Thursday, December 31, 2009

Siloam Springs, Arkansas - Historic City on the Oklahoma Border

First settled in around 1835, the modern city of Siloam Springs gained life as an important trading post located just inside the line dividing Arkansas from the Cherokee Nation of what is now Oklahoma.

During the Civil War, the area was devastated by passing armies. Blunt's Division of the Union Army of the Frontier spent much of 1862 camped just north of Siloam Springs and his foraging parties ravaged the area as they searched for food, forage and other supplies. Blunt intentionally destroyed private homes belong to secessionist families across the area and drove the inhabitants away from their lands and farms. Two significant battles - Old Fort Wayne and Prairie Grove - were fought nearby in 1862.

After the war, the area slowly rebounded and in 1879 notice was taken of the numerous mineral springs in the vicinity. The city of Siloam Springs was incorporated in 1881 as visitors swarmed the area in the belief that "taking the waters" of mineral springs could heal them from numerous illnesses and ailments. Within one year of its incorporation, 3,000 people lived in Siloam Springs and the city did a brisk business as a health resort.

A major flood destroyed much of the downtown area in 1892, all but ending the city's days as a health resort. The railroad soon arrived, however, and the community rebounded as an important trading center for the agricultural districts along the border. Siloam Springs today is a charming city with a beautiful downtown area that preserves some of the more than two dozen natural springs in the area. It is also the home of John Brown University and is located just across the border from Oklahoma's famed Natural Falls State Park, setting for the popular movie, "Where the Red Fern Grows."

To learn more, please visit

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Battle of Chickamauga - Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia

On September 19-20, 1863, Confederate and Union armies collided in northern Georgia in one of the most violent battles in American history. By the time it was over, the Battle of Chickamauga had cost the two armies more than 34,000 men killed, wounded or missing in action.

The site of the massive engagement is now preserved as part of the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, which is located in and around Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Chickamauga Battlefield is the largest unit of the park and is located just south of Chattanooga at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.

The battle developed when the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Braxton Bragg, moved to intercept the Union Army of the Cumberland, led by General William S. Rosecrans. The two armies had waved a campaign of maneuver for several months as Rosecrans advanced on Bragg with an army of 60,000 men. The Confederate general had a much smaller force of 43,000, but held his army intact and withdrew down through Tennessee to North Georgia.

The tide of the campaign turned, however, when General James Longstreets Corps from the Army of Northern Virginia arrived in Georgia to reinforce Bragg. Now at the head of an army similar in size to that of Rosecrans, the Confederate general turned on the Federal army along the west bank of Chickamauga Creek.

The battle began on the morning of September 19, 1863, and for two days the two armies mauled each other on a battlefield that was heavily wooded in place. One the first day, Bragg pushed back the Union lines for more than one mile. Then, on the second day, he started a hammering attack on the Federal left flank that forced Rosecrans to begin shifting troops in that direction. In doing so, the Federals accidentally opened a gap in their lines. When Longstreet's Division attacked, Confederate soldiers led by General John Bell Hood stormed through the gap and pierced the Union lines. The Federal army crumbled and the Confederates won one of the most complete tactical victories of the war.

To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shiloh Indian Mounds - Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee

The ground on which the Battle of Shiloh was fought was actually of great importance hundreds of years before that Civil War engagement.

Archaeologists believe that a section of the battlefield, overlooking the Tennessee River, was once the central town of a powerful Native American chiefdom that vanished an estimated 800 years ago. Because the Shiloh land was preserved as part of one of the country's first national military parks, the Shiloh Indian Mounds have also been protected from plowing, erosion, looting and other threats. As a result, it is one of the best preserved Mississippian era Native American sites in the country.

All but one of the mounds, which have been designated a National Historic Landmark, are pyramidal in form, with flat tops on which structures of various types once stood. The other mound, oval in shape, was used as a burial site for high status individuals. The entire site was surrounded by a strong palisade made of upright poles plastered with clay.

Surrounding the mounds, the villages of the town were built of "wattle and daub" construction, meaning basically that their walls were made by weaving smaller branches through stronger upright posts and then plastering the whole with clay. When the town was abandoned 800 years ago, the houses gradually collapsed, but the rings left by the falling walls can still be seen today. Shiloh is one of the few places where above ground traces of prehistoric Native American structures are visible.

To learn more, please visit

Monday, December 21, 2009

Battle of Shiloh - Shiloh, Tennessee

In April of 1862, Confederate and Union forces mauled each other for two days around a small log church that gave the battle its name - Shiloh.

The Battle of Shiloh was so violent and deadly that it send shock waves across both North and South. The massive battle in the woods of Tennessee left more than 23,000 men and boys dead, wounded or missing. It forever changed the face of war and began to make clear the horrendous cost in blood that the nation would pay before the conflict was decided.

Shiloh today is one of the most pristine Civil War battlefields in the nation. Preserved as Shiloh National Military Park, the battlefield is still in fields and woods just as it was in 1862. Cannon and monuments dot the landscape and visitors can see such places as the Hornet's Nest, where more than 60 Confederate cannon destroyed a Union force of 6,000 men; Bloody Pond, where soldiers of both sides bathed their wounds and turned the water red with blood, and Pittsburg Landing, the objective point of the Confederate army.

To learn more, please visit our new series of pages on the Battle of Shiloh by clicking Be sure to check out the additional links at the bottom of the page.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Battle of Jenkins' Ferry - Sheridan, Arkansas

The Red River Campaign of 1864 was one of the most disastrous Union efforts of the entire Civil War.

The campaign as planned called for two Union armies to converge on the strategic city of Shreveport, Louisiana. The first, led by General Nathaniel Banks, advanced up the Red River to Alexandria, Louisiana, and was closing in on Shreveport when it was thrashed at the Battle of Mansfield by the much smaller Confederate army of General Richard Taylor. The defeat so unnerved Banks that he soon was in full retreat back for the Mississippi River, with Taylor nipping at his heels.

The second army, led by General Frederick Steele, marched from the Arkansas cities of Little Rock and Fort Smith and headed southwest for Shreveport. Confederate resistance stiffened as these forces joined and advanced, but supply shortages forced Steele into the fortified city of Camden in southern Arkansas. The Cofnfederates then won major victories at Poison Spring and Marks' Mills as Steele struggled to find provisions for his hungry army.

Finally deciding that he could do no more, Steele turned his army back for Little Rock. Confederate forces did their best to slow him until their reinforcements could come up. On the afternoon of April 29, 1864, they caught him as he was trying to move his wagon train across a pontoon bridge at Jenkins' Ferry on the Saline River.

The Battle of Jenkins' Ferry opened in earnest the next morning at dawn as Confederate troops surged forward into the river swamps of the Saline to attack the Union army. The Federal soldiers took up positions behind hastily constructed breastworks and beat back repeated Southern attacks. Unfortunately for the Confederates, their assaults were poorly coordinated and they were unable to prevail even after catching Steele's army in an exposed position.

