So what is Microsoft Co-founder, Paul Allen’s connection to:

1) Major General William Tecumseh Sherman


2) America’s 14th President, Franklin Pierce?

Well, let me begin with a story….*


A boy of nineteen lay dying on the cold, October ground at one of the
bloodiest battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Allatoona Pass, fought in
Georgia on October 5th, 1864.

Hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers in his condition or worse lay on
the same battlefield, casualties of the fierce fighting that had gone on
there since dawn.

Although he was shot through the neck and desperately needed medical
attention, the boy, Thomas Gardner, would lay there in the dark all night unattended,
until the morning light would reveal him to his fellow soldiers who were
searching through the fallen to see if anyone had survived.

The boy was a Union soldier under the command of General John M. Corse. His duty that cold October day was to keep the rations stored at Allatoona—vital supplies for the troops—out of the hands of the Confederates.

 But there was just one problem. His unit was outnumbered—badly outnumbered—by enemy forces.

 The Confederate army that came to storm the fort and capture its supplies had 3 men to every Union soldier.  And even when Union General Corse brought in early morning reinforcements, the North still had only 2/3rds the number of soldiers as the South.  

 The situation seemed hopeless from the outset. So hopeless, in fact, that Confederate Commander General French demanded a surrender before the first shot was fired.  He gave Corse and his men exactly 5 minutes to give up the fort.

“I have the forces under my command in such positions that you are now surrounded,” he wrote. “…and, to avoid a needless effusion of blood, I call on you to surrender your forces at once, and unconditionally…”
But French had underestimated his opponent.  In a polite version of “bring it on” General Corse replied: “Your communication, demanding surrender of my command, I acknowledge receipt of, and respectfully reply that we are prepared for the “needless effusion of blood” whenever it is agreeable to you…”*1 

A fierce and bloody battle ensued, with casualties on both sides.

French’s army broke down the outer entrenchments protecting Allatoona Pass one by one, until the Union soldiers who remained were driven back into the earthen star fort that held the supplies.  

General Corse was shot in the face in battle, but he and his men continued to fight despite the odds against them.

The story would have ended there in certain defeat except for one small thing—-a message.

During the fighting, General Sherman had sent a signal from Kennesaw Mountain to his troops—-”hold the fort, I am coming.” *2

The same signal was also leaked to General French and his men.

And the impact of that simple message was profound–for both sides.

 It bolstered the courage of the Union troops;  (expecting General Sherman to come in at any moment with reinforcements, Corse’s men held the fort for another 3 hours). 

And it shattered the hopes of the Confederate army; (expecting General Sherman to come in with reinforcements at any moment, the Confederates realized that any capture of the fort would be short-lived and futile.)  

In an ironic twist of fate, it appeared that now it was the Confederate army that was fighting a lost cause.


Experiencing severe casualties and expecting that the worst was yet to come, General French and the Southern army retreated in defeat. By the time he was discovered alive, Thomas
Gardner’s unit had won the battle of Allatoona Pass for the North.

It was the last great Confederate offensive of the
Civil War, and it sparked a Gospel song (”Hold the Fort For I Am Coming”), an
expression (”hold the fort”) and the imagination of hundreds of people who
heard the story.

Sherman, ironically never left his post at Kennesaw Mountain, several miles
away from Allatoona. Some historians say that the famous message was only a ruse.
But it didn’t matter. The communication revived his troops
who fought against all odds, saved the fort and its supplies and won the
battle for the North.

General Sherman later praised his Generals and men “for their determined and gallant
defense of Allatoona,” and commemorated the victory by issuing an order that essentially required all troops under his command to keep fighting, even when outnumbered.*3



And the boy, Thomas Gardner, had been a part of it all~~one of the soldiers
who nearly lost his life “holding the fort,” and  preserving the vital
supplies necessary to sustain Union troops in Georgia throughout the Civil

Though severely wounded in the battle, Thomas was young and strong and
through time he slowly recovered, though he struggled physically and
financially throughout his life as a result of his wounds.

The gunshot wounds to his neck caused a pain and partial paralysis that never went
away~~a hard affliction for a farmer.

But he lived.

He probably wondered whether he would. He could have died like so many
others did on that battlefield that day.
 That long, cold night must have been the darkest moment of his life. It must have seemed the loss of everything–the battle, his life–the end of any sort of future. At nineteen, Thomas Gardner
probably thought that he had seen his last sunrise.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

Thomas lived to a ripe old age. He married and raised a family; his children
gave him grandchildren, and he had great-grandchildren, and even great-great

And although Thomas and his family struggled to survive, some of his
descendants would not have to work so hard to get by.

In fact, one of them did pretty well for himself, carving out his own niche
in American history.

For today Thomas Gardner’s great-grandson is an inventor and philanthropist,
better known as Microsoft co-founder, Paul Gardner Allen.
* (I wrote this a few months ago, and recently edited it for this blog.)

*1 (Historians say that this message did not make its way to General French, but upon receiving no reply, he went forward with the battle.)  

 *2 (although the actual wording was–”Tell Allatoona to hold on, General Sherman is working
for you”).

*3 From the Memoirs of W.T. Sherman, p. 625 “I esteemed this defense of Allatoona so handsome and important that I made it the subject of a general order, viz . number 86 of October 7, 1864…” “….The thanks of this army are due and are hereby accorded to General Corse, Colonel Tourtellotte Colonel Rowett, officers and men, for their determined and gallant defense of Allatoona, and it is made an example to illustrate the importance of preparing in time, and meeting the danger, when present, boldly, manfully and well.”


“The Battle of Allatoona Pass, by Randy Golden; , Battle of Allatoona Pass for
website, “About North Georgia”; *Civil War records, pension records and
letters written by Mary and Thomas Gardner, genealogy records, (*all with
special thanks to Dale Talkington), and the “Memoirs of General W.T.
Sherman, Penguin Classics,  8/1/00.)