The 7th Illinois Infantry at the Battle of Allatoona Pass
After withdrawing Confederate forces from Atlanta early in September of 1864 (and the subsequent capture of the city by Major General William T. Sherman’s army), Lieutenant General John Bell Hood began operations against Sherman’s supply lines, in particular the Western & Atlantic rail line that ran between Chattanooga, Tennessee and Atlanta. One important location along this rail line was a pass through the Allatoona Mountains of northern Georgia a dozen or so miles north of the town of Acworth called Allatoona Pass. Four roads also ran through the pass in various directions.
Sherman recognized the importance of Allatoona Pass, and had his engineers build fortifications for its defense, with rifle pits and earthworks, the largest of which was a six sided approximately 75 foot by 60 foot fort called the Star Fort, located just west of the railroad track. The garrison’s defenders included four infantry regiments, one battery of artillery, and a detachment of cavalry. Hood selected Major General Samuel French’s Division of Lieutenant General A.P. Stewart’s Corps to attack the outpost at Allatoona Pass, fill in the railroad cut with obstructions, and destroy the nearby bridge over the Etowah River.
To reinforce the garrison, a brigade from the 4th Division of the 15th Corps consisting of the 39th Iowa, the 7th, 50th, and two companies of the 57th Illinois Infantry regiments, under the command of the 7th Illinois’ Colonel Richard Rowett, arrived by rail from Rome, Georgia in the early hours of October 5th. The reinforcements also included the 12th Illinois Infantry from a separate brigade. Brigadier General John M. Corse, the commander of the 4th Division, arrived with them and assumed command of the entire garrison. But even with these reinforcements, the Confederates closing in on Allatoona still outnumbered U.S. forces approximately 3500-2200.
There was one other element that would close the firepower gap between the two sides, at least somewhat. The 7th Illinois Infantry, one of Corse’s reinforcement regiments of about 300 men, was armed with Henry lever action repeating rifles that held 16 rounds of .44 caliber rimfire ammunition. Although some Henrys were supplied by the U.S. government, most were purchased for individual regiments either by benefactors with financial means, or by the soldiers themselves. The men of the 7th Illinois were in the latter category; each man who bought one paid $52.50, not a trivial sum for a soldier who was $13 a month. But each soldier could fire many more rounds in a shorter period of time than they could with their standard issue single shot muskets, an advantage they obviously thought was worth the cost.
Upon arrival, the 7th Illinois deployments before settling in to some rifle pits along the Cartersville Road, which ran west from the railroad and Star Fort. Three companies were detached and sent as reinforcements to help out the 18th Wisconsin Infantry, which was skirmishing with Confederates along the railroad line to the south. Those companies weren’t gone very long. French attacked from the north and west, with a brigade of Missourians under the command of Brigadier General Francis Cockrell, backed up by a brigade of Texans under Brigadier General William H. Young advancing along the Cartersville Road. The three companies of the 7th were immediately recalled to rejoin the rest of the regiment. After sweeping aside Federal skirmishers, the Rebels encountered the 7th Illinois and 39th Iowa (on the right of the 7th Illinois), plus one piece of artillery. The 7th Illinois’ regimental historian described the scene as Cockrell’s and Young’s Confederates attacked:
The Seventh Illinois and the Thirty-ninth Iowa are standing like a wall of fire in the outer works to the right and left of the Cartersville Road. The storm breaks upon them in all its mad fury; the Seventh is now struggling against the reckless rush of the infuriated rebels that are swarming towards their front. The sixteen-shooters are doing their work; the very air seems to grow faint as it breathes their lurid flame.
The fighting was intense, with the two sides shooting at each other at close range and often fighting hand to hand. But French’s attacking force from the north, a brigade of Mississippians under Brigadier General Claudius W. Sears, had successfully pushed back its opposition and was advancing on the right flank of the Iowans and Illinoisans, threatening to overwhelm them. “It is soon discovered that it will be madness to attempt to hold the weakly constructed outer works” wrote the 7ths regimental historian. “A retreat is ordered; the Seventh and Thirty-ninth Iowa fall back slowly; rebel shot are ploughing great furrows in the earth; rebel shot fill the air; they fly everywhere; men are falling; the ground is being covered with the dead and dying”.
After a harrowing retreat under fire with the Confederates in full pursuit and the Federals returning fire as they pulled back, the 7th Illinois and 39th Iowa reached the Star Fort. These units, along with the 57th and 93rd Illinois, prepared to defend the fort. Among the wounded who made it to the Star Fort was Colonel Rowett. The rifle pits where the 7th Illinois and 39th Iowa made their stand would later be called Rowett’s Redoubt.
