Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fort Conde - French Fort in Mobile, Alabama

Over the last couple of days we've been looking at some of the significant historic sites around Alabama's Mobile Bay. While major Civil War sites like Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan easily attract the attention of history enthusiasts, it is easy to overlook another significant old fort.

The walls and cannon of Fort Conde now stand guard over the official Welcome Center of the City of Mobile. Located at 150 South Royal Street in the heart of the coastal city's downtown district, the fort is rich in colonial history.

Fort Conde, named after the Prince of Conde, was built by the French in 1723 to protect the growing settlement of Mobile. Then part of French Louisiana, the city was emerging as an important strategic and commercial center.

The original defenses covered roughly 11 acres in the heart of Mobile. Constructed of brick with a stone foundation and surrounded by additional earthwork defenses, the fort was one of the most powerful fortifications on the entire Gulf Coast.

Surrendered peacefully to the British in 1763 due to negotiations that ended the French and Indian War, the fort was renamed Fort Charlotte and garrisoned by British troops during the American Revolution. The Battle of Fort Charlotte, fought here in 1780, was one of Alabama's two significant Revolutionary War battles and resulted in the capture of the fort by Spanish forces. Spain was allied with the United States in the conflict and American volunteers took part in the battle.

Spain held the fort, now called Fort Carlotta, until 1813 when it was seized by U.S. troops under General James Winchester. The fort was abandoned and dismantled just seven years later. One third of the original structure has been restored on an 80% scale and gives visitors a chance to learn more about Mobile's early history as a European settlement in the edge of the Alabama wilderness.

To learn more, please visit

Friday, January 30, 2009

Fort Morgan - Mobile Bay, Alabama

In the last post I told you a little about the history of Fort Gaines, Alabama. Located at the entrance to Mobile Bay, it was one of two forts that played pivitol roles in the 1864 battle for control of the Gulf Coast port. The other was Fort Morgan.

Located on Mobile Point about a half hour's drive from Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan Historic Site preserves the battle-scarred remains of the old fort, the site of War of 1812 battles and a series of fortifications that remained in use by the military through World War II.

The primary fort was begun in 1819 on the site of a War of 1812 work named Fort Bowyer. A massive masonry structure with an interior citadel and additional outer defenses, the new structure was named Fort Morgan after General Daniel Morgan, hero of the Battle of Cowpens during the American Revolution.

Seized by state troops from its caretaker in 1861, Fort Morgan became a major Confederate citadel. Along with Fort Gaines across the bay, it proved such an intimidating defense that it was not until the summer of 1864 that the Union navy launched a serious effort to take control of Mobile Bay.

On August 5, 1864, Union Admiral David Farragut steamed his fleet of warships into range of the guns of Fort Morgan, initiating the Battle of Mobile Bay. The fort opened fire with barrages of artillery that shook the ground for miles. A mine or "torpedo" triggered by Confederates in Fort Morgan sank the ironclad U.S.S. Tecumseh and almost turned the Union attack into a total disaster. The Union warships paused under heavy fire from the fort and likely would have been severely damaged had Admiral Farragut not ordered "Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!" The fleet passed into the bay, engaged the courageous crew of the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee and by noon claimed victory.

Fort Gaines fell three days later, but Fort Morgan held out. Thousands of Union troops were landed to the rear of the fort and began regular siege operations. It would take weeks and a final day in which more than 3,000 shells were fired into the fort before the Confederates finally spiked their remaining guns and surrendered.

A fascinating historic site, the weathered old fort still bears the scars of the Civil War. It is open to the public daily and is well worth the drive along the sugar white sands of the Alabama beaches. For more information, please visit

Fort Gaines - Dauphin Island, Alabama

Located on the eastern tip of Dauphin Island, Fort Gaines was one of two huge masonry forts built during the first half of the 19th century to defend Alabama's Mobile Bay from foreign attack.

Occupied by Southern troops in 1861, the fort was the focus of heavy fighting during the Battle of Mobile Bay and it was within sight of its walls that Admiral David Farragut yelled his famed command, "Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!"

Imposing fortifications, Fort Gaines and its sister work, Fort Morgan on Mobile Point, kept the Union navy at bay for more than three years, allowing Mobile Bay to remain a major port for blockade runners for much of the Civil War.