The weather was extremely rainy during the hours leading up to the battle and the men of both sides fought in water that was from a few inches to a few feet deep. The conditions were among the most miserable of any battle of the war. It was the last significant encounter of the Arkansas phase of the Red River Campaign.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Historic Pensacola Village - Pensacola, Florida

The Historic Pensacola Village is a unique large scale exhibit of historic sites, structures and museums in downtown Pensacola, Florida. It provides visitors the opportunity to walk back in time through numerous eras of Gulf Coast history.

The structures preserved in the village and open for guided tour include homes dating back to the Colonial era. The LaValle House, for example, is a French Creole home that was built in 1805 when Florida was still a Spanish colony. Inside, visitors can see how Pensacola residents lived during that era.

Nearby stands the Julee Cottage, the home of a free black woman named Julee Panton during the years before slavery was abolished. It is one of the few places in America where visitors can learn about the lives of free African Americans during the slave years.

Other highlights of the village include Old Christ Church, built in 1832 and used as a stables by Union soldiers during the Civil War; the 1871 Dorr House and the Folk Victorian style Lear-Rocheblave House. Pensacola's Colonial Archaeological Trail also passes through the historic village, providing exhibits and other information on ruins dating from the colonial era that have been uncovered by archaeologists in the downtown era.

To lear more, please visit

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Fayetteville Section Now Online

A new section exploring the history, historic sites and natural wonders in and around the beautiful Northwest Arkansas city of Fayetteville is now online.

Consistently ranked as one of the top ten places in America to live and work, Fayetteville is a charming and progressive city located on a plateau surrounded by the beautiful Ozark mountains. Founded in 1828 and incorporated in 1836, it is the home of the University of Arkansas and sits in one of the most historic regions of the South.

During the Civil War, major engagements were fought within 30 miles of Fayetteville. The Battle of Pea Ridge, to the north, was one of the largest encounters of the war to that point when it took place on March 7-8, 1862. It was followed on December 7th of that same year by the Battle of Prairie Grove. Both battlefields are now beautifully preserved park areas within easy access of the city.

Other historic sites in and around the city include the site of the Battle of Fayetteville, numerous historic homes and structures, the Confederate and National cemeteries, Devil's Den State Park and the Cane Hill battlefield.

To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Arkansas Trail of Holiday Lights

One of the most unique free attractions of the Christmas season is the statewide Trail of Holiday Lights promoted by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

The state has put together a directory of the best lighting displays across the state, broken down by region, to help residents and visitors enjoy some of the prettiest scenes of the season. From the towns of the Delta to beautiful mountain settings in the Ouachitas and Ozarks, the driving tour is great family fun.

The photos seen here are of one of the stops on the trail, the courthouse and town square of Paris, Arkansas. Located almost in the shadow of Mt. Magazine, the tallest mountain in the state, Paris is a beautiful and historic community that has turned its central square into a winter wonderland of more than 100,000 lights.

You can read more about the Paris lights and follow a link to the official site of the Arkansas trail of Holiday Lights by clicking

Friday, December 11, 2009

DeSoto State Park - Fort Payne, Alabama

If you are looking for something a little different to do with the family over Christmas vacation, you might be surprised to discover how wonderful of a place Alabama's DeSoto State Park can be during the winter.

This is the time of the year that the park's numerous small (and one huge) waterfalls are often at their best. The spectacular sight of crystal clear water tumbling over rocks and through the ravines and canyons of the park adds sight and sound during the season after the fall leaves are gone.

In addition, the park features miles of hiking trails, a very good restaurant, chalets, cabins and a hotel/lodge. The white lights of the lodge office combine with the beautiful green and red of wild holly to create a nice touch of holiday cheer.

In addition, DeSoto State Park offers easy access to the Little River Canyon National Preserve, a magnificent national park area just a couple of miles away. The canyon is quite picturesque during the winter, as the waterfalls flow well and the reduction in vegetation provides spectacular views.

To learn more, please visit and to see photos of the park in winter, be sure to visit

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Confederate Battery on Jekyll Island, Georgia

A major and beautiful resort area on Georgia's Atlantic Coast, Jekyll Island is steeped in the history of America.

Guale Indians once occupied the island, followed in turn by the Spanish, English, Americans and Confederates. Now noted for its spectacular beaches, stunning marsh views and magnificent historic district, Jekyll Island was once a strategic point for the Confederate military as it tried to defend Brunswick harbor from Union attack.

Southern troops built earthwork batteries faced in part with iron taken from railroad lines and placed heavy cannon on the island. The batteries were occupied into 1862 when General Robert E. Lee, then assigned to oversee the defense of Georgia, decided that his limited forces and artillery were too dispersed. He recommended the evacuation of the batteries on Jekyll Island and the guns were moved to Savannah.

The remains of the Confederate batteries are one of the most overlooked historic sites on Jekyll Island. Although the earthworks themselves are located adjacent to the runways of the island's airport and are not open to the public, they can be viewed from a small picnic area on River View next to the airport.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pearl Harbor Day - December 7, 1941

It was 68 years ago today that Japanese aircraft and submarines carried out an unprovoked attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it was "a date which will live in infamy."

Beginning that Sunday morning, three waves of Japanese aircraft as well as a small group of submarines attacked both military and civilian targets in Hawaii. It was an attack carried out without warning and without a declaration of war by the Empire of Japan. By the time the fighting was over, 2,345 U.S. servicemen and women and 57 civilians had been killed. Another 1,282 were wounded.

It was the attack that mobilized the Greatest Generation - men, women and children - to stand up for their country and win a war that preserved freedom for the citizens of our own country and many other countries fore 68 years (and counting). I have had the honor, in my life, of knowing several Pearl Harbor survivors and I remember them today with great respect.

There are many places across the South where you can learn more about World War II and the men and women who fought it. Almost every community in our region has either a World War II memorial or the graves of World War II veterans in its cemeteries. Here are a few that might be of interest:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hot Springs National Park - Hot Springs, Arkansas

If the cold weather that swept across the South this week has you dreaming about warmer places, there is a place in Arkansas where the steam rises from the mountain sides 365 days a year.
Hot Springs National Park, located in the heart of downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, preserves the famed "hot springs of the Ouachita." The stunning historic site is considered by many to be America's first national park, and with just reason. The U.S. Government set aside thousands of acres surrounding the springs in 1830 to prevent their exploitation by private developers and preserve them as a national resource.

Long before the action was taken, however, the hot springs had gained fame. They are mentioned in documents relating to the Hernando de Soto expedition of the 1540s and by the 1700s were frequented by early French explorers and fur trappers. President Thomas Jefferson sent an expedition to find the springs in 1804 and by the 1820s visitors from across the United States were already making the trek into the Arkansas mountains to soak in the mysterious waters that many still believe hold healing powers.

By the time of the Civil War, Hot Springs had become a major resort area. Soldiers marching past during the Red River Campaign described a community evacuated due to war. In the years following the War Between the States, the resort rebounded quickly and even attracted the likes of Frank and Jesse James, who vacationed - and committed at least a couple of robberies - in the area.

