"A Hard Nut To Crack"
— The Battle For Decatur —
Decatur had close to 800 residents in 1860, not many more than the 606 persons counted in the 1850 census. Included in the 1860 census were 267 white males, 206 white females, three free blacks including two males and one female, and 130 slaves of which 56 were males and 74 were females. The town changed hands during the Civil War at least eight times, because of its strategic importance astride the junction of two railroads, and its location on the Tennessee River. Jefferson Davis passed through twice, once on his way to inauguration as the Confederacy's first and only President, and again on his way home after release from prison in 1867. Confederate Generals Albert Sidney Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest also fought or gathered their troops here. Future U. S. president James Garfield visited here as a Colonel, along with Union Generals such as William T. Sherman, James B. McPherson, Robert S. Granger, James B. Steedman and Grenville M. Dodge. Both Confederate and Union regiments drawn from the surrounding countryside were organized at Decatur, and fought in the major battles of the war.
The building in front of you served as a branch of the state bank until that system collapsed, and a private residence when war arrived. The columns are said to weigh 100 tons each and were quarried on a nearby plantation whose owner, according to tradition, set free the slaves who crafted them upon the building's dedication. By 1864, it was one of only a handful of buildings left that had not been torn down or burned by Union troops. The columns, colonnade and doorway still bear scars from rifle and cannon fire. Of the buildings in Decatur that survived the war, only three including the Old State Bank, still stand today.
Confederate General Edmund W. Pettus wrote a letter from Florence, Alabama after passing through Decatur during Hood's Middle Tennessee Campaign in late 1864: "This country is the most desolate in appearance and truth than any [such] country I ever saw. Wealthy families are wanting bread. The worst of all is that most of the inhabitants have been conquered."
During the Battle for Decatur, the Old State Bank was directly in the line of fire, and possibly was used as a field hospital. Federal officers reported a total loss of 113 officers and enlisted men killed, wounded and captured at Decatur. Confederate casualties are difficult to determine, because few official reports were made for the engagement. Estimates of Confederate casualties range from 500 to 1,500. A correspondent from Hood's army, writing to a Mobile, Alabama Newspaper, stated "We attempted to take Decatur, but found it a hard nut to crack? After losing 1,500 men?." Detailed casualty reports are available for only a few units of Hood's Army (about 1/3), but historians can verify 12 killed, 44 wounded, 1 missing-in action, 12-15 additional killed or wounded and 139 prisoners, for a total of 208-211 known Confederate casualties. Of these men, only fourteen are known by name. The Union estimates of 500 Confederate killed or wounded were probably not excessive. The highest ranking Confederate casualty was Adjutant William Sykes, 43rd Mississippi Infantry.
Mungo P. Murray, 31st Ohio Infantry letter to "Dear Sister Jenny" dated July 19, 1863 from Decatur, Alabama "Well, I believe I have not yet described our comfortable quarters. We are located on Broadway, occupying one of the largest buildings in town. It is a large, two story brick, formerly occupied by a banking house. But stop! I forgot to tell you how many occupy this building. Well, there are two companies of the 31st, Companies H and G."