On August 5, 1864, however, the fleet of Admiral Farragut attacked in one of the great land/sea battles of the war. Despite the loss of the U.S.S. Tecumseh to an underwater mine or "torpedo," the Union fleet forced its way into Mobile Bay. The accomplishment was no longer achieved, however, than the lone Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee steamed out to engage Farragut's warships. In a tremendous battle, the Tennessee was literally battered into submission, at times engaging as many as seven Union ships at once. A smoking wreck by the end of the battle, she surrendered about one mile north of Fort Gaines.

A three day siege of the fort followed, resulting in the surrender of the 800 man garrison on August 8, 1864. It would take another eight months and a major campaign, however, before the U.S. flag was raised again over the city of Mobile.

The old fort today is a major landmark on Dauphin Island, a beautiful barrier island just south of Mobile, Alabama. To learn more, please visit

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Birthplace of Elvis Presley - Tupelo, Mississippi

This small wood-frame home was the birthplace of Elvis Presley, the "King of Rock and Roll."

The Tupelo, Mississippi, house was built in 1934 by Vernon Presley, Elvis' father, and the future music legend was born here one year later in 1935. The house cost $180 to build, a significant sum in the Depression-era South and economic hard times forced the family to give up the little structure when Elvis was only one year old.

The structure is now the centerpiece of a very nice memorial park and historic site in Tupelo. In addition to the birthplace house, the park features a statue of Elvis as a boy, a museum and a memorial chapel. There are also numerous other sites in Tupelo with a connection to Elvis Presley. To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dade Battlefield Historic State Park - Bushnell, Florida

Although it was small compared to some of the massive engagements of the Civil War, the battle fought on this ground on December 28, 1835, was one of the most significant in American history.

Dade's Battle (often called Dade's Massacre) was the first major battle of what would prove to be the longest and most expensive Indian war in American history. It was the antebellum era's "Little Bighorn."

The battle took place when Seminole warriors led by Micanopy, Jumper and Alligator attacked a column of 108 U.S. troops led by Major Francis Dade as it moved up the old Fort King Road from Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay to Fort King (modern Ocala) in the central part of the Florida peninsula. Although some skirmishing and other incidents had already taken place, open war had not yet erupted between the Seminoles and the United States.

The situation, however, was very tense. Government officials were trying to force the Seminoles to relocate to new lands west of the Mississippi, but hundreds of Native American chiefs and warriors were violently opposed to the proposal. Dade's command was marching to Fort King as part of a planned move to assemble a large military force in Florida to force the issue if necessary.

Dade knew there was a possibility of attack, but his column passed through heavy swamps and wilderness area without detecting any sign of Native American warriors. On the 28th of December, the soldiers emerged into fairly open pine country and breathed sighs of relief that they had passed the most likely points for attack. The day was cold, so they even wore their heavy coats over their weapons.

The Seminoles picked this moment to attack. Half the soldiers fell in their first volley and by the time the smoke cleared, all but four of the soldiers were dead. The four survivors were seriously wounded and crawled away from the battlefield. One was killed the next day, but three made it back to Tampa Bay to tell the story. The Second Seminole War had begun.

To learn more about Dade's Battle and the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, located within easy driving distance of both Orlando and Tampa, please visit our new Dade Battlefield page at

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tupelo National Battlefield - Tupelo, Mississippi

The failure of the Union army to destroy the Confederate force under Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Battle of Brices Cross Roads in June of 1864 forced Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to order a second strike, this time under a different commander.

Still alarmed that Forrest might break his tenuous 100+ mile supply line, Sherman ordered Maj. Gen. A.J. Smith to "follow Forrest to the death, if it costs 10,000 lives and breaks the treasury."

Smith pushed south from Memphis in July and by the 14th was in the vicinity of today's Tupelo. There he entrenched his army as the Confederates moved up to meet up under the command of Maj. Gen. Forrest and his immediate superior, Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Lee.

Both Forrest and Lee were excellent officers, but the Battle of Tupelo was not their finest hour. The two officers uncharacteristically hurled their forces against the Union breastworks in attacks that were unusually uncoordinated. The fighting was brutal and casualties piled up.

The Confederates were unable to take the Union position, but Smith also was unable to drive them off. Accepting that the battle had ended in a tactical draw, he began to withdraw back to Memphis. The Confederates pursued, attacking the rear of his columns as he went in a running battle that continued for miles. Forrest was wounded in one of these attacks.

