Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, Part Six - Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina

We conclude our special Memorial Day series in South Carolina, where on January 17, 1781, the tide of the American Revolution was turned when General Daniel Morgan achieved a brilliant victory over the British at a place called the Cowpens.

Daniel Morgan was the epitome of an American hero of the 18th century. A rough and ready frontiersman who enjoyed fist fighting, he had served as a wagoner for the British army during the French and Indian War. While in the service he somehow upset a British officer who struck him with the flat of his sword. Morgan responded by knocking the man out. As a result he was sentenced to 500 lashes, a severe and bloody beating.

According to Morgan, though, the drummer counting out the lashes miscounted and he received only 499. He delighted in telling his men during the American Revolution that the British still owed him one. The British may have owed him a lash, but he gave them one back at Cowpens.

Cowpens took place as Morgan and his commanding officer, General Nathaniel Greene, arrived in the South to try to salvage what was left of the situation there. Charleston had fallen to the British and then General Horatio Gates had been smashed at Camden, South Carolina. As Greene struggled to assemble an army that could hope to even contest the advance of Lord Cornwallis, he sent Morgan into South Carolina in an effort to delay the inevitable British campaign.

Cornwallis sent Banastre Tarleton, notorious as "Bloody Tarleton" for his massacre of surrendering American troops at the Waxhaws in 1780, to deal with Morgan. The "Old Wagoner," as he liked to call himself, proved a formidable opponent. He would appear just long enough to tantalize Tarleton into following, but then would fall back without giving the British commander the opportunity for a pitched battle. In doing so, he drew Tarleton greater and greater distances from his sources of supplies and reinforcements, while at the same time allowing more time for reinforcements to reach his own army.

Finally, on January 17, 1780, Morgan turned to fight. Knowing the British disdain for American militia troops, who often fled when attacked, General Morgan devised an exceptional strategy that proved the undoing of "Bloody Tarleton." He formed his army into three lines. The front line consisted of a skirmish line of well-trained American riflemen who were instructed to pick off as many officers as they could from long range when they saw the British approaching. This tactic was designed to damage Tarleton's control and command capabilities. The second line consisted of American militiamen, who were told that all they had to do was fire a couple of times and then retreat before the British reached them. This, he correctly believed, would both inflict casualties on the British but also trick them into believing that the Americans were retreating. They would pursue only to find Morgan's third line - seasoned American soldiers - waiting for them.

The battle developed exactly as Morgan had planned. By the time the British collided with his third line, they had been severely mauled. The critical moment came when a section of the American third line misunderstood orders and began to withdraw. The British surged forward after them but Morgan suddenly turned them around and ordered a volley fired directly into the faces of the British attack. Tarleton's force crumbled and the entire American army, militia and all, surged forward after them.

By the time the smoke cleared, Tarleton had lost 110 killed, 200 wounded and 600 captured. The dreaded "Tarleton's Legion" had been destroyed and Morgan had smashed the most feared British force in the Carolina's. The tide of the American Revolution began to turn and the road to final victory at Yorktown had begun.

The site of the battle is now preserved at Cowpens National Battlefield. Located on Highway 11 in Gaffney, South Carolina, the park is open daily and features a visitor center, driving tour and walking trail leading to key points on the battlefield. To learn more, please visit

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day, Part Five - The Alamo, Texas

Continuing our special Memorial Day series, there are few places in the world as recognizable or moving as an old mission chapel in the heart of San Antonio, Texas.

Since it fell to overwhelming odds on a cold March morning in 1836, the Alamo has been a focal point of emotion. And despite revisionist history that often seems pre-determined to tear apart its story rather than interpret it, the Alamo still stands as a dramatic symbol of liberty and a fight for independence.

Originally built during the 1700s as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo originally served as a place of peace. Resident friars ministered to local Native Americans, working to bring the Indians to Christianity and helping them raise better crops for the support of their community and families. Its Christian purposes fulfilled, the mission was abandoned by the Church in 1793 and for a decade was allowed to crumble.

In 1803, however, it gained new life as a military post. Assigned to the original garrison was the Second Flying Company from the Alamo de Parras area of Mexico. Some believe it was from the presence of this unit that the structure gained its present name, but others believe the name originated from the Spanish name for a grove of cottonwood trees that once grew on the site.

