yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

History of the Shoals

from the B. R. Jennings collection

The following was published in the  Times Daily, Thursday, February 25, 1999.

Civil War: 1861 - 65

        Historian Shelby Foote called the Civil War "America's Crossroads," an example of Americans' failure to compromise. Regardless of a person's feeling about the value of the conflict, the years of the war were devastating. The social, political and economic structure of the South would never be the same.
       On Jan. 7, 1861, Alabama Gov. Andrew B. Moore called for a state convention to discuss articles of secession. Some North Alabama counties threatened to leave and form a loyal union state known as Nickajack if Alabama passed secession. Nickajack was to be formed with counties from north Alabama, east Tennessee, north Georgia and north Mississippi.
     The controversy over secession centered on whether the issue was put to a popular vote or simply passed by the delegates sent to Montgomery. North Alabama favored a vote of the people while south Alabama opposed an election. South Alabama had the largest plantations, more slaves and therefore, more delegates at the secession convention because three-fifths of the slave population could be counted for representation.
      North Alabama had the largest population but the fewest elected representatives to the convention. If the issue were put to a popular vote, delegates who favored secession, known as "fire-eaters," feared defeat.

Secession ordinance adopted

     After four days of debate, the Ordinance of Secession passed by a vote of 61 to 39, the 39 opposition votes coming from north Alabama. The delegates representing Lauderdale (Sidney C. Posey and H. C. Jones), Franklin (John A. Steele and R. W. Watkins), and Limestone (J. P. Coman and Thomas Mclellan) all voted against secession except Watkins.
     Representatives from Winston County even threatened to form the "Free State of Winston."
     All thoughts of separation in Alabama ended when President Lincoln called for an army to bring the South back into the Union.
     On Feb. 4, 1861, delegates from six of the seven seceded states met in Montgomery and drafted a constitution that formed the confederate States of America. The new constitution stressed states' rights and legalized slavery. Delegates chose Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as president, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia as vice president and Montgomery was the first capital of the Confederacy.
     Local units raised for the Confederacy included:
     * 4th Alabama Infantry with Robert McFarland as captain.
     * 7th Alabama Infantry with Sterling A. M. Wood as colonel
     * 9th Alabama Infantry with Edward Asbury O'Neal as lieutenant colonel and James Crowe as major
     * Company D and I of the 9th was mostly men from Lauderdale County.
     * 16th Alabama Infantry with William B. Wood as colonel
     * Company A of the 16th contained men mainly from Franklin County and Company C had Alexander Donelson Coffee as captain.
     * 26th Alabama Infantry (later the 50th) was formed with men from Tuscumbia.
     * 27th Alabama Infantry had James Jackson Jr. as colonel
     * 35th Alabama Infantry contained many students and faculty of LaGrange Military Adacemy.
     * 4th Alabama Cavalry was commanded by Gen. Phillip Dale Roddy of Lawrence County and known locally as the "Defenders of the Tennessee Valley."
     * 9th Alabama Cavalry contained many local men.
     * 10th Alabama Cavalry had Richard Pickett as colonel.
     * 11th Alabama Cavalry served directly under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and had John R. Burtwell as colonel.
     On Oct. 7, 1861, state leaders announced that 27,000 Alabamians were serving in the confederate Army.
      No one has an accurate count of North Alabamians who served in the Union Army but estimates go as high as the thousands. Articles and books about the "South's inner war" attest to the hard feelings and sufferings of families who had loved ones on opposite sides.

Defending the river

     The Tennessee River was difficult to defend because it was navigable from the Ohio River to the shoals almost year-round.
     From the Shoals, invaders could sever the Chattanooga- and- Memphis and Charleston-and-Memphis railroads that ran through Franklin County and Tuscumbia.
     The general lack of local concern only hindered the protection of the valley. Only one fort, Fort Henry, protected the Tennessee River from invasion. Citizens living on the upper regions of the river, from Chattanooga to Knoxville, were more isolated and felt little need for fortifications.
     An equal lack of concern came from the middle region of the river, Chattanooga to Decatur, because steamers could not navigate beyond the shoals. The populace from the lower regions of the river, Florence to Paducah, were likewise unconcerned.
     Only citizens from Tuscumbia objected to any great extent.
     One historian stated that many citizens from North Alabama did not protest because they favored the Union cause.