In the end, Smith had not follower Forrest "to the death," but he had badly battered the army of the Confederacy's "Wizard of the Saddle." The battle all but ended any fears that Forrest's cavalry might break Sherman's supply line, assuring the eventual success of the Atlanta Campaign.

The site of the Battle of Tupelo is largely built over today, but a small section has been preserved at the Tupelo National Battlefield on West Main Street in Tupelo. To learn more, please visit

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield - Baldwyn, Mississippi

One of the most dramatic Confederate victories of the Civil War was achieved by Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest at a rural crossroads just north of the modern city of Tupelo.

The Battle of Brices Cross Roads, fought on June 10, 1864, is studied by military officers to this day because of the sweeping victory obtained there by Forrest over a Union army twice the size of his own. More than 1,300 acres of the site are now preserved as the Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield. The visitor center is located in Baldwyn and the battlefield is just west of that town.

The battle took place when General William Tecumseh Sherman began his Atlanta Campaign. As his troops moved forward, they were forced to depend on a tenuous supply line more than 100 miles long. Sherman rightly feared that the Confederacy's "Wizard of the Saddle," Nathan Bedford Forrest, would move against his supply line, possibly bringing the campaign to a halt before it reached its objective. To counter such a move, he ordered Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis to move out from Memphis and invade Mississippi with an army large enough to deal with Forrest.

Sturgis left Memphis with 8,100 men and an impressive supply of field artillery and marched across the line into Mississippi. Forrest, who had already pushed into Alabama for a strike on Sherman's supply line, turned back to meet the new threat and the two forces collided at Brices Cross Roads on the morning of June 10, 1864.

With only 3,500 men, Forrest drove back Sturgis' force of more than 8,000 through the use of impressive battlefield tactics. By afternoon the Union general knew that he had been beaten and ordered a withdrawal. The retreat turned into a disaster when wagons overturned on the Tishomingo Creek Bridge, allowing Confederate troops to trap hundreds of wagons, hundreds of Union soldiers and 16 pieces of artillery. Sturgis is said to have exclaimed, "For God's sake, if Mr. Forrest will let me alone, I will let him alone!"

The Confederates lost 493 men in the battle, while inflicting a shocking loss of around 2,613 men on Sturgis' command.

To learn more about the Battle of Brices Cross Roads, please visit our new Brices Cross Roads page at

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Queen Wilhelmina State Park - Arkansas

The Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma include the tallest peaks between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Crowning one of the most picturesque of the Ouachitas can be found Queen Wilhelmina State Park, home of the site of the famed Arkansas "castle in the sky."

Located at an elevation of 3,000 feet less than 30 minutes from Mena, Arkansas, the park is home to both scenic beauty and a rich history.

The site was first developed for recreation in 1897 by the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad. Financed largely by Dutch investors, railroad officials developed a magnificent lodge on the mountain top here. Named after Queen Wilhelmina of Holland, the lodge was described as a "castle in the sky."

The project never met with commercial success, however, and the lodge closed just three years after it had opened. It was later destroyed by fire.

In 1957, the State of Arkansas acquired the beautiful site and developed Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The park features spectacular views of the ridges and valleys of the Ouachitas and is located on the Talimena Drive, a scenic highway that winds for miles along the tops of the ridges.

The park features historic sites, a hotel, restaurant, camping areas, picnicking, hiking trails and even a miniature railroad that circles the modern hotel.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Battle of Raymond, Mississippi

One of the South's newest Civil War battlefield parks can be found in Raymond, a city just off Interstate 20 between Jackson and Vicksburg and also a stop on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Raymond Military Park preserves part of the scene of the May 12, 1863, Battle of Raymond, Mississippi. Fought between 4,000 Confederates led by the aggressive Gen. John Gregg and 12,000 Federals under Gen. James B. McPherson, the engagement was a key part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign.

Grant was pushing northeast after crossing the Mississippi River near Port Gibson and was planning to break the railroad between Jackson and Vicksburg, then close in on Vicksburg from the rear. To the surprise of the Federals, however, Gregg launched an aggressive attack on their right column at Fourteen Mile Creek just south of Raymond.

Despite three to one odds, Gregg achieved initial success against McPherson's corps and it was not until the Union general sent the fire of 22 cannon and nearly 12,000 men crashing into the Confederate lines that the game Southern troops finally fell back.

The Raymond Military Park preserves a key section of the battlefield and features a paved walking trail, cannon, exhibits, interpretive panels and more.

