Thursday, November 12, 2015

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Location of Fort Mims State Historic Site

Fort Mims State Historic Site
I receive a significant number of emails from people trying to find directions to Fort Mims State Historic Site in Tensaw, so I'm going to provide them here. Hopefully these will help you find the site and encourage more people to visit.
The site is located 7 miles west of Tensaw, a community on AL 59 roughly 45 miles north of Mobile.

To reach the site from Mobile, travel north on I-65 for 22 miles to Exit #31 (AL 225). This is the Stockton/Spanish Fort exit.  From the exit, turn left onto AL 225 for 3.6 miles to AL 59. Turn left onto AL 59 and follow it 13.2 miles to Tensaw.

When you reach Tensaw, turn left onto Boatyard Road (County Road 80) and follow it for just over 6.5 miles to Fort Mims Road. There will be a historical marker at the intersection. Turn right onto Fort Mims Road and follow it around the curve. The fort site will be just ahead on your right.

The Fort Mims site includes a monument, interpretive signs, picnic facilities and a partial reconstruction of the stockade. This, of course, was the site of the August 30, 1813 massacre or battle of Fort Mims.

Monument at Fort Mims
The battle took place when a large force of Red Stick Creek Indians (so named because they displayed red warclubs or "sticks" in their towns) attacked a small force of Mississippi Territorial Militia assigned to protect the civilians congregated in the fort. Alabama was then part of the Mississippi Territory, although the Creeks believed with considerable justification that the land belonged to them.

The attack came in retaliation for a similar attack on a Red Stick supply party at Burnt Corn Spring by militiamen. Several Red Sticks were killed in that battle and their demands for vengeance led to the Fort Mims assault.

By the time the smoke of battle cleared, Fort Mims had been largely burned to the ground. Exactly how many people died remains a subject of considerable debate, but burial parties later reported finding the remains of around 250 of the fort's occupants and 100 of the Red Stick attackers. Some estimates, however, place the number of people killed in the fort as high as 550.

The attack on Fort Mims, even though it was a retaliatory strike, ignited a bloody war between the Red Sticks and the United States that culminated when Andrew Jackson broke the power of the Red Stick movement at the Battle of Horseshore Bend the following year. A phase of the War of 1812, the conflict is remembered today as the Creek War of 1813-1814.

To learn more about Fort Mims, please visit

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 7, 1941: Alabamians at Pearl Harbor

U.S.S. Arizona in flames on December 7, 1941
Courtesy of the National Park Service
The speech delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt one day after the surprise Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawai'i, still touches deep into the hearts of Americans:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. - Franklin Delano Roosevelt, December 8, 1941.

The total loss of life during the attack was listed as 2,390.  Another ----- men and women were wounded. The majority of these were sailors in the U.S. Navy, most of them dying aboard the U.S.S. Arizona. The casualty list includes 49 civilians killed with another 35 wounded. Included among the dead civilians were children as young as 7 months.

Explosion aboard the U.S.S. Shaw
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
The servicemen and women and civilians killed came from every state and the then Territory of Hawai'i. Among them were dozens of Alabamians.

I have not been able to find a complete list of all servicemen from Alabama killed at Pearl Harbor, but the following men are known to have died aboard the U.S.S. Arizona.  If you know of others, please let me know and I will add them:

Adams, Robert Franklin
Benson, James Thomas
Bibby, Charles Henry
Bishop, Millard Charles
Black, James Theron
Blankenship, Theron A.
Boyd, Charles Andrew
Broadhead, Johnnie Cecil
Chandler, Donald Ross
Frizzell, Robert Niven
Hindman, Frank Weaver
Holland, Claude Herbert, Jr.
Holmes, Lowell D.
Hughes, Lewis Burton, Jr.
Isom, Luther James
Johnson, Samuel Earle
Jones, Daniel Pugh
Jones, Woodrow Wilson
McCary, William Moore
McGrady, S.W.G.
Morris, Owen Newton
Murdock, Charles Luther
Murdock, Melvin Elijah
Nichols, Alfred Rose
Nichols, Louis Duffie
Peleschak, Michael
Penton, Howard Lee.
Putnam, Avis Boyd
Rogers, Thomas Sprugeon
Shores, Ireland (or Irland?), Jr.
South, Charles Braxton
Wilson, Comer A.
Woolf, Norman Bragg
Others from Alabama known to have been killed in the attack include:

John Arnold Austin of Warrior, who gave his own life aboard U.S.S. Oklahoma to save the lives of 15 of his shipmates. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

Julius Ellsberry of Birmingham, one of 62 black servicemen who gave their lives at Pearl Harbor. He died aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma.

