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Chapter 39: General Hood's northward march; Sherman in pursuit; battle of Allatoona

During our stay at Atlanta one very important work was accomplished besides the reviewing of the two armies for what General Sherman called “the next move.” It was the exchange of prisoners. That good work went bravely on, owing to the friendly relations between the detachments that both armies sent to the neutral ground. Between 2,000 and 3,000 poor fellows were saved from spending months in either Northern or Southern prisons. The prison life during our war, particularly at Libby and at Andersonville, was the most afflicting and the hardest for men who suffered it and lived to forget or forgive. It always gratified us beyond measure when we could make early exchanges of our men before they were weakened or disabled by the sufferings to which they were almost uniformly subjected.

It was always a very sore and perplexing thing to all army commanders in the field to deal with the subject of exchanges. If we should accept all the apologies of Mr. Davis, and the other Confederate officials as literally true, viz., that the neighborhood of the worst prisons were greatly impoverished by the operations of the war; that prisoners came in in floods, so that it was difficult to provide for them [53] abundantly or safely; and that the United States Government was very dilatory and, in fact, very reluctant to make exchanges; that it was a long struggle before the Confederates had belligerent rights at all, and till then neither one side nor the other conformed to the recognized rights and humanities of war between nations; still, admitting all this to be a reasonable statement of the case, the result of it reduced our soldiers confined in prisons and pens like that at Andersonville to great extremes of illness and weakness, often to mere skeletons, and caused the untimely death of thousands.

The fact which troubled me more than any other one thing-over and beyond my feeling of indignation and sorrow over the loss and the suffering — was that on the eve of the battle, after the exchange began to operate, sometimes 10,000 well men, strong and hardy, could be put in front of us, while our own proportional return of strong men would be less than 1,000.

In behalf of our men we could not help claiming that it was the plain duty of Confederate commanders to parole the prisoners which they took, unless they were able to afford them proper, ample, and convenient shelter, and good, wholesome food equivalent to a soldier's rations. Indeed, whether the United States ever did maltreat its prisoners or not, it had long been contrary to the laws of nations to cripple an enemy by the disabling, starving, or killing of prisoners of war. War is bad enough, but cruelty to prisoners belongs to the dark ages and to egregious barbarism.

Those who belonged to Sherman's army did not have much difficulty with those opposed to us concerning exchanges, yet we had but few opportunities [54] to make them. The general cartel on which we acted was established in 1862.

The first item was: All prisoners captured by either party should be paroled and delivered at certain points specified within ten days after their capture, or as soon thereafter as practicable. Second: Commanding general after a battle, on the battlefield might parole their prisoners by agreement. Third: No other paroles were valid; for example, if a partisan command or a guerrilla band captured a foraging party, and attempted to parole those who constituted the party, such paroles would not hold. In such cases the cartel would not be violated by ordering those composing the party immediately back to service.

Several individual cases arose which gave us much annoyance: for example, a Confederate major, Armesy, from West Virginia, went back to his State, now within our lines, and began quietly to recruit soldiers for the Confederate army. While engaged in this secret business he was caught and tried by courtmartial. The court, treating him as a spy, condetmned him to be hanged.

A little later Major Goff, from West Virginia, was captured by the Confederates as a prisoner of war and taken to Libby Prison. When Armesy's case became known at Richmond, Goff was sent from Libby to Salisbury, N. C., and closely confined for many months. Goff belonged to a strong Union family, and was held as a hostage for the life of Armesy.

Another difficulty arose which affected us more directly. It was that the officers in command of negro troops received special contumely and ill treatment. It took strong measures of retaliation to protect such [55] officers from indignities perpetrated upon them by Confederate authorities high in position. It is inconceivable why the exchange of General Milroy's officers was refused by the Confederates, for Milroy was one of the most honorable and law-abiding gentlemen. The attempt to prevent the exchange of the gallant Colonel A. D. Streight and his officers was extraordinary; and more marvelous still, the effort to give them up to the Governor of Alabama for trial on the charge of “negro stealing.”

