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Movement against Allatoona — letter from General S. G. French.

Dear Major — Yours of the 24th instant is just at hand. I have carefully examined your article on General Hood's campaign in Tennessee, that you read before the Southern Historical Society of Kentucky. I appreciate the motive that induced you to write the article to vindicate the army that he commanded against some unjust accusations he made to shield his own errors. In this you have well succeeded. You have also vindicated General Cheatham; and yet, I never thought he needed it, for General Hood being present at the front, in person, from 2 P. M., till sun-rise the next morning, of itself vindicated the command for not doing that which it came so cheerfully to do. Hood told me that he “pointed out to Cheatham the enemy's wagons passing along the turnpike in his front, and said to him, ‘Turn those wagons into our camp!’ ” and yet the silence of the day, and the quietness of the camp all night long, told him but too well it was not being done. You may remember, that when he said to me the next morning: “General French, we have let the greatest opportunity of the war slip through our hands,” I replied to him rather figuratively, “Yes, I understand, the Yankees were passing along all night, lighting their pipes at our camp fires.”

In General Hood's book, (and which will be referred to by future historians,) in regard to myself, he has departed so unnecessarily from the truth to vindicate himself, when no vindication was necessary, that I will refer to his statements.

Let us see how he did this. And now just here you will pardon me while I point out to you — as a warning to historians — wherein you have perpetuated his errors in your article. You repeat, in reference to Allatoona, “Hood ordered French's division to move up the railroad to Allatoona mountain, and destroy the railroad at that point, capture the garrison, supposed to consist of three and one-half regiments, and destroy the depot of army stores accumulated there; and also, if possible, burn the bridge across the Etowah river.”

Now, Hood says on page 257, in Advance and retreat, “I had received information — and General Shoup records the same in his diary — that the enemy had in store at Allatoona, large supplies, which were guarded by two or three regiments. As one of the main objects of the campaign was to deprive the enemy of provisions, Major-General [403] French was ordered to move his division, capture the garrison, if practicable, and gain possession of the supplies.”

By his own words I will make him condemn what I have quoted from page 257. Here are his orders to me; he was miles away to the west of me:

Headquarters army of Tennessee, 7:30 A. M., October 4th, 1864. General--General Hood directs that later in the evening, you move Stevenson back to Davis's cross-roads, and that you bring two of your divisions back to Adams's, and between Adams's and Davis's cross-roads, placing them in such way as to cover the position at Adams's, now occupied by Stevenson; and that your Third division, (say French's,) shall move up the railroad and fill up the deep cut at Allatoona with logs, brush, rails, dirt, &c. To-morrow morning, at day-light, he desires Stevenson to be moved to Lieutenant-General Lee's actual left, and that two of your divisions, at that time at Adams's, to draw back with your left in the neighborhood of Davis's cross-roads, and your right in the neighborhood of Lost Mountain, and the division that will have gone to Allatoona, to march thence to New Hope church, and on the position occupied by your other troops — that is, that the division shall rejoin your command by making this march out from the railroad, and via New Hope.

General Hood thinks that it is probable that the guard at the railroad bridge, on the Etowah, is small, and when General French goes to Allatoona, if he can get such information as would justify him, if possible, move to that bridge and destroy it.

General Hood considers that its destruction would be a great advantage to the army and country. Should he be able to destroy the bridge, in coming out he could move as has been before indicated, via New Hope.

Yours respectfully,

A. P. Mason, A. A, G. Official:
W. D. Gale, A. A. G. Major General French, Commanding Division.

Not satisfied with the details of the foregoing order, General Hood sent another, more minute in details about the bridge. I will reproduce it:

Headquarters army of Tennessee, office of Chief of staff, Oct. 4, 11:30 A. M., 1864.--General: General Hood directs me to say that it is of the greatest importance to destroy the Etowah railroad bridge, if such a thing is possible. From the best information we have [404] now, he thinks the enemy cannot disturb us before to-morrow, and by that time your main body will be near the remainder of the army. He suggests that, if it is considered practicable to destroy the bridge when the division goes there and the artillery is placed in position, the commanding officers call for volunteers to go to the bridge with lightwood and other combustible material that can be obtained, and set fire to it.

Yours respectfully,

A. P. Mason, Major and A. A. G. Lieutenant-General Stewart, Commanding.

These two orders were the only instructions given by General Hood. Analyze and construe them as you will and you cannot find one word to sustain the assertion of General Hood, that he ordered me to move to Allatoona, “capture the garrison if practicable and gain possession of the supplies.”

If General Hood knew that the Allatoona Pass was fortified and garrisoned and then sent troops there to fill up the cut with logs, brush, rails, etc., and did not inform the commander that it was so fortified and garrisoned, then he committed an almost criminal act. If he did not know it he should not be blamed for it, and I never have heard an individual complain of his not knowing it. Wherefore, then, did he attempt to pass it down to history that he gave certain orders, when, in truth, he did no such thing?