If you would like to review the complete casualty lists for Pearl Harbor, the National Park Service maintains an excellent listing at

You can learn more about Pearl Harbor, which is now part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at

An excellent place in Alabama to learn more about World War II is the Battleship U.S.S. Alabama at Mobile Bay. To learn more, please visit:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Battle of Hobdy's Bridge, Alabama

Pea River at Hobdy's Bridge Battlefield
The last major battle of the long series of wars between the warriors of the Creek Nation and the whites took place in Alabama on March 24, 1837.
Spanning the Pea River between Pike and Barbour Counties, Hobdy's Bridge is still a named crossing place of the Pea River. A modern concrete bridge now carries traffic on State Road 130 across the river, but in 1837 the bridge was a long wooden span and causeway.

The tragic series of events leading to the battle began in February of 1837.  The forced removal of the entire Creek Nation to new lands in what is now Oklahoma was then underway.  An estimated 14,527 Creek men, women and children were already on the Trail of Tears, many of them seized during the Creek War of 1836 (or Second Creek War) that had erupted the previous spring.

Led by Neamathla, Jim Henry (later called James McHenry) and other key leaders of the Lower Creeks, warriors had fought against white forces along the Chattahoochee River in Georgia and Alabama. Their goal was to prevent their forced removal to the west, but despite early successes, their war ended in failure. The important leaders of the resistance were seized and thousands of men, women and children taken prisoner and forced into what were essentially concentration camps.

Marker at Bridge
Gives battle date incorrectly as 1836.
This process continued into 1837, when things took an even uglier turn. White outlaws raided several of the concentration camps. In one case, an elderly and blind man was killed and a young girl shot in the leg after she resisted attempts by the raiders to sexually assault her:

...The same men had in several instances accomplished their diabolical views upon the frightened women, and in many cases deprived them by force of finger-rings, ear-rings, and blankets. Many of their women and whole families, under a state of alarm, ran to the swamp, where the major part of them are still, and no doubt viewed as hostile. I have used every possible means to draw them out
without success....
- 1837 Account by U.S. Indian Agent.

Several hundred men, women and children fled into the Pea River swamps and began and desperate attempt to make their way to Florida. Outraged over the attacks, they were determined to fight their way through if that's what it took.

Pea River at Hobdy's Bridge Battlefield
The confrontation they prepared themselves for was not long in coming. Led by General William Wellborn (also spelled Wellborne and Welborne), a large force of volunteers and militia men left Eufaula to find and capture or kill the fleeing Creeks.

The camp of the refugees was found in in the swamps about one mile north of Hobdy's Bridge. Wellborn advanced in two columns, one moving up each side of the river from the bridge, The camp was located on a spot protected somewhat by two branches of the river. Fighting erupted as the soldiers approached and a vicious swamp battle resulted.

Modern Hobdy's Bridge near Louisville, Alabama
Wellborn reported that his men fought while wading through mud and water. The Creek warriors fought desperately to allow time for the women and children to escape. Some women joined in the fighting. One eyewitness account described a knife fight between soldiers and two of the women, both of whom were killed.

When the smoke finally cleared, the bodies of 23 Creek warriors were found in the swamp. Apparently this number did not include the two women knifed to death. Most of the people from the camp, however, disappeared into the swamp and could not be captured.

The Battle of Hobdy's Bridge was the last significant battle between the Creeks and the whites, but other fighting would follow as the desperate men, women and children from the camp made their way south into Florida.

To learn more about the battle, please visit

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011 - Two Fascinating Alabama Ghost Stories

Ghost Face in the Window
Two of my favorite Southern ghost stories originate in Alabama: Carrollton's mysterious Face in the Window and Newton's legendary Sketoe's Hole ("The hole that will not stay filled").

Both appeared in Katherine Tucker Windham's beloved book, 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Mrs. Windham was a major force in the preservation of Alabama and Southern folklore and heritage at a time when Southern history was disappearing at a tragic rate. She passed away this year, but will long be remembered as a wonderful teller of stories and as a much loved Southern lady.

In her memory, I thought I would remind you of these two wonderful ghost stories:

The Ghost Face in the Window
For more than 130 years, a strange image has been seen in one of the attic windows of the old Pickens County Courthouse in Carrollton, Alabama. It is so easy to see, in fact, that an arrow on the courthouse wall points to it so tourists can spot it with no trouble. Many believe the mysterious image is the ghostly face of a man named Henry Wells.

According to legend, Wells was accused of burning the previous Pickens County Courthouse. The replacement building was nearing completion when he was spotted and chased by a lynch mob. He ran into the structure and hid in the attic, where he could look out the window at the crowd milling in the street below. A heavy storm was passing over Carrollton at the time and a bolt of lightning suddenly struck the window. Since that moment, it is said, his frightened face has appeared on the glass of the window pane.

Is the legend true?  Does the ghostly face of Henry Wells still look out from a window in the old courthouse?  Learn the facts and judge for yourself by visiting

Recreation of Sketoe's Hole
Sketoe's Hole: The Hold that will not stay Filled
The remarkable story of Sketoe's Hole is an often told part of the folklore of the Wiregrass region of southeastern Alabama. The tale dates back to the violent days of the Civil War and the hanging of a man named Bill Sketoe.

