History of the Battle of Decatur

First Lieutenant Albert Theodore Goodloe, Company D, 35th Alabama Infantry.

      Albert Theodore Goodloe. Confederate Echoes: A Voice from the South in the Days of Secession and of the Southern Confederacy. (Nashville: Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South, 1907), 291-293.

Image is of 1st Lieutenant Albert Theodore Goodloe, Company D, 35th Alabama Infantry.

In what we supposed was a feint on Decatur, Ala., October 26-28, our regiment suffered a great deal. As we approached this place, which was strongly fortified, our regiment was the advance guard of the army, and Companies B and D the advance guard of the regiment. These two companies waded Flint River early on the morning of October 26, after we had had a dark, rainy, muddy before-day march, and stood picket beyond it until the pontoons could be put down for the balance of the troops to pass over, and then we were thrown forward to skirmish with the Yankees. They were cavalry and they soon came to view, but scarcely offered us any resistance. By a little strategem we drew them into an ambush which we had formed, and would have effectually ruined them had not about half our guns failed to fire from having been rained on so much after they were loaded. As it was, a number of saddles were emptied, and the coat tails of the Yankees not shot spread straight out behind them, as they beat about the hastiest retreat that I had ever witnessed. The scene was actually ludicrous, and we could not but yell them on with hearty bursts of laughster, albeit we felt disappointed that we had not brought down the last one of them.

 

At this juncture our entire regiment was formed into a skirmish line for the brigade, and approaching very close to the fortifications around Decatur, we were ordered to lie down and await further orders. A battery of our field artillery was planted in our immediate rear, and a duel engaged in with the Yankee heavy guns until night set in, there being no little sprinkling of musketry in the meanwhile. Our position was an exceedingly exposed one, and we suffered the loss, in killed and wounded, of some of our best men. In my diary I make special mention of "William Pettus, of my company, as brave a boy as ever fought for freedom," who had his leg fractured by a musket ball; and of "poor Marion Harlan, a Christian man and gallant soldier of Company C," who was instantly killed while in a recumbent position by a solid cannon shot entering his shoulder and passing lengthwise through his body.

 

Other casualties occurred at other times and in other commands, though not generally of a very serious nature for war times, until we drew off from Decatur, October 29, and went to Tuscumbia to make arrangements for crossing the Tennessee River, and going forward to Nashville.

Private W. E. Bevens, Company G, 1st Arkansas Infantry

     W. E. Bevens. Reminiscences of a Private; Company "G", First Arkansas Regiment Infantry. (Arkansas: W. E. Bevens, 1913), 61-62.

Image is of Private W. E. Bevens, Company G, 1st Arkansas.

On October 27th we marched seven miles and camped in line around Decatur. It was a rainy night, so dark we could not see our file leader. If there were any roads we could not see them. It was impossible to finish the line of battle. The army had lost its way. I was standing beside the other boys holding to a small sapling when a new line came up, moving as best they could in a hog path, each man guessing at the way and calling to the man in front. A log about knee high lay across the path and I saw three different soldiers strike that log and fall over it into the muddy slash. Each time the man's gun went splashing ahead striking the fellow in front. There was cussin' all along the line. Finally we ran out on the log and warned others who came along, turning them safely around that point. On October 28th we went further in, completed the line and fought the Battle of Decatur. The night after the battle it turned so cold we nearly froze to death, but we did not mind marching over frozen ground.

Seventy-Third Indiana Regimental Association

     Seventy-Third Indiana Regimental Association. History of the Seventy-Third Indiana Volunteers in the War of 1861-1865. (Washington, D.C.: Carnahan Press, 1909), 193-194.


Image is of Lieutenant-Colonel Albert B. Wade, commander of the 73rd Indiana during the Battle for Decatur.

On October 27th Lieutenant-Colonel Wade was ordered to Decatur with his regiment, leaving one company -C- and the convalescents at Athens, with Lieutenant Williams in command. The rebel general, Hood, was threatening Decatur, and fighting had already commenced. The detachment arrived about two o'clock in the morning of the 28th, with 150 men available for duty. A portion of the Seventy-third had arrived at the fort the day preceding Colonel Wade's arrival, and had made a charge, re-establishing the picket lines, which had been driven back by the charge from the rebels.  At daylight on the 28th it was discovered that the enemy had fortified their new lines, which extended from the river above the fort to the river below, a distance of about three miles. One company of the Eighteenth Michigan moved out on the right of the Seventy-third, flanked the enemy's line, and charged down upon them with a yell which surprised the rebel line and broke it to the rear without firing a shot. The artillery from our fort immediately opened on them with telling effect, killing and wounding a number, while about 100 were taken prisoners. The enemy immediately advanced another line, and the Seventy-third was ordered out to cover the retreat of the Eighteenth Michigan. 

