Union Colonel Abel Streight’s raid into Alabama and Georgia begins

Union Colonel Abel Streight’s raid into Alabama and Georgia begins

Union Colonel Abel Streight begins a raid into northern Alabama and Georgia with the goal of cutting the Western and Atlantic Railroad between Chattanooga, Tennessee and Atlanta. The raid ended when Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest captured Streight’s entire command near Rome, Georgia.

The plan called for Streight and General Grenville Dodge to move from central Tennessee into northwestern Alabama. Dodge would lead a diversionary attack on Tuscumbia, Alabama, while Streight would take nearly 2,000 troopers across northern Alabama and into Georgia. Streight outfitted his men with mules instead of horses, as he felt they were better adapted to the rugged terrain of the southern Appalachians. The expedition ran into trouble almost immediately when the mules arrived at Nashville in poor condition. A Confederate cavalry detachment swooped in and caused the mules to stampede, and it took two days to round them up.

The first part of the expedition went well. Dodge captured Tuscumbia, and Streight continued east toward Georgia. But on April 29, Streight’s command was attacked by part of General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. Streight’s men set a trap for the pursuing Rebels, and it worked well. The Confederate cavalry detachment, led by Captain William Forrest, brother of Nathan Bedford, found itself under fire from two sides. William Forrest was wounded, and the Federals continued on their mission.

But now General Nathan Bedford Forrest was on Steight’s trail, and he would not let up. The Yankees were in hostile territory, and several times the Rebels received important information from local residents that allowed them to gain the upper hand. Finally, Forrest confronted the exhausted Union troops. Under a flag of truce, they discussed terms of surrender on May 3. Forrest had just 600 men, less than half of what Streight now possessed. But Forrest spread his men around the woods. As he met with Streight, couriers from nonexistent units rode up with reports. Streight took the bait, and agreed to surrender. When the Confederates finally emerged to gather the Yankee’s weaponry, the Union colonel realized that he had been had by the crafty Forrest.


Early in 1863, Major General Charles Hamilton, the commander of the Corinth section of Grant's division, suggested what would eventually become Grierson's Raid. Subsequently, due to Hamilton's insistence on procuring a command that would garner him more glory, Hamilton offered his resignation. Grant quickly accepted. [3]

In the Western Theater of the American Civil War, Confederate cavalry raids under commanders such as Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan had harassed Union expeditions, namely at the Battle of Parker's Crossroads, where Forrest captured three hundred Union soldiers under Brig. Gen. Jeremiah C. Sullivan, but lost all of the artillery pieces belonging to his own command. [4] The task of drawing the attention of Confederate raiders away from the Siege of Vicksburg fell to Col. Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher who disliked horses after being kicked in the head by one as a child. Grierson's cavalry brigade consisted of the 6th and 7th Illinois and 2nd Iowa Cavalry regiments.

Grierson and his 1,700 horse troopers, some in Confederate uniforms serving as scouts for the main force, rode over 600 miles (970 km) through hostile territory (from southern Tennessee, through the State of Mississippi and into Union-held Baton Rouge, Louisiana), over routes no Union soldier had traveled before. They tore up railroads and burned crossties, freed slaves, burned Confederate storehouses, destroyed locomotives and commissary stores, ripped up bridges and trestles, burned buildings, and inflicted ten times the casualties they received, all while detachments of his troops made feints confusing the Confederates as to his actual whereabouts, intent and direction. Total casualties for Grierson's Brigade during the raid were three killed, seven wounded, and nine missing. Five sick and wounded men were left behind along the route, too ill to continue.

Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, commander of the Vicksburg garrison, had few cavalry and could do nothing to stop Grierson.

On April 21, 1863, Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, had captured another Union raider, Col. Abel Streight, in Alabama following a poorly supplied and poorly planned raid (Streight's Raid).

Although many other Confederate cavalry units pursued Grierson vigorously across the state (most notably those led by Wirt Adams and Robert V. Richardson), they were unsuccessful in stopping the raid. [1] Grierson and his troopers, exhausted by days in the saddle, ultimately rode into Union-occupied Baton Rouge, Louisiana. [5] With an entire division of Pemberton's soldiers tied up defending the vital Vicksburg-Jackson railroad from the evasive Grierson, combined with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's feint northeast of Vicksburg (the Battle of Snyder's Bluff), the beleaguered Confederates were unable to muster the forces necessary to oppose Grant's eventual landing below Vicksburg on the east side of the Mississippi at Bruinsburg.

The movie The Horse Soldiers, directed by John Ford, and starring John Wayne, William Holden and Constance Towers, and the Harold Sinclair novel of the same name on which it is based, are fictional variations of Grierson's Raid.


Lovina McCarthy Streight

Lovina McCarthy Streight (1830-1910) accompanied her husband, Union Brigadier General Abel Streight in the Western Theater throughout the Civil War. Streight is best known for Streight’s Raid through Tennessee and northern Alabama. His mission was foiled when CSA General Nathan Bedford Forrest surrounded the Union cavalry and took Streight and the majority of his brigade to Libby Prison, from which Streight later escaped. He was restored to his command and continued to serve for the balance of the war.

Image: This portrait of Lovina McCarthy Streight hangs in the Indiana Statehouse

Lovina McCarthy was born 1830 in Steuben County, New York. Abel Streight was also born on June 17, 1828, in Steuben County, New York, but moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, as a young man. Lovina McCarthy married Abel Streight on January 14, 1849. They had one child, John Streight. By 1859 they were living in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Streight was a publisher of books and maps. He was also the author of The Crisis of Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-one in the Government of the United States, published in 1861.

When the Civil War broke out, Abel Streight joined the Union army in September 1861 as a colonel in the Fifty-first Indiana Infantry, which was attached to the Army of the Cumberland. Most wives in her situation waited at home for their husbands to return from war, but not Lovina. She accompanied her husband as he led his men south, bringing with her their five-year-old son.

Lovina witnessed several battles, nursed the sick and dying on the battlefield and in field hospitals. Her compassion and bravery earned her the title ‘Mother of the Fifty-first.’ During her wartime service, Confederate troops captured Lovina three times, twice exchanging her for prisoners. She reportedly escaped imprisonment a third time by brandishing a gun hidden in her skirts.

Streight’s Raid
Although he eventually attained the rank of Brigadier General, Abel Streight was not greatly successful as a military commander. In July 1862, Streight served as part of the Federal occupation force in northern Alabama. During this brief period, he routinely interacted with northern Alabama Unionists and recruited many into the Federal army, but greatly overestimated their numbers. This misconception, shared by many Federal military commanders and President Abraham Lincoln, jeopardized the planned Union raids months before they began.

In 1863, Colonel Streight proposed a plan to General James A. Garfield raise a force, including the Alabama Unionists, to make a raid into the South. Streight’s intention was to disrupt the Western & Atlantic Railroad between Chattanooga and Atlanta, which was supplying the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Garfield gave his permission.

Streight’s force was to include approximately 1700 troops mounted suitably for fast travel and attacks. However, due largely to war time shortages, Streight’s brigade were mounted on balky and unbroken mules recently procured from farms in western Tennessee, including two companies of Unionists in the 1st Alabama Cavalry (USA).