To learn more about this key battle during the Vicksburg Campaign, please visit our new Battle of Raymond pages at

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fort Gadsden and the British Post on the Apalachicola - Florida

One of the South's most significant historic sites can be found deep in Florida's Apalachicola National Forest.

Formerly a state park but now maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, Fort Gadsden Historic Site is the location of two 19th century military outposts. The first of these was a British fort built during the War of 1812. Called the "British Post on the Apalachicola" during the war, by 1816 it had become known to American authorites as the "Negro Fort."

The other outpost was Fort Gadsden, from which the park takes its name. Fort Gadsden was built by Andrew Jackson during his 1818 invasion of Spanish Florida.

The British came to the Apalachicola River in 1814 following a plea for military assistance from Creek warriors then being overwhelmed by American armies in Alabama. They established the British Post as a recruiting and training base for thousands of Creek and Seminole warriors, but also appealed to both free and enslaved African Americans along the frontier to come to the fort and join their growing army.

When the War of 1812 ended, the British left the fort along with its artillery, ammunition and supplies in the hands of their Indian and black allies. Most of the Native Americans soon drifted away, but the African Americans set about turning the fort into a colony deep in Spanish territory where they could live in freedom under the protection of the heavy artillery given to them by the British.

U.S. authorities soon began calling the post the "Negro Fort" and in 1816 - despite the fact that it was in Spanish territory - sent a joint land and sea force to destroy it. The fort was blown to bits on July 27, 1816, when a red hot cannon ball fired by an American ship sailed over the wall and into the open door of a gunpowder magazine. The resulting explosion killed 270 of the 320 or so men, women and children in the fort. It was one of the deadliest single shots in American history.

American troops later built Fort Gadsden on the site and the park today preserves the locations of both forts.

If you would like to learn more about this fascinating historic site, please visit our new pages at

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park - White Springs, Florida

On the banks of the Suwannee River at White Springs, Florida, stands the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State park.

A beautiful facility, the park memorializes the life of the 19th century composer that sparked the tourism boom that eventually led to the development of the modern Florida tourism industry and provides a place where visitors can explore the folk life and culture of the Suwannee River Valley.

It is remarkable that Stephen Foster's life and legacy are so intertwined with a state he never visited. He died in 1864 at the young age of 37 with only 37 cents in his pocket, but his songs captured the imagination of millions of people around the world.

Two Stephen Foster songs - Suwannee River and My Old Kentucky Home - are now the official state songs of Florida and Kentucky. Many of his other melodies - Oh! Susannah, Camptown Ladies, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and Beautiful Dreamer - are still familiar today.

Foster wrote Suwannee River without ever seeing the river or Florida. In fact, the original lyrics went "Way down upon the Pedee River." The combination didn't give the composer quite the sound he wanted, so he began scanning a map of the South for a better name. He saw the name Suwannee River on the chart and the rest is history.

If you would like to learn more about the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center, commonly known as the Stephen Foster Memorial, please visit

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Suwannee River State Park - Live Oak, Florida

This beautiful and historic state park is nestled along the banks of the picturesque Suwannee River near Live Oak, Florida.

Located within the borders of the park is the site of the lost Florida town of Columbus. A prosperous community during the antebellum area, the town was an important riverboat port and commercial center. At its height it was home to more than 500 people, but not a single building remains today. Only an old cemetery along one of the park's hiking trails has survived.

The park is also the site of a Confederate fort built to protect the railroad bridge over the Suwannee River during the Civil War. Union troops named this bridge as one of their key objectives during their East Florida invasion of 1864, but were soundly defeated by a Southern army at the Battle of Olustee and turned back to Jacksonville without ever approaching their planned target on the Suwannee.

To learn more about Suwannee River State Park, please visit our new page on the park at

Thursday, January 15, 2009

St. Marks Lighthouse - St. Marks, Florida

One of the most beautiful sights on the Florida Gulf Coast is the stunning white tower of the St. Marks Lighthouse rising above the marshes of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

Built in 1832 to provide navigational assistance to vessels traveling to and from the ports of St. Marks and Port Leon, the lighthouse has weathered war and hurricanes. It survived a massive hurricane that completely destroyed the town of Port Leon during the 1840s and became a focal point for operations during the Civil War.