We double-quicked to the southeast sallyport and pushed out under a heavy skirmish fire. We deployed to the right and left, and lay down to escape the fire of the enemy, and after remaining there some time firing and being fired upon, we returned to the fort without the loss of a man, although two were wounded. One man was killed in the charge made on the 27th, Robert Flewellyn, of Company I.  

In the afternoon of the 28th we were sent out to hold the extreme left rifle pits. The enemy were in considerable force in our front and a lively skirmish was kept up all the afternoon. Eighty rounds of ammunition to the man was thus expended by us with but small results, as both sides were well protected. A regiment of colored troops, under Colonel Morgan, was sent out to charge a rebel battery on our left, but the position was too strong and they fell back with a loss of 40 killed and wounded. In the evening we were relieved from the picket line and returned to the fort.  

On the 29th we still remained on picket duty, but the enemy seemed to be leaving, and soon our skirmishers occupied their ground and we recovered the body of Robert Flewellyn, and also found several of their own men left unburied in their "gopher holes."  

On the 30th it was assumed that Hood's whole army was crossing the river at Florence, and it was thought that we would march immediately toward Nashville by way of Athens, and our regiment was ordered back to Athens, where we arrived and found everything all right.

Colonel Thomas J. Morgan, 14th U.S. Colored Infantry & Brevet Brigadier General U.S.V.

     Thomas J. Morgan. Reminensces of Service with Colored Troops in the Army of the Cumberland, 1863-65. (Providence, RI: Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, 1885), 33-35.


Image is of Colonel Thomas J. Morgan, commander of the 14th U.S. Colored Troop during the Battle for Decatur.

Our next active service was at Decatur, Alabama. Hood, with his veteran army that had fought Sherman so gallantly from Chattanooga to Atlanta, finding that his great antagonist had started southward and seaward, struck out boldly himself for Nashville. October twenty-seventh I reported to General R. S. Granger, commanding at Decatur, Alabama. His little force was closely besieged by Hood's army, whose right rested on the Tennessee river, below the town, and whose left extended far beyond our lines, on the other side of the town. Two companies of my regiment were stationed on the opposite side of the river from Hood's right, and kept up an annoying musketry fire. Lieutenant Gillet, of Company G, was mortally wounded by a cannon ball, and some of the enlisted men were hurt. One private soldier in Company B, who had taken position in a tree as a sharpshooter, had his right arm broken by a ball. Captain Romeyn said to him: "You would better come down from there, go to the rear and find the surgeon." "Oh, no, Captain," was his reply, "I can fire with my left arm," and so he did. 

 

Another soldier of Company B was walking along the road, when, hearing an approaching cannon ball, he dropped flat upon the ground and was almost instantly well nigh covered with the dirt ploughed up by it, as it struck the ground near by. Captain Romeyn, who witnessed the incident, and who was greatly amused by the fellow's trepidation, asked him if he was frightened. His reply was: "Fore, God, Captain, I thought I was a dead man, sure."   

 

Friday, October 28, 1864, at twelve o'clock, at the head of three hundred and fifty-five men, in obedience to orders from General Granger, I charged and took a rebel battery with a loss of sixty officers and men killed and wounded. After capturing the battery and spiking the guns, which we were unable to remove, we retired to our former place on the line of defense. The conduct of the men on this occasion was most admirable, and drew forth high praise from Generals Granger and Thomas. Hood having decided to push on to Nashville without assaulting Decatur, withdrew.

General John Bell Hood, Army of Tennessee

     John Bell Hood. Advance and Retreat: Personal Experiences in the United States and Confederate States Armies. (New Orleans, LA: Hood Orphan Memorial Fund, 1880), 271

Image is of General John Bell Hood, commanding the Army of Tennessee during the Battle for Decatur.
My headquarters were during the 27th and 28th at the house of General Garth, near Decatur, where also stopped General Beauregard. While the Army turned Decatur, I ordered a slight demonstration to be made against the town till our forces passed safely beyond, when I moved toward Tuscumbia, at which place I arrived on the 31st of October.

Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart, Stewart's Corps, Army of Tennessee

     Alex. P. Stewart. Report of Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart, C.S. Army, commanding army corps. January 20, 1865.

Image is of Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart.

We next encountered the enemy at Decatur, Ala., toward the end of October, driving in his pickets and skirmishing for a day or two, with a loss of some 135 men, but making no serious attack on his strongly intrenched position. Leaving this place, we moved to Tuscumbia, whence, after a delay of three weeks, we marched for Tennessee.

Major General Edward C. Walthall, Walthall's Division, Stewart's Corps, Army of Tennessee

     Edward C. Walthall. Report of Major General Edward C. Walthall, C.S. Army, commanding division. January 14, 1865.