The rest of the regiment was serving under General Grenville Dodge out of Corinth, Mississippi, under General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Army of the Tennessee. Dodge’s mission was to screen Streight as he moved from Tennessee by boat, then overland across northern Alabama toward Georgia.

On April 19, 1863, Streight’s brigade boarded several boats at Nashville that transported the force southward on the Tennessee River and disembarked at Eastport, Mississippi. That night, a stampede scattered approximately 400 of the brigade’s mules into the surrounding countryside causing a delay as Streight waited in Eastport for a shipment of mules.

Two days later, on April 21, Streight rendezvoused with Dodge and his 8000 cavalrymen, and moved toward Tuscumbia, Alabama. During the march, skirmishers who had detached from CSA General Nathan Bedford Forrest‘s division impeded Federal movements.

Many of the mules Streight’s men were riding on were unbroken, old or incapable of carrying their riders for great distances without frequent stops. The Confederates hurled insults at the brigade, referring to them as the Jackass Cavalry. Amused onlookers, watching the soldiers riding mules through the countryside, embarrassed the men and slowed their movement.

As Streight left Tuscumbia late on April 26, a heavy rainstorm made the roads virtually impassable, forcing him to make an unscheduled stop at Mount Hope, Alabama. There, Dodge informed Streight that the two would not meet at Moulton, as previously planned. Dodge reported that his command had driven Forrest far to the north, thereby clearing a path for Streight to continue the raid unmolested.

Dodge’s movements, however, had not deterred Forrest. As Streight moved eastward, the morale of his command temporarily improved as dry weather and the capture of several Confederate supply wagons bolstered their spirits. The mood changed, however, when Union scouts spotted Confederates moving along both their right and left flanks, threatening to surround the entire command.

Streight’s brigade arrived at Sand Mountain, where he was intercepted by Forrest’s cavalry. During the Battle of Day’s Gap on April 30, 1863, Streight’s men thwarted Forrest’s attempt to surround him from the rear with a series of charges led by the Seventy-third Illinois and Fifty-first Indiana.

Undeterred, a few hours later Forrest resumed the attack upon Streight, whose men dismounted and occupied a ridge along Hog Mountain in preparation for what they believed was a larger force. Again Streight’s men repulsed several assaults and then resumed the march at an accelerated pace, which allowed them to ambush a portion of Forrest’s cavalry near Blountsville.

As Streight’s men pressed toward Gadsden, Alabama, Forrest’s constant presence behind the Union forces prevented Streight from resting his weary troops and mules, which proved too slow to outrun Forrest’s horsemen. And their constant braying enabled Forrest’s scouts to detect Streight’s force from more than two miles away.

On the afternoon of May 2, Streight crossed Black Creek (three miles from Gadsden) ahead of Forrest and burned the only nearby bridge, impeding the Confederate pursuit. Streight soon realized that his cavalry could not outrun Forrest for long, and he desperately needed to reach the city of Rome, Georgia. There, Streight intended to fight from behind some hastily prepared breastworks.

Unbeknownst to him, the actions of two local civilians thwarted his plans. Unable to use the bridge to cross the swollen Black Creek, Forrest rode to a nearby home to find a guide. He found 16-year-old Emma Sansom, with whose guidance he located a ford, crossed it, and caught up with Streight’s force.

Meanwhile, Gadsden resident John Wisdom raced 67 miles to Rome, where he warned residents of the approaching Union troops. As a result of his actions, Rome’s inhabitants repelled a detachment of Streight’s cavalry sent to occupy a vital bridge crossing the Coosa River, thus blocking the only available route into the city. Streight then turned west in search of another crossing, but eventually abandoned the search.

At Cedar Bluff, Alabama, Streight stopped for a much needed rest. Many of his cavalrymen had been walking due to the deaths of numerous mules. Forrest’s cavalry surrounded Streight and his 1700 raiders. Rather than face possible annihilation by what he believed to be a numerically superior foe, Streight surrendered his command on May 3, 1863.

During the negotiations, Forrest craftily reaffirmed Streight’s belief that the Confederates greatly outnumbered his brigade by having the Confederate cavalrymen repeatedly ride in circles in and out of Streight’s view along a neighboring ridge.

When Forrest’s 500 men appeared following the surrender, Streight angrily demanded he be allowed to renege on their surrender, but Forrest refused. Defeat proved especially bitter for the soldiers of the First Alabama Cavalry (USA), who had risked their families and homes to defend the Union despite their state’s decision to secede.

The Confederates transported Streight and the majority of his brigade to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. During the arduous trip, many of his weary malnourished soldiers succumbed to disease and many later died in prison, losing approximately 200 in total.

Streight’s Raid was an abysmal failure as a result of inadequate supplies, poor communication among Federal commanders, exaggerated estimates of Confederate forces and local Unionists, and bad luck. Streight was additionally hindered by locals throughout his march, while pursued by Forrest, who had the advantage of home territory and the sympathy and aid of the local populace.

In the end, the raiders failed to disrupt the Army of Tennessee’s supply lines and had no impact upon the battles fought in middle Tennessee and northwest Georgia during the summer and fall of 1863. In northern Alabama and northwest Georgia, accounts of Forrest’s heroics further elevated his already mythical status.

Equally important, the state of Alabama and the Confederacy acquired a wartime heroine, Emma Sansom, whose exploits would later reinforce postbellum notions that stressed the sacrifices and contributions of Confederate women during a war lost by southern men. The city of Gadsden erected a monument to Sansom in 1906.

On February 9, 1864, after nine months of incarceration, Abel Streight and 107 other soldiers escaped from prison by tunneling under their barracks, and was one of the 59 who eluded capture and made their way to freedom. Streight crossed through enemy territory and on his return gave a debriefing report to his Union commanders.

Eventually Streight was restored to active duty being placed in command of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, IV Corps. He participated in the Battles of Franklin and Nashville in Tennessee. Streight was given a brevet promotion to brigadier general in the volunteer army dated March 13, 1865, and resigned from the army on March 16, 1865.

Image: General Abel Streight

After the war, Streight immediately resumed his publishing business. In 1866, he and Lovina built a new home on Washington Street in Indianapolis, but by 1876 they also owned an estate on the National Road, two miles east of Indianapolis. He also established a lumber business, and had extensive land holdings.

In 1876, Streight ran succesfully for a seat in the Indiana state senate, serving a two year term. In 1880 he ran as the Republican candidate for Governor of Indiana, but was defeated. In 1888 he was once again elected as State Senator.

Abel Streight died in Indianapolis in 1892, and Lovina had her husband buried on the front lawn of their home. She reportedly stated on the day of the funeral: “I never knew where my husband was when he lived, so I buried him here. Now I know where he is.” She organized a yearly reunion of the Fifty-first regiment, and soldiers gathered at her home and encamped on her lawn during the State Fair.

Lovina also embraced spiritualism – the belief that spirits of the dead can communicate with the living. Anyone may receive spirit messages, but formal communication sessions (seances) are held by mediums. Spiritualism reached its peak growth in membership from the 1840s to the 1920s.

Lovina’s only child, John, died at about age fifty in 1905.

Lovina McCarthy Streight died on June 5, 1910, and was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis with full military honors. Five thousand people attended her funeral, including sixty-four survivors of the Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers.