Captured in 1835 by Texas revolutionaries, the old mission soon became the scene of a monumental battle. In February and March of 1836, a small garrison of defenders held the crumbling mission against an overwhelming Mexican army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. For thirteen days the mission held out against determined and brave attacks by Santa Anna's troops.

On the final day of the battle, Santa Anna attacked the Alamo from all four sides. Mexican soldiers went up and over the walls in a bloody battle to the death. By the time the bloodshed ended, only two men who took up arms in defense of the mission are known to have survived: a Tejano patriot who was confused for a Mexican prisoner of war and Joe, a man who had been a slave of Colonel William B. Travis until the fall of the Alamo. Several women and children also survived. Lying dead at their posts, however, were such men as the famed frontiersman David Crockett, Alamo commander William B. Travis, famed knife inventor Jim Bowie and many others.

The Alamo today is a shrine located in the heart of downtown San Antonio. To learn more, please visit

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day, Part Four - Fort Sumter, South Carolina

Continuing our special Memorial Day series, there are few places in American that hold a history as signficiant as Fort Sumter.

The focal point of a national monument, the battered fortress is located on a small island in Charleston Harbor. Tour boats travel out to the fort from both the Charleston waterfront and nearby Patriot Point Military Museum daily.

During the winter of 1860-1861, the eyes of America and the world were focused on Fort Sumter. South Carolina declared her independence from the Union in December of 1860 and Major Robert Anderson quickly moved his small garrison of U.S. troops from their more exposed position at nearby Fort Moultrie to the isolated fortress in the harbor. State officials demanded that Anderson surrender the fort, but he declined and put his men to work making rapid improvements to Fort Sumter.

Tension grew over the coming months. Other Southern states seceeded and joined with South Carolina in forming the Confederate States of America. General P.G.T. Beauregard was sent to command Southern forces gathering around Charleston Harbor.

The final demand for the surrender of Fort Sumter came on April 11, 1861. Anderson once again refused. The next morning at 4:30 a.m., a mortar shell soared high into the air and exploded over the fort. One by one other Confederate guns joined the action. The first battle of the Civil War had begun.

Fort Sumter surrendered one day later. Not a single man on either side was lost in the battle. Over the next four years, however, hundreds of thousands of Americans would die in the most costly war in American history.

To learn more about Fort Sumter National Monument, please visit

Friday, May 22, 2009

57th Annual Florida Folk Festival is this Weekend

If you are in the Deep South or will be traveling to Florida over the Memorial Day weekend and want to experience one of the finest heritage events in the region, be sure to check out the 57th Annual Florida Folk Festival.

The event takes place this weekend at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs (just off I-75, just north of the I-10 interchange).

Featuring more than 200 well-known Florida folk artists, as well as pine needle basket making, crafts, demonstrations, traditional Florida food (yes, including cornbread and collard greens as well as shrimp gumbo), and much more, the event is one of the most outstanding folk culture festivals in the country.

Gates open at 8 a.m. each day this weekend, including Monday, and admission prices are $25 for adults, $5 for kids ages 6 to 16. Children under 6 are admitted free.

Memorial Day, Part Three - Pea Ridge Battlefield, Arkansas

One of the most significant battles of the Civil War took place not in Virginia or Tennessee, but far to the west and high in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, was a major turning point of the war in the west and firmly established Union control of the state of Missouri. It was also one of the bloodiest battles of the first year of the war, with thousands of men - Northern and Southern - shedding their blood for the causes for which they fought.

The battle began on March 6, 1862, in the eleventh month of the Civil War, and raged for two days. By the time the killing had stopped, more than 3,000 men had been killed, wounded or captured. A disaster for the Confederate forces, led by General Earl Van Dorn, the Union victory achieved by General Samuel Curtis was one of the most complete of the war.

The site today is one of the most pristine battlefield areas in the country. The Pea Ridge National Military Park preserves 4,300 acres where the two armies maneuvered and fought. Features include a visitor center, driving tour, walking trails, overlooks and the restored Elkhorn Tavern around which heavy fighting took place. For those living in the western parts of the South, Pea Ridge is an excellent place for a Memorial Day trip to explore the cost of the bloodiest war in American history. The entrance fee is only $5.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Memorial Day, Part Two - Barrancas National Cemetery, Florida

Continuing our Memorial Day series, we focus today on Barrancas National Cemetery near Pensacola, Florida.

