Thursday, July 21, 2011

Battle of Allatoona Pass, Georgia - First Battle of the Franklin & Nashville Campaign

Monuments at Allatoona Pass Battlefield
Not far from Cartersville in Bartow County, Georgia, a beautiful battlefield park preserves the scene of the Battle of Allatoona Pass.

The first battle of Confederate General John Bell Hood's Franklin & Nashville Campaign, the fight took place on October 5, 1864, when Hood sent General Samuel G. French's division to take the Union forts that guarded the Deep Cut at Allatoona Pass. The cut, dug to a depth of 175 feet through the solid rock of the Allatoona Mountains, provided a usable grade for the trains of the Western & Atlantic (W&A) Railroad. This single track was the only source of supplies for General William Tecumseh Sherman's Union army then occupying Atlanta.

Deep Cut at Allatoona Pass
French was to capture and fill the cut before destroying the nearby bridge over the Etowah River, all part of Hood's grand plan to cut off Sherman's supply line even as the Confederate army slipped away through Alabama to Tennessee for a move on Nashville.

It did not take Union scouts long to realize that French was on the move with his 3,276 man division. From a tower on the top of Kennesaw Mountain near Atlanta, Sherman had messages sent by signal flag urging the 976 Union soldiers guarding Allatoona Pass to hold on until reinforcements could reach them. A Northern officer later remembered the message as saying, "Hold the fort; I am coming."

Earthworks of the Star Fort
In 1870, evangelist and composer Philip Paul Bliss heard Major Daniel Webster Whittle tell the story at a Sunday School convention in Illinois. So moved was he by it that he soon wrote the Christian hymn, "Hold the Fort." It remains a favorite in America's churches to this day and, strangely, has also been adopted - although with altered lyrics - as a rally song by the labor unions of Great Britain and the Carribean.

Sherman's two messages actually said "Sherman is moving in force; Hold Out!" and "General Sherman says Hold Fast. We are coming." When asked about the song in later years he said that while he never sent the message "Hold the Fort," that was certainly the intent of his messages.

The Union troops at Allatoona Pass did indeed "Hold the Fort." In a bloody mountaintop battle, they repelled four separate attacks on the Star Fort by the veterans of French's Division.

To learn more about the Battle of Allatoona Pass, the writing of the song "Hold the Fort" and to take an online tour of the battlefield, please visit

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