Abel Streight’s body was exhumed from the front lawn of the family home, and buried beside his wife. Lovina had purchased the plot in 1902, and commissioned Ralph Schway to sculpt a bronze bust of her husband for the memorial.

Lovina Streight’s will, filed in 1902, stipulated that her property and possessions be managed by public trustees for the purpose of establishing a home for elderly women.

Five of her relatives contested the will, stating that Lovina was not of sound mind when she signed the document. Friends of Lovina disagreed, and the case went to court in 1912. Evidence of Lovina’s eccentricities cited by her relatives included her practice of picnicking at her husband’s gravesite, wearing bright clothes and dancing with the neighborhood children. The jury agreed that Lovina was not of sound mind, and a judge declared the will invalid. Lovina’s heirs sold the home on December 30, 1915.


Streight's Raid

Abel D. Streight Streight's Raid, a Civil War campaign conducted by U.S. Army colonel Abel D. Streight from April 19 to May 3, 1863, to destroy portions of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, had little effect upon federal attempts to defeat the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Its principal significance lies in the legends that grew up around Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest's capture of Streight and his men, with the aid of Emma Sansom, near the present-day city of Gadsden. Grenville Dodge In March 1863, U.S. Army major general William Starke Rosecrans ordered Streight to organize a provisional brigade to conduct a mounted raid across northern Alabama and into northwest Georgia, where it would strike the Western & Atlantic Railroad, one of the Confederate Army of Tennessee's supply arteries located in northwest Georgia. Streight's brigade contained portions of the First West Tennessee and First Alabama (U.S.A.) cavalry regiments, and the Third Ohio, Fifty-first Indiana, Seventy-third Illinois, and the Eightieth Illinois infantry regiments, totaling approximately 1,700 soldiers. Lacking horses, a majority of Streight's infantry instead mounted temperamental mules recently procured from farms in western Tennessee. Many of the mules were unbroken, old, or incapable of carrying their riders for great distances without frequent stops. The amused onlookers who watched the large mass of federal soldiers riding mules through the countryside embarrassed the men and slowed their movement. During the raid, Confederates hurled insults toward the brigade, referring to them as the "Jackass Cavalry." Undoubtedly, the lack of horses had a negative effect on troop morale. Philip Roddey Mules were not the only problem. The raid's success also depended upon Brig. Gen. Grenville Dodge's ability to screen Streight's movements from Confederate cavalry commanded by General Forrest as well as cavalry led by Col. Phillip Roddey, both part of the Army of Tennessee. On April 19, 1863, Streight's brigade boarded several boats at Nashville that transported the force southward on the Tennessee River and disembarked at Eastport, Mississippi. That night, a stampede scattered approximately 400 of the brigade's mules into the surrounding countryside causing a delay as Streight waited in Eastport for a shipment of mules. Two days later, Streight rendezvoused with Dodge and his 8,000 cavalrymen, and moved toward Tuscumbia, in Colbert County. During the march, skirmishers who had detached from Forrest's division impeded Federal movements. At Tuscumbia, Streight and Dodge separated, with Streight riding toward Moulton, in Lawrence County, and Dodge screening the movement by heading north in the hopes of distracting Forrest and Roddey. As Streight left Tuscumbia late on April 26, a heavy rainstorm made the roads virtually impassable, forcing him to make an unscheduled stop at Mount Hope in Lawrence County. There, Dodge informed Streight that the two would not meet at Moulton, as previously planned. Dodge reported that his command had driven Forrest to the north, thereby clearing a path for Streight to continue the raid unmolested. Dodge's movements, however, had not deterred Forrest, who closely pursued the "Jackass Brigade." Emma Sansom On the afternoon of May 2, Streight crossed Black Creek (located three miles from Gadsden) ahead of Forrest and burned the only nearby bridge, impeding the Confederate pursuit. Streight soon realized that his cavalry could not outrun Forrest for long and desperately needed to reach the city of Rome, Georgia. There, Streight intended to fight what he believed to be the numerically superior foe from behind some hastily prepared breastworks. Unbeknownst to him, the actions of two locals thwarted his plans. Unable to use the bridge to cross the swollen Black Creek, Forrest rode to a nearby home to find a guide. He found 16-year-old Emma Sansom, with whose guidance he located the ford, crossed it, and caught up with Streight's force. Meanwhile, ferry operator John Wisdom came upon the troops having burned his ferry on the Coosa River at Gadsden and raced 67 miles to Rome, where he warned residents of the approaching U.S. troops. As a result of his actions, Rome's inhabitants repelled a detachment of Streight's cavalry sent to occupy a vital bridge crossing the Coosa River, thus blocking the only available route into the city. Streight then turned west toward Centre, in search of another crossing. His exhausted command, however, abandoned the search. Nathan Bedford Forrest At Cedar Bluff, Streight's men stopped for a much-needed rest. Many of the cavalrymen had been walking due to the deaths of numerous mules. To make matters worse, during a recent skirmish the soldiers learned that the bulk of their ammunition was rendered useless due to its exposure to water. There at Cedar Bluff, Forrest and his 500 men surrounded Streight and his men. Rather than face possible annihilation, Streight decided to surrender his command. During the negotiations, Forrest craftily reaffirmed Streight's misconception that the Confederates greatly outnumbered his brigade. In order to reinforce the ruse, Forrest's artillery repeatedly rode in circles in and out of Streight's view along a neighboring ridge. On May 3, 1863, Streight surrendered, convinced he had been captured by a numerically superior foe. When Forrest's smaller division appeared following the surrender, Streight angrily demanded his men be allowed to renege their surrender, but Forrest refused. Defeat proved especially bitter for the soldiers of the First Alabama Cavalry (U.S.A.), who had risked their families and homes to defend the United States despite their state's decision to secede. The Confederates transported Streight and the majority of his brigade to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. During the arduous trip, many of his weary malnourished soldiers succumbed to disease and many later died in prison, with approximately 200 lost in total. In 1864, Streight and 107 other prisoners escaped through an intricate system of tunnels.

Streight's Raid was an abysmal failure as a result of inadequate supplies, poor communication among Federal commanders, exaggerated estimates of Confederate forces and local Unionists, and bad luck. Whereas Nathan Bedford Forrest, and to a lesser degree Emma Sansom, are credited for foiling the raid, its failure had less to do with Confederate actions than the bungling mishaps of their federal counterparts. In the end, the raiders failed to disrupt the Army of Tennessee's supply lines and had no impact upon the battles fought in middle Tennessee and northwest Georgia during the summer and fall of 1863, and they endured a humiliating defeat. In northern Alabama and northwest Georgia, accounts of Forrest's heroics further elevated his already mythical status. In 1908, the city of Rome dedicated the first statue commissioned to honor the famed Confederate cavalryman and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Equally important, the state of Alabama and Confederacy acquired a wartime heroine, Emma Sansom, whose exploits would later reinforce postbellum notions that stressed the sacrifices and contributions of Confederate women during a war lost by southern men. The city of Gadsden erected a monument to Sansom in 1906. The Crooked Creek Civil War Museum in Vinemont, Cullman County, preserves the site of the skirmish and interprets its history.

Hurst, Jack. Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography. New York: Vintage Press, 1993.


