Scrapping with Hood at Decatur
In the aftermath of the Atlanta campaign, General John Bell Hood moved his Army of Tennessee north into Georgia then west into Alabama, all the while aiming to draw William Tecumseh Sherman’s army northwards in pursuit. It worked for a while, but eventually Sherman gave up the chase and Hood moved into Alabama with intentions to cross the Tennessee River and recover the state of Tennessee. He ran into his first major obstacle at the little river town of Decatur, Alabama where a scratch force of Federals under Colonel Charles Doolittle, soon supplemented by thousands of reinforcements under General Robert S. Granger, held Hood at bay for three days from October 26-29, 1864.
“It is positively known that this force, composed of the veterans of the Confederate States army of the West under their ablest leaders and numbering not less than 35,000 men left Palmetto, Georgia with the intention of taking Decatur,” General Granger wrote. “In view of this, their withdrawal from our front after the serious demonstrations made by them can be attributed only to the energy and industry of our troops, their manifest willingness to meet the enemy at any threatened point, and their gallantry.”
Among the garrison of Decatur were 140 men constituting the remains of the 18th Michigan Infantry. A month prior, nearly 200 men of the regiment were captured while on the march to relieve the garrison at Athens, Alabama; thus reduced, the 18th Michigan, along with the 102nd Ohio, the 13th Wisconsin, the 10th Indiana Cavalry, 2nd Tennessee Cavalry, and a few batteries of artillery were hopelessly outnumbered when Hood’s army arrived. Private Ira Kinney of Co. G was present at Decatur and left this fine account of what he experienced during the three-day siege. Kinney’s letter was originally published in the December 6, 1864 edition of the Hillsdale Standard. Colonel Charles Doolittle’s official report of Decatur follows Kinney’s letter.
|Colonel Charles C. Doolittle, 18th Michigan Volunteer Infantry|
Headquarters, 18th Michigan Regiment, Decatur, Alabama
October 31, 1864
We have had a very exciting time since my last. Hood’s army have attacked this place and after three day’s fighting have been compelled to leave. I will try and give you a little idea of what has been done here since the 26th of October. Up to that day, we did not know that there were any more Rebels around than usual. A cavalry scout was sent out and when about three miles from town, they met the Rebel advance guards; our men through there were only a few of them so they charged and drove them back to the main body and our men fell back and reported to Colonel Charles Doolittle that there was a heavy force of Rebs marching on Decatur. Colonel Doolittle did not think there was cause for alarm, but sent more cavalry and two pieces of artillery to a little fort just inside of our picket lines. The Rebs drove the cavalry back to our infantry pickets then our two pieces of artillery on the Rebels. Then the Rebs got four of their cannon into position and tried to shell our two guns out of their works.
"It was tight times you had better believe, and had they come on that first afternoon, we would doubtless be en route for Dixie or otherwise played out. Had they known certainly how small our force we had to oppose them, doubtless they would have come right in to see us." ~ Adjutant William H. McMonigal, 102nd Ohio
At this time, I was on the opposite side of the river looking on and could see our line but could not see the Rebs. When they began to use their big guns, the Colonel sent for every man that could be spared to come across the river; twenty of us went over and were about to help support the two guns. We started and kept out of range as long as we could, but had to go about 20 rods up a hill in sight of the Rebs while they were throwing shells in there. But we took a dead run up the hill and entered the fort without losing a man. We were not very safe there as the Rebs hit the fort nearly every time and we were covered with dirt. There were three horses and two men killed within two rods of men, the men’s heads taken off with one shell. When our guns got the range, they soon made it too hot for the Johnnies who moved their battery. This was about 4 p.m. and they kept up a heavy fire until dark when the Rebs fell back, and so did we.
During the night the pickets kept firing, but there was nothing of importance. Next morning October 27th, the Rebs showed themselves about our lines and there was brisk musketry firing during the day. In one place up the river we could see them digging ditches and our gunboat went up and shelled them away. Our guns from the fort would fire at them wherever they showed themselves and the night passed as the night before. About 3 o’clock in the morning, the Rebs made a charge on our pickets on the right of our lines. Our boys gave them a volley and fell back, but the Rebs would not come on. Our boys could hear their officers swearing at them and trying to get them to charge farther, but they refused.