They were not the only unsavory types who made their way to Hot Springs. The community became known for its gambling and nightlife during the 1920s and 1930s and attracted the likes of Al Capone before Governor Winthrop Rockefeller finally shut down the gambling and cleaned up Hot Springs in 1967. Since then it has developed as a marvelous family resort and treasured historic site.

Steaming water flows down the mountain year round and visitors can even enjoy a soak in slightly cooled water from the springs in a restored historic bathhouse and at several other spas in Hot Springs. As a result, the city is popular year-round. Garvan Gardens in Hot Springs also boasts one of the finest Christmas lighting displays in the South.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Old Baldy Lighthouse - Bald Island, North Carolina

Built in 1817, historic Old Baldy Lighthouse has stood watch over North Carolina's famed Cape Fear region for more than 190 years.

The waters surrounding Bald Head Island are among the most historic in the South. It was here that the "gentleman pirate" Stede Bonnett finally met his match and the notorious Blackbeard once cruised the hidden inlets of the Cape Fear River.

Because the stretch of coast was so treacherous in the days before modern navigational systems, the U.S. Government selected Bald Head Island at the mouth of the Cape Fear to become the site of an important lighthouse. The original structure was endangered by erosion less than ten years after it was completed, so the tower was taken down and the materials used in 1817 to build the Old Baldy Lighthouse that stands today.

There is no way to know how many storms, hurricanes and gales the lighthouse has weathered over the years. It also weathered the storm of the Civil War. The Confederates built Fort Holmes on Bald Head Island as one of a system of forts that helped keep the Cape Fear open to blockade runners until nearly the end of the war.

Old Baldy Lighthouse today is a fascinating historic site that draws visitors from around the world to Bald Head Island. To learn more, please visit

Friday, November 27, 2009

Claybank Church - Ozark, Alabama

One of the most unique historic sites in the South is located just off U.S. Highway 231 in Ozark, Alabama.

Built in 1852, historic Claybank Church is one of the last standing antebellum log churches in Alabama. Its hand hewn log walls remain remarkably preserved and the interior of the structure has been restored to give visitors a chance to walk into the past and see the environment in which our ancestors worshipped.

Although it was not originally affiliated with a denomination, the Claybank Church eventually became a Methodist congregation. It survived the destruction of the guerrilla war that took place in South Alabama from 1863-1865 during the final years of the Civil War and remained in use until a new sanctuary was built for the congregation during the 20th century.

In addition to the church itself, this remarkable historic site includes the old Claybank Cemetery, where the resting places of many of South Alabama's early pioneers can be seen. Both Confederate and Union soldiers from the Civil War are buried there.

To learn more about Claybank Church, please visit

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pensacola Lighthouse - Pensacola, Florida

Rising 160 feet above the waters of Pensacola Bay, the beautiful old Pensacola Lighthouse has been a Florida landmark since 1859.

Built under the supervision of John Newton, who later became a major general in the service of the Union during the Civil War (he commanded the "Iron Brigade" at Gettysburg after the death of General John Reynolds), the lighthouse has a long and colorful history.

Seized by Confederate forces just two years after it was finished, the light was darkened and its lense removed to prevent Union ships offshore from using it to assist in navigation. Southern troops constructed an artillery battery at the base of the tower and it figured prominently in the massive bombardment that took place at Pensacola in November of 1861. Union gunners across the bay at Fort Pickens targeted the tower and it withstood the shock of at least six direct hits by heavy cannonballs.

After the Confederates evacuated Pensacola in early 1862, the lighthouse was repaired and its lens was replaced. It remains in operation today, although it was automated some years ago.

Numerous stories surround the historic structure, including local tradition that it is haunted by several ghosts. In fact, the tower was featured this week on the popular SyFy Channel program "Ghost Hunters."

To learn more about the historic Pensacola Lighthouse and to see additional photographs, please visit

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bill Sketoe's Ghost: Alabama's "Hole that will Not Stay Filled"

Although the story has been known in the "Wiregrass Region" of South Alabama much longer, it developed a national fascination after it appeared as a chapter in noted writer Kathryn Tucker Windham's popular book, 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. She called it the tale of the "hole that will not stay filled."

It is the story of Bill Sketoe. Or rather, the story of his ghost.

Although Mrs. Windham, using the information available to her at that time, wrote that Sketoe was a native of Spain, he actually was born in South Carolina in 1818. His father, however, was from Spain. Along with many other members of his family, he migrated down to Dale County, Alabama, during the years before the Civil War.

The exact details of the events leading up to his hanging are murky. Sketoe's family maintains that he was a Methodist minister and Confederate soldier who had hired a substitute to fill his place in the ranks of the Southern army while he came home to care for his sick wife. As the story goes, he was on his way back home from a visit to the county seat of Newton when he was taken prisoner, accused of being either a deserter or enemy of the South, and hanged by members of Captain Joseph Breare's cavalry company.

Taken to the river bank opposite Newton and placed in the back of a buggy or wagon, he had a noose placed around his neck with the other end attached to the limb of a post oak tree. Sketoe, however, was a tall man and when the whip was cracked on the backs of the horses and the buggy or wagon driven out from under him, he was able to keep himself alive because his toes touched the ground. To solve this situation, a wounded soldier in Breare's company used his crutch to dig out a hole under Sketoe's feet so he would hang and die.

For more than 100 years, for reasons that no one could explain, the hole mysteriously was swept clean each night. Many thought that the swinging feet of Bill Sketoe's ghost swept away any straw, sticks or other debris that fell into the hole. Others thought that a local resident kept the hole clean as a reminder of his friend's unfortunate death.

Whatever the case, the "hole that will not stay filled" became a major part of Alabama folklore. The real facts of the story are a bit different than the legend, which is common with such tales. To learn more about the ghost of Bill Sketoe and the true story of the events surrounding his death, please visit

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The White River Monster - Arkansas

One of the strangest and most enduring tales involves claims that a giant monster of some sort inhabits the White River in Arkansas.

The White River Monster first appeared in the press in 1912, when a party of timber workers spotted what they described as a giant 300 pound turtle on the bottom of the river downstream from Branson, Missouri. The claim led to considerable excitement in Branson and a party of sportsmen set out with ropes and other gear to try to capture the creature. The results of their expedition are not known.

The monster surfaced again 12 years later, near the town of Newport, Arkansas, but it was not until 1937 that it made its first huge splash. Hundreds of people flooded to the community in hopes of catching a glimpse of the monster after it was seen by Bramlett Bateman and workers on his farm in a deep eddy of the White River six miles below Newport. The local Chamber of Commerce made the most of the opportunity, spreading the news to newspapers far and wide, placing signs on highways and charging people 25 cents a head to look for the monster.

A former navy diver went into the river three times looking for the monster, joined once by a local resident who donned homemade diving gear made from an old gas tank, a rubber hose and a bicycle pump. The monster was not found.

Another major burst of publicity was generated in 1971 when sightings of the monster surged following a spell of high water.

What could it be? Theories range from a giant catfish to some kind of ocean creature that wandered off course to a prehistoric monster. Others less inclined to believe it is alive have suggested logs, masses of vegetation or a sunken boat that sometimes rises to the surface.

