1864 November 5: The Battle of Allatoona
The Battle of Allatoona, or Allatoona Pass, took place on October 5, 1864, as part of the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. A Confederate division under Major General Samuel G. French attacked a Union garrison under Brigadier General John M. Corse,¹ but was unable to dislodge it from its fortified position protecting the railroad through Allatoona Pass in Georgia. This report is from the November 5, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.
Battle of Allatoona, Ga.
A letter from Allatoona, Ga., dated the 18th, by a member of the 18th [Wisconsin] Regiment, gives another account of the rebel attack on Allatoona, its heroic defense and the disastrous repulse of the attacking party. It does not differ materially from the account already published. The writer, E. T. CHAMBERLIN,² of Co. H, however, gives some interesting items about the affair.
He says our pickets were attacked on the 4th, and during that night the sound of wagons and artillery was heard, apparently moving toward the post, so the attack was expected. It was understood the rebels had a large force and were determined on capturing the place, but its defenders made up their minds that it should not be done, at least, not without desperate fighting. The 12th [Wisconsin] Battery opened the ball and a very sharp artillery contest ensued. When this lulled, a yell from thousands of voices showed that the rebels had moved round to our left, where the ground was most favorable, and were about to make a charge. The 18th was then ordered to fall back to some forts on an eminence of about 100 feet. Though exposed to a severe fire of artillery and musketry, this was accomplished with little loss. The enemy came on and the battle raged furiously, our forces holding their position only with great difficulty. Some of the rebels reached the first rifle pits, but there found the fire so hot that they could neither advance or retreat, but sheltered themselves as best they could, till our fire slackened about the middle of the afternoon, when they crawled off and retreated in all directions.
Our correspondent says the field in front of our works presented a most sicking sight and was covered with the dead and wounded, many of the men begging for aid. He relates the following incident :
“One old man, shot through both hips and in a dying condition, called out to me as I was passing around among the dead and wounded and asked me for a drink of water, which I happened to have with me and gave him. He remarked as follows : ‘Boys you are fighting in a just and noble cause,—one that will win. I was opposed to seceding, and tried always to escape fighting for the rebellion ; but at last they got me, and here I am without firing a gun.'”
This correspondent estimates the rebel loss at 1,200 or 1,500, and says our men picked up about that number of small arms and buried some 300 dead rebels. An Adjutant General and several Colonels were included in the killed. Out of some 1,600 or 1,700 engaged the Union forces lost 120 killed, 150 prisoners, and in all about 700, which shows the desperate nature of the contest. The rebel force was a division of infantry under Gen. FRENCH, with part of three batteries.—Prisoners were taken from 16 different regiments, showing that the force of the enemy was largely superior, yet the victory over them was complete.
A correspondent of the New York Evening Post gives a highly interesting account of the fighting in defense of Allatoona, which he says “will be celebrated in the history of war as one of the bravest, nobles struggles in all the record.” Speaking of the value of Allatoona he says :
In view of the future possibilities, there was concentrated a million and a half of rations at Allatoona. It now appears that some women in the place learned this and gave information to the enemy. So General Hood [John Bell Hood] sent from Dallas French’s division of Stewart’s corps to surprise and capture the place. Here was a prize of priceless value to Hood with but seven days’ rations, and encamped in a barren country. If he could have occupied Allatoona with ten thousand men, such was the strength of the position, he could have held ten times his force at bay so long as the supplies held out. This might have necessitated the evacuation of Atlanta, and the costly fruit of the ablest campaign of this war, if not of all time, would have been wrested from our grasp.
