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Mississippi Monument Is Dedicated At Allatoona Pass, Ga.

Joe Kirby

- (November 2007) EMERSON, Ga. - Reenactors and others gathered Oct. 7 at the entrance to Allatoona Pass to dedicate a new monument honoring Mississippi troops who took part in the short but intensely bloody 1864 battle for the strategic railroad cut.

The six-foot-tall marker honors Confederate Gen. Claudius Sears' brigade of Mississippi troops. It is at the southern entrance of the 100 feet long, 180 feet deep historic railroad pass that was carved through the rugged Allatoona Mountains northwest of Atlanta during construction of the Western & Atlantic Railroad in the early 1840s. It was considered a marvel of engineering at the time.

The monument is carved in the shape of Mississippi and was cut from gray Georgia marble, as was its base.

The Mississippi marker is flanked by those honoring Gen. Francis Cockrell's Missouri brigade and Gen. Matthew Ector's Texas brigade, which made up the attacking Rebel force led by Gen. Samuel French.

The marker project was conceived by Civil War reenactor Gary Wehner of Smyrna who chairs the Monument Committee of the Etowah Valley Historical Society.

"That will take care of the core of French's division, in terms of the monuments," Wehner said. "All three of those monuments are standing together, with no other ones between them, and that's by design."

Speaker at the ceremony was Richard Harrison, a retired living historian at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park who was instrumental in the monument project.

"He was the ramrod on the Mississippi monument," Wehner said of Harrison.

Ceremony highlights included the reading of Governor Haley Barbour's letter commending Harrison and a cannon salute by the Cherokee Artillery of nearby Rome, Ga.

Wehner, a native Missourian, raised the funds for the monument to the Missouri troops, which was dedicated on Oct. 5, 2001, the 137th anniversary of the battle. The monument is of gray Georgia granite on a red Missouri granite base and is carved in the shape of the state.

"Almost 140 years had passed since the battle and there was no monument to Cockrell's Brigade there or anywhere else," Wehner said. "I said why not? Let's do it."

The Texas monument was erected on the battle's anniversary in 2002.

The monuments are between the parking lot and the entrance to the railroad cut a stone's throw from Lake Allatoona, which was not there at the time of the battle. The W&A Railroad, now operated by CSX, relocated its tracks after the war.

Visitors to the site today can walk along the old right-of-way through the pass and climb the hills that flank it to the sites of the old forts that top them. The hillsides are laced with trenches and gun emplacements, and there's a long remnant of the old Tennessee Wagon Road on the site as well.

The battlefield and pass - and the lake - are owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Red Top Mountain State Park's lease of the land was celebrated during the Oct. 6 and 7 commemorative weekend. Park staff have improved two miles of the battle site's walking trails and will install interpretive signs.

The narrow pass, defended by forts on either side, was a key potential chokepoint along the railroad, which served as the supply line for the invading Union Army of Gen. William T. Sherman as he headed toward Atlanta in the spring of 1864.

After capturing Atlanta, Sherman played a cat-and-mouse game back up through northwest Georgia with the Confederate army commanded by Gen. John Bell Hood. It was the beginning of what turned into Hood's invasion of Tennessee after Sherman tired of the chase and decided to "March to the Sea" instead.

Hood sent French's division to capture the pass and nearby warehouses. A desperate fight ensued, one sometimes described as having produced the highest casualty rate of the war for the time involved, and also as having produced the most casualties on a per capita basis of those involved. Although barely 5,000 men took part, the battle produced 1,603 killed, wounded and missing.

The Confederates retreated that evening without destroying the railroad or capturing the supplies.

Sherman watched the battle from atop Kennesaw Mountain 12.5 miles away, and signaled Federal commander Gen. John Corse several times to the effect that he was on his way to help.

Those messages were later the basis for the popular hymn written by Phillip Paul Bliss, "Hold the Fort, For I Am Coming":

One of the units that was the heart of Sears' Mississippi brigade honored by the new monument was the 46th Infantry Regiment, originally formed as the 6th Infantry at Meridian in 1862. The unit fought up and down the Mississippi River during the Vicksburg Campaign, including at Port Gibson and at Chickasaw Bluffs, before surrendering when Vicksburg fell.

The 46th and the rest of the brigade were exchanged and re-formed that fall. The regiment initially was sent to Mobile before being sent to join Johnston's Army at the outset of the Atlanta Campaign. The unit took part in every action of the campaign and served as part of the rear guard as Hood withdrew from Atlanta on Sept. 1.

It later took heavy losses at Franklin and Nashville, where Sears lost a leg to an artillery shell. After the war he served as chairman of the Mathematics Department at the University of Mississippi.

Interestingly, Co. K of the 46th would seem to have been one of the most-traveled infantry units of the war, especially on the Confederate side. In addition to taking part in the brigade movements cited above, it was attached to the 59th Virginia early in the war, serving in present-day West Virginia, and after that took part in the Battle of Roanoke Island on the North Carolina coast in February 1862.

The company was captured there and later exchanged, then returned to Mississippi, according to Dunbar Rowland's Military History of Mississippi 1803-1898.

Allatoona monument organizer Wehner envisions 11 monuments in an arc pattern at the site eventually, each recognizing the participants from one of the 11 states whose troops took part.

"We plan one from every state that had troops there, Union and Confederate," he said. "Our goal is to have them all up in five years. We hope to see Iowa and Illinois put theirs up next year."

Wehner is still looking for people interested in raising funds for monuments to troops from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Louisiana, Alabama and North Carolina. Bases for all of those monuments are already in place, courtesy of the Etowah Valley Historical Society.

"We're doing it, slowly but surely. Every year it gets a little easier," he said.

He can be reached through the society at P.O. Box 1886, Cartersville, GA 30120, (770) 606-8862

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