Image is of Major General Edward c. Walthall.

After this had been thoroughly accomplished we moved by way of Dalton, and passing through Dug Gap on the 14th and Treadaway's Gap on the 16th, on by way of Summerville to Little Will's Creek, five miles from Gadsden, Ala. Here we remained from evening of the 20th to the morning of the 22d, and issued shoes and clothing which had been brought up to that point to meet us by previous arrangement. Our march from this point was through summit and Somerville to the neighborhood of Decatur, where we remained from the 26th to 29th, threatening the town, which was well fortified. Some skirmishing and considerable artillery firing occurred every day while we were there, but without results, except the loss of a few men. Through Courtland and Leighton we moved to Tuscumbia, arriving there the 31st, and moving thence up to South Florence on November 14.

Major General William B. Bate, Bate's Division, Hardee's Corps, Army of Tennessee

     William B. Bate. Report of Maj. Gen. William B. Bate, C.S. Army, commanding division, Hardee's army corps. January 25, 1865.


Image is of Major General William B. Bate.

On arriving at the latter place my command moved in conjunction with Cheatham's corps, to which it belonged, to Gadsden, Ala., and thence across Sand Mountain to Decatur, Ala., where on the morning of the 27th of October I was ordered on the Courtland road, and in the evening of the same day directed by General Cheatham to press my skirmishers as near as practicable to the fort. I pushed up a detachment from each brigade, under Major Caswell, during the night, and drove the enemy's outposts and skirmishers into the forts, and built skirmish pits on the same plateau with and within 200 or 300 yards of the fort. My skirmishers were connected on the left by those of Cleburne's division. The enemy came out early next morning, turning the extreme left of Cleburne's skirmish line, and passed to the rear of the left of mine, capturing 25 of my men. As soon as ascertained General Jackson, with Colonel Mitchell's regiment (being on the right), retook and held, with much promptness and gallantry, the pits, with a loss, however, of 8 or 10 men. In obedience to orders I moved my command with the corps that evening on the Courtland road; thence to Tuscumbia, where we remained for two weeks, and crossed the Tennessee River on November 13.

Account of a Mississippi Soldier.

     Citation withheld at the request of the source.

Image is of the Mississippi Magnolia Flag found at the old Capitol Building.

     Oct. 26, 1864 - 1 A.M. We left Summerville northward for Decatah which is 16 miles from this village. The weather is quite different this morning on account the heavy rains which fell last night and are still bathing the troops which makes it very difficult for us to march. But, on the go, got to Flint River at 12 o'clock. Stopped as we supposed to dry and warm, so we built fires of fence rails and about time we got our tricks off to dry, attention was called into line and crossed the river on our way to Decatah. We got in 1 1/2 miles of the place, found the enemy there strong and fortified. Attacked them at 2 P. M. heavy skirmishing ensued until night when all was again quiet. We fell back to a suitable place for the troops to build fires at 8 P.M. We formed a double picket line sufficient to defend ourselves. Still very cool and raining very hard. Our loss today is but few, the enemies unknown to me. I cannot give the positions of the different corps and Divisions as I have a gun and am forced to remain at my post. Our rashins are very short. 1/4 lb. dried beef and 1 lb. of cold cornbread.

     Oct. 27, 1864 - In position at Decatah, Ala. at daylight this morning. The small armies and cannon opened slow but steady, enough for us to know that we were still to contend for the place. Scott's Brigd. Of Loring's Div. is skirmishing for the present, also a portion of Marhall's Div. which continued all day.

     The enemy had two gunboats or transports temporarily prepared for the same, near our batteries but they did not make any attack on each other.

     Oct. 28, 1864 - Still continued heavy skirmishing as yet no general engagement has taken place. 3 o'clock P. M. The gunboats and our batteries attacked each other. Our batteries were stationed on the South side of the river and above Decatah. Gunboats were still above battery but passed down after a sharp duel of about 1 hour. Night soon closed the sun, all moved back a piece and camped in the woods for the night. During the past two days the report is the Yankeys are fast reinforcing the place., it seems the commander does not wish to capture the place.

     Oct. 29, 1864 - At 4 A. M. we were aroused from our sleep and at 6 A. M. we left this place. Struck the Memphis & C. R. R. 2 miles west of Decatah came down to Courtland 20 miles.

Second Lieutenant Daniel P. Smith, Company K, 1st Alabama Infantry

     Daniel P. Smith. Company K, First Alabama Regiment, or Three Years in the Confederate Service. (Prattville, AL: The Survivors, 1885), 112-113.]


Image is the cover of a copy of the book.

