ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Battle of Allatoona Pass, Georgia
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Battle of Allatoona Pass, Georgia
|Battle of Allatoona Pass
The "Deep Cut" at Allatoona Pass was a major
landmark on the railroad north of Atlanta. It was to
capture this pass that the battle was fought.
Allatoona Pass Battlefield
The earthworks of the Eastern
Redoubt can still be seen at
Clayton (Mooney) House
Built prior to the Civil War, the
Clayton (Mooney) House
served as a hospital after the
Battle of Allatoona Pass.
Monuments at Allatoona
A memorial area contains
monuments to commemorate
the states of units that fought
at Allatoona Pass.
Allatoona Pass Battlefield - Bartow County, Georgia
The Battle of Allatoona Pass
|Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
The well-preserved infantry
trenches used by Union
troops wind through the
This earthwork fortification
was the scene of heavy
fighting at the battle, but held
out in the face of massive
The first battle of Hood's Franklin & Nashville
Campaign, the Battle of Allatoona Pass was
fought before Sherman began his infamous
March to the Sea.
The site is preserved today at Allatoona Pass
Battlefield near Cartersville, Georgia. Trails,
monuments and interpretive signs help
visitors understand the tactics of the battle
and the significance of the battlefield's well-
preserved Civil War fortifications.
The series of events leading to the Battle of
Allatoona Pass was triggered on September
2, 1864, when the Union army of General
William Tecumseh Sherman finally captured
Atlanta. The taking of the transportation
center came after months of hard fighting
between Sherman's men and the soldiers of
the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
As Sherman had fought his way through the
mountains to Atlanta, he had noticed the
Allatoona Pass, a place where the railroad
connecting Atlanta and Chattanooga passed
through the Allatoona Mountains. Cut 175
deep through solid rock to allow a usable
grade for the trains of the W&A (Western &
Atlantic), the pass was a vital strategic point.
The Union general quickly saw that a strongly
fortified force could hold the pass against the
attacks of a much larger army, bottling up his
supply line in the process. He sent his
engineering chief, Captain Orlando M. Poe, to
design and supervise the building of
fortifications to protect the pass along with
the key supply depot in the community at its
Poe fortified the ridge at Allatoona Pass with
two primary fortifications and a series of
infantry trenches to connect them. Artillery
was placed in the earthworks and trees cut
from the slopes of the ridge to open a wide
field of fire.
Sherman's decision to fortify the pass was
prophetic. Confederate President Jefferson
Davis met with General John Bell hood after
the fall of Atlanta and the two agreed on a
plan that called for Hood to take up a strong
position astride the W&A line between
Chattanooga and Atlanta. Such a move, it
was thought, would break the tenuous supply
line on which Sherman depended and force
him to come out of Atlanta and fight.
The plan might have worked. Sherman had
not yet fully committed himself to the idea of a
"March to the Sea" and was concerned about
just such an effort by Hood. Unfortunately,
plans were changed and instead of moving
with his entire army, Hood sent only the
3,276 man division of General Samuel G.
French to take Allatoona Pass.
Not only was French ordered to take the pass
and fill it in, he was also to destroy the bridge
over the Etowah River and then reunite with
the main Confederate army at New Hope
Church. By French's estimation, this would
have required him to march 96 miles in two
days while also carrying out the orders given
him. Since infantry forces of the time normally
marched 15 miles per day, the orders from
Hood were realistic at best.
As French deployed north from Big Shanty
near Marrietta, the Union observation post on
Kennesaw Mountain quickly detected the
movement. Headquarters was notified and
the wires soon became hot with telegrams
notifying Union forces north of Atlanta to
move to the support of the obvious Southern
objective at Allatoona Pass.
Lieutenant Colonel John E. Tourtelotte was
in command of the 976 Union soldiers at
Allatoona Pass. He learned of the coming
attack when signal officers used flags to
relay messages from Sherman urging that
he hold out for "we are coming." The story of
these words of encouragement inspired the
writing of the Christian hymn, "Hold the Fort."
The lyrics as written in 1870 include the line:
Hold the fort, for I am coming!
Jesus signals still.
Wave the answer back to Heaven -
By Thy Grace we will'.
While the song by Evangelist Phillip D. Bliss
song continues to be sung in churches to
this day, labor unions in Great Britain and the
Caribbean have altered it numerous times
over the years. The tune, with pro labor lyrics,
is widely used at rallies in the Caribbean.
At 1 a.m. on October 5, 1864, the day after
Sherman's message was read on the ridge
at Allatoona, Union general John Corse
reached the pass with a force of just over
1,000 reinforcements. He quickly positioned
the 2,000 Federal soldiers now assembled
there and prepared for French's attack.
