[The Battle of Allatoona Pass: Civil War Skirmish in Bartow County, Georgia by Brad Butkovich (The History Press, 2014). Softcover, maps, photos, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:148/190. ISBN:978-1-62619-461-8 $19.99]
Brad Butkovich's The Battle of Allatoona Pass: Civil War Skirmish in Bartow County, Georgia is a matchless rendering of John Bell Hood's October 1864 operation to break the Western & Atlantic Railroad between Marietta and the Etowah River bridge, with, of course, special attention paid to its most significant battle, the bloody failed assault on the fortified pass at Allatoona. After such a long drought, students of the Atlanta Campaign and beyond must be gratified to finally witness a small but steady publication run of high quality battle histories associated with it.
Butkovich's narrative is finely balanced, with equal levels of scrutiny devoted to the preparations of both combatants. With Hood's main body concentrated west of the railroad at Lost Mountain, Major General Samuel G. French's three-brigade [those of Sears, Cockrell, and Ector (now under Young)] division struck out north to attack Allatoona. Union detachments guarding towns, bridges, and other strategic points along the railroad were alerted, with brigade-sized reinforcements under Brigadier General John M. Corse arriving at Allatoona by rail just before French appeared on the scene, making the sides roughly even. Butkovich expertly describes the natural topography surrounding Allatoona [the most notable defensive features, a pair of high hills bisected by a steep, man-made gorge crossable by a footbridge] as well as the design and positioning of the complex of rifle pits, trenches, redoubts, and forts constructed by Union engineers atop the high ground. The possibility of filling in the railroad passage through the gorge with debris and blocking it for an extended period of time, along with the position's apparent vulnerability (before it was reinforced), all were reasons behind Confederate selection of Allatoona as the main point of attack. Other sites were targeted, as well. The author also notes the complete ineffectualness of the mounted arms of both sides, with the Union's well conceived signal corps system being the only bright spot in the arena of communications and intelligence gathering during the operation.
With seemingly no company unaccounted for, Butkovich's meticulous tactical rendering of the battle itself is truly impressive. His full grasp of how specific terrain features in combination with skillful defensive works placement thwarted the Confederate attack deeply informs the narrative. Readers hoping for an extensively mapped study to rival Scaife's classic 1864 Georgia campaign cartography will not be disappointed. The numerous author-created maps present a complete picture of the battlefield landscape and point out the positions of all the units (in places, all the way down to company scale) at crucial points in the engagement.
After reading Butkovich's account, French's assault appears foolhardy only in hindsight. His decision to concentrate his brigades and launch a converging attack on a single point (the western end of the Allatoona defenses) was a proper one, and would probably have succeeded had the Union defenders not been dealt the immense good fortune of being heavily reinforced at the very last moment. Given the relatively small numbers of soldiers directly involved in the battle (2,000 - 2,500 for each side), Allatoona was incredibly bloody, with the attackers suffering 40% casualties and the defenders 32%.
The study also includes useful supplementary material. Detailed orders of battle with numbers data are available in the appendix section, as is information about the mysterious "unknown soldier" grave site located nearby and the Allatoona blockhouse that diverted Confederate attention and strength from the main attack.
One can never say never, but it is difficult to imagine a better battle history of Allatoona Pass emerging in the future. Surpassing all prior treatments by a wide mark, The Battle of Allatoona Pass fully meets, and frequently exceeds, the demanding expectations of today's Civil War battle study devotees. With this publication and his earlier Pickett's Mill manuscript, Butkovich is making a name for himself in the military historiography of the 1864 Georgia campaigns and one greatly looks forward to his next project.