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A Look Back at the Civil War in DeKalb County

by Arman Deganian
President, DeKalb Bar Association
litnerlaw.com

As a fifteen year resident of DeKalb County, I often pass by historical markers on my way to and from work on DeKalb Avenue and Memorial Drive. I’ve rarely taken the time to stop and read them but, on a recent walk with my dog, I slowed down and took stock of a number of these markers. I’ve always been interested in the Civil War in Georgia, but I never realized how devastating the war was to the communities of DeKalb County, or that the Battle of Atlanta began in DeKalb County, just down the street from my home.

A couple of days before the Battle of Atlanta began, nearly 1,000 Confederate soldiers fought a delaying action in Stone Mountain Village. They were up against 4,000 Union troops under the command of General Kenner Garrard. The Union troops’ goal was to destroy the railroad and cripple the Confederates’ ability to resupply their already dwindling army. General Garrard’s men succeeded in driving back the Confederates and proceeded to destroy two miles of the railroad. 

. . . I never realized how devastating the war was to the communities of DeKalb County, or that the Battle of Atlanta began in DeKalb County, just down the street from my home.”

Soon after, on July 22, 1864, Confederate General Hood moved two-thirds of his army to what is today the intersection of DeKalb Avenue and Moreland Avenue in an attempt to surprise the entrenched Union troops. The famed Cyclorama’s vantage point is essentially directly above this intersection. This is where the worst fighting of the Battle of Atlanta occurred. However, the battle continued to touch other portions of the county as it raged. On November 16, 1864, a portion of Sherman’s left wing camped in and around Stone Mountain Village. In fact, the historic African-American community of Shermantown was named in his honor soon afterwards and still exists today. 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 burned the depot upon departure.

Sherman’s troops often specifically targeted communities for retribution during the campaign to the sea. Lithonia was a recipient of said retribution in retaliation for sabotage committed by Lithonia residents against Sherman’s army. Much of Lithonia was ransacked and burned as a result. One interesting fact that some might not know is that DeKalb County’s delegates to the secession convention voted against secession prior to the start of the war. Despite this, there are numerous reminders of the toll of the war in communities like Lithonia and Stone Mountain. For example, Stone Mountain Cemetery, located on Main Street in the village, is home to approximately 200 graves of unknown Confederate soldiers, as well as 71 graves of known Confederate soldiers and, interestingly, one known Union soldier, James Sprayberry.

If you have interest in learning more about the Civil War in DeKalb County, on Friday, April 28 at 3 pm, the DeKalb History Center will hold 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, children (6-18) $6. 404-375-1088. 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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