SHERMAN [William T. Sherman] however had taken the necessary precautions to thwart the rebel designs and was moving heavy columns of troops north. At noon on the 5th he ascended Kenesaw [sic] mountain, and from that place, by signals, directed the movement of the different columns of troops. Early in the afternoon a fog which had hid the Allatoona mountains cleared away, and puffs of white smoke were seen, from one and another fort defending the town, gradually slackening till it was confined to a single redoubt, finally ceasing in that, and followed by a column of black from the position where Pumpkin Vine creek was know to be. There was a time of great anxiety. No answer could be obtained to the constant call from Kenesaw [sic] signal station, but SHERMAN expressed his confidence that CORSE, who had been ordered by signal to Allatoona with reinforcements would hold out to the last. And so it proved. He refused the rebel summons to surrender, and kept the flag flying, stoutly resisting the rebel attack, fighting with desparation [sic] , and sending back shot and shell for that rained on him by the rebels, meeting bayonet with bayonet, till the rebels, with terrible loss, were forced to withdraw. The Post’s correspondent concludes :
We lost some six hundred killed, wounded, and prisoners out of a force of seventeen hundred men, consisting of infantry and one six-gun battery. It was a hard-fought battle, with severe losses on both sides. In an entrenchment opposite the main fort, after the fight, there were found amongst the dead both Union and rebel soldiers with bayonets transfixed in each other. The town was destroyed by shot and shell. All the cavalry and artillery horses were killed, but the valuable stores were saved, the fort and the pass were held.
The regiments engaged were the 4th Minnesota, 18th Wisconsin, 93d, 9th and 50th Illinois, 39th Iowa, and 12th Wisconsin battery.
All honor to the dead who died no doubtful death, conscious that liberty and their country owe them and eternal debt of glory ! Brave General Corse ! Brave soldiers who survive who survive the battle, to receive from their fellow men the laurel wreath of fame !
The Sentinel has a private letter from an officer in SHERMAN’s army in regard to this heroic defence, in which Wisconsin troops performed so prominent a part. The only guns in the fort defending the town were those of the 12th Wisconsin battery, under command of Lieut. AMSDEN.4 The officer says : “Poor AMSDEN, of the 12th, who was mortally wounded, fought like a hero, although it was almost certain death to serve the guns in the miserable fortifications in which they at last held the rebels at bay.
“The 18th Wisconsin infantry were distinguished by the steadiness and bravery with which they withstood the rebel attack. They fought like tigers, although many of them had served out their time. Gen. SHERMAN, in speaking of the conduct of our Wisconsin boys in the defence of the place, said he ‘had no better troops in his army than the Wisconsin soldiers,’ and that ‘he always depended on them in the trying times.” A high compliment from the taciturn SHERMAN, and one richly merited.”
A nation’s thanks are richly due to those who saved SHERMAN’s army and the country from serious disaster.
1. John Murray Corse (1835-1893) attended West Point for two years, leaving in 1855 to attend law school. He then returned to Iowa and was nominated as the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. In 1860 he ran, unsuccessfully, for secretary of state for Iowa. Corse joined the 6th Iowa Infantry as its major in July 1861. He was a staff officer during the liberation of the Upper Mississippi, and then served in the front line at Corinth and Vicksburg, being promoted to brigadier general of Volunteers in August of 1863. Corse participated in the Chattanooga Campaign, and after recuperating from an injury suffered at Missionary Ridge, Corse returned to active duty on General Sherman’s staff. He is chiefly remembered for his stubborn defence of the Allatoona Pass (October 1864) against superior numbers, despite being seriously wounded. Corse later participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea and the Siege of Savannah. In the final months of the War, he led his division during the Carolinas Campaign.
2. Edgar T. Chamberlain, from Berlin, Wisconsin, enlisted November 5, 1861, in Company H of the 18th Wisconsin Infantry.
3. “Battle of Allatoona Pass,” by Thure de Thulstrup (Boston: L. Prang, c1887). From the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
4. Marcus Amsden (abt. 1830-1864), from Janesville, enlisted in the 12th Battery Wisconsin Light Artillery on August 18, 1862. He was promoted to corporal and then senior 2nd lieutenant; on February 22, 1864, he was promoted to junior 1st lieutenant. He died October 9, 1864, from wounds received at the Battle of Allatoona on October 5.