One of the oldest national cemeteries in the Deep South, this burial ground dates back to the early 1800s. The cemetery was established shortly after the United States took possession of Florida and was designated to serve as a final resting places for soldiers, sailors and workers engaged in building the Pensacola Navy Yard and Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee and the Advanced Redoubt.

Buried here are the men and women who served our country over a time span of nearly 200 years. Some of these men bear names recognizable from the battles against the British during the War of 1812. Others served in the Creek and Seminole Wars, the war with Mexico and, of course, the Civil War. The cemetery was used by both the Union and the Confederacy during the War Between the States.

The cemetery remains in use today, with large numbers of veterans of World War II, Korea and more recent conflicts.

Located on board the Pensacola Naval Air Station, the Barrancas National Cemetery is open to the public daily. Simply ask at the gates for directions and a pass. The personnel there are extremely helpful. To learn more, please visit

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Memorial Day, Part One - Vicksburg, Mississippi

With Memorial Day weekend now just one week away, I thought it might be a good time to devote time to some of the places in the South where the sacrifices of our military men and women touch the spirit every day of the year. Part One of this week long series focuses on Vicksburg National Military Park.

The Civil War was two years old when the Union army of General Ulysses S. Grant closed in on the powerful Confederate citadel of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The excitement of marching off to war and the dreams of glory had long since gone out of the soldiers of both sides.

By the spring of 1863, Union forces were engaged in campaigns that President Abraham Lincoln and other leaders hoped would finally implement the "Anaconda" strategy devised two years earlier by General Winfield Scott. By blockading the Southern coastline and then seizing control of the vitla Mississippi River, Scott had believed that the South might be squeezed to death, in virtually the same way that an anaconda kills its prey.

The blockade was now in place and the final key to the implementation of Scott's plan was Vicksburg. Driving into Mississippi near Port Gibson, Grant had defeated Confederate troops in a series of battles and finally closed in on Vicksburg from behind in mid-May of 1863. Confederate General John C. Pemberton pulled his men back into the powerful earthen forts, batteries and breastworks surrounding the Mississippi River city and prepared for a bitter fight that he knew might determine the outcome of the war.

Because of his recent open field victories over Pemberton's army, Grant hoped that he might break through the defenses of Vicksburg with one massive push. On May 19, 1863, he sent thousands of his men storming forward against the Stockade Redan, a powerful Confederate fort. They never even got close. When the smoke cleared, the Union army had lost 157 men killed and 777 wounded compared to only 8 killed and 62 wounded for the Confederates.

The Union general tried again two days later. Opening fire on the Confederate lines with more than 220 cannon, Grant joined with U.S. warships on the Mississippi in a 24 hour bombardment of Vicksburg. When the firing finally stopped, he sent forward his men in a line 3 miles wide, planning to storm over the Confederate fortifications. The fighting was hand to hand in places, but the Federal troops once again failed to force their way into the city. 3,000 Union soldiers fell in the attack, compared to only 500 Confederates.

The fight for Vicksburg now turned into a brutal siege. Confederate soldiers and citizens within the city burrowed into the ground for protection against the continual Union bombardments. Food ran short and soldiers and civilizans alike lived on rats, mules and anything else they could find. Union troops dug a tunnel under the Confederate defenses and set off a massive explosion on June 25th, hoping to rush through the resulting gap but once again they were thrown back.

Another explosion followed on July 1st, but in the end it was starvation and not the power of Grant's army that brought about the fall of Vicksburg. With his men on the verge of complete starvation, Pemberston surrendered on July 4, 1863.

To learn more about the Battle of Vicksburg and to explore the Vicksburg National Military Park, which preserves the scene of much of the battle, please visit

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Forts and Battlefields Directory is Now Online!

The new Forts and Battlefields Directory is now online at

This page provides links to information and photographs about dozens of historic forts and battlefields from seven Southern states. Additional states and sites will be added over coming days.

Among the key sites already online, however, are Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan in Alabama; the Battles of Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Poison Spring and many others in Arkansas; Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, Fort Jefferson, Fort Gadsden, Olustee Battlefield, the Castillo de San Marcos and many others in Florida; Fort Tyler, Fort Gaines, Fort Hawkins and others in Georgia; Vicksburg, Grand Gulf, Corinth, Brices Cross Roads and Tupelo in Mississippi, Honey Springs and Fort Gibson in Oklahoma, and Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, Kings Mountain and Cowpens in South Carolina.

To check out the new directory, please visit You can also access it from the main page at by looking in the left hand column.