The legend holds that Sketoe was a Confederate soldier who came home from the front to care for a sick wife. Military records indicate otherwise, as no trace of him has ever been found in a Confederate unit. Whatever his story, he was taken prisoner by a Confederate cavalry company in 1864. Carried down to a tree on the banks of the Choctawhatchee River at Newton in Dale County, Sketoe was hanged.

He was a tall man, however, and his feet touched the ground even after he was hanging from the tree. One of the men involved in the hanging had been wounded in battle and was on crutches. He used one of these to dig out a hole under Sketoe's feet so the man would not be able to stand on his toes. Sketoe died and was buried, but the hole remained. In fact, for more than 100 years it was said that the hole could not be filled. Debris and trash could be placed in it at night, but by the next morning it would be swept clean. Many came to believe that the ghost of Bill Sketoe still hung from a rope at the site, its swinging feet sweeping the hole clean each night.

Interested in learning the true story?  Visit

I hope you enjoy these little adventures into the folklore of Alabama. I think you will find the real history behind the tales to be just as fascinating as the legends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Civil War: Alabama Militiamen meet a Tragic Fate

Civil War era church in Campbellton
One of the most tragic episodes involving Alabama's Civil War militia or, as they are often termed, "home guards," took place along the Florida state line on September 27, 1864.

As the war had progressed and larger and larger numbers of men and boys went away to fight on the main fronts, Alabama turned for much of its defense to a state militia organization. Companies were organized in counties across the state, with regiments formed from every few counties. These operated under the command of regimental officers, while the local commanders were elected by the men themselves.

Original Salt Kettle at St. Andrew Bay, Florida
In the fall of 1864, detachments of militiamen from Dale County were assigned to guard oxcarts carrying salt from the works on St. Andrew Bay in Florida back to Alabama. Salt was a vital commodity both for the Confederate military and for the civilian population as well. A necessity for use in preserving meat in those days before refrigeration, it was vital to survival for people from all walks of life.

On September 27, 1864, as Union troops under Brigadier General Alexander Asboth attacked the Florida city of Marianna, a detachment of Dale County militiamen were making their way nearby with an oxcart loaded with salt. They had somehow missed the Federal column as it made its way to Marianna that morning, but things took a tragic turn when they reached the stateline town of Campbellton that afternoon.

Lt. Col. A.B. Spurling, 2nd Maine
As the Dale County men came into Campbellton, they saw gray-uniformed soldiers ahead. But these men were not what they seemed. The "Confederates" turned out to be disguised Union soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew B. Spurling of the 2nd Maine Cavalry. Spurling had been detached with a small group of men from the main Union column four days earlier, with instructions to pursue a body of Confederate cavalrymen who had eluded capture at Eucheeanna in Walton County, Florida.

Spurling and his men donned Confederate uniforms and took off into the stateline country. Please click here to read more about his brief visit to Geneva, Alabama.

They reached Campbellton at the same time as the Dale County men and, according to an account of Spurlings operations, captured an "army wagon" and three Alabama militiamen.

Tragically, these three men disappear from the record and are never heard from again. Local tradition in Dale County holds that they went off to "get salt at the bay and never came home." Their fate seems to have been dark.

Spurling and his men were operating undercover, behind enemy lines. Because they were wearing Confederate uniforms, they knew that if they were detected they would face immediate execution as spies. Carrying along prisoners could prove fatal to the colonel and his men if they stumbled across a Confederate patrol.  This left them with only two options:  1) release the men, and 2) kill them.

Since the men never returned home, the only logical conclusion is that they were taken into the woods and killed by the undercover Federals. Their bones likely rest somewhere near the state line in Jackson County, Florida, to this day.

To learn more about the 1864 Marianna Raid and Spurling's undercover activities, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition .

It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and iBooks devices. You can also read more about the raid at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Phenix City Battle was the Last Major Engagement of the Civil War

Marker on Summerville Road
One of the least known facts of the Civil War is that its last major battle was fought along the Chattahoochee River in Phenix City, Alabama, and the adjacent city of Columbus, Georgia.

The Battle of Columbus (also called the Battle of Girard) took place on April 16, 1865, an Easter Sunday. General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomatox Court House one week earlier and General Joseph E. Johnston would meet with General William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina the next day to discuss the surrender of Confederate forces in the Deep South.

It was in the last days of the war that Union Major General James H. Wilson pushed east from Montgomery, battling Confederate forces as he approached Auburn. By the mid-point of the month he was driving east from Auburn, moving fast with thousands of troops to seize the vital bridges over the Chattahoochee and destroy the vast wartime industrial complex in Columbus.

Site of 14th Street Bridge
These bridges linked Columbus with the smaller town of Girard (now Phenix City) on the Alabama side. To protect both the bridges and the major military manufacturing complex of Columbus, the Confederates had ringed Girard with a series of forts, batteries, breastworks and other defenses. These were placed atop encircling ridges and hilltops as the area immediately adjacent to the bridges was overlooked by these hills.  Additional defenses were built on the Columbus side of the river and cannon were positioned so as to command the bridges.

