The Battle of Allatoona, also known as the Battle of Allatoona Pass, was fought October 5, 1864, in Bartow County, Georgia, as part of the Franklin-Nashville Campaign of the American Civil War. A Confederate division under Maj. Gen. Samuel G. French attacked a Union garrison under Brig. Gen. John M. Corse, but was unable to dislodge it from its fortified position protecting the railroad through Allatoona Pass.
After the fall of Atlanta, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood moved the Confederate Army of Tennessee northward to threaten the Western and Atlantic Railroad, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s supply line. Hood’s corps under Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart attacked a number of minor garrisons and damaged track from October 2 to October 4. Hood ordered Stewart to send a division to attack the Federal supply base where the railroad ran through a deep gap in the Allatoona Mountain range and then move north to burn the bridge over the Etowah River. At Hood’s suggestion, Stewart selected the division of Maj. Gen. Samuel G. French, three brigades commanded by Brig. Gens. Claudius Sears, Francis M. Cockrell, and William Hugh Young.
The small Federal garrison, commanded by Col. John Eaton Tourtellotte, was a partial brigade (1st Brigade, 3rd Division, XV Corps), consisting of the 93rd Illinois Infantry, 18th Wisconsin Infantry, and Tourtellotte’s own 4th Minnesota Infantry. Before the Southern division arrived, Sherman sent a reinforcement brigade (3rd Brigade, 4th Division, XV Corps) to Allatoona, under the division commander, Brig. Gen. John M. Corse, who took command of both brigades. The Federal troops occupied strong defensive positions in two earthen redoubts on each side of a 180 feet (55 m), 65 feet (20 m) deep railroad cut and many of the men, including the entire 7th Illinois, were armed with Henry repeating rifles.
French’s division arrived near Allatoona at sunrise on October 5. After a two-hour artillery bombardment by twelve Confederate manufactured 12 pounder brass Napoleon guns of Myrick’s Artillery Battalion manned by men of Capt. Alcide Bouanchaud’s Battery [the Pointe Coupee Artillery), (Louisiana)], Capt. James J. Cowan’s Battery of Warren County, Mississippi and Capt. Robert L. Barry’s Battery (Lookout Artillery, Tennessee Volunteers)]. French sent a demand for surrender, which Corse refused. French then launched his brigades in an attack—Sears from the north (against the rear of the fortifications) and Cockrell, supported by Young, from the west. Corse’s men survived the sustained two-hour attack against the main fortification, the Star Fort on the western side of the railroad cut, but were pinned down and Tourtellotte sent reinforcements from the eastern fort. Under heavy pressure, it seemed inevitable that the Federals would be forced to surrender, but by noon French received a false report from his cavalry that a strong Union force was approaching from Acworth, so he withdrew at 2 p.m.
Allatoona was a relatively small, but bloody battle with high percentages of casualties: 706 Union (including about 200 prisoners) and 897 Confederate. Corse was wounded during the battle and on the following day sent a message to Sherman:
“I am short a cheek bone and one ear, but am able to whip all hell yet.”
French was unsuccessful in seizing the railroad cut and Federal garrison, regretting in particular that he was unable to seize the one million rations stored there, or to burn them before he retreated.
There is a persistent myth that Sherman signaled the garrison to
“hold the fort”
while reinforcements were rushing to their relief, and that intercepting this signal may have been a factor in causing the Confederates to withdraw. Sherman denied the story and in fact the relief column under Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox did not arrive until two days after the battle. Nevertheless, the quotation “hold the fort” is attributed to Sherman. The most likely source of the quotation was a hymn entitled Hold the Fort by Chicago evangelist Philip P. Bliss, which featured the chorus,
“Hold the fort; for we are coming, Union men be strong.”