part of a volume entitled History of the Ninety - Third Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry: From Organization To Muster Out --Statistics Compiled by Aaron Dunbar Sergeant, Company " B", Revised and Edited by Harvey M. Trimble, Adjutant
Submitted by Jeffrey MacAdam, to whom every reader should be grateful.
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Part 2 of 5 for Chapter 7.
All night long the night of the 4th, the campfires of the enemy and the flames of burning railroad ties cast red light through all the forests and hills and valleys between Allatoona and Big Shanty, tinged the clouds with bright colors, and, at times, clearly disclosed the rugged outlines of Kenesaw Mountain, eighteen miles away. And this foretold, in language not to be doubted, that the early morning hours of the coming day would bring an overwhelming force of the enemy to the attack and battle at Allatoona. Watching and sleeping, by turns, the mere handful of Federal troops waited there, with calm patience and fixed resolution, for the onslaught. There was not the slightest sign of weakness or of possible yielding anywhere discoverable among either officers or men. The calm, deliberate judgment of all was, that it was to be a fierce conflict; and the calm, deliberate and irrevocably fixed purpose of all was, to make it a battle royal, a battle to the last extremity of possible resistance, in which every life was pledged for, victory to our arms, and that defeat should never come save hand in hand with death.
Long before daylight, at 1:30 o'clock a.m., on the morning of the 5th, a volley of musket shots, on the picket line south of Allatoona, gave warning that the hour for deadly strife had come. The Confederate division, Maj. Gen. S. G. French, commanding, (of General Stewart's corps), having moved up from Big Shanty and Ackworth, on the Marietta and Dallas roads, immediately after reaching the Federal lines, attacked and drove the pickets back to their reserves.
That division included General Ector's brigade, then commanded by Col. W. H. Young, composed of the Twenty-ninth and Thirty-ninth North Carolina, the Ninth, Tenth, Fourteenth and Thirty-second Texas, (and these last four were really consolidated Texas and Mississippi regiments), and Major Jacques' battalion; General Cockrell's brigade, then commanded by Col. E. Gates, composed of the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Missouri Infantry, and the First and Third Missouri Cavalry; General Sears' brigade, then commanded by Col. W. S. Barry, composed of the Fourth, Seventh, Thirty-fifth, Thirty-sixth, Thirty-ninth and Forty-sixth Mississippi; and two batteries of six guns each. It is believed that the whole force numbered not less than 6,700 officers and men.
Within ten minutes after the first shots were fired on the picket lines, the whole Federal forces at Allatoona was in battle array. Disposition of our troops was immediately made to meet and repel the enemy at different points of the field. The right wing of the Ninety-Third Illinois, under command of Maj. James M. Fisher, was sent out to hold a commanding position on the "New Fort" road, southwest from the western fort. Three companies of the left wing of the regiment occupied the rifle-pits around the western fort, and the other two companies were in the fort. Other troops occupied the intrenchments on and across the Cartersville road west of the western fort. Seven companies of the Eighteenth Wisconsin, were sent to the support of the picket reserves on the Marietta and Dallas roads. The Fourth Minnesota and the Twelfth Illinois and the two companies of the Fifty-seventh Illinois occupied the fort and intrenchments on the east side of the railroad cut. Other troops were placed, fronting toward the south and west and north. There were no indications of an attack by the enemy from the east, and it was not probable that any attack would come from that direction. The territory between the points of the compass due north and east southeast from the eastern fort, for a full half-mile all around, was in the open valley of Allatoona Creek, and every foot of it was within point-blank range of the guns of that fort. Hence, attack from that quarter was extremely hazardous. None was made at any time during the battle. The guns of the Twelfth Wisconsin Battery were equally divided between the two forts, two Rodmans and a brass piece in each fort.