Union forces advance

     Local fears were soon stirred when on Feb. 6, 1862, Fort Henry fell to forces under the command of U. S. Grant, exposing the entire lower region of the river to Union invasion. Those fears were soon confirmed on Feb. 8, when three union gunboats, The Lexington, The Conestoga and The Tyler, under the direction of Cmdr. Andrew H. Foote, arrived at the Florence landing.
     Foote reported that three Confederate steamers were found burning at the wharf and that 20,000 pounds of pork and other supplies were captured. A delegation of Florence citizens asked Foote not to burn the town or destroy the river bridge; both requests were granted.
     Foote's main goal was to destroy the Confederate gunboats Robb and Dunbar. Local historian Turner Rice has written that the Robb and Dunbar were hiding in Cypress Creek and the Dunbar became lodged between the banks and was scuttled and sank. Local citizens used the gunwales of the boat to ford the creek and gave birth to the name Gunwaleford Road.
     Late in 1862, Gen. Roddy's men raised the Dunbar and took it above the river's shoals. Near the end of the Union campaign at Chattanooga, the Dunbar fell into Union hands and was used to transport Federal troops across the river.

Florence Bridge burned

     On March 18, 1862, the Florence Bridge was burned by Col. Ben Hardin Helm's troops on orders given by Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston. Historian William L. McDonald said Union Gen. O. M. Mitchell confirmed Confederates burned the bridge.
     Because of the loss of Fort Henry, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, commander of the western theater of the Confederacy, feared Grant's flanking invasion up the Tennessee.
     February 1862 was a disastrous time for the South, leaving West Tennessee and North Alabama in jeopardy. Johnston had little choice but to find Grant's Army of the Tennessee and drive them from the valley.
     James McDonough, in his book "Shiloh - In Hell before Night," said Johnston's Army of Mississippi was composed of many untrained, undisciplined troops who were commanded by untested and unskilled officers. Grant's Army of the Tennessee was hardened and tested at the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.
     Johnston's army was to engage Grant on Friday, April 4, but the terrain and miscues delayed the attack to the 5th. More delays and rain caused Johnston to call a council of his commanders. Generals Beauregard and Bragg favored calling the mission off but Johnston made the decision to attack on Sunday, April 6. Grant's 5th Division, under the command of Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman, camped inland from the river at Pittsburg Landing near Shiloh Methodist Church. Ironically, Shiloh means a place of rest.

Battle at Shiloh Church

     Johnston's attack began about 4:30 a.m. near Sherman's position around Shiloh church. The 6th Mississippi went into battle with 425 active men and within 30 minutes lost 300, dead and wounded.
     Union forces were quickly routed but 4,300 Union troops held an old field road, later known as the Hornet's Nest, against charges from more than 18,000 confederates, never more than 3,700 at any one time.
     It was during this engagement that Johnston was wounded in the leg and bled to death. Around 5 p.m. 2,000 Union troops in the Hornet's Nest surrendered. They had successfully checked the Confederate advance that first day.
     With the death of Johnston, Beauregard assumed command and called off the attack until daybreak on Monday. Grant's army was reinforced during the night with 24,000 fresh troops commanded by Gens. Buell and Lew Wallace. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's men watched as the fresh Union troops arrived and Forrest begged permission to attack immediately but was turned down.
     At dawn on April 7, Grant's army of 45,000 counter-attacked the battle-weary, hungry, cold and scattered Confederates. By 4 p.m. Beauregard's army was retreating to Corinth, Miss.
     McDonough stated the South's objective at Shiloh failed because of many lost opportunities and bad luck. The loss of Johnston, called by many "Lee of the West," was devastating. The lost opportunities led to the eventual loss of the entire Tennessee Valley, West Tennessee and North Mississippi.
     Shiloh proved to be the bloodiest battle in the west, both sides losing in excess of 23,600, dead and wounded.
     One New Orleans newspaper said the South "could never smile again, after Shiloh."
     On April 9, the first Union raid into Lauderdale County occurred. Union cavalry entered near the community of Rawhide (Cloverdale), seizing prisoners and taking supplies.
     Raids would become more frequent, many conducted by local men who either joined the Union army or were deserters from either army and preyed upon the local populace.
     Wade Pruitt's book, "Bugger Saga," contains many stories and legends about this aspect of the war in North Alabama.
     Lauderdale records reveal that 751 families were left destitute by early 1862.
     County funds helped replenish basic goods but by early 1863 there were no more funds available.