Confederate troops darkened the lighthouse in 1861 and soon constructed an artillery battery called Fort Williams near its base. It was realized that the fort was too vulnerable to attack, however, so the guns were removed to St. Marks where Fort Ward was built on top of the ruins of the old Spanish fortress of San Marcos de Apalache.

In March of 1865, the St. Marks Lighthouse was the landing point for a large Union expedition that planned to capture Tallahassee and then push north to Thomasville, Georgia. The campaign was defeated at the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865.

Beautifully maintained today, the lighthouse is one of the most popular points of interest at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Thousands of people tour the grounds each year, many coming during annual autumn migration of Monarch butterflies.

To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hernando de Soto's Winter Camp in Tallahassee, Florida

Hernando de Soto's route through the South is one of the most debated mysteries in American history.

Although numerous theories have been presented and it is believed that De Soto and his army visited ten or more states, so far only one site has been found by archaeologists at which he presence can be positively verified. It is the Hernando de Soto Winter Encampment Site in Tallahassee, Florida.

Now a small state park just a few blocks from Florida's Capitol Complex, the De Soto site was uncovered by state archaeologist B. Calvin Jones (now deceased) entirely by accident. He was looking for traces of a known Spanish mission in the vicinity at a construction site when he began to find strange artifacts. They turned out to be items dating from Hernando de Soto's sojourn at the site during the winter of 1539-1540. Included among the artifacts were pieces of chain mail armor, darts from crossbows, coins and even pig bones (De Soto introduced pigs to the Southeast).

To learn more about this unique historic site in Tallahasee, please visit

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, Florida

One of the most fascinating historic sites in Florida is Mission San Luis in Tallahassee. Established during the 1600s, this mission was for nearly fifty years the western capital of Spanish Florida.

The site today is a beautiful park area maintained by the State of Florida. In addition to a museum displaying archaeological finds from the site, the park features reconstructed Spanish and Native American structures including a massive Apalachee Indian council house, the church and friary of the mission, a typical 17th century Spanish home and Fort San Luis, the military post established to protect the mission.

Mission San Luis was the capital of the Apalachee Province during the latter half of the 17th century. The Apalachee were still then a powerful Native American tribe. They had battled Hernando de Soto during his brutal 1539-1540 explorations of Florida and were regarded by other Indians of the state as its most powerful nation.

When Franciscan missionaries began to work their way westward across Florida, the Apalachee still were in control of the vast region between the Ochlockonee and Suwannee Rivers. Despite one or two revolts, they generally worked peacefully with the missionaries and a large percentage of the tribe accepted Christianity.

San Luis served as both the Spanish and Apalachee capital for the province until 1704, when it was abandoned in the face of a major English-led military expedition.

To learn more this fascinating historic site, visit our new Mission San Luis page at

Monday, January 12, 2009

Latest Books now Available at

My latest two books can now be purchased at Both went into national circulation over the weekend and are now in stock at Amazon and available for immediate delivery.

The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years is Volume One of an eventual three volume set. It explores the history of Florida's third county from the earliest Spanish exploration up to the eve of the Civil War. Specific topics covered include the early Spanish missions, the American Revolution in Jackson County, the First and Second Seminole Wars, the Battle of Ekanachatte, Scott's Massacre, Andrew Jackson's march, early settlements, Marianna vs. Webbville, Florida's lost county, crime and punishment, Indian reservations, the Trail of Tears, the Calhoun County War and more. Please click here for ordering information.
The Early History of Gadsden County explores the history of Gadsden County, Florida, from the days of its earliest exploration up through the end of the Civil War. Specific topics covered include Hernando de Soto's expedition, Spanish missions, the 18th century Apalachicola Fort, Ellicott's Observatory, Nicolls' Outpost, the Seminole Wars, the McLane Massacre, the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee, the C.S.S. Chattahoochee and the role of Gadsden County at the Battle of Natural Bridge. Please click here for ordering information.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Little River Falls - Alabama

One of the most dramatic scenes in the South this time of year can be found at Little River Falls outside of Fort Payne, Alabama.

This dramatic waterfall usually roars at full force in January and February, when the winter rains and the reduction in leaf cover pour extra water into the Little River. The result is a striking waterfall. It is not the tallest in the South, but its massive volume is quite impressive.

Little River Falls are located high atop Lookout Mountain at the point where Alabama Highway 35 crosses the Little River a few miles from Fort Payne. Now part of the Little River Canyon National Preserve, the falls feed the beautiful canyon.