During the night, the enemy moved a large part of his forces around the ridge, to and beyond the Cartersville road west of the western fort; and extended his lines, with other forces, to and beyond the railroad to a point nearly north from the eastern fort; thus forming fully five-eighths of a circle around the Federal position. He also planted eleven pieces of artillery on the mountain slope beyond Allatoona Creek, southeast from the village, about three-quarters of a mile away. General French also sent one regiment and one cannon to attack the blockhouse, at the railroad bridge over Allatoona Creek, about two miles south of Allatoona. Three companies of the Eighteenth Wisconsin, under command of Captain McIntyre, defended it. Such, substantially, was the situation at daylight. Skirmishing, more or less lively, had continued at intervals, and at different points, after the first approach of the enemy, and was still in progress.
At 6:30 o'clock in the morning, the cannon, on both sides, opened fire, the first shots being fired from the guns at the eastern fort. This artillery duel at once became as furious as the number of guns engaged could make it, and continued two hours. The Twelfth Wisconsin Battery had much the best of it. One of the enemy's guns was soon dismounted, and one or two others disabled. At the end of an hour, nearly all of the others were moved farther up the slope into the edge of the heavier timber. The range was to great for the Confederate guns, else their guns or ammunition were defective, or their marksmanship bad, or something else was the matter. Nearly all their shots went wild and did no damage. They were not effective at any time during the battle. During the period of the cannonading, the skirmishing in the southern portions of the field became quite brisk, but elsewhere there was, comparatively, but little musketry firing. Soon after the artillery duel began, it became plainly apparent that the main attack of the enemy would come from the west, on and north of the Cartersville road, and from the valley northwest of the forts; and the positions of the Federal forces were slightly changed, and the lines strengthened, at those points. At 7:30 o'clock, the left wing of the Ninety-Third Illinois was placed across a small ridge on the slope of the hill northwest of the western fort, commanding a part of the valley down which the railroad was laid. Other troops were located to meet other new movements of the enemy.
At 8:30 o'clock, a Confederate Major, bearing a flag of truce, came in on the Cartersville road, from the west, and delivered to Lieut. William C. Kinney, of the Ninety-Third Illinois, who was on picket duty there, a demand, in writing, for the surrender of the Federal forces, in the following words:
Around Allatoona, October 5, 1864.General Corse at once sent his reply, in writing, by an officer, to wit:
Commanding Officers, United States Forces, Allatoona:
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 be allowed 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 Confederate Forces.
Headquarters Fourth Division, Fifteenth Army Corps,
Allatoona, Ga., 8:30 a.m., October 5, 1864.
Maj. Gen. S. G. French, Confederate States, etc.:
Your communication, demanding surrender of my command, I acknowledge receipt of; and respectfully reply, that we are prepared 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 United States Forces.
General French stated, in his report of the battle, that he received no reply to his demand for surrender. The reply was immediately delivered to his officer, at the picket post, and he rode away with it. It may be, that, on account of the conduct of General French and his troops while the flag of truce was in our lines, his officer concluded it was unnecessary to deliver the reply to him. Or, it may be, that the statement was made in his report as a partial excuse for that conduct. But, in either case, the conduct was wholly inexcusable. When he started a flag of truce to our lines it was the duty of General French to have stopped all movements of his troops where they then were until the flag returned to him. This he did not do. While his flag of truce was in our lines, his troops were continually advancing, everywhere, to more advantageous positions. Captain Morrill, of the Fourth Minnesota, who, with his company deployed as skirmishers, was on the east side of the railroad cut, that Maj. R. J. Durr, of the Thirty-ninth Mississippi, with a white handkerchief tied to his sword, approached him and said: "Do you not know that there has been a flag of truce sent in to your commanding officer demanding your surrender?" the captain replied, very emphatically: "No. What do you want? Do you want to surrender?" the Major answered: "I do not." The captain then told him, that he had better drop down out of sight, as his boys were not felling very friendly toward him and his command just then. The Captain was just then informed, by men whom he had sent out on his two flanks, that, at the very time he was engaged in this conversation, the enemy were moving around his company, both to the right and to the left. Losing no time, he rallied his men and took them out of danger. The right wing of the Ninety-Third Illinois barely escaped capture by its timely withdrawal from the position which it occupied at daylight. Even though General French might not have received the reply to his demand for surrender, that could not, in any manner, excuse his and the conduct of his troops while his flag of truce was in our lines. The old saying, "Everything is fair in war," is a great big old falsehood; and the general who acts upon it deserves nothing better than ignominious defeat. General French got it.