Union strategy for Shoals

     Early in 1862 the strategic importance of the shoals area drew the attention of Union forces and the process of occupation began.
     By the end of the war, the Shoals had changed hands 40 times.
     On April 16, a skirmish was fought in Tuscumbia and Union forces occupied the town. Tuscumbia was recaptured in fighting April 24 and 25, but the retreating Union troops burned the Tuscumbia Landing.
     In June 1862, Florence was occupied by the Union's 10th Kentucky Regiment under the command of Col. John Marshall Harlan.
     Doris Kelso recorded in her history of the First Presbyterian Church that Harlan ordered the arrest of the Rev. Dr. William H. Mitchell from his pulpit for his prayer for the Confederacy.
     Mitchell was sent to prison in Alton, Ill., until October 1862.
     The obvious intent of this was intimidation of the local population.

Tuscumbia's occupation

     Beginning June 9, 1861, Tuscumbia was occupied for a second time by Union forces.
     Their mission was to repair the Memphis-and-Charleston Railroad.
     Reports from that time said many locals were robbed by the occupation troops. Confederate troops liberated the town on Sept. 8 and the retreating Yankees tried to burn the town.
     In July 1862, Waterloo citizen Lon Waters fired on Union gunboats passing the town. William L. McDonald has recorded that the Union response was to shell the town.
     The year 1862 ended with December skirmishes at Barton and Little Bear Creek. John McWilliams has written that the Federals eventually were forced to withdraw to Corinth.

Franklin raid

     In April 1863 the Union made a daring raid into Franklin County. The raid was conducted by a combined Federal force under the command of Gen. Grenville Dodge. The battle began at Bear Creek on April 17 with Roddy's 4th Alabama Cavalry driving a portion of dodge's men back into Mississippi.
     On April 22, Dodge's force of 7,000 was joined with Col. Abel Streight's 2,000-man cavalry, mounted on mules and jackasses. The invasion through Tuscumbia was a ploy to allow Streight's forces to drive across north-central Alabama and burn the railroad bridge in Rome, Ga., forcing Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee to evacuate Chattanooga.
     Roddy's force of 1,300 opposed this massive invasion and fought skirmishes against the Federals at Tuscumbia and Leighton. Dodge was to hold Forrest and Roddy and allow Streight's men to escape south to Russellville and then east to Gadsden.
     Forrest arrived in Florence on April 26 and brought his troops across the ferry at Bainbridge on the 27th. The battle of Town Creek opened on the 27th with an attack by the combined force of Roddy and Forrest.

Streight's running battle

     What transpired next is one of the most famous running battles of the entire war known as Streight's Raid. Dodge began his withdrawal to Mississippi on the 29th. In his official report, Dodge recorded his army carried off large quantities of supplies, mules, horses, cattle and slaves.
     In addition, his men destroyed five tanyards, six mills, sections of the railroad and a force commanded by Col. Florence M. Cornyn, known as the the "Destroying Angles," burned LaGrange Military academy and the female academy.
     When dodge's force withdrew, Forrest's scouts discovered Streight's move. After catching Streight on the 30th, Forrest's men chased the Federals across Alabama and eventually cornered and captured Streight and almost 1,500 of his men. The raid was doomed from the start by poor planning and execution by not only Streight but his commander, Gen. W. S. Rosecrans. The successful conclusion of the campaign added more to the legend of Forrest and men as "Wizards of the Saddle."

Assault on Lauderdale

     On May 26, 1863, a Federal force of 1,380 under the command of Col. Florence M. Cornyn left Corinth, Miss., determined to end the industrial productivity of Lauderdale County.
     At the time, Lauderdale was a leading producer of cotton and wool cloth, leather and food. Accompanying Cornyn was Capt. Risden Deford, son of a former Methodist circuit rider. McDonald said Deford knew the location of the mills, tanyards and foundries and led Union forces against people who had earlier welcomed him and his father into their homes.
     Cornyn's force entered near Rawhide (Cloverdale) and after dividing his force, they burned the mills and tanyards along Big and Little Cypress creeks, Cowpen Creek, Shoals Creek and Cox Creek. The "Defender of Florence" was Brig. Gen. Sterling A. M. Wood, son of Florence's first mayor
     Wood's forces met the Federals near Cox Creek on the Coffee Road (Cloverdale Road) and were quickly forced to fight a retreating movement back into the city. Wood's men held Florence most of the day as units of Cornyn's men burned the Globe Cotton Mills on Cypress Creek near the present site of the Florence Golf and County Club.
      Local citizens recalled seeing the smoke from the center of the city. After forcing Wood to retreat, Cornyn ordered a block of homes and buildings burned to cover his withdrawal.
     Cornyn's raid devastated Florence and industry in the valley.
     In addition to the destruction of the Globe Mills, worth more than $1 million, Cornyn destroyed food and grain and stole horses, mules, cattle and slaves. McDonald has said that Florence and the Shoals area did not recover industrially until the Tennessee Valley Authority came into the valley in 1933.