Early settlers saw the falls as a much needed power source. They built a mill at the top and used the rushing water to power its wheel. A small community grew in the vicinity during the 19th century and continued to thrive into the early 20th century. It eventually faded, however, and the waterfall looks today just as it did hundreds of years ago when Cherokee Indians hunted in the region.

To learn more about Little River Falls, please visit our new Little River Canyon pages at and look for the link at the bottom of the page.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama

Yesterday, as I mentioned, was the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. This engagement was one of two major War of 1812 victories that made Andrew Jackson a household name in the United States. The other was at a place called Horseshoe Bend, Alabama.

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was fought on March 27, 1814 and was the culminating action of a subsidiary war to the War of 1812, the Creek War of 1813-1814.

The Creek War began in early 1813 as a civil war between two factions of the Creek Nation. The "Red Stick" faction (so named because of their practice of placing red war clubs on display in their towns) was a religious group inspired by the teachings of the Shawnee prophet, Tenskwatawa, and his brother, Tecumseh. Led by the Creek Prophet Josiah Francis, they rose up against the "White" faction of the nation, led by the Big Warrior and under the influence of U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins.

The war spilled over to the whites when a party of Mississippi Territorial Militia attacked a Red Stick supply party at Burnt Corn, Alabama, but was driven from the field in panic. The outraged Red Sticks struck back by attacking Fort Mims, Alabama, and killing more than 250 men, women and children in a bloody battle.

A full scale war then erupted between the whites and the Red Sticks. Three U.S. armies converged on the Creek Nation. Two were turned back either because of supply shortages or bloody fighting, but the third - led by Andrew Jackson - continued to advance.

On March 27, 1814, Jackson led thousands of U.S. regulars, militiamen and allied Creek and Cherokee warriors in an attack on the main Red Stick stronghold of Tohopeka ("Horse's Flat Foot"), or as the whites translated it, Horseshoe Bend.

If you would like to learn more about this bloody battle that forever broke the military strength of the Creek Nation, please visit our new Battle of Horseshoe Bend pages at

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans

Today marks the 194th anniversary of one of the greatest military accomplishments in American history.

It was on this day in 1815 that General Andrew Jackson and his hastily assembled army defeated the last British invasion of the United States at the Battle of New Orleans.

Although we barely remember January 8th today, it was once a major American holiday. What Jackson's forces did at New Orleans put the United States on the world stage. From 1815 until the time of the Civil War, January 8th was marked as a day of celebration across the country.

Like so many men of his era, Andrew Jackson has become a controversial figure in this modern time of revisionist history, but what he accomplished on the plains of Chalmette below New Orleans will stand for itself as long as Americans still study their past.

Arriving in New Orleans in the fall of 1814 as the city faced invasion by a powerful force of British regulars fresh from their defeat of Napoleon, Jackson mobilized the city like few American cities have ever been mobilized. When the British landed in the swamps south of the city, Jackson moved against them with an outnumbered army of U.S. regulars, volunteers, militiamen, free African Americans, pirates and Choctaw warriors. With his famous words "By the Eternal!" Jackson launched a daring night attack on the assembling British army during December of 1814 that let them know they were in for a fight.

The Battle of New Orleans actually raged for more than two weeks, but the most dramatic moment came on January 8, 1815, when thousands of red-coated British regulars formed ranks and marched forward across the open ground in a direct assault on Jackson's men, who had built an embankment of mud stretching from the Mississippi River on the west to a large swamp on the east.

When the smoke cleared, the battlefield was littered with the bodies of 2,037 dead, dying, wounded or missing British soldiers. Jackson had lost only 13 men killed and 39 wounded in one of the most overwhelming military victories of all time.

The news of the victory prompted celebrations and thanksgiving as it spread across the United States. The fact that the battle was fought after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent was of no consequence. Neither side knew that the war had ended and Andrew Jackson punctuated the arrival of the peace with a battlefield victory that would ultimately send him to the White House.

The site of the Battle of New Orleans is now preserved at the Chalmette Battlefield unit of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Please click here to visit the official National Park Service website.

(Credit: The photo above is from the National Park Service.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Little River Canyon - Fort Payne, Alabama

Some of the most spectacular views in the South can be found a few miles outside Fort Payne, Alabama, at Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Often called the "Grand Canyon of the East," Little River Canyon is a remarkable 12-mile long canyon that has been carved across the top of Lookout Mountain by the Little River. One of the most impressive whitewater streams in the Southeast, especially during the winter months, the Little River is one of the most pristine rivers in the nation.

