After Johnston retreated across the Etowah during the night of May 19-20, Sherman gave his troops a few days' rest before ordering all to move on the 23rd. Sherman had visited the area as an officer in the prewar army and was therefore aware that the position taken by Johnston's army around Allatoona Pass was a strong one. Rather than attack the Confederates directly, Sherman directed his forces toward Dallas, 15 miles southwest of the pass, in a wide flanking march. All six Union infantry corps and cavalry crossed the Etowah at four points west of Cartersville and south of Kingston during May 23-24.
Almost as soon as the Federals started moving, Johnston knew they would not attack him at Allatoona, and were heading toward Dallas. He ordered Hardee’s and Polk’s corps to start marching there, but kept Hood at Allatoona for a day to make sure the Yankees had left. Hood marched to join the rest of the army on the 24th and took position on the right of the Confederate line here, at New Hope Church. The next day Hood learned from a prisoner that Geary's division and the rest of Hooker's Twentieth Corps were headed his way. The Confederates dug in or built log and rock parapets. In the Church cemetery, Marcellus Stovall’s brigade was content to use tombstones for protection.
Sherman ordered an attack that afternoon by Hooker’s three divisions: Brig. Gen. Alpheus Williams' was on the right, Daniel Butterfield's the left, and Geary's in reserve. The Federals trudged through a mile of woods and underbrush, then had to clamber down a wide ravine (which they called the "Hell hole") before climbing up to charge the Rebels on the high ground beyond.
The Confederate line was held by Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart's division of Hood's corps. Though outnumbered, the Southerners had little difficulty in repelling Hooker's attack. Confederate artillery was particularly deadly. Sixteen cannon were engaged, supervised by Hood's chief of artillery, Col. Robert Beckham. Union General Williams attested to the Rebel guns' effectiveness: "they poured into us canister and shrapnel from all directions except the rear." At one point Stewart even declined Johnston’s offer to send reinforcements. "My own troops will hold the position," he answered.
They did. The Union assault, begun around 5 p.m., was thrown back and the fighting was ended two hours later. The Southerners cheered over their smart little defensive victory, which cost them between 300 and 400 men, of 4,000 in the division. Hooker's corps lost 1,665 killed, wounded, and missing (the latter were presumed dead on the battlefield, as the Federals could not retrieve their wounded).
The next day both sides fortified their lines. Skirmishing and artillery fire occurred throughout the day. Sherman planned another attack on May 27 and Johnston prepared to meet it.