The initial attack developed on the afternoon of April 16, 1865, when part of Wilson's command made a dash for the "lower" or Dillingham Street bridge. This force, carried out by part of Upton's Division, was repulsed.

Surviving Earthworks in Phenix City
The effort to quickly seize a crossing point and outflank the Confederates having failed, Wilson resolved on a night attack down Summerville road directly into the throat of the main Southern defenses and batteries. Recognizing that this was likely to be the point of greatest danger, Confederate General Howell Cobb moved the majority of his force into the trenches there and positioned guns to sweep the road from all directions.

Battery Site at Russell County Courthouse
The attack came at 9 p.m.  Pushing directly down the Summerville Road, Wilson's forces overran an advanced line of Confederate works. Thinking they had captured the main Southern line, they pushed immediately for the "upper" or 14th Street bridge. As they approached the main line, however, the Confederates opened on them from front, left and right. Recognizing their precarious situation, the Federals drove straight forward and slashed through the Confederate main line.

The battle now collapsed into a confusing night fight, but by 10 p.m. the upper bridge had been taken and Columbus had fallen. The impact on the Southern war effort was devastating. Not only were the factories destroyed, but the nearly complete ironclade C.S.S. Jackson was captured and the warship C.S.S. Chattahoochee was burned by its own crew to prevent its capture. No other battle between Union and Confederate forces would be fought on the scale of the action at Phenix City and Columbus.

To learn more about the Battle of Columbus (Girard), please visit

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 1864 - Undercover Yankees in South Alabama

Lt. Col. Andrew Spurling, U.S.A.
One of the most bizarre episodes of the Civil War in Alabama took place in September of 1864 when a party of men wearing Confederate uniforms rode into the South Alabama town of Geneva. Led by a man who identified himself as Lieutenant Clark, they said they were members of the 15th Confederate Cavalry.

The people of Geneva had heard that a major Union raid was underway just across the state line in Walton County, Florida, so they were thrilled to see these men and welcomed them with open arms. Things, however, were not what they seemed.

On September 23rd a force of 700 mounted Federals led by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth had stormed into the Florida village of Eucheeanna (near present-day DeFuniak Springs). The attack came during the early phases of Asboth's 1864 West Florida Raid and the small Confederate force camped at Eucheeanna was quickly overrun. Nine of the Southern soldiers were captured, but the others managed to escape, fleeing on horseback up the road that led north to Geneva, Alabama (about 35 miles away).

Brig. Gen. Asboth in the field (with his dog)
The escape of the Confederate cavalrymen concerned Asboth, who feared they might spread the alarm across the eastern Panhandle and alert the military post at Marianna, Florida, that he was coming. He decided on a novel plan to try to round them up:

...It being feared that they would arouse the country and trouble our progress, Lieut.-Col. Spurling, accompanied by Lieutenant Jones of Company D, Sergt. Butler, Company B, Second Maine Cavalry, and ten men, all disguised in rebel uniforms, left the main body, for the purpose of securing them. - Letter dated Barrancas, Florida, October 8, 1864.

Moving behind enemy lines in the uniform of your enemy is a dangerous proposition and the men of Spurling's detachment knew that if captured they would be treated as spies and executed. According to one participant: "Each man was equipped with two Remington six-shooters and a Spencer repeating carbine carrying eight cartridges, seven in the magazine and one in the chamber, and it was distinctly understod that in case of discovery there was to be no surrender."

The detachment headed north up the Geneva road, following the prints left by the Confederate horses. They crossed the state line and reached Geneva on September 24th:

...The citizens of Geneva welcomed the colonel with open arms and furnished him and his men with everything needful to their comfort, including arms and ammunition. He announced himself as Lieut. Clark, Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry regiment, and stated that he had been stationed at Milton, Fla., but was ordered to scout from that point by the way of Euchesana (sic.) to Geneva, to ascertain the movements and intentions of the Yankees. - Letter dated Barrancas, Florida, October 8, 1864.

Choctawhatchee River near Geneva
While it might seem surprising that a group of men from Maine could show up in South Alabama and convince the locals that they were Confederate soldiers, the ruse worked. Spurling made "friends" in the town and even agreed to return and do some hunting when he finished witht his "more congenial pleasure of hunting the Yankees." He was also a hit with the women of Geneva:

...The ladies of Geneva were much pleased with Lieut. Clark (i.e. Spurling); his welfare and success were prime objects of solicitude with them, the evidently took kindly to him, and he was solicited by one of these fair beings to bring her some trophy off a dead Yank, which he promised to do on his return. - Letter dated Barrancas, Florida, October 8, 1864.