Etowah County

World's Longest Yard Sale Located in the northeast corner of the state, Etowah County has been an industrial center of Alabama since the nineteenth century. It is the birthplace of William Patrick Lay, the founder of Alabama Power Company. The city of Gadsden played an important role in both the Civil War and World War II and is the starting point for the annual World's Longest Yard Sale, a multi-state, three-day event that stretches more than 690 miles and culminates in Addison, Michigan. The county is governed by an elected six-member commission and includes 13 incorporated communities.
  • Founding Date: December 7, 1866
  • Area: 542 square miles
  • Population: 103,363 (2016 Census estimate)
  • Major Waterways: Coosa River
  • Major Highways: I-59, U.S. 431, U.S. 278, U.S. 411, U.S. 11
  • County Seat: Gadsden
  • Largest City: Gadsden
Etowah County Courthouse Etowah County was created by an act of the Alabama State Legislature on December 7, 1866, from portions of Cherokee and DeKalb Counties. The county was established in 1866 and given the name Baine County in honor of Confederate general David W. Baine. The following year, however, it was abolished by the state government, which was under the control of Republicans during Reconstruction. One year later, the county was re-established as Etowah County, with the name being chosen as a Cherokee word believed at the time to mean "edible tree." The more likely origin of the name is the word italwa, which means "town" in the Muskogean language of the Cherokees, Creeks, and other southeastern tribes. Emma Sansom Statue The first settlement in what is now Etowah County was located at a town called Double Springs on the Coosa River. Double Springs was transformed on July 4, 1845, when Capt. James Lafferty piloted the first steamboat to the area. Local residents offered to name the town "Lafferty's Landing" in his honor, but Lafferty declined. Instead, the name Gadsden was chosen, in honor of Col. James Gadsden of South Carolina, famous for the Gadsden Purchase. On May 2, 1863, during Union colonel Abel Streight's raid through north Alabama, a local farmer named John Wisdom gained notoriety when he raced ahead of Streight's troops, who were in turn being pursued by Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, to Rome, Georgia, to warn the town's citizens of the Union troops' impending arrival. A young girl named Emma Sansom became a local heroine during the raid when she led Forrest and his men across Black Creek to capture Streight's troops. Big Wills Creek In 1903, Gadsden resident William Patrick Lay built his first hydroelectric plant on Big Wills Creek, which furnished the town of Attalla with electricity. He organized Alabama Power Company in 1906. Gadsden became an important military center during World War II, when the Gadsden Ordnance Plant was constructed to produce shells for cannons. By the end of the war in 1945, the plant had produced more than 16 million shells. In 1942, the U.S. took possession of 36,300 acres in Etowah and adjoining St. Clair County to establish Alabama's first Chemical Warfare Center (CWC). Known as Camp Sibert, it served as a Unit Training Center and a Replacement Training Center for the CWC. Deactivated in 1945, Camp Sibert was the training site for more than 45 percent of all CWS troops who served in World War II. In 1963, Etowah County received national media attention when civil-rights worker William Moore was murdered near Attalla. H. Neely Henry Lake According to 2016 Census estimates, the population of Etowah County was 103,363. Of that total, 81.3 percent of respondents identified themselves as white 15.4 percent as African American, and 3.6 percent as Hispanic, 1.5 percent as two or more races, 0.7 percent as Asian, 0.5 percent as Native American, and 0.1 percent as Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The county seat, Gadsden, had an estimated population of 36,856. Other towns in the county are Rainbow City, Attalla, Glencoe, Hokes Bluff, Sardis City, Southside, Altoona, Ridgeville, and Mountainboro. The median household income was $40,478, compared with $44,758 for the state as a whole, and the per capita income was $21,287, compared with $24,736 for the state. Republic Steel in Gadsden Because of its rolling and hilly terrain, Etowah County has never been an agricultural powerhouse. Instead, the county's natural resources and large labor force have made it one of the most important industrial centers in Alabama. In 1845, Coosa Furnace, located on the banks of Big Wills Creek, became the first iron furnace built in the county. In 1895, Dwight Mill in Alabama City was organized, and at the height of its production in 1953, it employed 2,600 people. The mill, which included a village, eventually closed after a series of labor disputes in 1959. In 1900, Underwood Coal Company was organized and later purchased by Alabama Steel. At one point, the company had 11 mines in operation near the town of Altoona. In 1929, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company constructed a plant in Gadsden. At the turn of the twenty-first century it remained the largest employer in the county, with 2,550 workers. On October 5, 2006, U.S. Steel workers went on strike at the plant, which left approximately half the workers without jobs. As of August 2007, Goodyear announced that it would spend close to $125 million to upgrade the plant. The second largest employer, Gulf States Steel, organized in 1903 and by 1998 employed 1,900 workers. In 2000, the company declared bankruptcy and closed.
  • Educational services, and health care and social assistance (23.8 percent)
  • Manufacturing (19.3 percent)
  • Retail trade (11.2 percent)
  • Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (8.6 percent)
  • Construction (6.5 percent)
  • Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (5.5 percent)
  • Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (5.5 percent)
  • Other services, except public administration (5.4 percent)
  • Public administration (4.7 percent)
  • Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (4.2 percent)
  • Wholesale trade (2.8 percent)
  • Information (1.9 percent)
  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.7 percent)
Etowah County Map Comprising approximately 542 square miles, Etowah County lies in the northeastern area of the state, wholly within the Cumberland Plateau physiographic section. It is bounded to the east by Cherokee County, to the south by Calhoun and St. Clair Counties, to the west by Blount and Marshall Counties, and to the north by DeKalb County.

Silver Lakes Gadsden is home to one of the state's most breathtaking geographic features, Noccalula Falls, a 90-foot waterfall. Every August, the World's Longest Yard Sale begins in Gadsden and in Alabama runs along the scenic Lookout Mountain Parkway. The three-day event attracts thousands of shoppers and yard-sale vendors to the area. The area also features Silver Lakes, a golf course on the famed Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Lake H. Neely Henry features some of the area's best fishing, including crappie and largemouth, spotted, and striped bass. The Etowah Heritage Museum hosts exhibits relating to county history as well as a research library and a heritage tree park.

Etowah County Centennial Commission. A History of Etowah County, Alabama. Birmingham: Roberts and Son, 1968.


Streight's Raid

History of Alabama in 1863

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Streight's RaidBy Robert L. Willett

The men of the 1st Alabama Cavalry (USA) played a dual role in the raid that was conducted by Union Colonel Abel D. Streight in April 1863. The raid had a mission to cut the Confederate railroad that ran between Atlanta and Chattanooga, supplying General Braxton Bragg's army located in Tennessee.
While Streight's Provisional Brigade, four regiments of infantry mounted on balky and unbroken Yankee mules, included two companies of the 1st Alabama Cavalry, the rest of the regiment was serving under General Grenville Dodge in Corinth, Mississippi. Streight's cavalry was in the Army of the Cumberland while Dodge's command was under General Ulysses Grant's Army of the Tennessee. Dodge's mission was to screen Streight as he moved from Tennessee by boat, landing in Eastport, Mississippi and then moving overland toward Georgia. Dodge ran into several skirmishes with Confederate cavalry, but joined Streight near Eastport on April 21. Shortly after, Dodge retreated to Corinth while Streight set out for his objective, Rome, Georgia.
The raid was a disaster from the beginning. In Tennessee, Confederate cavalry legend Nathan Bedford Forrest discovered the raiders shortly after Dodge left the scene, and with four veteran regiments of cavalry began his pursuit on the poorly mounted Union raiders. The 1st Alabama scouts as the rearguard were under almost constant pressure from Forrest, and in spite of gallant conduct by the brigade exhaustion and lack of rations forced Streight to surrender to Forrest on May 3, 1863 near Cedar Bluff, Alabama.
In the week of the raid, the 1st Alabama Cavalry lost sixteen men killed, wounded, or missing. Captain David Smith, leader of the Streight Alabama companies was kept in Confederate prisons until finally released in early 1865. He died in the hospital in Annapolis, Maryland on April 18, 1865, nine days after Appomattox.


