Monday, April 19, 2010

Civil War History of Cherokee County, Alabama

I arrived in Gnatville, Alabama to the home of my hostess, Ms. Rhonda Clark, Technology Integration Specialist of Cherokee County Board of Education. It was Ms. Rhonda’s goal this week to introduce me to the local local Civil War history events and to take me to visit 4th graders in the school district. Alabama history is taught in the 4th grade and Civil War history is a big interest of 4th graders.

Gnatville, you say? Yes, I was a bit curious about how this rural area had a small part in local Civil War history. Gnatville is a peaceful little community at the foot of Mount Wiesner, the second highest point in Alabama. What could have possibly happened in this quiet little community during the Civil War?

John Wisdom’s Ride to Rome

It just so happens that Ms. Rhonda’s house is on the route that John Wisdom took from Gadsden, Alabama to Rome, Georgia on May 2, 1863 to warn the citizens of Rome that Colonel Abel D. Streight and troops were on the way to destroy the foundry during his famous raid through Alabama. Mr. Wisdom left Gadsden around 3:30 that afternoon and rode furiously until he arrived in his horse and buggy in Gnatville. He needed a fresh mount because his horse could not carry on any further. He borrowed a lame pony from a widow and made it on down the road a few more miles to Goshen, Alabama where he a better horse was obtained. He changed mounts again in Spring Garden, Alabama but ran into problems as this horse was exhausted just a mile outside of Cave Spring, Georgia where, as it began to get dark outside, people were reluctant to loan their animals. Nevertheless, He walked several miles and even used a mule to get him further on his journey. The folks in Vann’s Valley, Georgia were more helpful, offering two good horses in succession to help him reach his destination of Rome, Georgia, just a few miles up the road just around midnight. The citizens of Rome began efforts to protect their town. You can understand why John Wisdom earned the title of “the Paul Revere of the south.”


I loved this interesting little story and was pleased to be a guest of Ms. Rhonda’s home in Gnatville before we began visits to other historical sites in Cherokee County.

That takes me to the next Civil War story - General Nathan Bedford Forrest and the surrender of Colonel Streight.

The Surrender of Colonel Streight

Colonel Abel D. Streight and his mule brigade’s 17 day raid through Alabama led them to the Gadsden area after receiving orders in Tuscumbia, Alabama to destroy Cornwall Furnace in Cherokee County and the foundry and machine shops in Rome, Georgia which produced guns and ammo for the Confederate Army. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest fought a running gun battle with Streight's 2,000 man force all the way from Tuscumbia.

For four days, harassed at every turn by Forrest, they had marched and fought, marched and fought, and they, men and horses, were completely exhausted. Streight had almost given Forrest the slip as they approached Gadsden. They crossed the Black Creek, just ahead of Forrest, but far enough ahead to torch the only bridge in the neighborhood. Streight thought he would gain a day and get a chance to rest and feed, but luck was with Nathan Bedford Forrest. A 15 year old girl, Emma Sansom, who, in spite of Yankee bullets, climbed up behind Forrest on his horse, and led him to a cattle ford only she knew about. (There is a statue of Emma in nearby Etowah County to honor her bravery.) Within a few hours the Confederate riders had crossed the river and were back pressing on Streight's rear guard.

Streight marched his men all night and fought a battle at Blount's Plantation in Cherokee County. The Confederates had stayed on Gen. Streight's heels until they reached the area just east of Cedar Bluff, where the Union army stopped to rest. They had just dismounted, when Forrest's troops were seen at a distance.

In a few minutes a courier reached Colonel Streight under a flag of truce, bearing a note requesting immediate surrender. A conference was then held between the two leaders during which a courier rode up to General Forrest and stated that General Van Dorn, with a division of troops, was stationed at a half-mile distance awaiting orders. Just as this courier was leaving another rode up with the statement that General Roddey was present and awaiting orders. Forrest replied to both that they were to instruct their commanders to await his signal gun, whereupon a charge was to be made.

Of course, there were no Generals Roddey or Van Dorn in the state, but believing his army was surrounded by Confederate troops, Streight agreed to the terms demanded by Forrest and surrendered his entire army!

With less than 400 men, Forrest captured almost 1500 Union soldiers.

Ms. Rhonda took me to the historical marker where it is said that Colonel Streight surrendered to Forrest in Cedar Bluff, Alabama (May 2, 1863) and to the Cornwall Furnace a short distance away, where iron ore was made for the foundry in Rome, Georgia to make guns and ammo for the Confederacy.

Here I am on top of the historical marker:

This is me at Cornwall Furnace:

Another location on this tour of Cherokee County was Gaylesville, Alabama and here is the story that goes with this tiny town in upper Cherokee County.

General Sherman’s Occupation of Cherokee County

General William Tecumseh Sherman led his troops from Summerville, Georgia to Gaylesville, Alabama where he seized a former doctor’s office and stayed for two weeks in October of 1864 during his strategic plan to occupy Confederate territory. Dr. Lawrence, the town doctor made a deal with General Sherman to treat his wounded soldiers in exchange for not burning his home. Sherman kept his word and allowed the home to remain after his departure and that is why this grand old house is the only structure in Cherokee County to survive the Civil War.

During his occupation of Cherokee County, Sherman’s six “National Forces” (we know then as Union) armies of 60,000 troops were encamped throughout the county, including Cedar Bluff, Blue Pond, Little River, and Leesburg. (This pretty much covered the whole county!) The Union soldiers burned most everything and foraged the area for food and supplies. General Sherman spent his time in Gaylesville contemplating the continuation of his strategies for his famous “March to the Sea.” This area was quite productive for General Sherman and his troops. They, reportedly, were “living high on the hog” because of the excellent foraging efforts. Sherman, also, reported that he had a stronghold at Cedar Bluff on the Coosa River. In addition, attempts were made to destroy Cornwall Furnace but they only dislodged about 6 to 8 feet of quarried rocks from the top. That halted the production of iron ore at that time but the furnace was rebuilt in 1867 and continued to operate until an accidental blowout occurred in 1874, halting any production afterwards. The remains of Cornwall Furnace are preserved in a park on the Chattooga River and beautiful Weiss Lake between Cedar Bluff and Gaylesville, Alabama.


Here I am at one of the few surviving pre-Civil War homes in Cherokee County, Alabama:

After the whirlwind tour of Cherokee County, preparations were made for school visits during the next few days.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your hard work in making history come alive for our students!
    Sandy Harris
    a retired third grade teacher