Athens, Alabama

September 23-24, 1864


106th, 110th, and 111th U. S. Colored Infantry; 2nd and 3d Tennessee Cavalry

About 4 p. m. on the 23d Col. Wallace Campbell of the 110th U. S. infantry commanding the post at Athens learned that the enemy were destroying the railroad track 5 miles south of the town, Maj. Pickens, of the 3d Tenn. cavalry, with 100 men, went by the Decatur road, and Campbell, with 150 men, went by train to the scene of action. The combined forces drove off the Confederates and saved a trestle that they had set on fire. Returning to Athens toward nightfall the Federals became involved in a sharp skirmish. Their pickets on the Brown's ferry and on the Buck Island road were driven in and just before dark their artillery at the fort fired a few rounds. The quartermaster's building was set on fire. Forrest's command, which had invested the town on all sides, consisted of Bell's and Lyon's brigades of Buford's division; Rucker's brigade, some of Roddey's troops, Biffle's brigade, the 4th Tenn., and Col. Nixon's regiment. The Confederates made several attempts to get possession of the town and were repulsed with considerable loss. About 11 p. m. they captured the railroad depot. The 2nd Tenn. cavalry, just returned from a scouting expedition, drove them away, wounding and capturing several. At midnight the commissary building was burned and during the latter part of the night all Federal troops were removed to the fort, which was an earth work, 180 by 450 feet, 1,350 feet in circumference, surrounded by an abatis of felled trees, a palisade 4 feet high and a ditch 12 feet wide with its bottom 17 feet below the parapet. The garrison consisted of about 450 men. About 7 a. m., on the 24th the enemy opened on the fort with 12-pounder batteries on the north and west. During the ensuing 2 hours about 60 well directed shells were thrown and exploded in and about the fort, doing no damage to the works and killing only one man, a non-combatant. The fort, which inspecting officers considered the best between Nashville and Decatur, was strong enough to resist any field battery. The Federals answered with two 12-pound howitzers. About 9 o'clock an unsigned demand for surrender was sent in under a flag of truce and was returned unanswered. A second demand signed "Major General Forrest" was refused. Forrest asked for a personal interview with Campbell, showed him that the Confederate force numbered 8,000 to 10,000 men, and again demanded a surrender "in the interests of humanity." Campbell surrendered the fort and its garrison at noon. In the morning, Gen. Granger commanding at Decatur, sent by railroad, detachments of the 18th Mich. and 102nd Ohio, 350 men in all, under command of Lieut.-Col. Elliot of the 102nd, to reinforce the garrison at Athens. When they arrived at the break in the railroad, they were attacked by the whole of Buford's division, but pressed on toward Athens, bestrewing the woods with the enemy's dead. They charged two or three heavy lines of battle, drove them back in disorder and advanced to within 300 yards of the fort, which had surrendered not more than half an hour before. The surrender allowed Forrest to interpose a portion of his force between the fort and the rescuing party, thus compelling them to surrender after a hard fight of 3 hours' duration in which they had lost one-third of their number in killed and wounded. Had Campbell held out they might have saved the day. The officers whom Campbell surrendered joined in a statement over their signatures that on the night of the 23d and 24th, Campbell caused most of the commissary stores of the post to be moved into the fortifications and that they were ample for a ten days' siege; that a well in the fort afforded plenty of water; that there were 70,000 rounds elongated ball cartridges, an ample supply of cavalry carbines, 120 rounds for each of the howitzers; and that the surrender was uncalled for by the circumstances, was against their wishes and ought not to have made. The Federal loss was 106 killed and wounded; Confederate loss, equal to the Federal force engaged.

SOURCE: THE UNION ARMY: A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65 - Records of the Regiments in the Union Army - Cyclopedia of Battles - Memoirs of Commanders and Soldiers. Volume VI. Madison, Wisconsin: Federal Publishing Company, 1908.


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