IMAGES From Nostalgiaville
DECATUR, AL- 3/15/03

Decatur was a focal point during the Civil War, and much information is displayed on story boards throughout the city.  The following information was extracted from those story boards and from a brochure available at the Visitor Center.  All pictures can be enlarged by clicking your mouse on them.
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Union pontoon bridge across the
Tennessee River at Decatur next
to the burned out Memphis &
Charleston Railroad Bridge
Indiana Cavalry, possibly the 10th
Indiana Cavalry, poses in Bank
Street with a battery of artillery
in 1864.
Union troops constructing breastworks near the Old State Bank Building, 1864
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Captain Filbert H Rolph, Company Commander 14th U S Colored Infantry. Colonel Thomas Jefferson Morgan led nearly 400 proud African-American warriors fighting for their freedom at Decatur, across the ground where you are standing.


As sharp shooting and artillery fire continued throughout the morning of October 28, Granger and and Doolittle were  determined to launch an attack upon the Confederate battery at the edge of the Tennessee River, whose fire threatened the critical pontoon bridge  Chosen to make this assault was the 14th USCL. Colonel Thomas Jefferson Morgan recorded the preparation for this charge, "The men were stripped of all extra load, carrying only gun, accouterments and canteen of water.  They were cautioned that a battery was to be charged and taken, if only ten men survived to take it.  They seemed anxious for the work."

At precisely noon Morgan ordered the assault to begin.  Captain Romeyn of Company B remembered: "...The order was at once given to charge, and with arms at their right shoulder 363 enlisted men and officers rushed to the assault.  It required but little time to reach and go over the slight works, and driving off the artillery men, spike the guns and get the prolorges (ropes) down to haul them off. But before the guns could be moved the rebel infantry had charged and after a hand-to-hand fight, the colored soldiers abandoned the attempt and retired, bringing off their killed and wounded...."  The fighting was intense, close, and personal,  Colonel Morgan reported, "As Captain Rolph was retreating a rebel seized him by the collar and paid the forfeit of life by a stroke from the captains sword."

Their mission successfully accomplished, having captured and disabled four Confederate cannon, the regiment fell back to Decatur's fortifications. Captain Homeyn recalled that, "...on its return (as the regimen: re-entered the works surrounding the town, the white soldiers recounted the parapet and gave it three rousing cheers.  I shall never forget the glad look of my first sergeant as marching by my side, he turned his fact to one and said , "Captain, we've got it at last," their victory won.

Mungo P Murray, 31st Ohio Infantry letter to "Dear Sister Jenny" dated July 19, 1863 from Decatur, Alabama "Well, I believe I have not yet described our comfortable quarters.  We are located on Broadway, occupying one of the largest buildings for town.  It is a large, two story brick, formerly occupied by a banking house.  But stop!  I forgot to tell you how many occupy this building.  Well, there are two companies of the 31st Companies H and G."

Decatur had close to 800 residents in 1860, not many more than 806 persons counted in the 1850 census.  Included in the 1860 census were 267 white males, 206 white females, three free blacks, including two males and one female, and 130 slaves, of which 56 were males and 74 were females.  The town changed hands during the Civil War at least eight times, because of its strategic importance astride the junction of two railroads, and its location on the Tennessee River.  Jefferson Davis passed through twice, once on his way to inauguration as the Confederacy's first and only President, and again on his way home after release from prison in 1867.  Confederate Generals Albert Sidney Johnston, P G T Beauregard, John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest also fought or gathered their troops here.  Future U S president James Garfield visited here. as a Colonel, along with Union Generals such as William T Sherman, James B Mcpherson, Robert S Grainger, James B Steedman and Grenville M Dodge.  Both Confederate and Union regiments drawn from the surrounding country side were organized at Decatur, and fought in the major battles of the war.

The building in front of you served as a branch of the state bank until that system collapsed and was a private residence when war arrived.  The columns are said to weigh 100 tons each and were quarried on a nearby plantation whose owner, according to tradition set free the slaves who crafted them upon the building's dedication.  By 1864, it was one of only a handful of buildings left that had not been torn down or burned by Union troops.  The columns, colonnade and doorway still bear scars from rifle and cannon fire.  Of the buildings in Decatur that survived the war, only three, including the Old State Bank still stand today.

Confederate General Edmund W Pettus wrote a letter from Florence, Alabama after passing through Decatur during Hood's Middle Tennessee Campaign in late 1864: "This country is the most desolate in appearance and truth than any (such) country I ever saw.  Wealthy families are wanting bread.  The worst of all is that most of the inhabitants have been conquered."

During the Battle for Decatur, the Old State Bank was directly in the line of fire, and possibly was used as a field hospital.  Federal officers reported a total loss of 113 officers and enlisted men killed, wounded and captured at Decatur.  Confederate casualties are difficult to determine, because few official reports were made for the engagement.  Estimates of Confederate casualties range from 500 to 1,500.  A correspondent from Hood's army, writing to a Mobile, Alabama newspaper, stated "We attempted to take Decatur, but found it a hard nut to crack... after losing 1,500 men..."  Detailed casualty reports are available for only a few units of Hood's Army (about 1.3), but historians can verify 12 killed, 44 wounded, 1 missing in action, 12 - 15 additional killed or wounded and 130 prisoners, for a total of 208 - 211 known Confederate casualties.  Of these men, only fourteen are known by name.  The Union estimates of 500 Confederate killed or wounded were probably not excessive.  The highest ranking Confederate casualty was Adjutant William Stykes, 43rd Mississippi Infantry.