Franklin County skirmishes

     Throughout the month of October 1863, there was a series of engagements in western Franklin County between Confederates and Federal troops repairing the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. The skirmishes finally ended Oct. 31 after a party of Federals crossed the river on their way to Chattanooga.
     During 1863, the Confederate ranks were thinned by desertions. Although only 1-of-10 Confederates left, the number of desertions caused President Jefferson Davis to issue an executive order asking deserters to return and promising amnesty to all who returned within 20 days.
      Brig. Gen. Gordon J. Pillow estimated there were 8,000 to 10,000 deserters hiding in the hills of North Alabama.
     Pillow recommended deserters from the Army of Tennessee be transferred to the Army of Virginia so they would be farther fro their homes. Maj. Gen. S. D. Lee stated the South was, in addition to Yankees, fighting a war against starvation and desertion.
     Southern soldiers faced severe hardships on the field and in camp.
     But the main reason given for desertions was that their families were unduly suffering. The late Louis Eckl, editor of the Florence Times (now Times Daily), said many desertions were caused by gut-wrenching letters from home.
     One example read: "I would not have you do anything wrong for the world, but before God, Edward, unless you come home we must die! Last night I was aroused by little Eddie's crying. I called and said, 'What's the matter, Eddie?' and he said, 'Oh, Mama, I'm so hungry!' And Lucy, Edward, your darling Lucy, she never complains, but she is growing thinner and thinner every day. And before God, Edward, unless you come home, we must die!"
     Other examples of these letters from both sides can be found in "The Life of Johnny Reb" and "The Life of Billy Yank" by Bell I. Wiley.

Jackson's defense

     In 1864, Shoals residents saw less military activity than the previous years.
     McDonald wrote an account of Col. James Jackson Jr.'s April raid from Franklin into Lauderdale County in an attempt to end the raiding and plundering of the infamous 9th Ohio Cavalry.
     The white steeds of that group, 150 strong, gave them the name, "White Horse Cavalry."
     Finding the enemy camped on the Peters plantation, Jackson's volunteers from the 27th Alabama Infantry routed them, killing two, taking 42 prisoners, and capturing livestock and food stolen from local residents.
     Jackson's men returned into Franklin but ironically, two Ohio Cavalry members escaped to Florence and the Federals evacuated the city, fearing a large invasion force.

Crossing the river

     Another daring episode occurred in late summer of 1864 when Gen. Joseph Wheeler's 1st Tennessee Cavalry raided into middle Tennessee and were hotly pursued by Union cavalry as they entered Lauderdale County.
     Wheeler sent riders ahead to find a guide for the ford location at the Bainbridge Ferry crossing at the mouth of Shoal Creek.
     With no guide available and the river flooded, Wheeler sent two riders into the water to find the ford. Working under the handicap of darkness and a mile wide current, the riders found the crossing and Wheeler's men rode between them to safety without losing a man.
     In September 1864, the legendary Gen. Forrest and his "Critter Company" crossed the river at Colbert Shoal and rode through Florence via the Huntsville Road.
     After capturing a Union garrison at Athens and wrecking the Nashville-and-Chattanooga Railroad in middle Tennessee that furnished supplies to Sherman's Army, he marched through Georgia.
     Next, Forrest's cavalry re-entered Alabama with Col. W. H. Morgan's Union cavalry in hot pursuit.
     Forrest hoped to cross at the Bainbridge Crossing but the river was flooded.
     After locating a barge, his troops began a two-day process of transporting men and swimming the horses.
     The last regiment of confederates was left to harass the Federals and told to meet the main body on Seven-Mile Island in two days.
     The two cold days on the island were spent without fires, fearing enemy detection.
     Incidents such as this only increased the myths and legends surrounding Forrest and his men.

