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“IS IT A SURRENDER OR FIGHT?” - At Allatoona With the Missouri Brigade

In 1879, R.S. Bevier wrote a history of the revered Confederate Missouri Brigade. Part of Major General Samuel G. French’s Division in the Army of Tennessee, Brigadier General Francis M. Cockrell’s Missouri Brigade, played a central role in the fight at Allatoona Pass on October 5, 1864. After demanding the surrender of Union Brigadier General John M. Corse’s garrison, French sent forward his division to take the works by force.

Brig. Gen. Francis M. Cockrell, Library of Congress

Often considered the first battle of the Tennessee Campaign, it is interesting that a brigade so intimately attached to the fight at Franklin was also bloodied at Allatoona. While Bevier’s History of the First and Second Confederate Missouri Brigades has its flaws, the author includes an account of the October 5, 1864 battle from Lieutenant George Warren. It is a thrilling recollection of events, but some exceptions should be made for its accuracy.

“After marching all night for over twelve miles, and at a rapid pace, the head of the column emerged from a sheltering ravine just as the first faint gleams of daylight appeared, displaying to our eyes, as we deployed along the ridge, the ‘work’ that was before us. Three forts, guarding Allatoona pass, stood out in bold relief on the opposite hill, within musket shot.

Our line was quickly formed. As I looked across the intervening space to the bristling forts, and viewed the rugged mountain side, with the interminable abattis [sic] that lay between, and then cast my eye along our slender line, I thought to myself, ‘there will be hot work here if those regiments are made up of resolute men.’

Everything being ready, a messenger was sent in to demand a surrender. The officer passed down our front, and we watched the point where he disappeared over the hill with peculiar interest. We had not long to wait; as he passed us in returning, one of my boys asked:

‘Is it a surrender or fight, Major?’

‘Fight,’ was the laconic reply.

[Captain Patrick] Caniff ordered the company throw off everything but accoutrements. Our example was imitated by the rest of the regiment. A command to ‘load at will’ was followed in a few minutes by the bugle call to ‘forward.’

Our skirmishers, under Lieutenant Lamb, charged and drove in the enemy’s skirmish line. As we advanced we could see the gallant Lieutenant and his little band sheltering themselves as best they could just below the fort. The brave fellow was killed before we came up. When we reached the abattis our advance was momentarily checked. By the time our line had made its way through the network of fallen timber all our organization was gone. Companies and regiments were thoroughly mixed up. The first works we reached were carried in a rush. Some of the prisoners were captured, but most of the garrison fled to the next fort, where the fighting was more desperate.

Our men were met with a murderous fire of all arms, but pressed on to the fortifications; the color bearer, Harry DeJarnette, of the Second Regiment, was shot down- fortunately only wounded, and living yet to be an editor in Little Rock- but the fallen colors were raised immediately and planted upon the works. The battle now raged fiercely and, considering the number of combatants, was one of the bloodiest and most desperate of the war. The Federals stood their ground, and with fiery impetuosity our boys rushed upon them with the bayonet. The furious strife lasted for twenty minutes, during which the bayonet was the chief weapon used, and at the expiration of that time the fort was in our possession.”

Map of the Confederate advance, Image from the Allatoona Pass Battlefield

Attacking simultaneously, Brigadier General Claudius Sears’ brigade assaulted the other works but could not capture them. The third and final string of works proved too much for French’s Division and he ordered the Missourians and Sears’ Mississippians to withdraw. For the Missourians, the assault would be especially costly. In total, 271 men of the brigade fell killed, wounded, or missing.[1] Of the individual actions at Allatoona, Warren includes:

“Sergeant John M. Ragland, of the First and Fourth infantry, captured the flag of an Iowa regiment on the breastworks, waved it in defiance at the enemy and carried it safely away. For this heroic act he was appointed to convey the captured banners to Richmond as was duly promoted. Lieutenant [Henry] Gillespie, of the Third and the Fifth [2nd and 6th], broke his sword in a cut at a Federal soldier, whom he forced to surrender, and a number of prisoners were captured.”[2]

Battle of Allatoona Pass, Thure de Thulstrup

Throughout October and November, Confederate Lt. General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee continued their march north, away from Union Maj. General William T. Sherman’s army. On the 21st of November, the last ranks of the army crossed the Tennessee River and began their campaign into the Volunteer State. Having proved themselves in every major engagement in the West thus far from Pea Ridge to Corinth, Vicksburg to Atlanta, the Missouri Brigade marched on to Nashville and eternity.

[1] United States War Department, Official Record of the War of Rebellion, Series I, Volume 39, Part I (Harrisburg, PA: The National Historical Society, 1985), 820. [2] Robert S. Bevier, The History of the First and Second Confederate Missouri Brigades, (St. Louis, MO: Bryan, Brand, and Company, 1879), 244.

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Derrick Lindow
Derrick Lindow
Oct 05, 2020

Great post, Joseph!

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