The canyon averages between 400 and 500 feet in depth, but in some spots is nearly 700 feet deep. It begins at Little River Falls, a dramatic waterfall just below the Alabama Highway 35 bridge. Once the site of a mill and significant pioneer community, the falls now feed the whitewater of the canyon.

A number of other waterfalls can be found in the national park, including Grace's High Falls. This beautiful waterfall is one of the tallest in Alabama, but usually only flows during the winter months.

To learn more about Little River Canyon, please visit our new pages on this spectacular national park at

Sequoyah's Cabin - Sallisaw, Oklahoma

I've devoted some attention over the last couple of days to the remarkable story of Sequoyah, one of the greatest scholars of the 19th century. Sequoyah, as we've discussed, was the man who invented the Cherokee Alphabet, the only written language ever developed by a Native American tribe.

If you are interested in learning more about the real life of this phenomenal man, one of the best places to do so is at Sequoyah's Cabin, a truly beautiful historic site just north of Sallisaw, Oklahoma.

Maintained by the Oklahoma Historical Society, the site preserves the little log cabin where Sequoyah spent the last two decades of his life. In addition, on the grounds are the iron kettle that he once used to make salt, a stone-walled well that he built, a very nice statue and a visitor center built from logs cut and dressed in part by Sequoyah himself.
The cabin itself is beautifully restored and is housed inside a memorial building built during the Great Depression.

To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sequoyah and the Cherokee Alphabet

One of the most significant scholarly accomplishments of the 19th century was achieved by a disabled Cherokee warrior working quietly in a crude log cabin near the present city of Fort Payne, Alabama.

Sequoyah, also known by the "white" name of George Gist or Guess, had located to Wills Town, a major Cherokee settlement in Alabama, in 1818. Born in Tennessee in around 1770, he had served with U.S. allied Cherokee forces under Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, in 1814.

In the years following the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Sequoyah became convinced that the reason white civilization was advancing much more rapidly than that of the various Native American tribes was because the whites had developed a way of communication with each other in writing.

The more he thought about the possibilities of a written Cherokee language, the more Sequoyah decided to make the development of one a personal quest. Despite ridicule from family and friends, he began work on the project. It would take years to complete.

In 1821, however, Sequoyah successfully demonstrated his Cherokee Alphabet. Over the next few years leaders in the nation became convinced of the remarkable nature of his effort and the use of the written Cherokee language spread like wildfire. In 1825 the Cherokee became the first Native American nation to publish their own newspaper in their own language. Sequoyah's alphabet had become the first official written language in Indian history.

To learn more about Sequoyah and his remarkable alphabet, please visit our new Sequoyah pages at

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wills Town Mission - A Cherokee Cemetery in Alabama

One of the most fascinating historic sites I've visited in a long, long time can be found on the outskirts of Fort Payne, Alabama.

Wills Town Mission, a Christian mission to the Cherokee Indians that operated from 1823 until the Trail of Tears in 1838, is marked today by a unique cemetery on 38th Street just south of its intersection with Godfrey Avenue in Fort Payne. First used by the Cherokee inhabitants of Wills Town, a major Native American village, the cemetery was later used by 19th century white settlers as well.

The Cherokee graves are marked by natural stones, some of which exhibit faded symbols and carvings, and the stumps of cedar trees. It is reported locally that the trees were cut years ago for building materials by a previous owner of the site. The cemetery is now preserved and marked by a historical marker and a stone monument.

Wills Town was a significant settlement among the Cherokee of Alabama prior to the Trail of Tears. It was in the vicinity that Sequoyah completed his development of the Cherokee alphabet in 1821, giving the Cherokee Nation the only written language of any Native American nation.

The Christian mission in the town converted many members of the tribe to Christianity and also provided education in English, etc., to the inhabitants of Wills Town. The people of the village, however, were among those forced west under the guns of soldiers on the long and deadly march remembered today as the Trail of Tears.

To learn more about Wills Town and its unique Cherokee cemetery, please visit

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Legend of Noccalula

One of the more fascinating legends of the mountain country of Alabama is the story of Noccalula.

