Monday, October 13, 2008

October 13th, 1864 Capture of Dalton, GA

Today marks the 144th Anniversary of the first major contact between the soldiers of the Army of Tennessee and USCT troops. After the fall of Atlanta, Hood began a northward movement in an attempt to force Sherman to abandon Atlanta. Hood struck at Sherman's supply line, the Western and Atlantic Railroad, and there were a number of small battles fought with Union garrisons along the way, the most notable being the Battle of Allatoona Pass on October 5th. Hood arrived in front of Dalton on October 13th, which was then garrisoned by a large detachment of the 44th USCT and a few companies of white troops totaling about 750 men, all under the command of the 44th's colonel, Lewis Johnson.
The town was surrounded by Hood and artillery placed on a ridge that overlooked the town and its garrison. Hood sent in a demand for unconditional surrender or risk the whole garrison be put to the sword, as his infantry prepared to attack, Pvt. William Bevins of the 1st Arkansas remembered, "While the artillery made ready the Texans passed the word down the line as though it came from General Cheatham, 'Kill every damn one of them,' which would have been carrying out their own threat of 'no quarter.'" Given the odds Johnson surrendered. The USCTs were seperated from their officers and soon forced to work tearing up the railroad, several incidents occured where at least six USCTs were shot down for refusing.
With the railroad broken again, Hood moved westward to the community of Villanow, along the way, Bevins recalled, "That evening the Texas command moved over to us. We heard them yelling and singing but did not know what had happened. They were guarding the negro prisoners, and were calling to us, 'Here are your "no quarter" negroes, come and kill them!" The poor negroes, with eyes popped out nearly two inches, begged, prayed, and made all sorts of promises for the future. They soon moved on out of sight....". At Villanow a pen was errected to house the 44th, and a call was sent out to locals to claim any of them who might have been runaways and the USCT officers were paroled and sent to Chattanooga. The stay at Villanow was short though and Hood continued moving westward. Over the next couple of weeks Hood would continue westward with the USCTs in tow. What remains a mystery is what happened to the majority of them, 350 would make it to the end of Hood's march to Florence, Ala, where they were sent work rebuilding railroads in Mississippi, Rev. Charles Quintard would recall seeing them, "I saw a number of Negroes captured at Dalton-some in the most distressing condition-evidently dying." A few made their escapes and made it back to what remained of the 44th at Chattanooga. Still others would have been claimed by their former owners, or those who said they were their owners. Still others died along the route, the exact numbers are lost to history.
One of the most haunting images of the Civil War comes from one member that would survive the whole ordeal, Hubbard Pryor. Pryor was a runaway from North Georgia who had joined the 44th in March of 1864, at which time two photographs were made of him, one in uniform and the other displaying the condition he arrived in.

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