"It was the most laughable thing I ever seen in my life to see those Graybacks creeping up out of their little holes, some of them five or six Rebels. They would climb out over each other, wave their hands, hats, or white rags and run towards our boys who soon marched them into the fort amid the booming of cannon, rattling of musketry, and cheers of the men." ~ Adjutant William H. McMonigal, 102nd Ohio
At daylight, we found the Rebels had crept up during the night and dug holes in the ground, filling them with sharpshooters who were so close that they could shoot into the fort. They shot a member of Co. D of our regiment while he was running up the flag. General Granger came out and looked around and said “those devils must come out of that,” and called on a captain of a certain regiment to take some men and go under the bank of the river in rear of them and drive them into the fort. The captain said he would go if Granger said so, but said he “not a man comes back alive if we go.” The General said, “you need not go if that is the way you feel," then called upon another captain of a certain regiment and received the same answer.
Said General Granger with an oath, “I know who can do it” and called on Captain William C. Moore of Co. K of the 18th Michigan, and told him what he wanted. The captain took 40 men and started and as General Granger stood on top of the breastworks where he could see our boys behind the Rebs coming up on the double quick, yelling like demons and the Rebs running before them. General Granger swung his hat and said “I knew they would do it.” An officer who stood near the General inquired what regiment was making the charge, and Granger replied “that is my regiment.” The Rebels moved three heavy columns out of the woods when they heard our boys yell, but those 40 boys took 115 prisoners and after that, all was quiet until afternoon.
|Sergeant Charles Tyree, 14th U.S. Colored Troops|
The 14th U.S. Colored regiment then charged a battery the Rebs had planted up the river to shell our pontoon bridge. The Negroes went in to kill and they did kill, spiking three guns. The Negroes lost about 30 in killed and wounded. There was then a little fighting between two of our gunboats and a Rebel battery of four guns which did not do much damage on our side. The pickets kept up a little firing all night, but in the morning there were only a few Rebs in sight so Granger sent out cavalry and found that they had moved most of their forces down the river, probably with the intention of crossing at the shoals. But as three army corps have gone in that direction, they will give the Rebs a warm time to get across.
"The 14th U.S.C.T. is a splendid regiment of men and would fight the devil if he would come at them in the shape of a Johnny Reb." ~ Adjutant William H. McMonigal, 102nd Ohio
Our regiment only had four men wounded and none killed. Our loss in all is not over 100 in killed, wounded, and missing. We took 125 prisoners and they say we killed many of their men the first day with our cannon. When they first pitched into this place, we did not have over 2,000 men here, but the 29th Michigan was ordered here before we knew there were any Rebs arrived. They arrived the first afternoon and the first night we received a very few reinforcements, but the second day we got the 3rd and 4th Michigan [cavalry] regiments along with several other regiments. By the fourth day [October 30th], we had about 18,000 men and 26 pieces of artillery.
Letter from Private Ira Kinney, Co. G, 18th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Hillsdale Standard (Michigan), December 6, 1864, pg. 2
Letter from Adjutant William H. McMonigal, 102nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Wooster Republican (Ohio), November 17, 1864, pg. 3
Report of Col. Charles C. Doolittle, 18th Michigan Infantry, commanding post of Decatur, Ala.
Decatur, Ala., November 3, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to submit, for the consideration of the general
commanding, the following report of the part taken by my command in
the defense of Decatur, beginning on the 26th day and ending on the
30th day of October:
For some days previous to the 26th I had been watching the movements
of Hood's army as well as those of Forrest and Roddey, and scouted the
surrounding country as thoroughly as possible with the amount of
cavalry at my disposal. On the morning of the 26th I sent out two parties of fifty each on the Somerville and Courtland roads. The one on the Somerville road met a pretty strong force of the enemy about three miles out, and were obliged to retire. From the fact that this regiment, 10th Indiana Cavalry [formerly 125th Indiana Infantry], had only been mounted and equipped as cavalry the day before, I was somewhat of the opinion that the officer in charge had overestimated the force of the enemy, which he named at 300 to 400, and not expecting the advance of Hood's army for a day or two at least, I was of the opinion that it might be a scouting party of Roddey's command.
At 1.30 p.m., my videttes reported the enemy advancing on the place. I immediately directed the different commands to be in readiness for action, and rode out to the advance post on Somerville road to learn the extent of the movement. Seeing the enemy's columns forming into line, with skirmishers out, I hastened to camp of 2nd Tennessee Cavalry and directed Lieut. Col. W. F. Prosser to move out and hold the enemy in check till I could reinforce him. I returned to headquarters and hurried forward a section of Battery A, 1st Tennessee Light Artillery, Capt. A. F. Beach commanding, and the 10th Indiana Cavalry, about 300 strong, under Maj. Thomas G. Williamson. They were moving at a walk, and hearing firing I rode to the head of the column and directed Maj. Williamson to trot and report to Lieut.-Col. Prosser. I directed Lieut.-Col. Prosser to look well to the river-bank and to extend the right so as meet the enemy at all points.