St. Simons Lighthouse - St. Simons Island, Georgia

One of the most beautiful spots on the Georgia coast, the St. Simons Lighthouse on St. Simons Island is a noted Southern historic landmark.

Built to replace earlier towers, the lighthouse was constructed during the 1870s and is still in use today. The site had earlier also been the location of a Confederate battery during the Civil War and Fort St. Simons, built by the British during the early 1700s. Nothing remains of either fortification, but a cannon on the ground preserves the memory of Fort St. Simons.

From bottom to top, the spiral staircase inside the tower includes 129 steps that reach the catwalk where visitors can absorb a spectacular view of the Golden Isles of Georgia from 104 feet above the ground.

According to legend, the St. Simons Light is haunted by the ghost of one of its former keepers. Newspaper accounts of the time confirm that Frederick Osborne, the keeper of the light in 1880, was shot and killed by his assistant, John Stephens. According to the reports, Stephens believed that Osborne had spoken "inappropriately" to Mrs. Stephens. He shot and killed Osborne, was arrested for murder, but was subsequently acquitted.

Since then, there have been reports that Osborne's restless spirit roams the lighthouse and grounds. Eyewitness accounts of a ghost at the lighthouse appeared in print as early as 1908.

To learn more about the St. Simons Lighthouse and its unusual ghost story, please visit

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Battle of Blakeley - Spanish Fort, Alabama

When Spanish Fort fell on the night of April 8, 1865, Union General E.R.S. Canby immediately pushed troops up the east shore to join the growing attack on the Confederate fortifications at Blakeley, Alabama.

Sometimes called Fort Blakeley (and often mispelled "Blakely"), this position was actually a large establishment defended by batteries, breastworks and multiple forts. When Canby began his march up the East Shore of Mobile Bay, a second column of more than 10,000 Union soldiers left Pensacola under General Frederick Steele.

Fighting with and overrunning Confederates in a series of fights as he approached Pine Barren Creek in northern Escambia County, Florida, Steele broke up the Confederate post at Pollard and turned east per his orders and closed in on Blakeley. As Canby's men worked and fought to reduce Spanish Fort, Steele's men began erecting batteries, preparing parallel lines and digging zigzag trenches that allowed them to close in on the powerful Blakeley fortifications.

Steele and his men were joined on April 9, 1865, by reinforcements from Spanish Fort and immediately launched a series of hammering assaults. The attacks from moved from left to right along the battlefield, but the Confederates continued to hold out until the Third Brigade of the Second Division launched a rapid attack from a parallel just 500 yards from Redoubt #4, one of the main Confederate forts.

Led by the 83rd Ohio Infantry, the brigade stormed through a ravine and overran Confederate pickets so fast that Southern troops became intermingled with the advancing Federals. This caused Southern gunners in Redoubt #4 to hold their fire to avoid hitting their own men. The Union attackers took advantage of the opportunity given them and overran Redoubt #4, breaking into the Blakeley defenses.

The battle degenerated from that point as Confederate defenders fell back toward the river and were forced to surrender.

The Battle of Blakeley was the last major battle of the Mobile Campaign and opened the door for the capture of the city itself. The site is now preserved at Historic Blakeley State Park, located on Highway 225 just north of Spanish Fort, Alabama.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Battle of Spanish Fort - Spanish Fort, Alabama

Located directly opposite Mobile Bay from the City of Mobile, Spanish Fort is today a busy city with rapidly growing commercial and residential sectors. In 1865, however, it was the location of a powerful Confederate fortress that Union forces would have to reduce if they hoped to take Mobile itself.

General E.R.S. Canby marched up the east side of Mobile Bay with 32,000 men and an impressive array of artillery after forcing a landing near the mouth of Fish River. Confederate forces fell back ahead of of Canby as he pushed up the east shore, skirmishing some, but not provoking a major confrontation. They withdrew into their fortifications at Spanish Fort as Canby closed in and the Battle of Spanish Fort began on March 27, 1865.

The Southern defenses at Spanish Fort were actually quite extensive. Covering hundreds of acres of land, they consisted of both powerful batteries overlooking the channel as well as additional fortifications that ringed the land side of the post. Defended by 47 pieces of artillery, the fortifications would prove a tough nut for Canby to crack, despite the fact that his army outnumbered the Confederate garrison by more than 15 to 1.

