Young was wounded in the foot but remained in command of his troops. The Federals in Rowett’s redoubt were reinforced by the remainder of the 93rd Illinois, but by then Sears had his brigade in motion and his Mississippians slammed into the flank of 39th Iowa. Rowett’s line was overrun and the scattered remnants fell back to the Star Fort.
By 11:00 a. m. the Federal commander, Corse, had nearly all his troops west of the railroad cut. Only the 4th Minnesota and four companies of the 18th Wisconsin remained on the east side – the rest were moved to the Star Fort by way of a footbridge which traversed the gorge. The fort proved to be no haven, however, as Cockrell and Young made four separate charges coming within one hundred yards of the walls and were only beaten back by the catastrophic fire of grape shot and canister from the enemy’s cannon and musket fire from the infantry crowded within the fort.
Rebels hid in every hole and behind every tree and rock raining fire on the fort from the North, South, and West. Corse himself was wounded in the cheek and ear temporarily dazing him. Rowett, also wounded, took over command of the fort. The Yankees were out of water and were rapidly running out of ammunition. Southern troops worked their way steadily closer till the fort was completely surrounded. They reached the ditch at the base of the fort’s walls and prepared for the last charge that would carry them over the works.
By noon French had lost about one-third of his assault force and his troops were nearly out of ammunition. He had also received another message from Armstrong telling him that the Yankees seen earlier at Big Shanty were at Acworth at noon and would soon be only two miles from the only road that would take French back to the main body of the army. French elected to pull out before he was trapped and later wrote of his decision:
“Ammunition had to be carried from the wagons, a mile distant at the base of the hills, by men, and I was satisfied that it would take two hours to get it up and distribute it under fire before the final assault. I had learned from prisoners that before daylight the place had been reinforced by a brigade under General Corse. By noon he (the Federals seen north of Big Shanty) could reach Acworth and be within two miles of the road on which I was to reach New Hope Church. My men had marched all day on the 3rd; worked all night of the 3rd destroying the railroad; had worked and marched all day on the 4th; marched to Allatoona on the night of the 4th; had fought up to the afternoon of the 5th; and could they pass the entire third day and night without rest or sleep if we remained to assault the remaining works?
Under these circumstances I determined to withdraw, however depressing the idea of not capturing the place after so many had fallen, and when in all probability we could force a surrender before night. Yet, however desirous I was of remaining before the last work and forcing a capitulation, or of carrying the interior work by assault, I deemed it of more importance not to permit the enemy to cut my division off from the army. After deliberately surveying matters as they presented themselves to me, I sent General Sears to withdraw his men at once, moving by the route he went in, and directed General Cockrell to commence withdrawing at 1:30 p.m.”
So at 1:00 p. m. French ordered all artillery but one battery to head for Allatoona Creek. Feeling victory within their grasp, Cockrell and Sears balked at the order to withdraw. Colonel Elijah Gates asserted he could take the star fort in another twenty minutes. French stood fast however and the men of Ector’s and Cockrell’s brigades reformed on the ridge and rested in the shade within range of the fort till 3:00 p. m. when they were joined by Sears’ Brigade. Together they moved to the Cartersville Road and on to Allatoona Creek to collect the artillery. At 4:30 p. m. the division began the march down Sandtown Road toward New Hope Church to rejoin Hood’s army.
When the Confederate troops withdrew, the survivors remaining in the Star Fort looked from there breastworks on an incredible sight, which was eloquently described by Harvey M. Trimble of the 93rd Illinois:
“The scene in that ravine, after the battle was ended, was beyond all powers of description. All the languages of earth combined are inadequate to tell half its horrors. Mangled and torn in every conceivable manner, the dead and wounded were everywhere, in heaps and windrows. Enemies though they were, their conquerors, only a few minutes removed from the heat and passion of battle, sickened and turned away, or remaining, looked only with great compassion, and through tears, upon that field of blood and carnage and death, upon that wreck of high hopes and splendid courage, that hetacomb of human life.
Their dead and wounded were scattered through the woods and ravines and gulches all around, and were continually found, and the dead buried, from day to day, until the 22nd of October.”
Before the attack commenced, French was aware that there would be difficulty transporting wounded on litters to the ambulances waiting on the road due to the steepness of the terrain. As men went down, therefore, they were gathered at a spring near the ridge and those who could walk were sent to the ambulances and the rest were left with Surgeons detailed to stay and tend them. When French began his assault, the Missouri troops, with Young’s Texans close behind, fought their way into Allatoona itself and Major De Aragon and the rest of the division surgeons set up a hospital in the Clayton House where today one can still see bloodstains on the floor in a room on the second floor where surgery was performed. There are graves in the back yard of the house where men from Missouri are buried, and sometime after the war, a man from Ector’s Brigade visited the house and told the owner that he had his arm amputated there after the battle.
Lieutenant George W. Warren was one of the officers of the Missouri Brigade assigned to the task of guiding the walking wounded to the ambulances and he wrote of what he witnessed when passing the field hospital:
“Surgeons worked feverishly with rolled up sleeves and bloody arms as sweat beaded their faces. Some patients moaned, some screamed, some cursed their misfortune in getting hit and others cried like children or begged for water or whiskey or anything to ease their pain. The majority just gritted their teeth and prayed they would live.”
In the battle of Allatoona Pass, French’s Division captured one U. S. Flag and the regimental colors of the 93rd Illinois Infantry. They inflicted seven hundred six casualties. French’s own losses numbered eight hundred ninety-seven. General French paid this tribute to his fallen:
“It is due to the dead, it is just to the living, that they who have no hopes of being heralded by fame, and who have shed their blood for a just cause, should have this little tribute paid them by me, whose joy it was to be with them.
For the noble dead the army mourns, a nation mourns. For the living, honor and respect will await them wherever they shall be known, as faithful soldiers, who, for their dearest rights, have so often gone through the fires of battle and the baptism of blood. It would perhaps be an invidious distinction to name individual officers or men for marked or special services or distinguished gallantry where all behaved so well, for earth never yielded to the tread of nobler soldiers.”
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