Decatur, Alabama

Photos/Text courtesy of Steven Hippensteel, AL
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             Burning the bridge over the Tennessee at Decatur

1. Decatur, Alabama - Wikipedia
2. Decatur Alabama Civil War

3. Decatur Alabama Civil War Battle Franklin Nashville Campaign
4. Decatur - Then / Decatur, Alabama, USA
5. History of Downtown Decatur Alabama New Albany Civil War

6. Battle Summary: Decatur, AL
7. Battle of Decatur - Wikipedia
8. The Civil War in Alabama Homepage

10. Dancy-Polk House (circa 1829): Historical Marker Database

Decatur, Alabama "A Hard Nut To Crack"

Decatur, Alabama, located in north central Alabama on the Tennessee River, was a strategic point for the South because of the fact that the Memphis and Charleston railroad crossed the Tennessee River. While Sherman was driving deep into Georgia in 1864, his lifeline ran along the railroad back into Nashville, Tennessee where a Union Depot supplied all of the ammunition, food, reinforcements and medical supplies for his army. Confederate General John Bell Hood, known as a hard fighter because of the devastating attacks he delivered, had held Sherman's troops out of the gates of Atlanta for three months before being forced back in September. Hood now felt a strike at Sherman's supply lines would force the federals into retreat. Hood believed a quick victory at Nashville could reverse the course of the war for the Confederacy. But to get to the Union depot in the Tennessee capital, Hood would have to cross the Tennessee River. Decatur, Alabama, would be the attempted point of that crossing for north of the city was a railroad and the relatively well-maintained national road (now U.S. Hwy 31) that would provide a speedy advance. Confederate General Hood, wrapped in a fierce four day battle involving mounted troops, gunboats and scores of infantrymen, said Decatur was "a hard nut to crack." Eventually Hood was forced to abandon his attempt to forge the shallow waters at Decatur, and instead, moved 45 miles westward to cross the river at Florence, Alabama. However, because the river was overflowing at Florence, Hood and his men had to wait three weeks for the water to subside before crossing and marching toward Nashville. That fateful delay allowed slow moving Union troops to occupy blocking positions in the Franklin area south at Nashville and thus, stop Hood's attempts to destroy Sherman's supply base. (Adapted from Decatur tourism brochure)


(Sept. 2010) Stop 01: Hood's Middle Tennessee Campaign and the Battle for Decatur
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 be 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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(Sept. 2010) Enlarge Stop 01: Decatur and The Civil War in North Alabama

Decatur had close to 800 residents in 1860, not many more than the 606 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. Granger, James B. Steedman and Grenville M. Dodge. Both Confederate and Union regiments drawn from the surrounding countryside 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 a private residence when the 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 only one of 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 loosing 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 139 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 Sykes, 43rd Mississippi Infantry.

(Sidebar): 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 in 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.”



(Sept. 2010) Enlarge Old State Bank  historical marker

(Sept. 2010) Enlarge Old State Bank


(Sept. 2010) Enlarge Front door


(Sept. 2010) Enlarge The front of the bank building has many scars on the columns, flooring and door casing from munitions during the Civil War. The building is open during weekdays to the public and is currently in the process of being restored back to it's Civil War era as a museum

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