Another unjustifiable act I have never seen defended was the returning of the Vicksburg prisoners to duty, declaring them exchanged without a proper quid pro quo.

All these violations of the cartel on the Confederate side worked badly for our poor Union soldiers, who in large numbers were enduring hardships equal to those inflicted upon many of our prisoners of war in the famous British prison ships during our Revolution.

The published accounts of what each army was doing while encamped, the one about Atlanta, and the other at first in the vicinity of Lovejoy's Station, and later near Palmetto and the Chattahoochee, are somewhat fragmentary, but they indicate something of the trying situation.

General Sherman was constantly meditating something for the future. That something was generally revolving upon a universal pivot, or hinging upon what Hood might do.

September 29, 1864, Hood left his position near Palmetto, Ga., putting Brigadier General Iverson with his command to watch and harass whatever Sherman might keep in the neighborhood of Atlanta. [56] Hood crossed the Chattahoochee, with Jackson's cavalry in advance. He had a pontoon bridge at Phillips' Ferry, near that village which bears the name of Pumpkintown. There was a trestle bridge farther down the Chattahoochee, at Moore's Ferry, recently constructed. Over it he drew the supplies of his army. He reached Lost Mountain and was established there October 3d.

Hood heard that we had an extensive subdepot at Allatoona Pass, so he directed Lieutenant General Stewart to cross a bridge over the Etowah River not far north of Allatoona and have it broken up; also to send one of his divisions to disable the railroad about Allatoona, and, if possible, seize and destroy the depot; he sent French's division for this work. The morning of October 5th French moved up in sight of the garrison, deployed his command, and very soon ran over the outer lines of its advance forces. One thing only was left which French very much coveted: that was the field works, pretty well constructed, with auxiliary. outworks, which the Union soldiers still held and were defending with extraordinary obstinacy. If this redoubt could be taken, what a clean sweep there would be of Sherman's line of communications between the Chattahoochee Bridge and the crossing of the Etowah.

Sherman's force in and. about Atlanta now numbered little over 60,000.

General Elliott then commanded the cavalry-two small divisions under Kilpatrick and Garrard. I have a copy of a letter General Sherman wrote, which I have not seen in print — a sort of offhand communication, such as flew from his pen or pencil in times of emergency: [57]

Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, October 2, 1864.
General Davis:
Communicate with Howard, and be prepared to send into Atlanta all your traps and to move with ten days rations toward Marietta or to Fairburn, as the case may call for; and if Hood has crossed the Chattahoochee with two corps to take our road, and has left one corps on this side near Campbelton, we should interpose.

W. T. Sherman, Major General Commanding. Official: A. C. McClurg, A. A. G.

As soon as Sherman found out what Hood was undertaking, he set his whole force in motion northward, except Slocum, with his Twentieth Corps, who was left back to keep Atlanta for our return. Sherman's first surmise of only two Confederate corps was incorrect, for Stewart's, Cheatham's, and Stephen D. Lee's corps were all included in the big northward raid.

After Stewart had captured some garrisons he drew back to Hood, near Lost Mountain. Now we commenced the pursuit in earnest from Atlanta the morning of October 3d. By the 5th we had reached the vicinity of the battlefield, Kenesaw Mountain.

As soon as Sherman heard that a division of the enemy had been seen marching northward not far from the railroad line he divined that the subdepot at Allatoona Pass was the coveted prize. This occurred to him before he had passed Vining's Station. On account of the breakup of the railroad and telegraph lines by Hood's men, we were obliged to depend upon day and night signaling.

Sherman sent one dispatch from Vining's to the top of Kenesaw, which was repeated from Kenesaw [58] to Allatoona Pass. This dispatch was then telegraphed to General J. M. Corse, at Rome, Ga. It was repeated by Vandever, commanding near Kenesaw. But, in fact, there were two dispatches, the first, to wit:

Commanding Officers, Allatoona, Kingston, and Rome:
The enemy moving on Allatoona, thence to Rome.