The men of the detachment took up positions in the town, waiting for either the missing Confederates or the main body of Asboth's column to come up. They seem not to have known that the general planned to cross the Choctawhatchee River in Holmes County, Florida, to begin his final advance on Marianna.

When neither arrived, they left Geneva - still in disguise - on September 25th and headed back south into Florida. For the next several days they trailed behind the main Union column, unable to catch up, and did not rejoin Asboth until after the Battle of Marianna. So far as is known, no one in Geneva ever figured out the identity of their visiting "undercover Yankees."

To learn more about the events of Asboth's raid, including what one of Spurling's men described as his "jaunt through rebeldom," please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It can be ordered by following the ad at left and is also available as an instant download for your Amazon Kindle reading device or Amazon's free Kindle software for your computer or smartphone by clicking here: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. The book is also available at iBooks.

You can also read more about the raid at

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Media Attacks Confederate Memorial Park in Mountain Creek, Alabama

Cemetery at Confederate Memorial Park
A number of outlets of the national media have leveled fairly partisan attacks on the Confederate Memorial Park in Mountain Creek (for an example see the HuffingtonPost).

The park preserves the site of the Alabama Old Soldiers Home for Confederate Veterans, which was opened in 1902 to provide a home and care for the state's thousands of aging Confederate veterans. Contrary to what is being said about the home on blogs and message boards today, it was NEVER operated by the Confederacy and the tax that supported it was NEVER a "Confederate tax."

Entrance to Confederate Memorial Park
The home was, however, a place where elderly and disabled veterans could go to live safely and receive care. It gave them a place where they could share stories and live with their friends and former brothers in arms in the last years of their lives. It was a show of mercy on the part of the people of Alabama and was funded by a tax that was part of the 1901 Alabama State Constitution.

A small portion of the proceeds of that tax are used today to preserve the grounds and maintain the two cemeteries there, where over 300 of the veterans who died at the home are buried today.

Museum at Confederate Memorial Park
Some, however, feel that no money should be used to care for the graves or preserve this unique historic site and are calling for its elimination from the state budget, even though the tax that cares for the grounds is part of the state constitution and has been for more than 100 years.

If you live in Alabama, I encourage you to call or write your local legislator to express your support for the park. If you live elsewhere, please write or call the Governor of Alabama to do the same. This is a blatant effort to stop caring for the graves of more than 300 Southern veterans, while still collecting and keeping the tax money intended for that purpose!

If you are passing up and down I-65 between Montgomery and Birmingham, I also encourage you to stop by for a visit of the grounds and the beautiful museum that interprets not Confederate history, but offers a balanced view of the War Between the States in Alabama. To learn more, please visit

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hank Williams Grave & Memorial - Montgomery, Alabama

Grave of Hank Williams
There is no denying that Hiram King Williams, known and loved by millions as Hank Williams, was one of the most influential figures in American musical history and one of the greatest country & western stars of all time.

He rests today at Oakwood Cemetery Annex in Montgomery, Alabama. Buried next to his wife Audrey, Williams is memorialized by a stone monument that includes a carved representation of his trademark hat and the words "Luke the Drifter." The latter was a well-known nickname for the talented songwriter and singer.

Hank Williams was born in Mount Olive, Alabama, in 1923 and tragically lived only to the age of 29. In his sadly short life, however, he created some of the greatest American songs ever written and recorded. His sound influenced not only country music, but the rock and roll movement as well. The latter style became a firm part of the American music scene just one year after Williams' death when Elvis Presley recorded "That's All Right (Mama)." The Hank Williams sound was a major factor in the emergence of the new music form and he has been inducted into both the country and rock halls of fame.

Having taken up guitar early in life, Hank Williams first received popular acclaim when he became a regular live performer on Montgomery's WSFA Radio in 1941. When World War II ended, he made his way to Nashville where his initial contract was for only two singles: "Honky Tonkin'" and "Never Again."

Trademark Hat in Stone
The success of these songs led to a contract with MGM Records and the release of the Top Five hit, "Move It On Over." In was in 1949 that Hank moved from regional stardom to super stardom with the release of "Lovesick Blues."

The recording exploded to Number One on the Billboard Country & Western Chart and remained there for a stunning 16 weeks. At the same time it broke into the Top 25 of the magazine's pop chart. And when Williams performed it at the Grand Ole Opry that same year, the audience reaction was so overwhelming that he returned to the stage for a remarkable six encores.

Other hits followed, including "Why Don't You Love Me," "Cold, Cold Heart," "Kaw-Liga," "Jambalaya," "Hey, Good Lookin'," "Crazy Heart," "Honkytonk Blues" and "Your Cheatin' Heart." These and other Hank Williams songs remain standards of Country music to this day.

Ironically, the last song released before his death was "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive." He died on January 1, 1953, in the backseat of his Cadillac as he was riding to a show in West Virginia.

To learn more about the life and career of this remarkable man and to learn about his burial place and memorial in Montgomery, please visit

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chattahoochee State Park - Home to an Unsurpassed Fishing Record!