The artillery had in the meantime got into position in the small redoubt commanding the Somerville road and vicinity, as directed, and soon opened fire on enemy's line of battle. I had placed the picket reserve of the 18th Michigan Infantry, which was stationed in this redoubt, as a support to this section; it was small, but all I could give it just then. I had ordered Capt. Bullock, provost-marshal, to get all not on duty of bridge guard and provost guard and bring them up as support. Finding that I could hold the enemy in check, about 20 minutes after the artillery opened fire I ordered the right wing of the 29th Michigan Infantry, a new regiment which had just arrived and been placed in position behind breastworks on left
flank, to move to the front and occupy the line of rifle-pits on left of the redoubt. This they did, under a warm fire form enemy's battery and small-arms, in good style for a new regiment. Soon after, I ordered up the balance of the regiment, directing 100 men under the major to be sent to Fort No. 1.
About 4 o'clock I ordered Capt. Charles S. Cooper, chief of artillery, to send a section of Battery F, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, to occupy a small earth-work on the left and about 300 yards in rear of the redoubt occupied by Battery A, 1st Tennessee. Opening upon the enemy with 12-pounder Napoleons, they soon silenced the enemy's battery of five guns. The fight continued until dark, the enemy being unable to drive us back an inch, notwithstanding he made several attempts to charge my line in his usual boisterous manner. I then withdrew my forces inside main works, leaving 100 of 29th Michigan to strengthen the picket-line and hold this line of rifle-pits. I had stationed all of the 102nd Ohio Infantry left in camp, with a detachment of about 150 men of 13th Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry, under Capt. Blake, in Fort No. 2, which fort I placed immediately in charge of Col. William Given, 102nd Ohio Infantry, with instruction to watch well our right flank.
|Adjutant William H. McMonigal, 102nd Ohio|
During the engagement my pickets on the line from the redoubt to the river on the right remained in their position, and when night came my picket-line was intact. I have since ascertained that I was attacked by Walthall's division, of Stewart's corps, Hood's army, 5,000 strong, whom I really fought with less than 500 men and a section of artillery, as the 29th Michigan and the small detachment of 18th Michigan Infantry were not engaged. I am satisfied that the bold front I showed him deterred the enemy from charging and saved to us a strong position, which if held by the enemy would have caused us much trouble and great loss of life. The enemy attempted to send in two flags of truce, but owing to the fact that he continued moving his troops into position, they were not permitted to come it. I suppose it was a demand for surrender, which would never have been acknowledged by me.
The general commanding arrived at dark and assumed the general direction of movements. During the night the gun-boat Stone River arrived with detachments of 102nd Ohio and 18th Michigan Infantry, numbering about 1,200 men; also a detachment of 73rd Indiana Infantry, from Athens, numbering 80 men. The morning of the 27th dawned upon us, showing the enemy still in front of us on our left, and extending around toward the river nearly to the Moulton road. Reinforcements came in slowly, consisting of 250 14th U. S. Colored Infantry, under Col. T. J. Morgan; 195 of the 68th Indiana Infantry, under Lieut. Col. H. J. Espy, and about 70 men of 13thIndiana Cavalry, equipped as infantry, under Capt. Wilson. Another detachment of 73rd Indiana, under Lieut. Col. A. B. Wade, arrived, making about 150 of 73rd Indiana Infantry. Nothing worthy of especial mention occurred during the day, with the exception of the driving back of enemy's skirmishers on our front and right flank by a detachment of 73rd Indiana Infantry, under Lieut. Wilson, 73rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry.
On the 28th, about 3 a. m., the enemy drove in a portion of my pickets from Moulton road to river on our right, and established themselves in gopher holes within 100 yards of our works. I endeavored early in morning to re-establish my line, but found the enemy too well protected to move them. By direction of the general commanding, Capt. William C. Moore, with about fifty of 18th Michigan Infantry and a few from district headquarters, clerks and orderlies, moved down the river under cover of the bank and formed as skirmishers. He moved on the double-quick, driving the rebels out of their holes and capturing 115 prisoners. In this they were ably assisted by the 68th Indiana Infantry, a detachment of which regiment was on picket, and many of the prisoners were taken by them. The artillery in the forts rendered great assistance.