Second dispatch:

Sherman directs you to march forward and join Smith's division with your entire command, using cars, if to be had, and burn provisions rather than lose them.

Corse's answering dispatch to Smith, at Cartersville, of the same date, October 4th, says:

General: My last information is that a large force is moving on Allatoona. In accordance with General Sherman's instructions, I will move my entire command to Cartersville and unite with General Raum in attacking the enemy at Allatoona direct.

J. M. Corse, Brigadier General.

Corse was quick of apprehension and always ready for action. Taking all the troops he could make immediately available, and having a broken railroad quickly repaired, he hurried on in the night of the 4th to reach Allatoona by 1 A. M. October 5th.

As soon as he arrived he unloaded his men and supplies and sent his train back to Rome for more men. Corse brought with him about 1,000.

Colonel Tourtelotte at Allatoona and his brave men had held on against all preliminary skirmishing, [59] but the rumors by signal and otherwise were disheartening. Imagine the courage and inspiration which such a man as Corse with his reinforcement gave to them.

The Confederate commander very deliberately went about the investment of the garrison, and had with him, according to the latest returns, 2,962 effectives and a total of 4,412 men.

About eight o'clock, while the firing on both sides was still going on, Corse detected a flag of truce coming toward the redoubt from the north Confederate brigade. It brought in a dispatch which proved to be a communication from the Confederate general, French.

Around Allatoona, October 5, 1864.
Commanding Officer, United States Forces, Allatoona.
Sir: I have placed the forces under my command in such positions that you are surrounded, and to avoid a needless effusion of blood, I call on you to surrender your forces at once and unconditionally. Five minutes will allow you to decide. Should you accede to this, you will be treated in the most honorable manner as prisoners of war.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully yours, S. G. French, Major General Commanding Forces Confederate States.

All of us who knew Corse can see with what promptness and energy he instantly penned his brief response:

Headquarters Fourth Division, Fifteenth Corps, Allatoona, Ga., 8.30 a.m., October 5, 1864.
Major General S. G. French, Confederate States Army, etc.:
Your communication demanding surrender of my command I acknowledge receipt of. and respectfully reply that we are prepared [60] for “the needless effusion of blood” whenever it is agreeable to you.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, John M. Corse, Brigadier General Commanding Forces United States.

As soon as the return dispatch was off, Corse visited the different fronts of his redoubt and told the officers and men of the demand for surrender and what his answer had been. He encouraged them by his words and manner so that they were prepared to do their utmost.

His necessary arrangements were scarcely completed before the battle began in earnest, and raged with great severity. The resistance, in connection with the rough approaches, caused the Confederates considerable delay in approaching the regular advance points of the redoubt.

But the Confederate commanders did not yet give up. They covered themselves by other obstacles, such as trees, ravines, logs, and stumps, in such a way as to shoot down any Yankee soldiers who showed themselves above the irregular parapet. The men stood steadily to their duty in spite of their danger. French's Confederates worked themselves entirely around the trenches, and, though not rapidly, yet constantly, were picking off our men. About one o'clock Corse himself received a wound from a rifle ball which “crossed the left side of his face and cut off the tip of his ear.” He was upon his horse at the time. For half an hour the gallant commander seemed unconscious. Now, thinking he heard somebody cry, “Cease firing!” he revived and came fully to himself; [61] instantly he encouraged the officers around him to keep up their resistance. He told them that our army was rapidly approaching, and would be there before long.

Corse's words had the desired effect. The efforts of our men to fire above the parapet were renewed. Corse's artillery being out of ammunition, some fearless soldier, whose name, unfortunately, is not remembered, ran across under fire to the east hill, and brought them as much case shot and canister as he could fetch. About two o'clock in the afternoon some one reported a force gathering behind one of the houses, from which a rush was to be made upon the redoubt. Very quickly a piece of artillery was moved across the redoubt to an embrasure opening in that direction. From that point by two or three discharges the new column was broken up, and all the groups of Confederates were repelled by the quick fire from the waiting rifles of our men.