After its withdrawal from the position which it occupied at daylight, at the extreme left and front of the federal lines, the right wing of the Ninety- Third Illinois was first formed back of the intrenchments on the Cartersville road, and from that point was very soon moved to the support of the troops at the intrenchments, west of the fort, where the brunt of the enemy's attack was made.
As soon as the flag of truce left the federal lines the battle began, on the Cartersville road, and immediately became general. Large bodies of the enemy were very rapidly advanced, and pressed our lines back to the outer works at all points around our position. The brass cannon, from the western fort, had been taken out to the intrenchments on the Cartersville road. Grape and canister from that gun, double shotted, and a most galling fire of musketry, well directed and rapidly delivered, somewhat confused their lines and temporarily checked the advance of the enemy.
The Federal line was now in the intrenchments on the Cartersville road, on the west side of the ravine, and from there extended north along the top of the rise on the same side of the ravine. It soon became painfully apparent that this position could not long be maintained. The enemy immediately rallied and massed his forces for an assault on those intrenchments, and, at the same time, rapidly moved a heavy force, from the west, down the valley in which the railroad was laid, for the purpose of turning the right of the Federal line. The enemy executed this movement with great speed and enthusiasm, and simultaneously advanced their lines everywhere. The fighting immediately became furious, solid shot and shell, grape and canister from double-shotted cannon, and a hailstorm of bullets were rapidly and accurately poured into the ranks of the Confederates as they recklessly advanced. They had been made to believe that they were to have an easy and speedy victory. They were half starved, and more than a million of rations were before their eyes.
But they were quickly undeceived. And yet, notwithstanding their fearful losses at every step, they still advanced, faster and faster, until their whole force, west of the railroad cut, burst into an impetuous charge. The spectacle was sublime. But it was an appalling moment for the Union forces. The Confederate force that moved down the railroad valley, rushed into the mouth of the ravine, and immediately delivered a most withering enfilading fire upon the right of the Federal line, and viciously fought their way up the ravine. Almost simultaneously, their heaviest charge fell upon the federal intrenchments on the Cartersville road and on the line just north of there. Torn and fearfully decimated by the enfilading fire on the right, and overborne everywhere along this front by the weight of numbers three or four to one, the Federal forces fought with persistent desperation, rarely equaled, and never excelled, in the annals of war. It was, indeed, a battle royal. But it was of no avail, other than to partially break the force and spirit of the enemy, and to cause them to know that victory for them that day could only come in a deluge of blood, on the wings of the angle of death. Under this tremendous shock of battle, the Federal line trembled and shook and became steady, by turns, wavered and rallied again and again, until it was finally swept before the storm, like chaff in a gale, and hurled back into the western fort on the crest of the hill. On the east side of the railroad cut, our forces were driven back to the intrenchments and fort. On the south side of the field, every outer line was forced back into the forts and rifle-pits around them.
