In mid May 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman was picking his way down North Georgia. His counterpart, General Joseph E. Johnston had just reluctantly retreated from Cassville, Georgia to the Allatoona Gorge in the hopes of luring Sherman into a tight killing zone. Johnston’s only worry was that the position at Allatoona was too good. Unbeknownst to Johnston, Sherman knew the position was too strong to attack head on. Sherman had spent a lot of time in the area as a young officer and had spent much time around the Etowah Indian burial mounds nearby. Sherman decided to swing west and go directly after the strategic crossroads around Dallas, Georgia.
After a few days rest, the Union forces moved south. General Joseph Hooker was in the van of the middle column and began a pursuit of a small band of Confederate cavalry which was acting as a screen for Johnston’s forces to the south. “Fighting Joe” Hooker lived up to his name and went fast and hard at the Confederates under General John Bell Hood. Hooker had hoped to catch the Rebels off guard and press home and advantage. Hood had other ideas. Taking his cue from his cavalry screen, Hood had begun entrenchments and selecting defensive positions. The first of Hooker’s assaults led by Brigadier General John W. Geary was thrown back when it encountered an undetected enfilade Confederate position which hit them hard. Hooker persisted with two more Divisions and the battle was enjoined.
Hood’s middle was held by Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s Division and they bore the brunt of Hooker’s onslaught for several hours in the afternoon. The battle raged with such ferocity that Johnston became worried that Stewart might relinquish the position. Stewart, a Tennessean, held firm even though some of Hooker’s men got close. With a fierce thunderstorm brewing and setting in, Hooker made one last throw of the dice and pulled Geary out of reserve through dense wood to push through a perceived advantage. Stewart’s artillery which had been so effective now opened up with even more canister rounds and caused the veteran Geary to claim that it was the hottest he had experienced with his command. The Union forces were praised for the courage and coolness, but the day was no to be theirs. With the drenching from the rain and the gloom of the stormy evening setting in, the Union forces settled down in their positions and awaited daylight. The battle has been called New Hope Church, but the soldiers knew it by “Hell’s Hole.”
The next day would bring probing for weakness all along the line, two days later, the fighting would continue near Pickett’s Mill.
Next time you are buzzing down I-75 from Chattanooga to Atlanta, jump off at Cartersville for a great little circular ride that takes in Allatoona Lake, The New Hope and Pickett’s Mill Battlefields and a couple of mountainous switchback roads near Dallas, Georgia.
Leave a Reply