Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Battle of Allatoona Pass - Bartow County, Georgia

Star Fort at Allatoona Pass
Just outside Cartersville, a small parking lot serves as the trailhead for one of the most remarkable historic sites in Georgia - the Allatoona Pass Battlefield.

Developed by the Etowah Valley Historical Society and now maintained by Red Top Mountain State Park, the battlefield is open daily during daylight hours. It preserves the scene of the bloody fight for possession of the "Deep Cut" at Allatoona Pass during the opening days of the Franklin & Nashville Campaign.

Sherman had taken Atlanta after months of marching and fighting on September 2, 1864. Confederate General John Bell Hood, now commanding the Army of Tennesee, decided that instead of continuing to oppose Sherman's larger army around Atlanta he would turn west and then north to invade Tennessee and strike Nashville before Union reinforcements could be moved to the vital city.

Railroad Cut at Allatoona Pass
As the first step in this campaign, he sent General Samuel G. French to seize the Union forts at Allatoona Pass and fill the 175-foot deep railroad cut. French was then to fall back a short distance to the Etowah River and destroy the bridge there, before turning back to reunite with Hood's main army at New Hope Church. Unfortunately for French, Hood gave him only his own 3,276 man division and two days to accomplish this herculean task.

True to his orders, though, French marched immediately on Allatoona. Learning of his movement, General Sherman had messages sent to the post using signal flags waved from a tower on the top of Kennesaw Mountain.  These messages, which urged the Federal troops at Allatoona Pass to hold on until reinforcements could reach them, later inspired the Christian hymn "Hold the Fort."

Infantry Trench at Allatoona Pass
The Battle of Allatoona Pass opened on the morning of October 5, 1864, when French attached the strongly built Union defenses from the north and west. Although he was able to overrun an advanced position, at no point were his hard-fighting men able to break the Federal lines.  They charged the key Star Fort four times over open ground, but could not take the fiercely defended position. 

When the smoke cleared, the Confederate general had sustained higher than 30 percent casualties. The 2,000 or so Union soldiers defending the forts on the high ridge at Allatoona Pass were also badly bloodied. In fact, it would take nearly three weeks to locate and bury all of the dead from both sides.

To learn more about the battle and view a new online tour of the battlefield, please visit

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