Sansom was born on June 2, 1847, near Social Circle, Georgia, to Micajah and Levina Vann Sansom, a niece of Cherokee leader James Vann. Around 1852, she and her family moved to a farm just outside Gadsden, Alabama. Her father died in 1858, by which time there were twelve children in her family. [1]

In April 1863, Confederate Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was ordered into northern Alabama to pursue Union Colonel Abel Streight, who had orders to cut off the Confederate railroad near Chattanooga, Tennessee. On May 2, 1863, Streight arrived just outside Gadsden and prepared to cross Black Creek. Because the creek was swollen due to rain, Streight realized that if he destroyed the bridge he could get a few hours respite from the pursuit of Forrest. Seeing the nearby Sansom farmhouse, he rode upon it and demanded some smoldering coal, which he could use to burn the bridge. When Forrest's men arrived at the site, they found the burned out bridge and came under fire from Streight's men.

Forrest rode to the Sansom house and asked whether there was another bridge across the creek. Emma Sansom, then 16 years old, told him that the nearest bridge was in Gadsden, 2 miles away. Forrest then asked if there was a place where he could get across the creek. Emma told him that if one of his men would help saddle her horse, she would show him a place that she had seen cows cross the creek, and that he might be able to cross there. He replied that there was no time to saddle a horse and asked her to get on his horse behind him. As they started to leave, Emma's mother objected, but relented when Forrest assured her that he would bring the girl back safely. Emma then directed Forrest to the spot where he could cross the river. Some accounts of the skirmish indicate that the two came under fire from Union soldiers, who subsequently ceased fire when they realized that they had been firing on a teenage girl. After taking Emma back to her home, Forrest continued his pursuit of Streight, whom he was able to capture near Cedar Bluff on the following day. [1]

Emma's actions are noteworthy in that openly aiding Confederate forces could have subjected her and her family to prosecution (or even death) from the Union Army.

Sansom married Christopher B. Johnson on October 29, 1864, and moved to Texas in late 1876 or early 1877. She died August 9, 1900 in Upshur County, Texas, and is buried in Little Mound Cemetery. [1]

The actual crossing site was approximately 75 yards north of the point where modern Tuscaloosa Avenue crosses Black Creek in Gadsden.

In 1907, a monument was constructed in Gadsden at the western end of the Broad Street bridge across the Coosa River in honor of her actions. When the residents of Alabama City, Alabama (later annexed into Gadsden) built a high school in 1929, they named it in her honor. With the consolidation of the three Gadsden city high schools at the end of the 2006 school year, General Forrest Middle School was closed and Emma Sansom High School became Emma Sansom Middle School.


The Raid

Grierson and his 1,700 horse troopers, some in Confederate uniforms serving as scouts for the main force, rode over 600 miles (970   km) through hostile territory (from southern Tennessee, through the State of Mississippi and into Union-held Baton Rouge, Louisiana), over routes no Union soldier had traveled before. They tore up railroads and burned crossties, freed slaves, burned Confederate storehouses, destroyed locomotives and commissary stores, ripped up bridges and trestles, burned buildings, and inflicted ten times the casualties they received, all while detachments of his troops made feints confusing the Confederates as to his actual whereabouts, intent and direction. Total casualties for Grierson's Brigade during the raid were three killed, seven wounded, and nine missing. Five sick and wounded men were left behind along the route, too ill to continue.

Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, commander of the Vicksburg garrison, had few cavalry and could do nothing to stop Grierson.

On April 21, 1863, Confederate cavalry commander Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, had captured another Union raider, Col. Abel Streight, in Alabama following a poorly supplied and poorly planned raid (Streight's Raid).

Although many other Confederate cavalry units pursued Grierson vigorously across the state (most notably those led by Wirt Adams and Robert V. Richardson), they were unsuccessful in stopping the raid. [1] Grierson and his troopers, exhausted by days in the saddle, ultimately rode into Union-occupied Baton Rouge, Louisiana. [5] With an entire division of Pemberton's soldiers tied up defending the vital Vicksburg-Jackson railroad from the evasive Grierson, combined with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's feint northeast of Vicksburg (the Battle of Snyder's Bluff), the beleaguered Confederates were unable to muster the forces necessary to oppose Grant's eventual landing below Vicksburg on the east side of the Mississippi at Bruinsburg.


Kentucky and the Civil War

My thanks to Rick Price and to Larry Muse for taking me to sites, and telling me background, of a sadly neglected action of America's greatest war. My day together with them was enjoyable and informative. Any errors in this blog are my own.

While I was in Alabama to give a talk on John Hunt Morgan's Great Ohio Raid, I had a chance to learn of a little-known action that eerily foreshadowed and paralleled it: Abel D. Streight's Alabama Raid. Like Morgan's Raid, Streight's involved a daring (some would say, "rash") penetration of enemy territory in hope of destroying vital resources, the capture of the raider's whole command, and the escape of its senior officers in a stunning jailbreak.

In the spring of 1863, after General Braxton Bragg had won and then lost the Battle of Murfreesboro, his Confederate Army of Tennessee was sitting at Tullahoma, Tennessee, southeast of Nashville. At Nashville itself, Major General William Rosecrans, commanding the Union Army of the Cumberland, was looking for a way to drive Bragg from Tullahoma so that Rosecrans could seize the key Confederate railroad crossing of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and open a route to the key Confederate manufacturing center of Atlanta, Georgia.

Rosecrans accepted a daring strategy modeled on highly successful Confederate cavalry raids led by the geniuses John Hunt Morgan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Joseph "Fighting Joe" Wheeler. Rosecrans planned to send a column of cavalry into the Deep South on a raid to destroy the Western and Atlantic Railroad, vital for supplying the Army of Tennessee, on a line from Eastport, Mississippi, to Rome, Georgia. If the railroad were destroyed, Bragg would have to retreat from Tullahoma into northern Georgia and abandon Chattanooga.

The strategy was a brainchild of an unlikely soldier, Colonel Abel D. Streight of Indiana. Like many another Federal officer in the war, he had no prewar military experience. Born in New York, he'd moved first to Cincinnati, Ohio, and then to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he made a living as a lumber merchant and as a publisher. Did he become a publisher to use paper made from his lumber? History doesn't say.

Streight proposed his raid to Brigadier General (and future president) James A. Garfield, Rosecrans's chief of staff, who recommended it to his superior. Rosecrans accepted the plan with a key change to it: because of wartime shortages, Streight and his 1,700 men would be riding, not horses, but mules. The change in steeds would be the first of many misfortunes to dog Streight. Trying to make lemonade from lemons, Streight christened his command "The Lightning Mule Brigade." As things would turn out, there'd be more mule than lightning.

