Decatur’s Brief But Important Role in the Battle of Atlanta

Here’s a summary of the fighting during the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864 from Franklin Garrett’s famous and definitive tome, “Atlanta and Environs”

Upon arrival in Decatur [Confederate General Joseph] Wheeler found Federal troops of Schofield’s 23rd corps in the entrenchments along the south and east of the town, in greater than expected strength.  Wheeler immediately ordered his men to dismount, and attacking all along the line, his soldiers drove the Federals from the entrenchments in hand to hand fighting.  Checked momentarily in and around the Court House Square by troops of Colonel John W. Sprague of Fuller’s division of the 16th corps, guarding the wagon trains, they finally swept the enemy before them through the town and beyond the then city limits to the north.  The Confederates took 225 prisoners, 1 12-pound gun and a number of loaded supply wagons parked in the cemetery.

As on so many previous occasions, however, the relative size of the opposing side came into play.  Late in the afternoon, Hardee found himself in need of help.  Calling upon Wheeler for aid, the latter was unable to retain the advantage gained in Decatur and retired from the town.  The normally quiet old DeKalb county seat had played its brief part in the drama of war.

And a bit more specific, after the jump you will find the synopsis of the battle from Carole McKinney Clarke’s “The Story of Decatur 1823-1899” and the reason I deemed Decatur’s role as “important” in the post title…

The Confederate troops approached Decatur from the southwest, following generally the old Fayetteville Post Road.  (The present Ansley Street, off South McDonough Street, is part of this old road.  Another section, still bearing the name Fayetteville Road, runs south off East Lake Drive to Boulevard Drive.)  Wheeler’s men came in at about the junction of the present East Lake Drive, Oakview Road, Hill Benson, and Ansley Streets near the present Scottish Rite Hospital.  The continued northeast along the forst covered ridge and the rough wagon road which later became the bed of the old Stone Mountain car line.  By mid-morning the head of the column was at twhat is now Columbia Drive, and the line strung back through the dense woods and underbrush along the present Winnona Drive, Davis and Hancock Streets, and across McDongough Street, behind the unsuspecting entreched Federal troops.

General Wheeler found the Federals in much greater strength than he had anticipated.  In his usual dashing manner, however, he ordered his men to dismount, and attacked all along the line.  In hand to hand fighting, they drove the Federals out of the trenches, through the town, and on to the old Decatur Cemetery.  Here he captured about two hundred and fifty prisoners and a number of supply wagons.

In the meantime, Hardee’s foot soldiers, weary from their all night march in the heat and dust, had not been able to keep pace with Wheeler’s mounted troops.  Furthermore, they were greatly outnumbered by McPherson’s army.  Wheeler had no choice but to give up the gains he had made and go back to aid Hardee.  “The loss of Decatur, of course, meant the certain loss to Atlanta of the railroad and contact with Augusta and Charleston, and was the initial thrust of the knife blade which would casue the mortal wound to the Confederacy – the fall of Atlanta.”

8 thoughts on “Decatur’s Brief But Important Role in the Battle of Atlanta”


  1. The moral of this story is that even 150 years ago, people were fighting over parking in Decatur.

  2. Notice how this account differs dramatically from the wording in the Medal of Honor for Col. Sprague, which says he defeated overwhelming forces.

    Before we honor a Union officer, we need thorough research into what ACTUALLY happened on that fateful day in Decatur’s history.

    1. An actual historian should probably do the research. I actually think Rauber is a medical doctor, not an historian. I am not surprised a Medal of Honor application differs from the actual facts, especially one written to support the winning side in something as complex as the this war.

      1. Garrett’s citation was a DeKalb New Era article from the 1950s. Not sure that’s any better than a medical doctor’s findings.

        But I agree…getting an accurate account of a Civil War battle is dang hard. I have a pretty extensive history background. Does that make me a historian?

        1. I do too but the absence of professional credentials other than conference presentations won’t let me call myself that! 🙂

          I bet we could contact someone at Emory’s history’s department or Cliff Kuhn at GSU and find out, or at least get a resource…. Maybe even Michael Rose at the History Center could provide direction.

      2. You are correct in saying that the recently deceased Dr. Rauber was a doctor, actually a highly respected doctor with vast knowledge and expierence in several medical fields, having done work outside his practice. However as someone who knew Dr. Rauber since my birth, I can say with absolute certainty that his devotion to the study of the Civil War in Atlanta was as deep, careful, thought out, researched and cared for as was his professinal career path.Therefore to say that perhaps a “historian” might be better suited to tackle this situation, I doubt there is a historian who can say they are more interested in getting the true facts and history of the Battle of Atlanta than Dr. Rauber was.

  3. I suggest anyone interested in the details of the Battle of Decatur should toddle down to the Old Courthouse and purchase their very own copy of Albert Rauber’s painstakingly researched pamphlet “The Battle of Decatur” from the DeKalb History Center. It is another example of how the History Center is a great community resource. There are some things not available over the net, thank goodness!

  4. Bob, that’s probably what I bought some years ago at the book store across from DHS, but have since misplaced. At this point, it will probably be more efficient to by a new copy, vs. looking for the old one. We really need to get to the true facts before we go off honoring anyone. From what I’ve read, I’d say we should honor Gen. Wheeler, if anyone. He came close to changing the whole outcome of the Battle of Atlanta, and possibly the Civil War.

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