The army crossed the state line of Alabama on the 18th, passed through Gaylesville, and camped three miles beyond, having marched fifteen miles. Fifteen miles were scored again on the 19th, the route taking us past the Round Mountain Iron Works, in Cherokee County. Reveille sounded at an early hour on the 20th, and by 3, A. M., the regiment was on the road; twenty miles were made by 2, P. M., when we camped five miles beyond Gadsden. A welcome rest of forty-four hours was here allowed the soldiers, and on the 21st some clothing was issued to those most in need. Another treat was the distribution of a large army mail, the accumulation of two weeks or more. The order to march was given at 3, A. M., on the 22d, but it was countermanded before we had gone three hundred yards, and it was 10, A. M., before the final start was made; fifteen miles were, however, accomplished before camping, the route being over Lookout Mountain. The army crossed the Black Warrior River on the 23d, and, passing through Brooksville, added seventeen miles to the march record. Though the road was very rocky, a march of seventeen miles was also made on the 24th; the town of Summit was the only point of interest. On the 25th the regiment marched thirteen miles to Somerville, and on the 26th thirteen miles to the lines around Decatur, a total of one hundred and thirty-five miles in ten days, including two days' rest at Gadsden.

 

A brisk cannonade was in progress when the regiment arrived, and it was at once ordered to the picket line. It had been raining at intervals all day, and the night closed in cold and gloomy. When the picket line was reached it was quite dark. At 10, P. M., an order was received to advance the line one hundred and fifty yards and dig rifle pits. It was impossible to see more than five feet in any direction, and as the command was deployed as skirmishers, the movement was executed with considerable difficulty, but the new line was at last formed. About the time the rifle pits were completed, the men supplementing the few entrenching tools with tin-cups and pans, the rain came pouring down, filling the pits and converting the whole ground into a marsh. The men were so exhausted that so soon as the rain had ceased and they had bailed out the pits all but those on guard lay down in the mud and fell asleep.

 

At daylight skirmishers were ordered forward, but finding the enemy in force they fell back to the picket line with a loss of one man mortally wounded in Co. E. Soon after daylight the regiment was relieved and rejoined the brigade. It rained at intervals all day, and to add to the discomfort of the soldiers no rations were issued except a little beef; there was no bread for two or three days. At this time began the private foraging, which later proved so disastrous to the discipline of the army. / On the morning of October 29, the regiment left Decatur and marched sixteen miles westward, along the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, camping three miles east of Courtland. The line of march on the 30th was through a level, fertile country, but desolated by Federal raids, nearly every plantation building having been burned. We camped that night at Leedam, having marched fifteen miles and passed during the day through Courtland and Jonesboro. On the 31st a march of ten miles brought the regiment to Tuscumbia. The march record from September 29th now footed up three hundred and eighty-five miles.

Major-General George Henry Thomas, Army of the Cumberland

     George H. Thomas. "George H. Thomas to H. W. Halleck." October 26, 1864.

Nashville, Tenn., October 26, 1864 – 10.30 p. m.

(Received 9 a. m. 27th.)

 

Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, Chief of Staff:

 

            General Granger reports that the enemy appeared in front of Decatur this afternoon and drove in his pickets. He reports them about 10,000 strong. Have gun-boats patrolling the river above Decatur, and as large a force as I can send at the different fords and ferries on the river, to defend them and prevent the crossing of the enemy. Have not heard from General Sherman to-day, nor from the lower part of the river.

 

GEO. H. THOMAS

Major-General.

19th Alabama Infantry, Army of Tennessee

      W. J. Worsham. The Old Nineteenth Tennessee Regiment, C.S.A.: June, 1861. - April, 1865. (Knoxville, TN: Paragon Printing Company, 1902), 136.

Soon after leaving Gadsden we struck Sand mountain, a dreary and desolate looking country. After a march of seventy-five miles we reached Decatur on the 17th, where we found a garrison of ten thousand, well fortified, with a fort commanding every approach to the city. Hood did not attempt an attack on the fort, as it was not his intention, nor could he have taken it without considerable loss of men and considerable loss of time, which just now seemed to be of more value than men. And too, if he had taken the place without the loss of a single man, it would have been of no importance to the army. We remained here, however, two or three days, with pickets around the town, from the river above to the river below.


Our division was encamped in an open field of nearly a mile in extent, and directly in front of their fort, and near a small cemetery. During the evening of the second day, we (the writer) went out to our vidette post. The rifle pits were just large enough for three men, and were out just in front of the fort which stood on an elevation over-looking an open field between us, and not seeming more than four hundred yards away. Now and then a cannon shot from the fort would pass over us. As we returned from the vidette post, and had gotten about thirty or forty yards away, there came a shot from the fort which was aimed at us to hurry us on. It struck the ground about a hundred yards behind us, bounding and striking the ground about every forty yards, passed us about ten feet to our right and went on bounding to the woods.