Streight's command took a circuitous route to its mission's start. Setting out from Nashville on April 7, he traveled on foot or by riverboat first to Fort Henry, in northwestern Tennessee, and then due south to Eastport, Mississippi, on the Tennessee River, which he reached on April 19. On the road east from there, Streight's movements were guarded at first by cavalry led by Brigadier General Grenville M. Dodge, namesake of Dodge City, Kansas.

Streight met no significant opposition as he traveled east along the line of the Tennessee for nearly a week. During this time, he destroyed a major railroad depot and other military targets at Tuscumbia, Alabama. East of there, at Day's Gap, Streight, on April 30, ran into Confederate cavalry led by Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Streight's men drove off Forrest's assault on the Federal rearguard, but, as Federal cavalry would dog Morgan through Indiana and Ohio, Forrest's cavalry dogged Streight's command for the rest of its ride east.

Streight and Forrest clashed several times daily on the road to Gadsden, Alabama, which Streight reached on May 2. There, stealing a march on Forrest, Streight burned the bridge across Black Creek. Finding another crossing of this deep, swiftly flowing stream would, Streight hoped, delay Forrest long enough to let Streight and his command reach Rome, Georgia, with no further opposition.

Streight reckoned without a fifteen-year-old girl named Emma Sansom. When Forrest rode onto the Sansom farm to ask whether there were another bridge nearby, Emma volunteered to show Forrest another crossing of the creek. Riding in the saddle behind Forrest, she led him and his men to a cattle crossing that her family used. This would lead Forrest again into Streight's rear.

Some say that Emma and Forrest came under fire from Federal sharpshooters posted on a wooded bluff east of the creek others dispute this part of Emma's story. I can testify from my visit to the most likely spot for the crossing that it looked to me like a lovely spot for sharpshooters. A high, wooded ridge overlooking a ford &mdash what could be better than?

In any case, Emma Sansom became a local hero in Gadsden. Her family's graves and a prominent monument to her stand today in the median of U. S. 431 in downtown Gadsden. Forrest's crossing of Black Creek with Emma's aid is commemorated in memorial signage near the crossing's likely point. Because of changes in the creek bed over the past one hundred and fifty years, it may be impossible for us moderns to determine the exact site of Emma's ford.

The next day, Forrest brought Streight to bay at Cedar Bluff, east of Gadsden in northeastern Alabama's hill country. A pair of sharp ridges running parallel to each other let Forrest pull off one of the deceptions he was notorious for. Sending his horse artillery to deliver rapid fire from widely scattered points, and moving his men quickly about to appear and disappear beyond the ridge lines, Forrest, who had less than five hundred effectives on hand, convinced Streight, who still had nearly fifteen hundred effectives, of Forrest's having superior numbers. To these, Streight surrendered his command.

According to an eyewitness account, Streight, learning of Forrest's deception, angrily demanded that Forrest return Streight's weapons so that he and Forrest could finish battle on honorable terms. Forrest, showing perhaps more practicality than chivalry, laughingly refused Streight's demand. The site of the surrender is memorialized by a roadside marker.

From Cedar Bluff, Streight was taken as a prisoner of war to Richmond, Virginia, where he was kept in a wing of Libby Prison reserved for Federal officers. Oddly, there crossed Federal lines a rumor that Streight had, contrary to the laws of war, been confined to a civilian prison in Rome, Georgia.

This rumor would shape John Hunt Morgan's life when he was taken prisoner at the end of his Great Ohio Raid in July. Federal authorities used the rumor as cover for housing Morgan as a common criminal in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. There, he tried to move Federal authorities to exchange him for Streight. When it became clear to Morgan that no exchange would take place, he and six of his officers tunneled out of the penitentiary and made their way back to Confederate lines.

What Morgan did in Columbus, Streight would do better in Richmond. Early in 1864, Streight and one hundred and seven other men tunneled out of Libby Prison. Streight made his way back to Union lines, where he received command of a brigade in an army being assembled around Nashville by Major General George Thomas. Streight would take part in the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and would, after the war, serve as a state senator in Indiana.


About the Faculty

Brian Steel Wills is a professor of history at Kennesaw State University outside of Atlanta. He is also the Director for the Center for the study of the Civil War Era. In addition to the biography on Forrest, he is also the author of the most recent biography General George Henry Thomas, As True as Steel. Another of his books is The War Hits Home: The Civil War in Southeastern Virginia. Last but certainly not least is his entertaining book Gone with the Glory: The Civil War in Cinema. Each of Brian’s works reveal an expansive view of history and its potential. His interpersonal interactions have proven him to be a popular and engaging speaker. You will enjoy your time with him.

Norm Dasinger is an Alabama businessman who has been completely immersed in history his entire life. Son of a father who was the National Chairman of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a member of both Union and Confederate heritage/legacy groups and Revolutionary War heritage groups, Dasinger has led numerous tours in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee—often mixing the themes to maximize the experience for his clients. Norm is a member of the Blue and Gray Education Society and is a frequent contributor to the BGES Dispatches electronic publications. Norm is a man who walks his talk!


Textbook ‘Know Alabama’ Justified Slavery, Praised Confederacy to Schoolchildren

The textbook Know Alabama. Source: Scott Morris

As the Freedom Riders crossed the South in their fight for civil rights, schoolchildren in Alabama were reading about the bright side of slavery and the contributions of the Ku Klux Klan.

They were taught these lessons from “Know Alabama,” the standard fourth-grade history textbook in the state’s public schools. The book informed baby boomers and Generation Xers from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Some of those students became the teachers who taught subsequent generations.

Both white and Black children were instructed from “Know Alabama” that plantation life was a joyous time and slaves were generally contented. They read that Confederates were brave heroes, and Reconstruction was a terrible time when carpetbaggers, scalawags and illiterate Blacks corrupted the state.

Today, with factions across Alabama caught up in a clash over the meaning of Confederate monuments and symbols, many are debating the true history of the South. Is it the version that Black Lives Matter protesters shout in the public square or the story taught in Southern schools during and after the fight over segregation?

The search for answers starts with the primary author of “Know Alabama.”

Frank L. Owsley grew up on a sprawling farm near Montgomery where his father profited by renting land to Black sharecroppers. A history professor at Vanderbilt University, Owsley was a member of the Twelve Southerners, or Southern Agrarians, who wrote a pro-Southern manifesto titled “I’ll Take My Stand.”

Critics say the group romanticized Lost Cause ideology and ignored the evils of slavery.

“Owsley was a dyed-in-the-wool racist who described the slaves as ‘savages’ and ‘cannibals,’ and who defended the South against what he saw as overly aggressive reconstructionists who wanted to give black civil rights and destroy Southern culture,” said Gordon Harvey, professor and history department head at Jacksonville State University. “When a racist writes your state history, you are going to get a warped portrayal of slavery and a celebration of the old South.”

The other authors were John Craig Stewart, former professor and director of creative writing at University of South Alabama in Mobile, and Gordon T. Chappell, professor and head of the Department of History and Political Science at Huntingdon College in Montgomery.

Harvey said an inaccurate picture of slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction persists today because of textbooks such as “Know Alabama.” He knows this first hand because he was an Alabama fourth-grader in 1976-77 when the textbook was still in the classrooms.