One thing is certain, over the last 100 years, the White River Monster has become an important part of the folklore and tradition of northeastern Arkansas. To learn more and see a possible photograph of the monster, please visit

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Bell Witch - Adams, Tennessee

One of the best known ghost stories in American history surrounds an old farm place near the Kentucky line northwest of Nashville, Tennessee.

The story of the Bell Witch has been loosely popularized in modern movies and literature (the movies "An American Haunting" and "The Blair Witch Project," for example). But the real story is much more interesting.

According to tradition in the Bell family, the haunting began in 1817 when strange incidents began to take place on the farm of John Bell. His family lived near the modern community of Adams, Tennessee, having settled there in 1804. As the story goes, the strange events started when Mr. Bell spotted a strange animal on the farm. It had the body of a dog and head of a rabbit, but escaped when he tried to kill it. Almost immediately, the family began to experience a series of strange and terrifying things.

As was the case with the Edgefield Ghost in South Carolina a few years later, the spirit terrorized the family with strange noises and voices and seemed to focus on John Bell and his young daughter, Betsy (Elizabeth). Unlike the Edgefield story, which was reported at the time of the events, the Bell Witch story does not seem to have appeared in print before the latter part of the 19th century, long after the alleged events.

To learn more about this unique Southern ghost story, please visit

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge - Florida

One of the most interesting Southern ghost stories revolves around an old iron bridge that spans the Chipola River a few miles north of the charming small city of Marianna, Florida.

Local legend holds that the area around the bridge is haunted by the ghost of a young woman who died long before the Civil War. As the story goes, she somehow got too close to an open fire on her wedding night and her beautiful gown burst into flame. She rushed from the house in panic and was so severely burned that she died a short time later.

Since then, according to the story, her ghost has been seen around Bellamy Bridge. Often at midnight and usually in the form of a glowing figure moving through the Chipola River swamps. Her grave is nearby.

It is a fascinating story and while the facts don't stand up to much real scrutiny, the real story is even more fascinating. The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge is a strange combination of 19th century reality and fantasy involving one of that era's most famous novelists.

To learn more, please visit Be sure to check out the photo of the ghost and also click the "True Story of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge" link at the bottom of the page to read the detailed account of how the ghost story came about.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Springer Opera House: Georgia's Haunted Theater

The historic Springer Opera House dominates a city block in downtown Columbus and is one of the most beautiful buildings dedicated to the arts in Georgia. It also is reputedly one of the most haunted.

The Springer is unique because it opened in the midst of the turbulent Reconstruction Era as a tribute to culture and arts in a time of great violence. Over its long and storied history it has hosted such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Will Rogers, Edwin Booth, John Philip Sousa, Ethel Barrymore, William Jennings Bryan and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is a true landmark of Southern history and heritage and, if stories told around Columbus are to believe, at least one of the finest actors who performed there is still hanging around.

According to Columbus legend, the Springer Opera House is haunted by the playful ghost of noted 19th century actor Edwin Booth. Sort of the Brad Pitt or George Clooney of his day, Booth was one of America's most famous actors until a fateful day in 1865 when his brother, John Wilkes Booth, shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln.

The assassination forced the entire Booth family into self-imposed seclusion. But in the 1870s, as animosity over the assassination began to fade, Edwin Booth began an effort to salvage is career. As part of this move, he came to Columbus to perform "Hamlet" at the Springer Opera House. The performance was warmly received and did much to help Booth redeem his career.

Legend holds, though, that Edwin Booth promised to haunt the theater after his death until it staged a performance of "Hamlet" once again. Strange events began in the theater after Booth passed on from this world and continue to this day.

To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Edgefield Ghost: A 19th Century Poltergeist Incident in South Carolina

With Halloween approaching, I thought you might enjoy learning about some unusual Southern ghost stories over the next week or so.

Let me say first that everyone can make their own mind up about ghosts. My interest in them is totally from a historical perspective. I think old ghost stories are interesting bits of our culture as Southerners, especially those handed down from long ago.

Perhaps the best known such story of the early 19th century was the strange case of the Edgefield Ghost, so named because it appeared in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. The story dates back to 1829 and it was widely reported in America's newspapers that year.

In brief, the ghost first made its appearance when Isaac Burnett heard strange sounds near his one-room house in a rural area near what is now known as Sheppard's Crossroads, a small community about 15 miles northwest of the town of Edgefield. At first the voice imitated normal sounds heard around the farm, a spinning wheel, ducks or hens clucking. Over time, however, it began to communicate with members of the family.

The ghost took an unusual interest in Martha Burnett, the 10-year-old daughter of the homeowner. Unlike the other members of her family, however, Martha had no interest in communicating with the strange voice. In fact, the ghost terrified her. She consulted with a friend who recommended that she memorize a Bible scripture to repeat to the ghost any time it attempted to communicate with her. This led to a confrontation between the two, but the strategy worked.

Others, however, continued to communicate with the strange spirit. Among those who talked with it in 1828-1829 were a Baptist minister, a physician and a state legislator. One thing that quickly became apparent about the ghost was that it became angry and withdrew anytime someone mentioned Christianity or Jesus Christ.

To learn more about this bizarre and well-documented story, please visit

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

St. Simons Island, Georgia

Over the last few days I've been posting about some of the historic sites on St. Simons Island. This beautiful coastal island on the Georgia coast is one of the real jewels of the Golden Isles.

Connected to Brunswick by the Torres Causeway and located about halfway between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, St. Simons Island is a beautiful Southern setting noted for its ancient oak trees, historic sites and stunning waterfront.

The island was once the home of the Guale Indians who lived in the region when the first Spanish explorers arrived. The Spanish established missions in an effort to convert the Guale to Christianity and maintained control over the island for more than 100 often turbulent years.

By the early 1700s, however, the Spanish had withdrawn from the area although they still claimed Georgia as a possession of Spain. The English challenged this and during the 1730s sent Gen. James Oglethorpe to establish a colony in Georgia. Oglethorpe established Savannah and then looked south for a site to built a military settlement that would serve as a bulwark against any attack by the Spanish in Florida. He picked St. Simons Island.

The English built Fort Frederica and Fort St. Simons on the island and defended it against the Spanish at the Battles of Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh in 1742.

The beautifully-designed English village of Frederica flourished for a time, but eventually faded when the military garrison was disbanded. Most of the town was destroyed by fire during the 1750s and only ruins remain today at Fort Frederica National Monument.

The island remained inhabited, however, and prospered under American control during the early 19th century. Today it is considered a beautiful resort area, noted for its charming and supposedly haunted lighthouse, numerous historic sites and much more. To learn more, please visit

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fort Frederica National Monument - St. Simons Island, Georgia

It is hard not to fall in love with the picturesque setting of old Fort Frederica.

Located on a bend of the Frederica River and looking out over poet Sidney Lanier's famed "Marshes of Glynn," the ruins of the old fort and associated English village still stand beneath massive oak trees draped in Spanish moss.