Two hours later, at 3 a.m., the Confederates
arrived on the ground. Unable to reconnoiter
the situation in the darkness, French waited
until daybreak. As the first rays of sunlight
broke over the scene, however, he was
stunned to find himself facing what he called
a "mountain fortress."
The Confederate general prepared the best
plan he could under the circumstances. A
portion of his division moved to the left to
attack the Union positions east of the Deep
Cut, while the rest of the Confederates
attacked the Federals positioned west of the
Attacking from the northwest, the Southern
soldiers of the 35th and 39th Mississippi
tried to storm the Union trenches that ran
along the ridge from the Eastern Redoubt to
a footbridge over the Deep Cut. This section
of the Federal line was held by the 4th
Minnesota and 12th Illinois.
The attack required the Confederates to
advance across open ground and up a steep
ridge into the barrels of Union muskets and
cannon. It quickly degenerated into a bloody
disaster. Although they fought heroically, the
Mississippians were driven back. A large
number were pinned down in a gully where
80 were taken prisoner. Colonel R.J. Durr,
the commander of the 39th Mississippi was
The rest of the Confederates attacked on the
other side of the cut, trying valiantly to storm
the walls of the heavily defended Star Fort.
As the attack came up the ridge, the men of
the 36th Mississippi were closest to the cut
and found themselves facing fire not only in
front, but from the men of the 12th Illinois on
the other side of the railroad.
French's plan of attack called for Confederate
forces to converge on the Star Fort from three
directions at once. The primary obstacle to
the implementation of this plan was a Union
position called Rowett's Redoubt. Located
200 yards down the ridge from the main fort,
it was held by Colonel Richard Rowett with
the 39th Iowa and 7th Illinois, along with five
companies from the 93rd Illinois. A 12-pound
field gun was positioned in the earthwork
and many of the men held repeating rifles.
At 10:20 a.m., the redoubt was stormed by
General Francis M. Cockrell's Missouri
Brigade and General William H. Young's
Texas & North Carolina Brigade. The fighting
became hand to hand as the Confederates
reached the earthworks, with the men of both
sides using the butts of their muskets, rocks
and even their fists as weapons. The redoubt
was taken, however, and the survivors of
Rowett's force fell back to the Star Fort, taking
their cannon with them.
Taking heavy fire from the main fort as well
as from the 12th Illinois across the cut, the
full Confederate line swept forward at 11 a.m.
Attacking from three sides at once, the
Southerners made four desperate attacks on
the Star Fort, but their ranks were shattered
each time by a hail storm of cannon and
musket fire from the fort. Unable to take the
position, the Confederates poured fire into it
hoping to significantly reduce the size of the
700 man Union force holding it. The U.S. flag
flying over the fort was hit 192 times.
In the end the fortifications, artillery, repeating
rifles and high ground of the Union position
proved too much for the Confederates. With
additional Union reinforcements nearing,
General French ended the battle and by 3:30
p.m. was on the march to reunite with Hood's
main army. He had suffered the loss of
nearly one-third of his division.
The Confederates lost 897 men, including
the Mississippians captured in the gully near
the Eastern Redoubt. The Federals lost 706
men, roughly 200 of whom were captured. It
took nearly three weeks to find and bury the
bodies of all those killed.
Allatoona Pass Battlefield is located on the
western shore of Lake Allatoona in Bartow
County, Georgia. Developed through the work
of the Etowah Valley Historical Society, the
park features trails, monuments, interpretive
signs, the "Deep Cut" and the well-preserved
earthworks of both the Eastern Redoubt and
Star Fort, as well as the still visible infantry
trenches that connected them.
Now maintained by the staff of Red Top
Mountain State Park, the battlefield is heavily
wooded and parts of the self-guided tour are
a bit strenuous. Be sure to carry water in the
summer months, as no drinking water or
restrooms are available at the site.
To reach the battlefield from I-75 north of
Atlanta, take Exit 283 (Emerson-Allatoona
Rd.) and follow it east for 1.5 miles to the
battlefield, which will be on your left. Free
parking is available and there is no charge to
walk the well-marked trail. Please click here
to explore our online tour of Allatoona Pass
Also be sure to visit the grave of the Unknown
Confederate Hero near the battlefield. Please
click here for more information.
Allatoona Pass, Historic
The famous Barnard photo of
Allatoona Pass was taken not
long after the battle. Note the
Clayton House at left.
Allatoona Pass, Today
This view shows the southern
entrance tot he pass as it
appears today. The Clayton
House is visible at left.
This view shows the military
road built across the top of
the ridge by the Union army to
link key points.
The Gully at Allatoona Pass
Eighty Mississippians were
trapped in this gully during the
battle and taken prisoner after
the fighting stopped.