“What we believe is seeded by teachers and parents, and also reinforced by them,” Harvey said. “If you are taught that slavery was good and the slaves were really freed after the war, then you will grow up with that internalized.

“The problem is that we have done a poor job of teaching teachers who teach our students about the complexities of history, the ills of slavery, and that slavery and the slaveholders had no redeeming values whatsoever. Further, we have failed to draw the line from slavery and emancipation to the issues African Americans face today.”

Best Of Times On The Plantation

At many points, contents of the 1961 edition of “Know Alabama” thunder into the age of Black Lives Matter with all the subtleness of a Confederate cavalry charge. At other points they hide like a wisteria-covered antebellum ruin, inviting closer scrutiny.

Now we come to one of the happiest ways of life in Alabama before the War Between the States.

This is “Know Alabama’s” introduction to slavery.

The authors do not explore what life was like with no freedom, with the ever-present threat of losing a loved one to the slave trade or of being whipped. They do not mention being worked from sunup to sundown in the Alabama heat to enrich a white planter.

“Now suppose you were a little boy or girl and lived in one of the plantation homes many years ago,” the book states as it takes its young audience on a romantic trip through antebellum times.

The Negro cook whom you call “Mammy” comes in bringing a great tray of food. You have known her all your life and love her very much. She was your nurse when you were a baby.

A page from Know Alabama. Source: Scott Morris

As with most other happily submissive slaves in this state-sanctioned version of history, Mammy smiles when she serves her masters.

The white boy in this historical fiction rides off on a horse alongside his father to observe slaves in the fields.

Most of them were treated kindly. There were a few masters who did not treat their slaves kindly. The first thing any good master thought about was the care of his slaves. … Many nights you have gone with your mother to the “quarters” where she cared for some sick person. She is the best friend the Negroes have, and they know it. …

As you ride up beside the Negroes in the field, they stop working long enough to look up, tip their hats and say, “Good morning, Master John.” You like the friendly way they speak and smile they show bright rows of white teeth.

“How’s it coming, Sam?” your father asks one of the old Negroes.

“Fine, Marse Tom, jes fine. We got ‘most more cotton than we can pick.” Then Sam chuckles to himself and goes back to picking as fast as he can.

After you return home for dinner and awake from your afternoon nap, it’s time to play “Indian” with a Black boy named “Jig.”

The authors of “Know Alabama” named the boy the shortened version of “jigaboo,” which Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as an “insulting and contemptuous term for a black person.”

The textbook explains “he got that name because he dances so well when the Negroes play their banjos.”

Jig comes up and says, “Let me play.”

And you say, “All right, but you be the captive Indian.”

“That will be fun,” Jig says, and he goes off gladly to be the Indian, to hide and to get himself captured.

Better Off A Slave?

Harvey said the description of slavery in books like “Know Alabama” is far from accurate.

“In these texts, slavery is depicted as a benign, almost benevolent, system that gave the slaves a better life than that which they had in their native lands,” he said. “Except, of course, the nagging detail that they were held in bondage, worked to death and repeatedly raped by slave owners.”

Sandwiched between the chapter in “Know Alabama” on slavery and a section on the Civil War is the biography of former Alabama slave Maria Fearing. After the U.S. victory in the Civil War, a free Fearing attended what was then called Talladega College for Negroes. Later, she went to Central Africa as a missionary.

While fourth-graders learned of Fearing’s achievements, they also received an inferred lesson: Slavery in the South saved Blacks from the poverty and savagery of Africa, where they were in danger of being eaten by cannibals.

Fearing’s mistress, Amanda Winston, told her about “the naked, barefoot children in Africa, who knew nothing about the true God.” Later, the authors say the African children were half-starved, with lice in their hair and sores all over their bodies.

Sometimes children, who had been kidnapped by cannibal tribes, were rescued by the missionaries.

The textbook points out that in Fearing’s last years she returned to the plantation where she was born to live with her nephew.

War Between The States

The authors of the 1961 edition of “Know Alabama” never used the term “Civil War.” In every reference, they taught children to call it the “War Between the States.”

Gaines M. Foster, a history professor at Louisiana State University, writes in The Journal of the Civil War Era that it matters what history calls the war. He said people in the North generally called it “the Rebellion” until they accepted the name “Civil War” in an attempt to appease the South and reunite the country.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, the major champion of the Lost Cause, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, campaigned for War Between the States to be the name of the war. They believed it testified to the legality of secession and therefore the existence of a Confederate nation. Indeed, the UDC argued that the “States” in the name referred not to the individual states but to the “United States” and the “Confederate States” — two independent nations.”

The UDC influenced and vetted the contents of school history textbooks and library books, including “Know Alabama,” according to historians. Even today, the UDC refers to the Civil War as the War Between the States.

The textbook describes slavery as a system of labor. The North did not have as much need for unskilled farm labor, the authors explain, and “did not fully understand the ways that slaves worked in the South.”

The Southerners had a right under the law to own slaves, and the Southern states had a right under the law to leave the United States. Many Southerners did not want to leave the Union. But when Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, the South felt that they had to leave the Union to keep their rights.

Harvey said the book portrays the war as a grand crusade for states rights, for freedom, to preserve the Southern lifestyle and protect the homeland from aggressive Northern attack.

“Of course, if you read the secession proclamations of each Southern state, you will see slavery as the primary reason they are seceding,” he said.

Harvey said he compares the stated causes of the Civil War to an apple pie.

“You can argue way of life, states rights and agrarian lifestyle, etc., but each of those causes has slavery as a central ingredient,” he said. “Like trying to eat apple pie without having a bite of apple in each slice.”

Southern Heroes, Northern Fools

Lke the sports editor of a small-town newspaper, it is clear whose team the authors of “Know Alabama” prefer.

The army of soldiers in gray grew larger and larger. Soon they were one of the best armies the world has ever known. The Southern men were brave fighters and their generals — Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson — were two of the greatest war leaders ever known. The North had more men, guns, and more food than the South. In four years of war, this “more” of everything finally caused the South to lose.

Know Alabama illustration of the story of Emma Sansom with Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The textbook devotes six full pages to Streight’s Raid across north Alabama, a comparably minor Union military operation that involved about 1,600 men. The raid ended in a humiliating surrender by Union troops to Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the raid that elevated Emma Sansom of Gadsden to folk heroine status for showing Forrest a shallow spot where his men could ford a creek.

The story revels in Forrest’s success at tricking Union Col. Abel Streight into surrendering, despite the fact that Streight had 1,000 more men.

That is how the big raid of the “Yankees” in north Alabama ended. When all the guns were taken over by his own soldiers, General Forrest laughed out loud and said to his men, “Take a rest, boys.”

To make sure students fully understood who was brave and who was cowardly, the authors asked the following study questions:

Why did Colonel Streight tell his men to run when General Forrest caught up with them?

Why did Colonel Streight’s men hide?

How did General Forrest prove his bravery?

How did General Forrest fool Colonel Streight?

What lesson can be learned in Colonel Streight’s defeat by General Forrest?

“Know Alabama” also celebrates “great men from Alabama in the War Between the States.” These men include the “gallant” John Pelham of Alexandria, who was killed in Virginia, and Admiral Raphael Semmes, who lost his ship Alabama to the Union Navy.