In my official report made to him one month after the battle, I said: “The General-in-Chief was not aware from these orders, that the pass was fortified and garrisoned that I was sent to have filled up.” I did not intend this as a reflection on him, because it would be unreasonable to expect a commander to know what disposition or all the dispositions an antagonist had made of his commands and stores many miles to the rear, and I am sorry General Hood undertook to make a record of his information, when that information possessed and not imparted to me was an act for which he would be condemned.

I, therefore, repeat that General Hood gave me no instructions about Allatoona except to fill up the cut, while he was profuse in details about the garrison at the bridge. And this is all very simple. He could infer, and it was natural to suppose, that the bridge over the Etowah was guarded, while he would not even conjecture that Allatoona was fortified. Further, if he knew of the garrison and vast stores, and wished them captured, why did he leave the command sent there isolated and unprotected?

The facts in the case are these: Hood, with the main army, moved [405] westerly toward Lost Mountain and New Hope church, while Stewart's corps struck the railroad near Big Shanty. Loring went to Ackunth, Walthall to Moon Station, and my command to Big Shanty to destroy the railroad. We continued at this labor all the evening of the 3d, all night, and the next day till noon. Now, while engaged at this work, commanding officers learned from citizens that Allatoona was fortified and garrisoned by about three and a half regiments, and that it was a great depot of provisions.

When General Stewart received the order that required me to move on Allatoona to fill up the cut, he handed it to me and said: “General Hood does not seem to be aware that the place is fortified, and now French, here is a fine opportunity for you;” and after talking the matter over he increased my artillery to twelve guns and sent Major Myrick to command them. And thus it was we knew that a garrison was there, and filling up that cut through the mountain became a very minor matter. But I am not disposed to fight the battle of Allatoona over again here, as a report of it was published in the annals of the Army of Tennessee.

But before I close, I will briefly allude to another error regarding myself, in Hood's Advance and Retreat. On page 326 it is written:

Just at this critical juncture, General French received information which he considered correct, but which subsequently proved false, that a large body of the enemy were moving to cut him off from the remainder of the army, and he immediately withdrew his command from the place without having accomplished the desired object.

On page 147, volume II. General W. T. Sherman says in his Memoirs:

I reached Kennesaw mountain about 8 A. M. of October 5: * * that I could plainly see the smoke of battle about Allatoona and hear the faint reverberation of the cannon.

From Kennesaw I ordered the Twenty-Third Corps (General Cox) to march due west on the Burnt Hickory road, and to burn houses and piles of brush as it progressed to indicate the head of the column, hoping to interpose this corps between Hood's main army at Dallas and the detachment then assailing Allatoona. The rest of the army was directed straight for Allatoona, northwest, distant eighteen miles. * * * I watched with painful suspense the indications of the battle raging there, and was dreadfully impatient at the slow progress of the relieving column, whose advance was marked by the smokes which were made according to orders; but about 2 P. M. I noticed with satisfaction that the smoke of battle about Allatoona grew less and less, and ceased [406] altogether about 4 P. M. For a time I attributed this result to the effect of General Cox's march, but later in the afternoon the signal-flag announced the welcome tidings that the attack had been fairly repulsed.

Now, at 12:10 P. M. I received from General Armstrong, Calvary Commander, a dispatch dated 9 A. M. informing me that the enemy had sent a column of infantry up the railroad, and I have that note before me. This infantry was General Cox's corps, moving, as he says, to intercept or interpose between the detachment then assailing Allatoona and Hood's main army. Wherein, then, was the information sent me by General Armstrong false?

In the History of the Army of the Cumberland, volume II, page 161, Van Horne says:

The gallant resistance of the garrison and the movement of General Cox to his left induced General French to withdraw entirely during the afternoon, having lost one thousand men.

I have now established that the information I received was true, and I repeat, it was this movement and nothing else that induced me to withdraw, after due deliberation, to save my command — left untirely unsupported by the army of General Hood.

One word more, and I will close. Did you ever know truth to overtake error? You carried my summons to surrender under a flag of truce. You returned to me without an answer, as you have stated in your article, and I never did receive any; yet history will record a reply that never was sent, because it reads very pretty.

Very respectfully yours,

Although well known, I will here add that General Corse arrived at Allatoona with his brigade and assumed command before the action commenced, thus making the garrison equal to the attacking force. At 12 M. General Corse received a signal dispatch from General Sherman saying, “Hold on to Allatoona to the last. I will help you.” Which dispatch give rise to the beautiful hymn, “Hold the Fort, for I am coming.”


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