About noon, by direction of the general commanding, I ordered Colored Morgan, 14th U. S. Colored Infantry, now numbering about 500 men, to charge a battery on the river-bank, planted by the enemy during the night previous. To assist Col. Morgan in his charge I ordered Lieut.-Col. Wade with his command into line of rifle-pits on our left flank, and posed one piece of Battery F, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, in the redoubt and small earth-work on that line, with direction to employ the enemy while Col. Morgan was moving on the battery. Our garrison at this time numbered only about 2,500 men. These bold moves had a beneficial effect upon the enemy. Reinforcements arrived rapidly and were assigned positions in the works, special reports of which are made by commanding officers, and are submitted herewith as part of this report, giving us a total of about 5,000 men.
The morning of the 29th brought with it indications of the enemy's leaving, and reconnaissance by Col. Morgan, details of which are given in his report, developed the fact that only a strong rear guard remained. About 4 p.m. the enemy was driven out of his last line of pits, and I reoccupied the old picket-line and my own headquarters, which I had been obliged to vacate. Detachments of 4th, 18th, and 29th Michigan Infantry, 102nd, and 174th Ohio Infantry, under Col. J. W. Hall, 4th Michigan, in all 950, were sent out at dark on Courtland road. A very strong picket of the enemy was met about two miles out, and the command returned to camp late at night.
The morning of the 30th found us in peace and quietness, the sun shining brightly, and a sense of relief was entertained by all. I pushed out a reconnaissance on Courtland road, under Col. Morgan, consisting of his own regiment and 68th Indiana Infantry, with 80 of 2nd Tennessee Cavalry, under Maj. McBath. The rear guard of enemy was met within two miles of town and driven a mile or two. The expedition returned to camp at 4 p. m. When I consider that we were confronted by the whole of Gen. Hood's army it seems miraculous almost that we could escape capture. Our works, although strong in some parts, are very weak in others, and if had been subjected to a heavy fire of artillery it would have been almost impossible to remain, and with new, untried troops forming the principal strength of our garrison, an assault by such an army would have made me very anxious. Our garrison never exceeded 5,000 men, with 19 pieces of artillery, two of which came during the night of the 28th from Huntsville. I must say, however, that I never saw troops in better spirits, and their determination was strong not to give up the works.
Through rain, day and night, with loss of sleep and hard work, I never heard any complaint. Information gained form escaped negro soldiers, prisoners, and deserters established the fact that it was the intention of the enemy, determined on by Gen.'s Beauregard and Hood at Palmetto, to take Decatur, and if he failed in that to winter at Corinth. Hood's aggregate was about 40,000, with sixty pieces of artillery. He was heard to admit a loss of 1,000 in killed in wounded alone, and this is fully confirmed by soldiers and citizens. The whole of our losses during the siege in killed, wounded, and prisoners is only 113; 129 prisoners were captured, including 7 commissioned officers; 32 small-arms; were taken, principally Enfield rifles. The conduct of all the troops was admirable and deserving of praise. Capt. Wilson, 13th Indiana Cavalry, in charge of a detachment of his regiment, alone merits censure. He has been placed in arrest and charges preferred against him.
Again, I say I cannot praise too highly the conduct of all, and I would respectfully suggest that all engaged be ordered to inscribe upon their banners "Decatur." Permit me also to remark that for a long the garrison of Decatur has been too small, and that the troops have been much overworked. In my opinion this garrison should never be less than 3,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry, with the present amount of artillery. As a point from which the enemy can be observed and information obtained it is unsurpassed, and the nature of the ground on the north side of river renders it of the utmost importance that it be retained in our possession. In the hands of the enemy, it would occasion us a vast amount of trouble.
CHS. C. DOOLITTLE,
Col. 18th Michigan Infantry, Cmdg.
Recapitulation of strength of garrison: First day, 1,500; second day,
2,500; third day, 5,000.
Thanks! This is an excellent run down on the Siege. I'm about 20 miles east of where it occurred and I've always had a great interest in it. It is little known, but had a tremendous impact of Hood's operations and the outcome of the Middle Tenn Campaign of late 1864. If Hood had crossed the river at Decatur he could have marched into Tenn a month earlier, before the Federal Army was able to effectively marshal their forces to oppose him.ReplyDelete