Now a national park area, Fort Frederica was once a powerful defensive position built by General James Oglethorpe in 1736 to defend his fledgling Georgia colony against attacks from the Spanish in Florida. Oglethorpe picked St. Simons Island because it commanded both the vital inland waterway leading up the Georgia Coast as well as one of the best deep water harbors between Savannah and the St. Johns River. The large island also offered decent lands for farming, a vital necessity for the support of any town established there.

Frederica's history is extremely rich. The powerful fort was the target of a Spanish campaign in 1742 that was turned back at the nearby Battles of Gully Hole Creek and Bloody Marsh. The success of English arms in these battles allowed the little English village established by Oglethorpe inside a stout wall of earth and timber to prosper for a time as one of the most successful settlements in Georgia.

The famed ministers Revs. Charles and John Wesley preached there in homes and beneath the natural arbors of the island. John Wesley is remembered today as the father of the Methodist Church, while Charles is best known for the many beautiful hymns he wrote, including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

Time, however, eventually moved on past Fort Frederica. The garrison was disbanded, a move that was also the death blow for the town. Left in ruins by a fire during the 1750s, the site was eventually reclaimed by the lush forests of St. Simons Island.

Today visitors to the site can still see the ruins of Oglethorpe's original fortress and look out at the river over the barrel of what is thought to be one of his original cannon. Ruins of the barracks and other military structures also survive, but equally fascinating are the ruins of the homes of Frederica's citizens. In one of them a tavern keeper's wife attacked one of the Wesley brothers with her scissors, while in another trades were negotiated with hunters and chiefs of the Creek Nation. Archaeologists have uncovered the foundations of many of the homes and interpretive panels help visitors understand what went on in each.

To learn more, please visit

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Battle of Bloody Marsh - St. Simons Island, Georgia

Legend holds that on July 7, 1742, an expanse of saltwater marsh ran red with blood as English troops ambushed and drove back Spanish soldiers on St. Simons Island, Georgia.

The event has been remembered as the Battle of Bloody Marsh and the site is now preserved as a detached unit of Fort Frederica National Monument.

The real story of the fight at Bloody Marsh is a bit different, but still highly significant. English troops led by General James Oglethorpe had defeated a Spanish advance force earlier in the day at the smaller but actually bloodier Battle of Gully Hole Creek (see yesterday's post). When the Spanish forces withdrew down the island's Military Road following that encounter, Oglethorpe followed them. Recognizing that he would need additional men, the general put his company of Independent Highlanders and part of the 42nd Regiment of Foot into position along the edge of an area of woods looking out across the open marsh any Spanish advance would likely cross. He then started to the rear to speed up his reinforcements that were moving down the island from Fort Frederica.

By mid-afternoon, Spanish commander Governor Don Manuel de Montiano ordered additional troops forward to help his retreating advance make it back to his base at Fort St. Simons. Moving up the Military Road, they soon reached the open marsh covered by Oglethorpe's troops.

Although legend holds that the Spanish were caught by surprised and ambushed by the English, an eyewitness described them moving forward with shouts. This indicates they probably knew Oglethorpe's men were waiting and were launching an attack against them.

Additional support for this is provided by the fact that part of the English line collapsed in the face of the Spanish attack. At least three "squads" from the 42nd Regiment of Foot retreated in confusion, leaving the Highlanders along with some rangers and a few allied Indians. The story with the hard-fighting Highlanders was different. As they Spanish approached they fought with such fury that the battle quickly turned into a stalemate and finally an English victory when the Spanish ran out of ammunition and were forced to withdraw. While it is true that blood may have been seen running in the marsh, casualties were light.

The Battle of Bloody Marsh marked the end of the last major Spanish land campaign to retake the nation's lost lands in Georgia and South Carolina. Combined with the English victory at Gully Hole Creek earlier in the day, the engagement convinced Montiano that he could not overwhelm Oglethorpe with his land forces. He soon would withdraw back to St. Augustine leaving Georgia firmly and permanently in English possession.

To learn more, please visit

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Battle of Gully Hole Creek - St. SImons Island, Georgia

It is strange to consider today, but one of the most significant battles in the history of the South was actually a small skirmish fought at a place called Gully Hole Creek on St. Simons Island, Georgia.

The War of Jenkins' Ear (named for the severed ear of an English sea captain) was then underway between England and Spain. English troops, led by General James Oglethorpe, had invaded Florida but failed to take the powerful fort of Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine. In June of 1742, the Spanish retaliated when Governor Don Manuel de Montiano led a fleet of warships and an army of 5,000 men up the Georgia coast.

After forcing his way into St. Simons Sound past the guns of Fort St. Simons (see yesterday's post), Montiano began landing his army on St. Simons Island. Realizing that he was outnumbered, Oglethorpe executed a withdrawal up the island to Fort Frederica while Montiano occupied the now evacuated Fort St. Simons.

On July 7, 1742, the Spanish moved forward a force of around 200 troops and Indian auxiliaries, intending to take up a position near Fort Frederica from which they could launch an attack on the English post. This force was to prepare entrenchments for the main army, which would soon follow.

As the Spanish force was moving across the open marsh at Gully Hole Creek, a small stream about one mile south of Fort Frederica, they ran into Oglethorpe's scouts who engaged them while the General brought up a company of Independent Highlanders to join the resistance, while ordering other troops to follow.

The sudden counterattack stunned the Spanish, who fought fiercely but were soon forced to withdraw back down the island. Oglethorpe and his forces followed. The fight resulted in the deaths of 12 Spanish soldiers and the capture or wounding of a number of others. The English supposedly lost only a single man.

Remembered today as the Battle of Gully Hole Creek, the skirmish turned the tide of the campaign against the Spanish. It was followed later in the day by the Battle of Bloody Marsh (also on St. Stimons Island). Together the two skirmishes overawed the superior Spanish force and prevented them from making further land attempts against Fort Frederica.

The failure of the Spanish troops at Gully Hole Creek began a chain of events that unraveled the whole campaign. Montiano's dream of taking both Georgia and South Carolina back from the English would fail and, as a result, the Spanish forever lost their hold on both colonies. A large part of the South fell permanently under the influence of the English.

To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fort St. Simons - St. Simons Island, Georgia

A little known fort built by English troops under General James Oglethorpe in 1738, Fort St. Simons played an important role in the strangely named War of Jenkins' Ear.

Located on the southern tip of St. Simons Island, Georgia, where the St. Simons Lighthouse stands today, the bastioned fort was built to protect the island's harbor from attack by enemy warships - in specific those of the Spanish. The coast of Georgia had long been claimed by Spain, but Oglethorpe challenged that claim by planting the settlements of Savannah and Frederica directly on the contested lands.

Although Spain protested these settlements, it did not immediately move against them. It took the War of Jenkins' Ear (named for the body part of an English sea captain who was captured and had his ear severed by the Spanish) to bring about the campaign. When war was declared between England and Spain, Oglethorpe moved against the Spanish city of St. Augustine, Florida, but was unable to capture the powerful fort of Castillo de San Marcos.

Spanish Governor Don Manuel de Montiano retaliated two years later in 1742 by attacking Georgia with a powerful fleet and an army of 5,000 men. When he attacked, it was Fort St. Simons that stood in his way.