This event seems to have turned the tables in favor of this little garrison, and by four o'clock every front had been thoroughly cleared of living and able Confederates.

In this battle Corse commends Colonel Tourtelotte. He recommended him for promotion, and said of him: “Though wounded in the early part of the action, he remained with his men to the close.”

Of Colonel Rowett he remarked: “Twice wounded, he clung tenaciously to his post, and fully earned the promotion I so cheerfully recommend may be awarded him.”

The severity of the struggle may be noticed by the losses on Corse's side of 6 officers, 136 men killed; 22 officers, 330 men wounded; 6 officers, 206 men missing; [62] total, 706. They buried 231 Confederates, captured 411 prisoners, 4 stands of colors, and 800 rifles. Among the Confederate prisoners was a brigade commander, General Young.

There were several dispatches which passed between Sherman and Corse during this engagement, among them the famous signal which came over the Confederate heads from the top of Kenesaw sixteen miles away at 6.30 A. M.: “Hold fort; we are coming.” Fom this incident the famous hymn “Hold the Fort, for I am coming,” was written by Major D. W. Whittle, my provost marshal and personal friend. Later he became a well-known Evangelist. Also the following:

Commanding Officer, Allatoona:
Sherman says hold fast; we are coming.

And Corse's reply:

Allatoona, Ga., October 5, 1864.
... Where is Sherman?

Kenesaw Mountain, October 5th.
Near you. Tell Allatoona hold on. Sherman says he is working hard for you.


Kenesaw Mountain, October 6th, 2 P. M.
How is Corse? What news?

Dayton, Aid-de-Camp.


Allatoona, October 6th, 2 P. M.
Captain L. M. Dayton, Aid-de-Camp:
I am short of a cheekbone and one ear, but am able to whip all hell yet.

John M. Corse, Brigadier General.

For his acts of special gallantry in heroically defending Allatoona, Brigadier General John M. Corse was awarded the commission of Brevet Major General of Volunteers, October 5, 1864. [63]

It was quite a feat to communicate backward and forward sixteen miles by signal over the enemy's heads.

Even General Hood said: “General Corse won my admiration by his gallant resistance.”

General Corse's command belonging to my army, I issued the following order:

General field orders no. 18.

Headquarters Department and Army of the Tennessee, near Kenesaw Mountain, October 9, 1864.
While uniting in high commendation awarded by the General in Chief, the Army of the Tennessee would tender through me its hearty appreciation and thanks to Brigadier General John M. Corse for his prbmptitude, energy, and eminent success in the defense of Allatoona Pass against a force so largely superior to his own, and our warmest congratulations are extended to him, to Colonel Tourtelotte, and the rest of our comrades in arms who fought at Allatoona, for the glorious manner in which they vetoed “the useless effusion of blood.”

O. O. Howard, Major-aeneral.

As soon as the news of the failure of the Confederates to take Allatoona, and also the prevention of Armstrong's cavalry from destroying the bridge across the Etowah, was brought to Hood, then near Lost Mountain, he continued his march daily northward. He crossed the Coosa River near the hamlet of Coosaville, and then marched up the western bank of the Oostenaula. He went above Resaca, and quite completely destroyed the railroad all the way along above Resaca toward Chattanooga as far as our first battleground, “Tunnel Hill.” He captured our posts at Dalton and Buzzard Roost, securing at least 1,000 prisoners. [64]

By this time the Confederate cavalry under Wheeler had rejoined his army. As a last effort General Stephen D. Lee, with his corps, undertook the capture of the garrison at Resaca. Hood himself made the demand, October 12, 1864, to the commanding officer in these terms:

I demand the immediate and unconditional surrender of the post and garrison under your command, and should this be acceded to, all white soldiers and officers will be paroled in a few days. If the place is carried by assault, no prisoners will be taken.