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Confederate General John Bell Hood commanded the Army of Tennessee at Decatur, October 26 - 30, 1864.

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Following the fall of Atlanta on September 2, 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood, Commander of the Army of Tennessee began a series of maneuvers against the Union line of supply running from Atlanta through northwest Georgia, north Alabama and into Nashville.

Hood crossed the Chattahoochee River in late September, and marched north.  Unable to gain any advantage in Northwest Georgia, Hood turned to cross the Tennessee River at Guntersville.  However, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry could not join forces with hood if he crossed there.  Union gunboats were also active around Guntersville.  Furthermore, the damaged Memphis and Charleston Railroad ran from Confederate supply depots in North Mississippi to Decatur.  By early October, Hood considered crossing the Tennessee River at Decatur and on October 9, he ordered the railroad he repaired to that place.  Accordingly, the Army of Tennessee detoured for Decatur.

Hood's army arrived outside Decatur on October 26, and for three days the small Union garrison defended the crossing with determination.  Hood soon discovered that Decatur was "a hard nut to crack."  On the morning of October 30, his army marched through Courtland for Florence/Tuscumbia.

There Hood remained for three weeks, waiting for the flooded Tennessee River to subside, waiting for Forrest to join him with his cavalry, and waiting to accumulate supplies.  When he finally moved, frustration and failure would await at Columbia and Spring Hill, disaster would await at Franklin, and final defeat and his army's disintegration would await at Nashville.

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Colonel Charles Doolittle, 18th Michigan Infantry, Commander, Decatur

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Brigadier General Robert S Granger, Commander, Military District of North Alabama

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This map of the Federal fortifications at Decatur was surveyed by Engineer John H Willett sometime in 1864, and was "prepared under the direction of Colonel William Merrill, Chief Engineer, Department of the Cumberland, and Major James R Willett, Chief Inspector of Rail Road Defenses, Department of the Cumberland."
Decatur played a key role in the Federal defenses of the vital rail lines in North Alabama.  These defenses were configured in a three-tiered system.  First, a number of lightly armored gunboats, constructed on the Tennessee River and nicknamed "tinelads," patrolled the river to intercept Confederate raiders attempting to cross.  These gunboats regularly visited Decatur to obtain fuel, supplies and ammunition.  The second component of the defensive was garrisons stationed at strategic points on the Tennessee River.  Finally, Federal units guarded the railroad in small stockades or blockhouses at important locations such as bridges.

The most prominent Federal garrisons in North Alabama were located at Stevenson, Bridgeport, Huntsville, and Decatur.  The Federal garrison at Decatur consisted of 1,800 infantry and cavalry and  17 pieces of artillery, and was the only post south of the Tennessee River.  At Decatur, substantial earthworks and two artillery forts extended in a 1,000 yard arc from river bank to river bank.  Fort Number One was located on the south western corner of the works, and Fort Number Two was located on the south eastern corner.  The area surrounding the breast works had been cleared from 800 - 1,000 yards.  At some points in front of the breast works an abatis had been established, as described by Orderly Sergeant Daniel L Thomas of the 68th Indiana Infantry, "... a line of small trees, placed with the tops pointing outward, and the limbs trimmed with the sharp points toward the enemy, to check them when they were assaulting the works, so that... under a galling fire, they would become confused and retreat."  The garrison was commanded by Colonel Charles C Doolittle, and Decatur was under the overall command of Brigadier General Robert S Granger, responsible for all of North Alabama.

The Decatur crossing of the Tennessee River was used extensively by Union forces.  In the Fall of 1863, elements of Major General William T Sherman's Army of the Tennessee passed through Decatur on their way from Vicksburg from Chattanooga, Union commands from the Army of the Tennessee spent the spring of 1864 camped at Decatur, and were inspected by Major General James B McPherson and Sherman on March 25, 1864.

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Union Major General Grenville M Dodge 
On March 8, 1864, Union Major General Greenville M Dodge and the XVI Army Corps permanently occupied Decatur and constructed a pontoon bridge and substantial fortifications.  You are near where the southern entrance to the pontoon bridge was in 1864 - 1865.  After the Army of the Tennessee joined the Atlanta Campaign in late April, 1864, a permanent garrison commanded by Colonel Charles C Doolittle of the 18th Michigan Infantry, and consisting of 1,500 infantry and seventeen pieces of artillery was established here.  This garrison would be substantially reinforced in October 1864.

The Federal Army briefly withdrew the garrison to reinforce Nashville on November 23, but Decatur was reoccupied by Major General James B Steedman and a division of U S Colored Troops on December 27, 1864.  Decatur was occupied by Union forces until the end of the war.  The last known date that Federal troops were in Decatur was June 30, 1865.  After the war Grenville Dodge would go on to serve as Chief Engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad, responsible for the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

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