Meanwhile, the Federals defending the eastern side of the railroad tracks had fared somewhat better. French had committed more troops to the west side, and the U.S. forces under Lieutenant Colonel John E. Tourtellotte had held their own. General Corse, commanding in the Star Fort ordered Tourtellotte to send reinforcements there, and the Lieutenant Colonel sent the 12th and 50th Illinois. Three companies of the 18th Wisconsin also went to the Star Fort, while the rest of that regiment reinforced Tourtellotte’s 4th Minnesota Infantry on the east.
The Confederates attacked the Star Fort from three directions four times and were repulsed each time. “The Seventh, with their sixteen-shooters, are performing a terrible work of death” wrote the regimental historian, but as the fighting continued, ammunition began to run low. The numbers of dead and wounded in the Star Fort continued to rise, but the Confederates also took casualties and could not breach the defenses. General French had received word earlier in the day that U.S. reinforcements were advancing up the railroad toward Allatoona. After the fourth repulse, with his own men running low on ammunition, the battle deadlocked, and with U.S. reinforcements on the way, French decided to call off the attack and withdraw.
The Allatoona garrison had held, but at a cost of 707 casualties, about a third of its total strength. The Confederates had nearly 900 total casualties including 134 killed.
Lieutenant Colonel Hector Perrin, commander of the 7th Illinois Infantry at the Battle of Allatoona Pass, filed this after action report:
Hdqrs. Seventh Illinois Veteran Vol. Infantry,
Rome, Ga., October 15, 1864.
Sir: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the Seventh Illinois veteran infantry volunteers in the battle at Allatoona Pass, October fifth, 1864.
In compliance with orders from Colonel R. Rowett, commanding Third brigade, Fourth division, Fifteenth army corps, on the fourth of October, 1864, I had my command in readiness to move at a moment’s notice. At about six o’clock P. M., I was ordered to proceed to the railroad depot to get aboard the train, and to leave one company (company D) to report for duty to Major Johnson, commander post of Rome. The remaining nine companies, numbering two hundred and ninety-one muskets and eight musicians, got on board the train with the Thirty-ninth Iowa infantry, Fiftieth Illinois infantry, two companies of the Fifty-seventh Illinois infantry, and the Twelfth Illinois infantry, under command of Brigadier-General J. M. Corse; left Rome at about nine o’clock P. M., and arrived at Allatoona a little after midnight. After disembarking, I was ordered to take my position on the left of the railroad, south of the depot. About two o’clock A. M., I was ordered to form line of battle, some two hundred yards in front of my former position, with the right of my command resting on the railroad. At about three o’clock A. M., I received orders to move my command on the right of the railroad, with the left resting on the railroad, and the right resting on some buildings. A little after daybreak I received orders from Colonel R. Rowett, to throw two companies as skirmishers in front of my command, and to retire slowly to the fort on the hill, leaving one other company in town to cover the retreat of the skirmishers, if necessary. I was then ordered to take possession of a line of rifle-pits near the Cartersville road, with my right resting on that road and joining with the Thirty-ninth Iowa infantry. At about half-past 8 o’clock A. M, the enemy advanced against our lines on the Cartersville road. I therefore sent for my skirmishers, (three companies,) which were still on the right of the railroad and in town. They arrived as the enemy was charging our lines most furiously, and enabled, by their timely assistance, a portion of the Thirty-ninth Iowa to regain possession of a line of rifle-pits, from which they had been driven. After a long-contested struggle, the right of the line gave way before a vastly superior force, which movement compelled my command to abandon their rifle-pits and retreat to the fort. With a portion of it, I fled into the riflepits around the fort, and another portion entered into the fort, where the fighting was kept on until half-past 2 o’clock P. M., when the enemy retreated.
The loss sustained by my regiment are as follows: (37) thirty-seven killed; (66) sixty-six wounded–most of them dangerously — and thirty-eight missing.
I would here remark that all officers and men of my command did their duty well. Not one left his post as long as it could be held.
Inclosed is a complete list of casualties in my command.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
I have the honor to be most respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant- Colonel, Commanding Regiment.
Lieut. N. Flansburg,
Acting Assistant Adjutant- General, Third Brigade.
Lt. Col. Perrin’s casualty figures were revised slightly and officially reported as 35 killed, 67 wounded, and 35 missing. After Allatoona, the 7th Illinois returned to Rome, serving there before departing in mid November with Sherman’s army on the march to Savannah and the sea.
History of the Seventh Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry From its First Muster into the U.S. Service, April 25, 1861 to its Final Muster Out, July 9, 1865 by D. Leib Ambrose
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XXXIX, Part 1.
Sherman’s Battle for Atlanta by Jacob D. Cox.
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