Chattahoochee State Park
One of the prettiest spots in the southeast corner of Alabama, Chattahoochee State Park is located just south of Gordon.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the days of the Great Depression, the historic park is now managed by Houston County. Amenities include fishing, hiking, camping, picnicking, bird and wildlife watching and swimming.

The park is located along the banks of historic Irwin's Mill Creek. The CCC built a dam of native stone to create a beautiful small lake around which most of the park's facilities are located. This lake holds a unique place in Alabama history, because it was here that the largest shell cracker (redear sunfish) ever caught in the state was landed.  It weighed 4 pounds, 4 ounces and was caught by Jeff Lashley on May 5, 1962. The record has yet to be surpasssed.

Chattahoochee State Park
There is, of course, much more history to be appreciated in this very southeast corner of Alabama. Irwin's Mill Creek was a major center for Indian life dating back far into the prehistoric era. In historic times the Chisca (Yuchi) and Red Ground Creeks called this vicinity home and in 1818 a significant battle was fought just south of the park. Preliminary movements passed likely passed through the park itself.

One of the earliest settlements in the region was established along Irwin's Mill Creek in 1819 and a mill was built just downstream from the park prior to the cession of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821. The mill dam still stands and creates the second lake just below the park's dam.

To learn more about the history of the park, please visit

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Old Columbia Jail - Civil War era jail in Columbia, Alabama

Old Columbia Jail
One of the oldest and most unique structures in the Wiregrass area of Southeast Alabama is the little wooden jail in the Chattahoochee River town of Columbia.

Believed to date from the early 1860s, the jail was standing when the War Between the States swept across Alabama and the nation. Columbia at that time was a thriving riverboat port that served as a receiving and shipping point for the commerce and people of a significant part of the Wiregrass area.

Iron Spikes in the Jail Door
Built of wood with iron spikes studded in its walls to help discourage escape attempts, the jail contained only two cells, with light and ventilation provided by windows and a single door. Modern for its time, it must have been an incredibly miserable place to be confined during the hot Alabama summers.

Remarkably, the little structure survived through the years and was restored as part of a local Bicentennial project. It is thought to be one of the oldest surviving wooden jails not only in Alabama, but in the entire Deep South.

To learn more, please visit

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fort Gaines Historic Site - Dauphin Island, Alabama

Cannon at Fort Gaines, Alabama
General Edmund Pendleton Gaines (1777-1849) was one of the most significant figures in both Alabama and U.S. history, and while he did not live long enough to figure in the Civil War, his name did.
Born during the American Revolution, Gaines was a hero of the War of 1812 who also fought in the First and Second Seminole Wars and the Mexican War. Along the way, he was the officer who arrested fugitive former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr in Alabama in 1807.

Gaines was at the pinnacle of his military fame in 1819 when the U.S. Government began construction of a fort on the east end of Dauphin Island. One of two major defenses designed to protect Mobile Bay from foreign attack, the masonry citadel was named in honor of the major general.  Gaines died in 1849 and was buried in Mobile's Church Street Graveyard. Fort Gaines, however, continues to stand to this day.

Fort Gaines
Designed by military engineers to operate with Fort Morgan, a second masonry fortification on the west end of Mobile Point, Fort Gaines was located so close to the water that its builders encountered significant difficulties in its construction. Forty years after work on the citadel had begun, it was still not finished when Alabama seceded from the Union in 1861.

Confederates completed the fort in 1862 and manned it as one of their key defenses against a Union attack on Mobile Bay. That attack came in August of 1864, when 1,500 Union soldiers landed on Dauphin Island and began their advance on Fort Gaines. Confederate troops skirmished with them as they slowly advanced, before falling back into the defenses of the main fort itself.

Fort Gaines
Two days later, on August 5, 1864, the fleet of Union Admiral David G. Farragut stormed through barrages of shot and shell from Forts Gaines and Morgain and entered Mobile Bay. It was during the monumental encounter, remembered as the Battle of Mobile Bay, that Farragut issued his immortal battle command, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

The soldiers in Fort Gaines bore witness as the famed Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee steamed out to engage Farragut's fleet in one of the greatest ship to ship battles of all time. The Tennessee was eventually captured and the fort held out only another three days, as Union ironclads moved up to point blank range and bombarded its masonry walls.  The white flag rose over Fort Gaines on August 8, 1864.

The history of the old fort continued, but never again would U.S. possession of Dauphin Island be contested. Now a historic site maintained by the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board, Fort Gaines is open to the public daily. To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cheaha State Park - Alabama's Highest Point

Cheaha State Park in Alabama
One of my favorite summer destinations in Alabama is the stunningly beautiful Cheaha State Park located atop Alabama's tallest mountain.

The temperature on top of the mountain is always much cooler than it is down below and the scenery is quite simply some of the most beautiful you will find anywhere. With its trails, accessible boardwalk, overlooks, picnic areas, campground, cabins, chalets, hotel and restaurant, Cheaha is a great place to get away from the heat and humidity of summer.

