This extraordinary first person account of the 1864 Battle of Allatoona was written by Albert D. Perry of the U. S. Signal Corps. In the letter, Perry corroborates the heroic role the signal corps played in the Union troops surviving the battle. This action was believed to be the most important use of Union Signal Corps resources in the entire war:
“The most dramatic use of the Signal Corps was connected with the successful defense of Allatoona, Sherman’s reserve depot in which were stored three millions of rations, practically undefended, as it was a distance in the rear of the army. Realizing the utmost importance of the railroad north of Marietta and of the supplies to Sherman, Hood threw Stewart’s corps in the rear of the Union army, and French’s division of about sixty-five hundred men was detached to capture Allatoona. With the Confederates intervening and telegraph lines destroyed, all would have been lost but for the Signal Corps station on Kenesaw Mountain. Corse was at Rome, thirty-six miles beyond Allatoona. From Vining’s Station, the message was flagged over the heads of the foe to Allatoona by way of Kenesaw, and thence telegraphed to Corse, as follows: “General Corse: Sherman directs that you move forward and join Smith’s division with your entire command, using cars if to be had, and burn provisions rather than lose them. General Vandever. “At the same time a message was sent to Allatoona: Sherman is moving with force. Hold out.” And again: Hold on. General Sherman says he is working hard for you.”
Sherman was at Kenesaw all day, October 5th, having learned of the arrival of Corse that morning, and anxiously watched the progress of the battle. That afternoon came a despatch from Allatoona, sent during the engagement: ” We are all right so far. General Corse is wounded.” Next morning Dayton, Sherman’s assistant adjutant-general, asked how Corse was and he answered, ” I am short a cheekbone and one ear, but am able to whip all h–l yet.” That the fight was desperate is shown by Corse’s losses, seven hundred and five killed and wounded, and two hundred captured, out of an effective force of about fifteen hundred.”
[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published by express consent.]
Addressed to Miss Minnie Perry, No. 71 William Street, Chelsea, Mass.
Allatoona Signal Station, Ga.
October 10, 1864
Darling Sister Minnie,
I have no doubt but you are quite anxious about me by this time so I will endeavor to allay your fears by penning a short hole in explanation of my silence.
Just after returning from Atlanta, I wrote to you & Minnie—Scott also—and sent all the news. Shortly after that the railroad was torn up above here and communication cut off. Whether my letters got through or not, I cannot tell. I hope so, however. If not, you must be uneasy about me. I have not received any word from home how for almost a month & do not know when I shall as the army is again on the move.
You will no doubt (ere you receive this) have heard of our bloody battle at this place which I have passed through in safety—thank God for it. Words cannot describe with what desperation the soldiers fought on both sides but victory perched upon our banner and we repulsed them with awful loss, the enemy losing two to our one at the least estimate.
Just wait & I will give you the full particulars just as the affair occurred on the ever memorable 5th October 1864—the Battle of Allatoona. To begin with, Hood detached the main body of his army (after being whipped out of Atlanta) to come around in Sherman’s rear & destroy our line of railroad, but off our supplies, & thus compel our army to evacuate this state. Now I will tell you how they have succeeded thus far. They came around & began to tear up our railroad this side of Kennesaw Mountain, burnt Big Shanty, & continued on towards this place, stopping long enough at Acworth to capture 300 of our boys & burn the town which did not amount to anything & then steered for this place with all sail set.
Now you will see where our Branch of the Service becomes indispensable. They destroyed the wires and left us without telegraphic communications. Consequently we had to go to work in good earnest and everybody says we saved Allatoona. The night before the battle, Sherman signaled from Kennesaw to us (13 miles air line) to have reinforcements come from Rome, Ga., about 18 miles above here, & they arrived here just 2 hours before the Reb’s attacked is. They arrived at 12 M. & the attack began at two A. M. Had it not of been fo them, we would now be on our way to Libby sure.
We skirmished until daylight & then the heavy fighting & charging began & such fighting! Never during the whole campaign have I seen such determined bravery displayed on both sides. The Johnnies were determined to get our supplies & we were determined they should not & our determination prevailed. Another joke on the Rebs was, at the opening of the fight, the Confederate General [Samuel G.] French sent under a flag of truce an order to surrender, stating that he had the garrison surrounded and in order to spare an unnecessary effusion of blood, he wanted and immediate and unconditional surrender. Our General [John M.] Corse told him to begin the effusion of blood as soon as he liked, telling Mr. Reb he could whip hell out of him. Well the ball opened & such fighting. They did have us completely surrounded and thus we fought them all day, occasionally receiving a dispatch from General Sherman to hold out, that he would try and send us reinforcements, but none came. We all had muskets & fired away like Trojans. The Rebs actually charged right up to our fort & took the colors belonging to the 37th Iowa Infantry. We could see the whites of their eyes they came so close. But we beat them back time after time and finally we caught up our flag and began to wave it and shout. That was too much for them so they got up & dusted after fighting us all day.
Then began their retreat. We pressed them very hard & captured about 150 of them. They left all their dead & wounded in the field. Our loss is between 6 & 700, theirs between 16 & 1700. Our position was very good. They fell all around me. One artillery man fell right at my feet in the fort. A great many others were wounded right around me but I was spared untouched, thank God for it. Our General Corse was wounded in the face & our post commander in the knee & most all the officers were wounded or killed. The town is full of wounded—Union & Rebel. General Sherman arrived here yesterday & complimented us highly for our good fighting & said he knew his boys were good for them.
Give my love to Mother & brothers & sisters & all kind friends. Write soon. You must not be uneasy if you do not hear from me for sometime as they keep the road cut all the time.
I remain your affectionate brother, — Albert D. Perry
Department of the Tennessee