There are no brave, gallant or heroic Yankees in “Know Alabama.” Instead, “they

stole jewelry, silver, and clothing. They sometimes killed people who would not tell where their money was hidden.”

Reconstruction Of The Reconstruction

After the Civil War and President Lincoln’s assassination, many leaders did not want to be “kind” to the South, according to “Know Alabama.” The textbook said activities during Reconstruction caused more bad feelings in the South than the war itself.

The book is particularly critical of the Freedmen’s Bureau, established to help newly freed Blacks find jobs and become citizens. Carpetbaggers and scalawags operated the Freedmen’s Bureau in Alabama, the book says.

“Carpetbaggers” were those people from the North who came to the South to live after the war. … Most of them were not honest men, and they came to steal and cheat people. They wanted to make money out of the helpless white and Negro Southerners. … The “scalawags” were Southerners who turned against their own people in the South.

Under the headline “THE TERRIBLE CARPETBAG RULE,” the textbook teaches schoolchildren that the carpetbaggers and scalawags tried to turn Blacks against their white friends.

They told them that the men who had been their masters were their enemies. They told the Negroes that they would soon own all the land.

The book stated that a new government formed in Alabama in October 1867 required people who wanted to vote to swear they had never helped the Confederacy in any way. At the same time, it said, the carpetbaggers told thousands of Blacks how to vote.

The state legislature in Montgomery was made up of carpetbaggers, scalawags and Negroes. The Negroes were nearly all field workers. They could not read and write. They did not know what it meant to run a government. The carpetbaggers used the Negroes to carry out their own plans, which were not for the good of the people.

Saved By The Klan

While “Know Alabama” considers carpetbaggers “terrible,” it has no such criticism of the Ku Klux Klan.

The loyal white men of Alabama saw they could not depend on the laws or the state government to protect their families. They knew they had to do something to bring back law and order, to get the government back in the hands of honest men who knew how to run it.

About this time, a group of men formed the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was the first grand wizard.

The Klan did not ride often, only when it had to. But whenever some bad thing was done by a person who thought the carpetbag law would protect him, the white-robed Klan would appear on the streets. They would go to the person who had done the wrong and leave a warning. Sometimes this warning was enough, but if the person kept on doing the bad, lawless things the Klan came back again.

They held their courts in the dark forests at night they passed sentence on the criminals and they carried out the sentence. Sometimes the sentence would be to leave the state.

The textbook says no one knew who the Klansmen were or where they came from because they were sworn to secrecy.

After a while, the Klan struck fear in the hearts of the carpetbaggers and other lawless men who had taken control of the state. Many of the carpetbaggers went back north. Others who stayed in the South behaved themselves. The Negroes who had been fooled by the false promises of the carpetbaggers decided to get themselves jobs and settle down to make an honest living

Many of the Negroes in the South remained loyal to the white Southerners. Even though they had lately been freed from slavery, even though they had no education, they knew who their friends were. They knew that the Southern white men who had been good to them in the time of their slavery were still their friends. … Many of them helped to make the other Negroes understand they must be honest and keep the laws if they wanted to stay in the South.

When federal troops left and white men had restored order, the book states, there was no more need for the Klan.

“Know Alabama” does not mention the Jim Crow era that followed the departure of federal troops. Blacks were forbidden to vote and were stripped of any political influence. They were terrorized and became the victims of 340 known lynchings in Alabama from 1877 to 1950, according to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery.

Evolution of ‘Know Alabama’

“Know Alabama” underwent revisions through the years, with the most notable changes coming after complaints in 1970 by Black parents and criticism in the U.S. Senate that was reported in the national media.

The 1970 edition of “Know Alabama” stops using the UDC’s preferred name for the Civil War. It no longer introduces the chapter on slavery as “one of the happiest ways of life in Alabama before the War Between the States.”

Now we come to another way of life in Alabama before the Civil War. This is life as it was lived on the big plantations.

The textbook still uses the planter’s son to tell the story of antebellum life, but eliminates the Mammy and Jig characters. The same illustration of Mammy serving the family dinner, however, appears in the later book.

The newer edition still states most slaves were treated kindly, but it drops the part about the plantation owner’s wife being the slaves’ best friend. Then, it adds a new paragraph.

Most black people probably did not like being in a system of slavery. Most wanted their freedom. However, all but the most intelligent made the best of the situation and seemed to be fairly content.

The 1970 edition also includes a new chapter about free Blacks who lived in Alabama, particularly in Tuscaloosa County. The textbook says 80 free Blacks lived in the county in 1860.

The laws of the city and county of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, were in many cases just and fair to free Negroes.

Tuscaloosa County was also the site of seven lynchings after the Civil War.

The textbook retains the story of former slave Maria Fearing, who became a missionary to Africa. But it no longer describes the children of Africa as barefoot, naked, and covered in sores and lice.

In addressing the Civil War, the book states “wars have many causes. Slavery was only one of the causes of the Civil War.”

Much of the section on Reconstruction and the “terrible carpetbagger rule” remains intact, but it no longer claims whites had been good to slaves and had treated them as friends.

The later edition acknowledges the KKK “sometimes used violence and fear so that Alabama might be rid of the control of the carpetbaggers.” Instead of saying the Klan rode “only when it had to,” the book says it mobilized only when its members “thought they had to.”

Coming after forced integration of public schools and the civil rights movement, the textbook also makes additional statements to distance the KKK of Forrest’s day from the Klan of the modern era. It’s the good Klan, bad Klan argument.

There is no connection between the Ku Klux Klan of this period and similarly named organizations which were formed in the South in the 20 th Century. The primary purpose of the latter organizations was to gain political control and to maintain white supremacy. Violence and threats of violence often occurred as the Klan attempted to secure these ends.

Harvey said historians debate whether there were different Klans.

“Regardless, the Klan was at its start, as it was in the ‘50s and ‘60s and beyond, a terrorist paramilitary organization designed to fight back against Reconstruction forces in the South, force blacks when they had a vote to vote against their interests, and to harm and kill them when they dared disobey the rules of segregation,” Harvey said.

He said the Klan was designed to intimidate and kill free blacks in the South after the Civil War.

“Let’s not forget that Forrest was the man who ordered the Fort Pillow massacre, where his CSA troops gunned down federal troops, most of whom were free blacks, after they surrendered,” Harvey added.

Knowing the Real Alabama

The three authors of “Know Alabama” are no longer alive to defend their ideology and influence over tens of thousands of schoolchildren.

Owsley suffered a fatal heart attack in 1956 while conducting research in England, according to the Encyclopedia of Tennessee.

“Across a distinguished career, his work retained a singular theme,” the publication states. “Ending a lecture series presented to the University of Georgia’s faculty and students in 1938, he relished their applause because, in his words, ‘it was the rebel yell that I heard.’”

The effects of “Know Alabama” continue about 65 years after the state introduced it into fourth-grade classrooms, according to historians.

Harvey said that when we begin telling the truth about history, we might move forward as a society to deal with our “original sin” — slavery and racism.

“Until we come to terms in an open way and acknowledge what we have done — as a nation that dares defend our freedoms — to people of color who merely want freedom to exist and not be discriminated against or killed, then we will never fulfill the promise of America,” Harvey said.