Overlook at Cheaha State Park
The name "cheaha" interprets loosely from the Muskogee or Creek language as "high place." The Talladega Mountains, of which Mount Cheaha is a part, were once the domain of the mighty Creek Confederacy. "High place" is a logical name for the mountain, which dominates the horizon as you approach via the beautiful Cheaha Scenic Highway.

Defeated Creek warriors fled into these mountains after Andrew Jackson defeated them in the Battle of Talladega in 1813. The country was so rugged and rough that the Tennessee soldiers of Jackson's army did not attempt to pursue the retreating Indians into the hills.

Talladega National Forest
After the Upper Creeks were forced to what is now Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears in 1836-1837, these lands were opened to white settlement. The trees that covered the mountains were harvested and in quite a few places gold mining even took place. By the 20th century, much of the Talladega Mountains country was bare.

Bunker Tower atop the Mountain
That changed during the Great Depression, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) teamed up with the State of Alabama to replant the forests of the mountains, create Cheaha State Park and turn the entire area into a beautiful natural setting. Workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) labored for years building facilities and planting trees. The result of their work is today's beautiful state park and the surrounding Talladega National Forest.

Cheaha State Park is located near the cities of Talladega and Anniston about one-hour east of Birmingham and about 90 minutes west of Atlanta. To learn more, please follow these links:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gun from the C.S.S. Tennessee - Selma, Alabama

Gun from C.S.S. Tennessee
Few naval battles of the Civil War captured the 19th century public's attention like the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama.

For Northerners, Admiral Farragut's famed battle cry of "Damn the Torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" characterized the bravery of Union officers and sailors. For Southerners, the remarkable stand of the ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee against the entire Union fleet became a symbol of the courage of the men of the Lost Cause.

C.S.S. Tennessee
Neither the C.S.S. Tennessee nor the Union warships that fought at Mobile Bay survive today, but a bit of the monumental battle can be touched on the city hall lawn in Selma, Alabama. It is there that the stern gun of the Tennessee rests today.

Few modern visitors realize that the mighty Confederate ironclad was launched at Selma. Located near the important iron furnaces of Central Alabama, Selma was the location of an important C.S. Navy facility. Not only was the Tennessee built here, but the facility also cast heavy guns and munitions.

Gun from .S.S. Tennessee
One of the guns cast at Selma was the deadly 8-inch Brooke rifle now on display at city hall. It served as the stern pivot gun of the Tennessee and dealt death and destruction during the Battle of Mobile Bay. Removed from the ship after the war, it eventually passed into the hands of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C.

Now on long-term loan to the Selma-Dallas County Musem and Archives, it was returned to Selma in 1981 and can be seen daily. To learn more, please visit

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Battle of Spanish Fort, Alabama - March & April, 1865

Confederate Earthworks at Spanish Fort
One of the largest battles of the Civil War in Alabama was underway in earnest 146 years ago this week.

For most of the month of March in 1865, Union troops had slowly pushed their way north up the East Shore of Mobile Bay. Led by General E.R.S. Canby, the 32,000 soldiers were determined to break up and capture the Confederate defenses at Spanish Fort and old Blakeley, a critical step towards the final capture of the port of Mobile.  Simultaneously, a column of 13,000 men moved north from Pensacola, Florida, to break the railroad connecting Mobile with Montgomery and complete the encirclement of the Confederate forces.

The movement was very slow and it took Canby weeks to march his command from a jump off point on the Fish River to within sight of the massive Confederate earthworks at Spanish Fort.  The Union general had no way of knowing it, but he was opposed by a Southern force of only a couple of thousand men, but they were commanded by a bold and enterprising officer in General Randall L. Gibson.

Battle Markers at Mobile Bay Overlook
Facing sharp skirmishing from Gibson's Confederates, the Federals began to encircle Spanish Fort on March 27, 1865, officially opening the battle. It took 12 days for Canby to complete this process, dig siege positions and get his artillery into place. As a result, it was not until April 8, 1865, that he opened his bombardment of Spanish Fort with 90 cannon. The Confederates had 47 guns, but many of these were positioned to defend the river channel that led below the bluff. The replied to the Union fire as best they could.

The 8th Iowa broke through the Southern outer lines late in the day on April 8th, 1865, and General Gibson knew that his bluff was about to be exposed. Completely undetected by Canby's pickets, he withdrew his force from Spanish Fort that night, using an already prepared footbridge to slip away across the channel to nearby Fort Huger.

With only a couple of thousand men, Gibson had delayed the Union campaign up the East Shore of Mobile Bay for more than one full month. The Federals had no idea that they outnumbered him by 14 to 1. It was one of the most impressive performances by a Confederate general during the entire war.

To learn more about the Battle of Spanish Fort, please visit

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Inauguration of Jefferson Davis - Montgomery, Alabama

Alabama State Capitol
Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as the first and only President of the Confederate States of America.