To learn more about the Spanish attack and the subsequent history of Fort St. Simons, please visit

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lake Tenkiller - Oklahoma

Nestled in the hills of eastern Oklahoma, Lake Tenkiller is a stunning body of clear water that attracts visitors from around the nation.

This area of Oklahoma is as Southern as any in the nation. Part of the Cherokee Nation, this area was settled by members of that famed Indian nation who were forced west on the Trail of Tears during the 1830. They brought with them customs and names that also remain common in the lands they left behind in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

During the Civil War, control of this area was bitterly contested. As was the case in much of the South, the war in the Cherokee Nation was very much a "brother against brother" fight. Some of the Cherokee, led by Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, fought ferociously for the South, while others fought for the Union. Battles and skirmishes took place throughout the region and raiders destroyed homes, farms and settlements. Many innocents died.

In the bitter years following the war, outlaws from across the United States flooded into the hills of eastern Oklahoma, believing that the Indian Nations offered them sanctuary from the law. They preyed on Cherokee families and committed widespread acts of murder, robbery, theft, rape and vandalism. Judge Isaac Parker, the famed "Hanging Judge" of the Old West, was sent to Fort Smith to bring law and order to the region and his deputy marshals joined with Indian policemen in rounding up the outlaws and bringing them before the hanging judge in Fort Smith.

Lake Tenkiller today is a beautiful area that is popular for outdoor recreation, weekend getaways and vacations. To learn more, please visit

Monday, September 28, 2009

In Memory of Clinton T. Cox, 1925-2009

Clinton T. Cox passed away in his sleep on September 27, 2009.

He was the best friend, the best example, the best adviser and the best father any man ever had or ever will.

He was a member of the "greatest generation" and a veteran of the United States Navy. Although he was a veteran of World War II, Korea and the Cuban Missile Crisis, his greatest battle was against cancer. In the end he was victorious, as we all know that Heaven sings tonight with the voice of a new saint.

May I someday be able to live up to the example that he set.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Battle of Marianna, Florida - Anniversary This Weekend

This Sunday, September 27th, will mark the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna, Florida.

A little known Civil War encounter, the small but fierce battle culminated the deepest Union penetration of Confederate Florida during the entire war. Leading troops from Pensacola Bay on September 18, 1864, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth covered a longer distance than Sherman's March to the Sea. His movement through Walton, Holmes, Jackson and Washington Counties inflicted more economic damage on those counties than was sustained by any other in Florida during the four year conflict.

On September 27th, Asboth attacked a Confederate force at Marianna made up of militia, reservists, Confederate regulars, home guards and volunteers. Led by Colonel Alexander Montgomery, they waged a fierce battle in defense of the town. By the time the fight was over, 25% of Marianna's male population had been killed, wounded or captured and among the Union forces, the 2nd Maine Cavalry had suffered its bloodiest day of the war.

To commemorate the 145th Anniversary of the event, numerous organizations are joining hands this weekend for Marianna Day observances, reenactments, a parade, bluegrass festival and more. To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area - Ozark National Forest, Arkansas

Located deep in the mountain country of the Ozarks and just off famed Scenic Highway 7, some of the most beautiful and historic scenery in the South can be found at Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area.

Named for the magnificent pedestals of stone formed by natural erosion of a towering bluff, the park features hiking trails that least to the pedestals, natural arches, erosion caves and one of the tallest waterfalls in Arkansas. The bluff top provides spectacular views of the valley and mountains beyond and is stunning in October when fall colors reach south into the Ozarks.

Archaeologists have learned that Native Americans used the natural caves and rock shelters at Pedestal Rocks thousands of years ago. They used this natural shelter while hunting and gathering in the mountains. In later times, the territory surrounding the scenic area was the domain of the Civil War guerrilla bands that roamed the Ozarks.

The scenic area is now part of the Ozark National Forest and is open daily. To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Camp Milton Historic Preserve - Jacksonville, Florida

Once destined to become a sludge field for the booming city of Jacksonville, Florida's Camp Milton Historic Preserve now stands as a beautiful example of the value of local historic preservation.

Instead of being used to dispose of waste, the site now attracts visitors with interests in history, wildlife, bird watching, nature and more. It serves as a vital link on a popular local "rails to trails" project and provides paved trails and boardwalks at are popular for afternoon walks with residents from throughout the vicinity.

One of these boardwalks leads to what remains of a remarkable system of siege fortifications designed by famed Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard in March of 1864. The Confederate army of General Joseph Finegan had just handed a major defeat to a Union invasion force at the Battle of Olustee, the largest Civil War engagement in Florida. As the Federal troops fell back rapidly to Jacksonville, the Confederate army moved slowly in pursuit.

General Beauregard arrived on the scene from Charleston to find that the Federal army had Jacksonville had been given time to reorganize and take up positions in fortifications around the city. Disappointed that the opportunity for an even greater victory had slipped away, he established siege lines along McGirt's Creek west of the city to block any further attempts by the Federals to advance into the interior of Florida.

The lines he designed ran for three miles along the west side of the creek and were among the most remarkable field fortifications built during the Civil War. Some of them were so well finished that they looked almost like masonry.

Time and modern development destroyed all but a few hundred yards of this magnificent line, but what remains today can be seen along an interpretive boardwalk at Camp Milton. Other interpretive panels explain the significance of the massive Confederate camp and the fighting around Jacksonville in 1864. There is also a preserved 19th century Florida house, reconstruction of a Civil War era bridge over McGirt's Greek and much more.

To learn more, please visit

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fort Caroline National Memorial - Jacksonville, Florida

It is a little known fact that America's first settlement for those seeking refuge from religious persecution in Europe stood on the St. Johns River in today's city of Jacksonville, Florida.

Established in 1564 by French Huguenots (Protestants), Fort Caroline was a triangular earth and timber fort built more than fifty years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. The first wave of settlers consisted of 200 soldiers, craftsmen and even a few women. They expected to build homes, clear fields and prepare for the arrival of hundreds more Huguenots the following year.

Despite a promising start, hard times quickly befell the colony. Promising relations with the local Timucua Indians soured and the colonists suffered from hunger, disease and other hardships. Some went home to France, but a core of the most devoted clung to their North American foothold.

A relief flotilla brought supplies and 600 more soldiers and settlers the following year, but also attracted the attention of King Phillip II of Spain who claimed control of all of North America. He sent Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles to dispose of the French, a duty that Menendez performed with bloody efficiency. Fort Caroline was captured and 140 of the French found there were put to the sword as heretics.

A reconstruction of the fort can be seen today at Fort Caroline National Memorial in Jacksonville, a park that commemorates the early French settlement and the dramatic events that took place on the St. Johns. To learn more, please visit

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Monument to Captain Henry Wirz

Often overlooked by visitors to Andersonville National Historic Site is the nearby monument to the prison's Confederate commandant, Henry Wirz.

Although he was only a captain, Wirz was the only man ever tried, convicted and executed for war crimes during the Civil War. The Union accused him of murdering prisoners of war, despite evidence that he pleaded with his superiors for help, and a military tribunal sentenced him to death.