Hood in Alabama

     After the loss of Atlanta in September 1864, Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood marched the Army of Tennessee into North Alabama in preparation for an invasion to recapture Tennessee and Kentucky.
     Failing to cross the Tennessee at Guntersville and Decatur, advanced units of Hood's army arrived in Bainbridge, Tuscumbia, and South Port and prepared for a river crossing into Florence.
     From his headquarters in Tuscumbia, Hood ordered his first corps to cross the flooded river on a pontoon bridge lashed to the railroad bridge piers, opening the second Battle of Florence.
     The crossing was continually delayed by rain and flooding but eventually Hood's three corps of nearly 30,000 and Gen. W. H. Jackson's cavalry of 2,000 successfully crossed and were joined by Forrest and his cavalry of 3,000.
     Students of the Female Synodical College watched the crossing from the dome of the school.
     Hood's ill-fated plans did not go unnoticed by Union Gen. George H. Thomas in Pulaski.
     With Forrest's cavalry in advance, Hood ordered his army to move out Nov. 20. The Army of Tennessee left Florence after a 3-inch snowfall.
     Gen. Benjamin Cheatham's corps moved out on the Coffee Road, Gen. Alexander Stewart's Corps left by the Military Road and Gen. Stephen Lee's corps took the Chisholm road.
     The advance was greatly impeded by bitter cold, snow and freezing rain.

 Hood's broken dreams

     Following easy victories at Columbia and Spring Hill, Hood's army met the brunt of Thomas' army in Franklin on Nov. 30.
     Historians James Lee McDonough and Thomas L. Connelly state in their book, "Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin," that Hood dreamed of glory but lived in a world of broken dreams.
     His combative nature and tactics took a heavy toll on the proud Army of Tennessee.
     Hood ordered a frontal assault on an entrenched Federal force commanded by Gen. John Schofield. The battle began at 4 p.m. and lasted into the darkness.
     Hood's army suffered horrendous losses, 1,750 dead and 5.500 captured or wounded.
     Included in the dead were six generals: John Adams, John C. Carter, States Rights Gist, Hiram Granbury, Otho Strahl and Patrick "Stonewall of the West" Cleburne.
     Hood's losses exceeded 20 percent, a higher percentage than McClellan's entire Seven Days' campaign against Lee, Hooker's loss to Lee at Chancellorsville and Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.
     McDonough and Connelly said that Hood slaughtered his army at Franklin.

Army is broken

     Gen. Schofield withdrew his army to Nashville and Hood ordered his shattered army to follow.
     What remained of the once gallant Army of Tennessee was destroyed at the Battle of Nashville on Dec. 15 and 16.
     With Forrest's cavalry fighting rear guard, the broken army retreat- ed south into Alabama and crossed Bainbridge on Dec. 25 and 26.
     When Hood's army arrived in Tupelo on Jan. 10, 1865, there were fewer than 15,000 infantry.
     On the 15th, Hood was relieved of command and replaced by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.
     The final major troop movement in the Shoals area began in January 1865, when Union Gen. James Wilson began assembling a 22,000-man cavalry, the largest massed cavalry in North America, from Bear Creek to Eastport, Miss., on the south side and Gravelly Springs to Waterloo on the north.
     Wilson's raiders began leaving the area the last of February through the first of March on their massive invasion into the heart of Alabama.
     By March 30, Wilson's men burned ironworks at Elyton (Birmingham) and one division led by Croxton burned the University of Alabama on April 13.
     Wilson's major opposition in Alabama was Forrest with less then 2,500 men.
     After the destruction of major military factories, Wilson's raiders proceeded to Montgomery and captured the capital on April 12.
     Forrest disbanded his force, the last Major Confederate force east of the Mississippi River, on May 9.
     Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army on April 9, 1865, to Grant at Appomattox, Va. President Lincoln was shot on April 14 and died on the 15th.
     Joseph E. Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee near Greensboro, N. C., on April 26.
     After the war, the counties of the Tennessee Valley were wastelands.
     Ironically, North Alabama counties originally opposed secession and suffered the worst destruction during the war.
     The hardest hit towns were Athens, Decatur, Florence and Tuscumbia.

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ABOUTME.html">memorial · about

This site was created by David Donahue and Brenda Kirk Fiddler.
This site is currently maintained by Jerry L. Butler
Copyright © 2004 - 2010, All rights reserved