Old DeKalb County Courthouse
"I had no doubt of my ability to hold the courthouse..."
Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails
Historic Driving Routes
Five DeKalb County courthouses have been erected here in the center of Decatur since 1823. The third courthouse structure, between 1847 and 1898, was where DeKalb County's two anti-secession delegates were selected to attend Georgia's secession convention in January 1861. That same courthouse was also in the center of numerous military actions during 1864.
On Tuesday, July 19, 1864, the 15th, 16th and 17th Corps of Union Major General James B. McPherson's "Army of the Tennessee," part of Union Major General William T. Sherman's command, camped overnight in Decatur. They moved southwest across the county toward their clash with Confederates at the "Battle of Atlanta" on July 22nd. Union Brigadier General Kenner Garrard assembled his cavalry division in Decatur on July 20th leaving on the 21st in order to destroy the railroad eastward toward Covington. His cavalrymen returned here on the 24th.
When Confederate General John B. Hood planned the Battle of Atlanta, his cavalry, under Major General Joseph Wheeler, was directed to attack the wagon trains of General McPherson's army. These wagons carrying vital supplies were still located in Decatur. They were guarded by Union Colonel John W. Sprague's brigade.
On July 22nd, General Wheeler's dismounted cavalrymen deployed south of the railroad (about four blocks to the south) and drove Colonel Sprague's command north to the courthouse. Outnumbered and attacked on three sides, Sprague was forced to withdraw about one mile north (to present-day North Decatur Road). Sprague later wrote, "I had no doubt of my ability to hold the courthouse square and the town, but this would not prevent the enemy from attacking the trains of our army coming up from Roswell, so I withdrew from the town on [Clairmont] Road." The Federals made a stand at their new location and Wheeler withdrew after receiving orders to rejoin the main Confederate army at Atlanta. As a result of this action, Sprague was promoted to brigadier general and in 1894 was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
One brave lady, Mary Gay, refused to leave her home in Decatur which was originally located on Marshall Street within view of the courthouse. She told her amazing story in her book, Life in Dixie During the War. Gay hid clothing in her home before delivering them to needy Confederate soldiers. She later supported both herself and others by collecting bullets and artillery shells to trade for food.
Following these military actions the citizens of Decatur endured another four months of enemy activities. They included the assembly of Union Major General George Stoneman's cavalry division for its raid toward Macon starting on July 27th, occupation by the 23rd Corps in September 1864 following the surrender of Atlanta and the marching of General Sherman's "Left Wing" through town on November 15th and 16th after departing Atlanta on their "March to the Sea."
The current structure served as DeKalb County's courthouse from 1918 to 1967.