Civil War Wednesday: Lemuel Grant

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Captain Lemuel P. Grant, Courtesy Atlanta Preservation Center
Captain Lemuel P. Grant, Courtesy Atlanta Preservation Center

Lemuel P. Grant, a Maine native, who toiled on the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad as a teenager, moved to Georgia to gain employment in the burgeoning railroad industry. He first worked as a construction engineer on the Georgia Railroad, before his promotion to chief engineer on the Atlanta & La Grange Railroad – later renamed the Atlanta & West Point. When the clouds of war began rolling across the horizon, Grant served as president of the Southern Pacific Railroad of Texas, before resigning to receive a commission as a captain in the Confederate Engineer Department.

With the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, Confederate officials increasing concern over the safety of Atlanta prompted action; Colonel Jeremy Gilmer, head of the Confederate Engineer Bureau, turned to Grant. Gilmer addressed his letter of July 16, 1863 to Grant, asking him to “…examine carefully with a view to a proper system of defense, the approaches to, and vicinity of Atlanta.” The engineer chief offered instruction for defending the city, suggesting the occupation of “…the favorable points in the circuit around the place (far enough from the town to prevent the enemy from coming within bombarding distance), by suitable detached works.”[1]

Grant map of Atlanta Defenses, Lemuel P. Grant papers, MSS 100, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.
Grant map of Atlanta Defenses, Lemuel P. Grant papers, MSS 100, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

After surveying the grounds around the city, Grant dispatched Gilmer in early August. “The question of defensive works around Atlanta is somewhat embarrassing. To make them effective will require a cordon of enclosed works within supporting distance of each other. The line will be between 10 and 12 miles…the points which must be occupied will be, perhaps, 12 to 15 in number, involving an expenditure second only to the defense of Richmond.”[2]

Work on the line of earthworks continued throughout the summer and fall, allowing Grant, on November 1, 1863, to enter his office in the Lynch Building at the corner of Whitehall and Alabama Streets, and update Gilmer on his progress. “The defenses of Atlanta consist of redoubts and rifle pits…generally intended for five guns each. The contour of the eminences…is such…redoubts seemed to me to be the most economical plan. Of these, we have 17…4 unfinished…length of the line… 7 ½ miles, averaging 1 ¼ miles from the center of the city.[3]

Gilmer visited Atlanta in December, inspected Grant’s work, gave his stamp of approval on the system of defenses, and authorized additional funding to augment the series of earthworks and fortifications. In March 1864, General Joseph E. Johnston left his winter headquarters in Dalton to examine Grant’s design. Informed via dispatch of Johnston’s planned visit, Gant agreed to guide the Army of Tennessee’s chieftain on a tour of the various fortifications.

Once the Atlanta Campaign began, and the armies drew closer to Atlanta, Johnston sent Lieutenant Colonel S.W. Presstman to assist Grant in extending the line of fortifications, especially in the northwestern quadrant of the city. The additional earthworks stretched the works to 12 miles in length, and enabled Johnston to assert, “We, if beaten, had a place of refuge in Atlanta too strong to be assaulted and too extensive to be invested.”[4]

Indeed, Grant executed his assignment very well! Captain Orlando Poe, Major General William T. Sherman’s engineer officer, reported on reconnaissance of the Confederate works after the July 22, 1864 Battle of Atlanta, noting, “…it was decided that no attempt at assault should be made upon that part of the enemy’s line which we could see.”[5]

With the loss of his last railroad supply line after the Battle of Jonesboro, General John Bell Hood evacuated Atlanta. Grant continued to serve out the war, assisting in establishing defense systems in Augusta and other locales during Sherman’s March to the Sea. After the war, he returned to Atlanta, where he served in several elected positions, and as the head of the Atlanta and West Point Railroad, before his death on January 11, 1893.

The Columbus Enquirer, reported on his passing in their January 12 edition, noting Grant had, “…in every way possible worked for Atlanta’s prosperity.” The marker at his grave site carries Grant’s final wish for “…Grant Park to be his monument.” However, perhaps an equally fitting tribute rests inside his beloved park. Fort Walker – named in memory of Major General W.H.T. Walker, killed during the Battle of Atlanta – represents one of the last, and best-preserved examples of Grant’s efforts to defend Atlanta.

[1] Jeremy Gilmer to L.P. Grant, July 16, 1863, Lemuel P. Grant Papers, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

[2] Allen P. Julian, “Atlanta’s Defenses,” Civil War Times Illustrated, 1964, 24.

[3] Ibid.

[4] U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, reprint 1899 ed. Series I 38, pt. 3 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 619.

[5] O.R., 38, pt. 1, 132.



Michael Shaffer

Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.