After the fall of Atlanta to Sherman’s Union armies in early September 1864 the frantic campaign activity of the previous four months fell into a lull. The defeated Confederate Army of Tennessee under the command of General John B. Hood was encamped near Palmetto. During a visit from President Jefferson Davis, the high command decided to strike the railroad supply lifeline of Sherman’s armies in Atlanta, the Western & Atlantic Railroad, using a series of hit and run tactics. If Sherman followed with his armies, the Army of Tennessee would retire into the mountains of northeastern Alabama. If Sherman advanced toward inner Georgia and the Atlantic coast, then the Army of Tennessee would pursue and attack the Union forces from behind.
On September 29th the Confederate army crossed the Chattahoochee River. The army spent October 3rd and 4th raiding Union outposts along the railroad and destroying large sections of the tracks themselves.
Around noon on October 4th, Hood ordered the division commanded by Major General Samuel G. French of Alexander P. Stewarts Corps to march to Allatoona Pass, defeat the garrison there, and destroy the railroad cut. Hood reinforced French’s depleted divisional artillery battalion with a battery to bring it up to full strength and a major to command the battalion. Despite misgivings about the orders, French marched at 11 PM and arrived outside Allatoona around 3 AM on October 5th.
Warned of an attack by speeches made by President Davis during his visits to the Confederate army, Sherman first dispatched divisions to Rome, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee to reinforce the garrisons there. He then followed Hood’s army with his own armies, the Army of the Cumberland, The Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Ohio. He left one division behind to garrison Atlanta itself. During the evening of October 4th he ordered to Allatoona the 4th Division, 15th Corps of the Army of the Tennessee, under the command of Major General John M. Corse. However, there were only enough railroad cars available to transport the better part of one brigade that first night, the 3rd Brigade commanded by Col. Richard Rowett. These reinforcements arrived at about 1 AM. Skirmishing began between the pickets of the two opposing forces as soon as French’s division arrived during the early morning hours.
General French detached the 4th Mississippi of Sear’s Brigade and a single Napoleon cannon to capture the Federal blockhouse guarding the railroad bridge across Allatoona Creek about a mile and a half south of the pass. He then stationed his artillery battalion on a small rise known as Moore’s Hill about 1200 yards south of the pass with instructions to begin bombarding the two redoubts at first light. Guarding the artillery battalion were the 39th North Carolina and 32nd Texas Cavalry (dismounted) detached from Young’s Brigade.
The Confederate plan of attack was for Sears’s Brigade to circle around and initiate the attack from the north while Cockrell and Young’s Brigades were to advance along the ridge west of the Star Fort. The Confederate artillery began their bombardment as soon as light permitted, at about 6:30 AM. However, the bombardment did very little damage. At 8:30 AM French sent Major David W. Sanders and a detachment of 17 others under a flag of truce up the Cartersville road toward the Union lines. Major Sanders was stopped at the Union rifle pits occupied by the 93rd Illinois, where he handed them a letter demanding the surrender of the garrison within five minutes. After waiting 15 minutes with no response, Sanders and the group returned to Confederate lines. In fact, General Corse later stated he did respond, in the negative of course, but the response did not arrive in time.
Although Sears’s Brigade had not yet initiated the attack, General French felt he could no longer wait. At about 10 AM he ordered the brigades of Cockrell and Young to attack. In truth, it had taken Sears longer than anticipated to march his brigade to its jump off point. He finally had his brigade in position and ordered it to attack at about the same time Cockrell and Young began their assault. The battle was on.
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