Civil War in Georgia, October 1864: The Battle of Allatoona Pass

Marching back across the same ground fought over in May and June 1864, Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee entered Cobb County and prepared to strike the lifeline of the Federal invaders, the Western and Atlantic Railroad. It was thought that if the gray coats could cut the railroad, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman would be compelled to abandon Atlanta.

Hood indicated in an Oct. 4 dispatch to Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart that if the Confederates could “fill up the deep cut at Allatoona (north of Acworth) … its destruction would be a great advantage to the army.” The problem was, the Federals were strongly entrenched there and could be expected to fiercely resist any attempt to block the railroad.

Skirmishing near Big Shanty — now the city of Kennesaw — when Hood’s order came through, Maj. Gen. Samuel French learned he would lead the effort to destroy the rail cut through the Allatoona Mountains. (The area today is dominated by Lake Allatoona, a man-made lake created in the late 1940s, and Red Top Mountain State Park.) The knowledge Hood lacked of the pass — and of the Federal forces guarding the area — would soon present problems for French and his three brigades of infantry and accompanying artillery.

Credit: Brian O'Shea

Credit: Brian O'Shea

Embarking through an unknown region, French secured the service of a young guide to escort his force. Trudging through strange terrain during the night certainly necessitated an experienced pair of eyes. But though the youth knew the local roads, the darkness, coupled with the thick undergrowth, prompted French to halt his forces short of the pass. He would await the light of day to complete the trek.

Nearing Allatoona Pass, the Confederates gazed upon a heavily fortified area. Unknown to French, while his men spent the evening struggling through the wilderness, his Northern counterpart in Rome, Maj. Gen. John Corse — warned of the Confederate advance toward Allatoona — had boarded several regiments onto a train and made haste for the pass.

By the time French launched his attack around 10 a.m. Oct. 5, the Confederates faced not only a well-fortified position, but the challenge of overcoming the recently arrived Federal reinforcements. The pass itself is 175 feet deep, cut by hand through solid rock. Blue coats occupied the heights flanking the cut — the Eastern Redoubt on the east, and the more formidable Star Fort on the west. Both positions were connected by a footbridge spanning the pass.

Parking Maj. John Myrick’s artillery atop Moore’s Hill, a prominence south of the pass, French moved his infantry into position for the attack. Brig. Gen. Claudius Sears would swing wide to the left and hit the pass from the rear. Brig. Gens. Francis Cockrell and William Young would advance along the Cartersville Road until close enough to the Star Fort to straddle the ridgeline and continue. Heavy fighting occurred at Rowett’s Redoubt, which guarded the road French’s men traveled.

With the Confederates attacking from the north and west, they eventually drove many of the Federals into the safe confines of the Star Fort. Troops in the Eastern Redoubt poured fire upon Sears’ men. After several hours of fighting, French received a dispatch — false, it turned out — alerting him of Federals approaching his rear. He called off the attack around 1:30 p.m. and maneuvered his army away from the area while his only avenue of escape remained open.

Pausing to look over the scene of the day’s fighting, he observed, “Silence, like the pall of death, rests over Allatoona; it is as lifeless as a graveyard at midnight.”

Both sides suffered heavy casualties for the number of troops engaged. Corse, with an effective strength of around 2,000 soldiers, lost over 700 men. French threw approximately the same numbers against the Federals; when he made his way to Dallas to rejoin Hood’s army, he did so absent almost 900 troops dead, wounded or missing.

During the balance of October, Hood’s Army of Tennessee bivouacked in a different locale almost every evening. After leaving Dallas, they moved first to Van Wert. Advancing toward Rome, the army passed through Cave Spring, Coosaville and Sugar Valley before swinging back to the east, tearing up tracks near Resaca and then marching on Dalton.

On Oct. 13, Col. Clark Wever, commanding the Federal post at Dalton, refused Hood’s surrender demand, despite the general’s threat that if Wever refused, “no prisoners will be taken.”

Wever responded, “In my opinion, I can hold this post; if you want it, come and take it.”

Wever, with a force of 1,000 to oppose Hood’s entire army, eventually had to give up the garrison.

Sherman pursued Hood and finally caught up with him Oct. 15 when skirmishing broke out in Snake Creek Gap, the scene of Maj. Gen. James McPherson’s missed opportunity in the early stages of the Atlanta Campaign.

The Army of Tennessee broke off the engagement and moved west toward Gadsden, Ala. Sherman continued the chase, but frustrated with what he said was Hood’s ability to march “with great rapidity,” decided to let him go. From his quarters in Gaylesville, Ala., Sherman ordered Maj. Gen. John Schofield to take his army and join Maj. Gen. George Thomas in Nashville. Those officers would keep an eye on Hood while Sherman made his plans for the rest of Georgia.

Michael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author and lecturer. He can be contacted at:

For more on the Civil War in Georgia, follow the AJC: and AJC Battle of Atlanta page