It was now about half-past 10 o'clock. The climax of the battle was reached; and the issue of it was there suspended, vibrating with all the uncertainty of a restless, feverish pulse, between those hostile lines. Minutes were as hours, and even seconds became important to the Union cause. General Corse immediately ordered, that a portion of the troops on the east side of the railroad cut be sent over to the west side. Captain Wilkinson, of the Ninety-Third Illinois, who was then acting as Post Adjutant, on the staff of Lieutenant Colonel Tourtellotte, carried the order to Lieutenant Colonel Tourtellotte, crossing on the narrow footbridge over the railroad cut, which was then under fire from the enemy, and within point-blank range. The Twelfth Illinois and the two companies of the Fifty-seventh Illinois immediately came around to the west side. About the same time, three companies of the Eighteenth Wisconsin reached the western fort. The other four companies of that regiment, went to the eastern fort when they were driven back from their position of the early morning. There were a few men in and around the warehouses where the rations were stored. Thus, the entire Federal force, except the Fourth Minnesota and four companies of the Eighteenth Wisconsin and those at the ration warehouses, was now united in and around the western fort. That narrow portion of the field was to be the very storm-center of the battle from that time forth. Indeed, it was then, already, the very vortex of it; the funnel of the cyclone, hanging there in mad rage. The Confederates were rapidly forming a solid column, of two or three regiments, in the narrow road at the head of the ravine, not more than eighteen rods west of the western fort; and this column would soon be hurled against the shattered Union forces now gathered at the fort, after being swept from the outer line. A ten-pounder Rodman rifled cannon, double shotted with grape and canister, was ready and about to be fired into and to stop that formation. The command to fire it had already been given, and the artilleryman, with the lanyard in hand and drawn taut, was in the act of executing it. Just then, when the fate of that battle seemed to hang upon the immediate discharge of the one gun, Major Fisher, of the Ninety-Third Illinois, and full two hundred men, on their way back from the outer line, up the steep slope to the western fort, suddenly appeared immediately in front of the cannon, thus doubly charged with death and about to be fired. It was a moment that curdled the hottest blood and caused all hearts to stand still. An officer of the Ninety-Third Illinois sprang to the lanyard, caught it and held it. The discharge of the gun was prevented, and a great calamity averted. And now, that the firing of the gun must necessarily be delayed until our troops in front of it should get into fort, or otherwise out of its range, the dangers of the situation rapidly increased, and became painfully depressing. If that Confederate column should charge before that cannon could be fired, the chances were hundreds to one that the fort would be taken. Men standing in the embrasure, over the cannon, and on the parapet, seized the extended hands of those outside, and, with the aid of those in the rifle-pits at the base of the wall, literally lifted them into the fort. The shouts of those near the embrasure, pleading with those in front of the big gun to clear the way, rose even above the roar of the battle. No other cannon bore upon that forming column of the enemy.
Every minute was an eternity of waiting. Perhaps the sun stood still. Everything appeared to stop, except the formation of the enemy's column on the Cartersville road. But the Lord was on our side. Finally, as if it were an inspiration, all eyes were turned to the cotton bales that blocked the gateway into the fort, which was only a few feet north of the embrasure. A hundred hands, at once, seized them and lifted them out of the way. The brass cannon that was on the outer line had been dragged back, and was now immediately in front of the gate. As soon as the cotton bales were removed, there was one great surge, and that mass of men swept through the gate into the fort. The weight and strength of their movement carried that brass cannon in with them. Instantly, the way being clear, the double-shotted cannon in the embrasure was carefully trained on that solid column of the enemy, now just ready to start on the charge up the slope and against the fort. A moment later it was fired. As leaves before a hurricane, that mass of the enemy was swept from the road. That double charge of grape and canister struck at the feet of the front rank, and cut a swath, broad and deep, and of continually increasing breadth, from the front to the rear of the column. And it was the last charge of grape and canister in that fort. Straight through the center of the column, the road was red with blood and covered with the dead and dying and wounded. It was appalling! Into the head of the ravine on one side, and down the slope of the ridge on the other, the two sides of the Confederate column disappeared.
Then from the fort, a shout of exultant defiance rose high above the rattle of musketry and roaring of cannon that foretold our victory, and carried dismay to the enemy. It told our foes, that the flag that waved above those hills would be kept there so long as there was a man and a round of ammunition left to defend it.
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