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Collector Steve Allen purchased this Civil War-era photograph showing Decatur as Union troops razed the city and used the lumber for fortifications.
Courtesy photo
Collector Steve Allen purchased this Civil War-era photograph showing Decatur as Union troops razed the city and used the lumber for fortifications.

Photo of Union troops razing Decatur
Extremely rare Civil War picture returns to Valley

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

A piece of Decatur's history described by one historian as "extreme rare" is back home.

Collector Steve Allen purchased a Civil War-era photograph showing Decatur as Union troops were razing the city and using the lumber for fortifications.

"I bought the picture on eBay because I wanted to bring it home," said Allen, who two years ago acquired pictures showing Decatur after Union forces fortified the city.

Writing on the 3-by-5-inch picture reads: "Fatigue Party of the 10th Iowa, Decatur"

'It's a jewel'

"It's a jewel, an extremely rare picture that shows buildings in Decatur that I have never seen before," Civil War historian Robert Parham said.

Parham, who has studied the Civil War activities in Decatur for more than 40 years, owns Parham's Civil War Relics and Memorabilia on Bank Street.

The picture was made between April 30, 1864, and June 15, 1864, because that's when 10th Iowa union forces were in Decatur.

"They came from Huntsville to Decatur, but were given furloughs in June and went home," Parham said.

The picture confirms Union Col. John Beaty's 1862 description of Decatur. Writing in his diary April 20, 1862, Beaty of the Third Ohio Infantry said: "The town is a dilapidated old concern (and is) as ugly as Huntsville is handsome."

The picture was made from inside the fort west of the Old State Bank building and shows a grouping of shanties.

On March 19, 1864, Union Gen. G.M. Dodge gave the order that changed the landscape in the River City. He told commanding officers in Decatur to take control of every building in the city and remove every citizen residing within one mile of Decatur. Dodge gave Brig. Gen. John D. Stevenson six days to execute the order.

The citizens, according to the order, "will be allowed to go north or south, as they deem best, and take with them all their personal and movable property."

The Union Army fortified Decatur because it was part of Gen. William T. Sherman's plan to capture Atlanta.

The 10th Iowa arrived after union forces had cleared Decatur of its 600 inhabitants.

With fortification under way, a photographer snapped the picture. The picture was made from Madison Street looking east to Bank.

"It's probably close to where Gobble Fite is located," Parham said.

On the left under a tree in the picture are two Union officers reading maps or maybe engineering drawings for the fort.

Men can be seen cutting lumber, and a chimney in the background probably remained from a home that had been razed.

Initially, the Union Army constructed two small forts in Decatur and connected them with rifle pits.

"They talked about abandoning the city," Parham said. "But, Sherman realized its importance and ordered them to stay."

This is when residents were ordered to leave "because the Union Army didn't want non-Union people to know what was going on," Parham said.

Parham said there are probably other pictures made on the same day that show a panorama view of the city.

"I'm going to keep looking for them," Allen said.

He said he surfs eBay weekly for items relating to Decatur.

Allen did not want to disclose the price, but he said he purchased the picture from a seller in Maryland. He now owns nine Civil War-era pictures of Decatur. Most of them were made in 1864 when the Union Army occupied the city.

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