A native of Switzerland, Captain Wirz was a trained doctor who came to the United States and settled in Kentucky following the great European revolutions of 1848. He had a successful medical practice in Louisville before traveling south to Louisiana to join the Confederate war effort at the beginning of the war.

Wounded at Seven Pines, he was assigned to the prison service and eventually promoted to command the new prison of Camp Sumter (Andersonville), Georgia. The stockade was designed for 10,000, but Wirz eventually found himself responsible for more than 30,000 prisoners. By the summer of 1864, more than 100 were dying each day from exposure, sickness, malnutrition and other causes. There was little that Wirz or his soldiers could do to help. Pleas for additional food went up to Richmond but the Confederate government had no assistance to send. The commandant even took thousands of prisoners by train and tried to turn them over to the Union army at Jacksonville, but the Federals themselves refused to accept them.

By the time the war ended, some 13,000 men had died at Andersonville and Captain Henry Wirz was branded a villain. Placed on trial before a military tribunal, he was convicted of war crimes and hanged.

In an effort to redeem his reputation, the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1908 erected a monument to Captain Wirz in Andersonville. To learn more about it and his tragic story, please visit

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Andersonville National Historic Site - Andersonville, Georgia

In February of 1864, the Confederate government began shipping Union prisoners of war to a new prison stockade deep in the farm country of South Georgia.

Designed to house 10,000 prisoners, the stockade at Camp Sumter - better known as Andersonville - was soon overflowing. Despite a 10 acre expansion, the situation continued to get worse until more than 100 men a day were dying in the prison due to malnutrition, exposure and disease. In just fourteen months, roughly 13,000 Union soldiers died at the camp, more than on any battlefield of the Civil War.

Although it was the best known prison of the war, Andersonville was not alone. Elmira prison in New York was just as bad and other camps - both North and South - were not far behind. Tens of thousands of men died not in battle, but in confinement as prisoners of war in both large and small prison pens that dotted the territory of both the Union and the Confederacy.

The site of Camp Sumter is now part of Andersonville National Historic Site. Located not far from President Jimmy Carter's hometown of Plains, the park is also home to the National Prisoner of War Museum, a facility that examines the sacrifices made by America's p.o.w.'s from the American Revolution through today. Also adjoining the grounds is the Andersonville National Cemetery, where visitors can walk among the graves of the thousands of men who died in the prison stockade.

To learn more about Andersonville National Historic Site, please visit the new Andersonville pages at

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fort Toulouse and Fort Jackson - Wetumpa, Alabama

At the end of Fort Toulouse Road off U.S. 231 in Wetumpa, Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site preserves some of the most significant ground in the South.

Occupied by Native Americans for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, the park preserves a Mississippian mound that was occupied during the centuries leading up to the arrival of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1540.

By 1717, when the French military arrived at the site, the area around the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers had become the heart of the Creek Nation. Fort Toulouse was established at the site that year. A log stockade that functioned both as a bulwark against English expansion into the region and as a trading center, the fort was the center of an important French community that grew deep in the heart of Alabama. The French evacuated the site at the end of the French and Indian War as the region encompassing what is now Alabama was handed over to the English.

Military forces returned to the site in 1814 when General Andrew Jackson arrived with his army after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The troops built Fort Jackson at the site, a demonstration of American power in the center of the Creek Nation. It was here that the famed Red Stick Creek leader William Weatherford surrendered to Jackson and it was also here that the general exacted the Treaty of Fort Jackson on the Creeks. The treaty opened to settlement much of Alabama and Georgia and took land from both the Red Stick or war faction of the Creeks as well as the part of the nation that had sided with the United States.

The site of both forts is now preserved at Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site. Fort Toulouse has been reconstructed and officers visitors the rare chance to explore an 18th century French colonial fort. Fort Jackson has been partially reconstructed to help visitors visualize its original appearance. The park also features a picnic area, camping, nature trails, an arboretum, visitor center and more.

To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Arlington House - Home of Gen. Robert E. Lee

Arlington National Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, has become one of the most sacred sites in America, but long before the U.S. Army began burying its dead on this ground, Arlington was the home of Robert E. Lee. His beautiful columned home still crowns the height overlooking the rows of graves.

Arlington House, now preserved by the National Park Service as a memorial to General Lee, was originally built between 1802 and 1818 by George Washington Parke Custis to honor the memory of another famous American general, George Washington. Custis had been raised by George and Martha Washington after his natural father died the same year he was born.

Custis's daughter attracted the attention of a number of well-known suitors, among them future Texas President Sam Houston. The one who won her affections, however, was a young U.S. Army officer named Robert E. Lee. The two were married in the family parlor of Arlington House on June 30, 1831.

Arlington House then became the home of the Lee family and it was here that six of his seven children were born. It was also here that Lee came to consider his fate as the nation reached the verge of civil war. Lee penned his resignation from the army in a second floor bedroom.

When the war began, the Lee family was forced to flee Arlington never to return. Union soldiers occupied the house and soon began using a section of the grounds to bury their dead. The Union army's quartermaster general, Montgomery Meigs, became fixated with the idea of preventing Lee from ever again occupying the house overlooking the nation's capital. He ordered that war dead be buried in the very yards of the house. His plan worked and Arlington was never again occupied by General Lee. Instead, the grounds were turned into America's best known national cemetery.

To learn more about Arlington House, please visit

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Alamo is NOT an "Over-Rated Tourist Attraction"

I signed onto Yahoo a bit ago to check my email and the first thing that greated my eyes was a photograph of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, beneath a banner headline that read, "U.S.'s Most Over-Rated Tourist Attractions."

Apparently the writer, Andew Harper, feels that the Alamo (along with seven other famous American points of interest) is not worth the time of day. He basically described it as a "few small stone buildings and some neatly trimmed lawns."

Andrew Harper, by the way, is not even his real name. Its the fake identity for a writer who describes himself as a "gentleman traveler."

I am not a Texan but I have a few words for Mr. Harper: Don't mess with Texas!

Insulting the memory of the men who fought and died at the Alamo is not the act of a real gentleman.

Tourists visit the Alamo, but it is not a "tourist attraction." The Alamo is a shrine, preserved to remind us all of the heroism that took place in and around those "few small stone buildings." It is a place where men gave their lives for what they believed. It is a place where Anglo, Tejano and African-American Texans fought side by side against what they considered a tyrannical government and where Mexican soldiers, many of them from the poorest villages in Mexico, fought bravely and died in the service of their country.

To call the Alamo an "over-rated tourist attraction" is an insult not just to the men of both sides who fought and died there, it is an insult to all people of any generation who fought for their countries. The places where men spilled their blood are sacred. It is a shame that too many Americans - Mr. Harper, for example - no longer appreciate that fact.

While it is often crowded and only a few of its blood-stained buildings remain, the Alamo is a place to pay tribute to those who came before us, those who gave their lives in the service of greater causes. We can never honor them enough. The words of critics like Andrew Harper will come and go, but the memory of the deeds performed by the men who fought at the Alamo will last forever.

