DeKalb County Georgia in the Civil War

Stone Mountain Church Street

On July 22, 1864, Union and Confederate Forces clashed in the largest battle of the campaign, the Battle of Atlanta, with much of the fighting taking place in Eastern DeKalb County.

To the east of the City of Atlanta in DeKalb County, fighting broke out in mid- July between Union and Confederate cavalry in  Stone Mountain Village and around Tucker’s Browning Court House and the railroad. On July 18, 1864 1000 Confederate cavalrymen of Dibrell’s Brigade fought a delaying action in Stone Mountain Village against 4000 Federals under General Kenner Garrard who were intent on destroying the railroad. Ultimately the Confederates were driven back and two miles of the Georgia Railroad were destroyed including several culverts and the water tank.

Four days later on July 22, 1864, Hood sent two-thirds of his army in a surprise assault on the entrenched Federals of the Army of the Tennessee to the east of the city in Eastern DeKalb (around today’s DeKalb and Moreland Avenues and near the Carter Center). This action, known as the Battle of Atlanta was the largest and costliest of the campaign with 3641 Federal and 8499 confederate casualties and the loss of Federal army commander General James B. McPherson and Confederate division commander General W.H.T. Walker.

On the same day, July 22, 1864 while the Battle of Atlanta was raging a few miles to the west, fighting broke out in downtown Decatur. Federal soldiers were guarding supply wagons parked in the present day Decatur Cemetery when they were attacked by Confederate cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler. The fighting raged for several hours, but ultimately the train was saved by Federal Colonel John W. Sprague, who won a Congressional Medal of Honor for his efforts. As a result of the Battle of Decatur the Confederate casualties were around 100 while the Federals 242 killed, wounded, and missing.

Union troops reentered Decatur on July 24, 1864 and encamped on the town square. They occupied much of DeKalb County through the surrender of Atlanta on September 2, 1864 and until November and the beginning of the March to the Sea.

On November 16, 1864, a portion of Sherman’s left wing camped in and around Stone Mountain Village on the first night of the March to the Sea. (Stone Mountain’s historic African-American neighborhood, Shermantown, was named in his honor.) Sherman’s troops destroyed miles of railroad track from Stone Mountain Village to Lithonia, heating the rails and twisting them around trees making “Sherman’s Neckties” and upon departure, burned the depot.

Special vengeance had been visited upon the village of Lithonia in retaliation for sabotage committed by Lithonia residents against Sherman’s army. Much of Lithonia was ransacked and burned with the exception of the Masonic Lodge. As Sherman‘s army continued their march to the southeast, many other communities would suffer the fate of Lithonia.

Sherman’s forces would go on to cut a path of destruction through the heart of Georgia before attaining their goal, the capture of the City of Savannah on December 19, 1864. Sherman estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million in destruction (about $1.4 billion today). The capture of Atlanta had far reaching consequences, as the victory helped ensure the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln and to see his war aims carried to completion. Sherman’s campaign also attained the Federal goal of bringing Georgia to its knees and essentially eliminating Georgia from its role in maintaining the Southern war effort.

Very few of the structures that figured prominently in Atlanta and DeKalb County’s war effort and the battles that raged here during the summer of 1864 survived Sherman’s onslaught. However, the area abounds with significant sites and historic markers, and because of their pride of place in Georgia, the city of Atlanta and DeKalb County are also home to some of the most important and extensive collections and exhibits of Civil War history in the South, as well as the largest Civil War monument in the nation, the high –relief carving of Confederate Generals, Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall “Jackson, and President Jefferson Davis on the face of Stone Mountain.

On Friday, April 29, at 3:00pm the DeKalb History Center will be holding a Civil War Walking Tour of downtown Decatur. Experience the war through the eyes of people who lived through the battle, siege of Atlanta, surrender and occupation. This tour includes an exhibit at the DeKalb History Center and a walk in downtown Decatur. All tours begin in the lobby at the historic DeKalb Courthouse. Tickets: Adults $10.00, Children (6-18) $6.00. 404-375-1088.  www.dekalbhistory.org. For more information on DeKalb County Civil War sites and other sites in Georgia see Gacivilwar.org and Exploregeorgia.org.

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