Respectfully, your obedient servant, J. B. Hood, General.

Colonel Wever's reply is worthy of record, addressed the same date to General Hood:

Your communication of this date just received. In reply I have to state that I am somewhat surprised at the concluding paragraph, to the effect that if the place is carried by assault no prisoners will be taken. In my opinion I can hold this post. If you want it, come and take it.

I am, general, very respectfully, your most obedient servant, Clark R. Wever, Commanding Officer.

Wever had but a small brigade, yet Lee's investment was not complete, so that Wever was soon reenforced by our cavalry from the direction of Kingston.

Hood decided, doubtless, after Wever's rejoinder, not to assault the works, and commenced at once the destruction of the railroad.

My army was near Kenesaw, pulling on as rapidly as possible northward October 5th. During the night [65] of the 12th we all reached the vicinity of Resaca, having, in fact, recovered all of our stations up to that point, and commenced the speedy repair of the culvert and railroad tracks.

On the morning of the 13th we found that every detachment of the enemy had disappeared. His Third Corps had passed over beyond the high ranges westward, a part of them going through Snake Creek Gap and obstructing the way for four or five miles by felled trees. They were of every size, crossed and crisscrossed in our path. Sherman desired me, trees or no trees, to push rapidly after Hood, and I was eager enough myself to get through the obstructed gap.

I remember that General Belknap, one of my division commanders, afterwards Secretary of War under President Grant, was reluctant about leading the way, desiring the obstructions to be first cleared away by pioneers. I saw him delaying and walking toward Sherman, who was then standing near a house, so I sent Belknap word, through an aid-de-camp, to go on at once through the gap or I would send some one in his place. He showed considerable feeling, but went on to move his men. Small trees were thrown out of the way by the soldiers, while officers and men went steadily on under and over the larger ones; meanwhile, our engineers and pioneers who had good axes cut these off.

That very night before dark we succeeded in getting my two corps, Osterhaus's and Ransom's commands, in close proximity to Hood's army, and we thought then that Hood would delay with hope of engaging our forces piecemeal as they came through the mountains. Hood's headquarters were that [66] night near Villanow, but a few miles from us. The next morning at dawn there were no signs of the Confederate army in our neighborhood, except those of vacant camps. We proceeded as rapidly as we could as far as the town of Gaylesville, Ala. There we halted October 21st. Hood's whole army had by this time passed on. His own headquarters were then at Gadsden. The only skirmish in consequence of our pursuit that any part of my force had was on the morning of October 16th, when my leftmost division, under General Charles R. Woods, ran upon Hood's rear guard at Ship's Gap.

We there captured a part of the Twenty-fourth South Carolina. From that time on the Confederates were moving rapidly away from us. From the 21st to the 28th of October we remained at Gaylesville or in that vicinity, while Sherman was communicating with his commanders at Chattanooga and Nashville, and with his commander in chief at Washington concerning the future.

One of my corps officers, General Ransom, who was admirably commanding the Seventeenth Corps, was taken ill with what I supposed at the time was a temporary attack. It began about the time we drew out from East Point.

After Corse's victory at Allatoona, Ransom had written him as follows: “We all feel grateful to God for your brilliant victory, and are proud of our old comrade and his noble division. You have the congratulation and sympathy of the Seventeenth Corps.”

Ransom was a young officer who had graduated from Norwich University, Vermont, the son of the distinguished Colonel Ransom who lost his life in Mexico. [67] He was a large, strong, finely formed, handsome young man of acknowledged ability, exalted character, and great promise.

Hie was so desirous to go on this campaign that, though ill, nothing could prevent his undertaking it. At first he rode his horse and did his full duty night and day. When he grew weaker he had himself drawn at the head of his command in an ambulance, and at last he caused his men to carry him along on an army stretcher, resolute to the end.

He died, October 29th, in a house near our road, carried thither by his men, while his command was en route between Gaylesville and Rome, Ga.

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