You can learn more about what happened and why the Alamo is such a special place in Texas and American history by visiting

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kolomoki Mounds State Park - Blakely, Georgia

One of the most remarkable sights in the South is the first view of the massive Temple Mound (or Mound A) at Kolomoki Mounds State Park near Blakely, Georgia.

The huge mound rises nearly 60 feet into the air and still retains the distinct pyramidal shape created by its builders. It was once the center of what some researchers believe was the largest Native American civilization north of the Aztec culture in Mexico.

Kolomoki Mounds was the centerpiece of a major culture that grew and thrived in Southwest Georgia from around 350 A.D. to around 600 A.D. It was a culture that achieved stunning advancements in art, architecture and astronomy, but also one that practiced human sacrifice.

The well-preserved mounds at Kolomoki form a giant prehistoric observatory and calender. On the longest day of the year, for example, the sun rises from directly behind the giant Temple Mound. Other mounds appear to be aligned with various constellations.

Archaeologists believe that the culture that was centered at this ancient capital spread out into both Alabama and North Florida. Smaller mound and village sites of the same era dot the region and it is believed that these supported the large capital city with food and other necessities of life.

The site today is the centerpiece of a beautiful state park that also features nature trails, two lakes, picnicking, camping and more. The park museum encloses part of one of the burial mounds and visitors can follow wooden walkways that lead into the heart of the mound for a chance to learn about an ancient burial ceremony. Stairs lead to the top of the main Temple Mound and the other mounds can be explored as well.

To learn more, please visit

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Petit Jean State Park - Arkansas

While many Southern waterfalls dry to a trickle (if that) during late summer, one spectacular place to see one that runs year round is at beautiful Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton, Arkansas.

Located between Little Rock and Russellville, Petit Jean Mountain is home to a fascinating history and some of the most striking scenery in the Natural State. Taking its name from the story of a French girl who followed her love to America during colonial times and supposedly still haunted by her ghost, the mountain was once the property of the Fort Smith Lumber Company. In 1907, however, a group of executives from the company came on a business trip to explore the timber resources of the mountain. So stunned was the group by the natural beauty of Petit Jean Mountain that a decision was quickly reached that it should be preserved for future generations.

In fact, it was the timber company itself that launched a major lobbying effort to have the mountain and its spectacular scenery preserved as a park. They hoped it would become a national park, but the National Park Service felt at the time that the tract was too small. The director of the park service recommended, however, that the company consider donating the land to the state of Arkansas.

The wheels of government turned slowly, but in 1923 both houses of the Arkansas State Legislature voted unanimously to accept the first 80 acre tract (surrounding magnificent Cedar Falls) to become the state's first state park.

The Great Depression intervened for the good of the park and in 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps began work at the site. Trails, overlooks, bridges, cabins, a lake, picnic areas and the magnificent stone Mather Lodge were built by the Depression era workers and Petit Jean today is recognized as an outstanding example of CCC work. In fact, the mountain preserves three National Historic Districts.

Petit Jean State Park now encompasses 2,568 acres including spectacular natural scenery, the ruins of an early resort, the alleged grave of Petit Jean, unique natural formations, ancient Native American cave paintings and a number of structures built during the Great Depression by the CCC.

Among the undeniable highlights of the park is Cedar Falls. One of the tallest waterfalls east of the Rockies, Cedar Falls can be viewed from platforms at the top of the canyon or by hiking a strenuous trail to the bottom for a view of the waterfall from the bottom up. It flows year round and is one of the most remarkable sights in the South.

To learn more, please visit

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bynum Mounds - Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

Located about 30 miles south of Tupelo, Mississippi, the Bynum Mounds are among the oldest Indian mounds to be found on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Built over a 200 year period between around 100 B.C. and 100 A.D., the Bynum site was in use by Native Americans of the Woodland period at the time of the Birth of Christ. They reflect a time period when the original cultures of the South demonstrated remarkable progress in the areas of agriculture, the making of pottery, ceremonial structure and more.

The Bynum Mounds were used for both burial and ceremonial purposes and were the focal points of a larger village complex that included houses and other structures.

The mounds are now part of a historic site maintained by the National Park Service. They can be seen from the parking area along the Natchez Trace Parkway and are easily accessed during daylight hours by paved walkways. The park also features interpretive signs.

To learn more, please visit

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Weedon Island Preserve - St. Petersburg, Florida

Some of the most significant archaeological sites in the South as well as a stretch of the most beautiful waterfront scenery in Florida is now preserved at the massive Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg.

Located in the heart of the metropolitan area, the beautiful park area and cultural center preserves over 3,000 acres of sensitive lands bordering Old Tampa Bay. It also protects the array of archaeological sites known as Weedon Island (also spelled Weeden Island), for which a Native American culture that once covered much of the Deep South was named.

While there is no evidence that the Weedon Island culture spread out from this site, it was archaeological work here decades ago that defined its pottery styles and other cultural aspects. A culture that grew during the Woodland time period, sites of the Weedon Island style have been found in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Centered around mound complexes, the Weedon Island towns of the South were occupied from around A.D. 300 to A.D. 900 before they were replaced by the better known Mississippian culture.

In addition to its ancient archaeological sites, the Weedon Island Preserve was also the site of a Prohibition era "speakeasy," a 1929 airport and a pre-World War II movie studio. It now features walking trails, canoe and kayak launches, boardwalks, picnic areas and a Cultural and Natural History Center.

To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Safety Harbor Mounds - Safety Harbor, Florida

The massive temple mound at Philippi Park in Safety Harbor is one of the most significant archaeological and historic sites in Florida.

Located just north of St. Petersburg and bordering Old Tampa Bay, Safety Harbor was once the site of a major Tocobaga Indian village that was thriving when the first Spanish explorers landing in the area. In fact, there are many indications that it was the capital of the primary cacique or chief of the Tocobaga.

Both Hernando de Soto and Panfilo de Narvaez encountered the Tocobaga as they stormed ashore in the Tampa Bay area, but it was Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the founder of St. Augustine, who first took more than a passing interest in them. Shortly after founding the oldest city in the U.S. on Florida's East Coast, Menendez implemented a systematic plan to conquer all of Florida and bring it under Spanish dominion.

He began by establishing forts on the east coast and by 1566 had made his way around the peninsula to Florida's Southwest Coast. He arrived at Tampa Bay that same year in an effort to make peace between the Tocobaga and their neighbors, the Calusa, who lived down the coast. The two warring nations agreed to a temporary peace and the Tocobaga even agreed to let Menendez build a fort at their primary town, believe to be the one that surrounded the Safety Harbor Temple Mound.

The first Spanish settlement on Old Tampa Bay did not last long. After about a year the Tocobaga rose up against the Europeans and slaughtered them to a man. The fort was destroyed and a priest of the time blamed the attack on cruelty committed against the Indians by the garrison.

The Tocobaga themselves did not long survive the arrival of the Spanish in Florida. Less than 100 years later, they had vanished, leaving only shell middens and mounds as reminders that they had ever walked the shores of the Gulf Coast.

The temple mound at Philippi Park is the best preserved of several mounds that once stood at the Safety Harbor site. To learn more, please visit