The event took place on the portico of the historic Alabama State Capitol, then the Capitol of the Confederacy, in Montgomery. Stepping up before a massive crowd that stretched far up Dexter Avenue, Davis raised his right hand and took the oath of office. The spot where he stood is marked today by a bronze star placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy (today's United Daughters of the Confederacy).

President Jefferson Davis
Born in Kentucky in 1808, ironically not far across the Ohio River from the Indiana boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln, Davis attended Transylvania University before graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in the same class as Robert E. Lee. He served, as did Abraham Lincoln, in the Black Hawk War of 1832, but resigned from the army in 1835 to marry a daughter of Zachary Taylor. Tragically, his wife died of fever only three months later.

A young widower, Davis managed his Brierfield Plantation in Mississippi for the next ten years before marrying Varina Howell, who would become First Lady of the Confederacy. Elected to the U.S. Congress from Mississippi, Davis served only a short time before resigning to take up arms in the Mexican War. Serving under his former father-in-law, General Zachary Taylor, he was noted for bravery at the Battles of Monterey and Buena Vista. Taylor went on to become President of the United States and Davis returned to Mississippi to become a U.S. Senator.

Star marking Inauguration Spot
He subsequently became Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce and was again serving in the U.S. Senate in 1861 when Mississippi joined other Southern states in seceding from the Union. Even as he resigned from his seat in the Senate, speculation was already growing that he would serve as leader of a new Southern nation.

He was elected President by the Confederate Congress in Montgomery and took the oath of office 150 years ago tomorrow on February 18, 1861. He held the office until the fall of the Confederate States of America in the spring of 1865.

To learn more about Montgomery's days as the First Capital of the Confederacy, please visit

Friday, February 4, 2011

Confederate States of America formed in Montgomery 150 years ago today

Alabama State Capitol Building
The historic Alabama State Capitol Building became the capitol of a new nation 150 years ago today when delegates from seven Southern states met in Montgomery and declared themselves a provisional legislature for the Confederate States of America.

The so-far bloodless revolution in the Deep South had begun in December of 1860 when South Carolina declared its independence from the United States. The Palmetto State was followed on the road of secession by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, with each of the states agreeing to send delegates to a meeting in Montgomery on February 4, 1861.

First National Flag of the Confederacy
Alabama's Secession Convention had extended the invitation when the state left the Union in January. The purpose was to consider measures for the common defense and support of the newly independent states.

As a large crowd gathered outside the historic building and military companies paraded on Dexter Avenue, the delegates met 150 years ago today and declared themselves a provisional legislature for a new nation called the Confederate States of America. They authorized a committee to begin work on the drafting of the Confederate Constitution and laid the groundwork for establishing a new national government. The new Constitution would take four days to draft and its approval would be followed on February 11th by the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as the first President of the Confederacy.

The historic building where the delegates met remains in use as the State Capitol of Alabama to this day. To learn more about its role as the First Capitol of the Confederacy, please visit

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fort Morgan in 1861 - An Eyewitness Account

Fort Morgan
Even before Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, state militia forces began moving against U.S. military installations in the state. Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay, for example, was occupied by Alabama troops on January 5, 1861.

Built on Mobile Point in 1819-1833, the massive brick fortress was designed - along with Fort Gaines across the channel - to turn back any attempt to invade Mobile Bay by a foreign enemy. The fort was in caretaker status when Alabama troops moved in, but that situation soon changed. As the month of January 1861 progressed, state forces worked non-stop to mount cannon and prepare the huge fort for battle.

The following account originally appeared in a Mobile newspaper, but was republished by the Richmond Daily Appeal on January 29, 1861:

Casemates of Fort Morgan
Marks of industry and system were visible everywhere about the fort, which is now occupied by about 480 troops, besides upwards of 150 laborers. To accommodate this increased force, a suitable number of the casemates have been planked up and converted into very comfortable quarters. The ramparts on the channel side have been sodded to a considerable extent with sand bags, and the work will be completed in the same style. Sods have been cut from the fosse to be applied to other faces of the works. Trenches have been cut at the foot of the scarp in necessary places, which have filled with the water percolating through the soil, thus converting the fosse into something like a wet ditch, and adding to the security of the works. All the guns for which there are carriages have been mounted, and some attention has been paid to artillery practice, in which the boys show increased proficiency. The garrison are in excellent spirits, and good health prevails, except that most of the newly arrived troops have to go through a course of seasoning which generally attacks them after the first twenty-four hours and leaves them after about the same length of time. The cisterns, by-the-bye, have been thoroughly cleansed, and the rains have since filled them with excellent water, and the health of the garrison has greatly improved in consequence. Tenders of the services of negro laborers by planters in the interior have been accepted, and some four hundred hands are expected to arrive in a few days.- Richmond Daily Appeal, January 29, 1861.

 If you would like to learn more about Fort Morgan, please visit