An Unknown Confederate Hero
The Unknown Hero of Allatoona Pass rests in a grave by the railroad tracks just a short distance from the Allatoona Pass Battlefield in Bartow County, Georgia.
Long a spot of pilgrimage for some Southerners, the grave contains the remains of a soldier who fell during the Battle of Allatoona Pass on October 5, 1864. He was a member of the division of General Samuel G. French and was killed as the Confederates tried to storm the ridge
at Allatoona to take the Union forts there.
The attack failed, costing French’s Division 897 of its 3,276 men. The Confederate casualty rate of more than 30% at Allatoona Pass was
extremely high, a clear indication of the severity of the fight. Please click here to learn more about the battle.
When the battle ended, a Union soldier reported that the Old Alabama Road up which some of the Confederates attacked “ran red with blood.” Killed and wounded men were scattered across the field and it took the Federals nearly three weeks to find and bury all of the dead. Somehow they missed the man now identified as the Unknown Hero of Allatoona Pass.
There are two slightly different stories about the body that rests in the lonely grave by the railroad tracks. The first was detailed in a letter from J.P. Abernathy that appeared in the Cartersville Weekly Tribune-Newson December 7, 1949. Abernathy remembered that he was a six year old living in Bartow County when the unknown hero was buried.
He said that a deceased man in a coffin arrived at Allatoona aboard a train on the Western & Atlantic (W&A) Railroad a few days after the Battle of Allatoona. His name and origin were unknown and the coffin bore only a note listing its destination as Allatoona. Abernathy remembered that five of his female cousins pried open the coffin in an attempt to learn the man’s identity. The man inside was wearing a gray uniform and a black hat.
The women went to Abernathy’s nearby house and got tools to use in digging a grave. They then buried the body at the west end of the Deep Cut, a 175-foot deep excavation made to create a level grade so trains could pass through the ridge. The grave was only about one foot from the end of the cross ties on the south side of the tracks.
A party of surveyors noticed the grave in around 1880 and purchased a stone to place at its head.
Robert White, the railroad stationmaster at Cartersville, and Col. Thomas Spencer, a local historian, told a somewhat different story to write Joe Head for an article published by the Etowah Valley Historical Society in 1992. Their story indicates there are two graves of unknown Confederates at Allatoona Pass. The first is the one described in the Abernathy account, which was unmarked and often disturbed by relic hunters. The other contains a soldier killed in the Battle of Allatoona, who was buried where he fell by the tracks at the north end of the Deep Cut. Both the former stationmaster and the historian identified this grave as the one noticed and long cared for by railroad employees.
The second grave was relocated to its current site near the tracks in 1950. Railroad employees placed an iron fence around it along with a sign noting that the man was an “unknown hero.”
He actually may not be unknown after all. Local historians uncovered some evidence that the grave contains the remains of Pvt. Andrew Jackson Houston of the 35th Mississippi Infantry. He enlisted in the Confederate Army at Enterprise, Mississippi, on October 18, 1861. He was only 16 and served just over one month before being discharged from Company F, 5th Mississippi Infantry, at Pensacola Bay, Florida. He enlisted again the following year, this time in Company I, 35th Mississippi INfantry.
Houston signed up the second time for three years “or the war.” Like many soldiers of the day he suffered from the diseases and sicknesses that ravaged the camps of both sides. The young man spent much of 1863 in military hospitals and was at the military hospital at the “Blind School” in Macon as late as June 22, 1864.
He rejoined his regiment by August 31, 1864, but disappeared from the record after that date. His regiment was present at the Battle of Allatoona Pass where it suffered losses of 12 killed, 52 wounded and 83 missing. Houston was not one of those reported killed, but definitely could have been one of the wounded or missing. Perhaps future research will prove whether he really is the unknown hero.
Until then, Unknown Hero of Allatoona Pass will remain a silent reminder of the faceless cost of war.
To reach the grave of the Unknown Hero of Allatoona Pass from I-75, take Exit #283 (Emerson-Allatoona Rd.) and follow it east for 1.5 miles. The parking area for Allatoona Pass Battlefield will be on your left. Continue past the battlefield on the same road, which at this point is called Old Allatoona Road. Cross the railroad tracks and take the immediate right on Oak Hollow Road. The grave is immediately on your right. The map below will help you find it.
For more stories of interest from Allatoona Pass, please see The Battle of Allatoona Pass, The Ghost of Allatoona Pass and Hold the Fort: Christian Inspiration from Allatoona Pass.