May 1, 1864: Hold onto Decatur

James B. McPherson
James McPherson


Sherman needs to keep the Confederates guessing about his intentions, and one way he does that is by keeping a path open into Alabama. Decatur, Alabama has to be held as long as possible, so he has McPherson order Stevenson to stay there at all costs.

Atlanta Campaign

Official Records:

Huntsville, Ala., May 1, 1864.
Brigadier General JOHN D. STEVENSON,
Commanding U. S. Forces, Decatur, Ala.:

GENERAL: It is all important as a cover to our movement that Decatur should be held as long as possible, or until the necessity for its occupation by our forces ceases to exist. Occupying an advanced position on our flank, it is a constant menace to Northern Alabama, and conveys the idea that we may at any time throw a body of troops from there down to the central portion of the State. This compels the enemy to keep a force of cavalry in the vicinity of Decatur, and hold them where they can really do us very little damage. Again, if Decatur should be abandoned, the enemy would undoubtedly hold it with a small force and throw quite a respectable force across the river into Florence and open communication with Forrest, thus endangering very seriously our lines of communication and supplies. For these reasons Decatur should be held with a strong hand, and should only be evacuated in the greatest emergency.

Impress upon all your railroad and guards to hold their positions and defend the bridges from their block-houses and stockades at all hazards; a surrender will entail disgrace. Brigadier-General Gresham will soon be marching across from Clifton to Pulaski, and thence in this direction with a respectable force, to be followed by the remaining brigades of Legget’s and Crocker’s divisions. Keep in communication with them whenever practicable, in order that they can come to your assistance if necessary.

I shall move my headquarters to Chattanooga, starting to-morrow evening. Telegraph me there if anything important occurs, and keep me advised, as fully as you can, of the movements of the enemy.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


HUNTSVILLE, May 1, 1864.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN,

General Sweeny’s division is here, and leaves to-morrow morning by dirt road. Brigadier-General Veatch will be here to-morrow. The three divisions of the Fifteenth Army Corps are one day’s march in advance of their respective starting-points. I had already made arrangements to have provisions, forage, ammunition, &c., stopped at Stevenson instead of coming here, in order that it might be sent on to points where most required. Your instructions that Decatur should not be evacuated, except as a last resort, were sent to Brigadier-General Stevenson, who is left in command of the post with 2,500 men.

Major-General, Commanding.

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