The daughter of a Cherokee chief, Noccalula had fallen in love with a warrior from her own tribe. He was not a man of influence, however, and her father felt that greater benefit was to be gained from her marriage to the leader of another nearby tribe. Noccalula protested, but her father overruled her request and drove her true love from the village.

The wedding with the neighboring chief was scheduled and a great feast was assembled on the planned day. Noccalula was dressed in her finest by the women of the village, but instead of walking to her groom-to-be, she instead slipped away to the high bluffs overlooking a powerful waterfall that flowed near the village.

After considering her fate, she took her own life by leaping to her death in the rocks and swirling water below.

Noccalula's father was heartbroken by the suicide of his daughter and realized that his own harshness had driven her to her death. He decreed that the waterfall should always be known by his daughter's name and it is called Noccalula Falls to this day. Claims have been made through the years that the ghost of the young Cherokee princess can still be seen moving in the mists of the falls.

The truth of the legend, of course, is difficult to verify, but that is often the case with tales of this nature. The waterfall, however, still flows. Now surrounded by a fascinating park and recreation area in Gadsden, Alabama, Noccalula Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the South.

To learn more, please visit

Waterfalls of Alabama

The winter months are actually one of the best times for exploring waterfalls in the South.

The reduction in leaf cover coupled with winter rains means that streams and rivers are flowing very well and that, in turn, provides plenty of water for waterfalls. Many Southern waterfalls dry to little more than trickles or even dry up completely during the summer months, but in the winter they are often flowing to capacity.

Alabama boasts a surprising number of very impressive falls. From DeSoto Falls near Fort Payne to Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, the state boasts a series of large waterfalls and an untold number of small ones.

Waterfalls often figure prominently in the history of their locations. They were noticed by early settlers and Native Americans and the fast-flowing streams feeding them were often used to power watermills, etc. Little River Falls near Fort Payne and Mentone, for example, was once the location of a little community that thrived because the flowing water powered a grist mill.

If you would like to see photographs and learn more about some of the more fascinating waterfalls in Alabama, please visit our new "Waterfalls of Alabama" pages at:

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Legend of Prince Madoc of Wales

One of the more unique legends to be found in the South is the tale of Prince Madoc of Wales.

The story has been around for hundreds of years and a British writer, John Williams, published "An Enquiry" into the legend as early as 1791. In his research he uncovered previous histories of Madoc's alleged journeys dating back to the year 1584.

As the story goes, Madoc was the son of a noted leader of Wales. When his father was killed in 1170, Madoc allegedly set sail with a group of followers in a small flotilla of ships to explore the "western sea." After many days of sailing he discovered a "land unknown, where he saw many strange things."

Leaving many of his men in this new unknown land, Madoc returned to Wales for additional men and supplies. He then returned to the new country in a fleet of ten ships.

The truth of the legends is simply not known. No original documents from Madoc's time are known to exist, but it is certainly possible that such a journey took place as early Viking explorers found their way as far west as Newfoundland in Canada. It is also possible, as some historians suggest, that Madoc was invented by English speculators during the 1500s to establish a prior claim to North America at the time the country was in a fierce rivalry with Spain for possession of the new lands across the Atlantic.

Either way, the story of Madoc has become a popular part of Southern folklore. One school of thought holds that the Welsh explorer landed on Mobile Bay and made his way north into the mountains of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

At DeSoto Falls in Alabama, for example, several small rooms can be found carved into the side of a steep cliff (photo above). Local tradition claims that they were part of a fort built by Madoc and his fellow explorers. Similar stories are told about locations in Georgia and Tennessee.

To read more about the site of the alleged Welsh fort in Alabama, please visit our new DeSoto Falls page at

Friday, January 2, 2009

DeSoto State Park in Alabama

We are kicking off the New Year with the addition of a number of new pages to
The first new pages to come online can be seen in our revamped section on DeSoto State Park near Fort Payne, Alabama. This beautiful and historic park is located atop Lookout Mountain. Noted for its magnificent views of the west fork of Little River and its numerous waterfalls - including the 100-foot tall DeSoto Falls (seen here) - DeSoto State Park is one of the finest state park facilities in the state.
In addition to its natural attractions, cabins, motel, restaurant and more, the park is rich in history. Legend holds that the Welsh explorer Prince Madoc and his men built a fort at DeSoto Falls as early as 1170 A.D. and the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto passed nearby in 1541.
To learn more, please visit our new DeSoto State Park and DeSoto Falls pages at