The battle raged for more than one week, with Canby's men digging siege works and placing artillery. By April 8, 1865, more than 90 cannon were arranged to bombard the Confederate works and both sides knew it was now just a matter of time.

On that day Canby opened a massive bombardment of the Confederate earthworks and late that afternoon the 8th Iowa Infantry stormed a section of the Spanish Fort defenses. The Southern commander, General Randall L. Gibson, waited until after nightfall and then withdrew his men across a footbridge to nearby Fort Huger. The Federals had no idea they had slipped away until the next morning.

To learn more about the Battle of Spanish Fort and see something of the battlefield as it appears today, please visit

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Mobile Campaign - Mobile Bay, Alabama

Although Union forces had taken Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay during the summer of 1864, by the following year the vital Confederate city of Mobile still held out.

The final Union move on the city began on March 16, 1865, when Major General E.R.S. Canby began moving 32,000 men from Forts Gaines and Morgan to a launching point at Fish River on the eastern side of Mobile Bay (just below Fairhope). Some of the men marched by land from Fort Morgan on Mobile Point, while the others moved by boat directly to Fish River.

A second column moved north from Pensacola three days later, planning to drive back Confederate forces in the region and break the railroad and telegraph lines connecting Mobile with Selma and Montgomery.

The main body under Canby pushed north along the east shore of Mobile Bay, skirmishing with small bodies of Confederate soldiers that fell back towards their powerful fortifications at Spanish Fort. Named for a Spanish outpost that had been constructed there during the American Revolution, the bluff overlooked one of the key water approaches to the city of Mobile and the fortifications there would have to be reduced before Canby could force the fall of the city itself.

I will continue this look at the Mobile Campaign with details on the Battle of Spanish Fort, Alabama, in the next post. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Ghost of Big Cedar - Branson, Missouri

One of the South's more unique ghost stories surrounds historic the historic Big Cedar resort on the outskirts of Branson, Missouri.

The resort got its start as the private wilderness getaway of two wealthy families during the years before the Great Depression. Harry Worman, a railroad executive, and Jude Simmons, an entrepreneur, purchased the Big Cedar Hollow and its mysterious Devil's Pool spring, a tributary of the White River, as a private resort deep in what was then the wilderness of the Ozarks.

Several of the structures built by Worman and Simmons can still be seen at Big Cedar, now a resort owned by Bass Pro Shops and located in Ridgedale, a community about ten minutes south of Branson, Missouri. The resort has done an outstanding job of preserving and using the structures, incorporating them into the landscape.

Harry Worman was married to a young woman named Dorothy. Census records show that she was half his age and tradition holds that she was unhappy at Big Cedar. She supposedly ran away to Mexico with one of the staff members hired by Worman to maintain the wilderness estate and died there far from her Missouri home.

But if the stories of staff members of the resort are to believe, Dorothy came back home after all. There have been numerous reports of her restless spirit, dressed in a long white gown, being seen roaming the grounds. In fact, it is probably Branson's best known haunting.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Horse Thief Spring - Ouachita Mountains, Oklahoma

If you've ever seen the John Wayne movies "True Grit" or "Rooster Cogburn," then you know a little about the stories of the outlaws that once roamed the mountains of Oklahoma and the determined Deputy Marshals who risked their lives to bring them to justice in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Stories like "True Grit" and Clint Eastwood's later film "Hang 'Em High" were based on real events that took place along the Arkansas-Oklahoma border in the decades after the Civil War. Believing that the Indian Nations of what is now Oklahoma would provide them with safety, outlaws flooded to the region.

Their presence terrified the peaceful inhabitants of the Nations and surrounding areas and the U.S. Government launched an aggressive campaign to round up these outlaws and bring them to justice. Isaac Parker was appointed as the Federal Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, which held jurisdiction over the region, and before his career was over would hang more murders, rapists and robbers than any Federal Judge in American history. He would also suffer the loss of dozens of deputy marshals in the line of duty.

As Parker's deputies penetrated deeper and deeper into the outlaw hideouts, the outlaws found new locations deeper and deeper in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. Traces of their presence can still be found there today at places like Robbers Cave and Horse Thief Spring.

Located along the beautiful Talimena Scenic Drive that winds its way along the tops of the Ouachita Mountains, Horse Thief Spring is a site rich in history and tradition. A small spring, now surrounded by a stone enclosure erected during the Great Depression, bubbles from the side of the mountain.

According to legend, this spring was used as a watering place by Old West outlaws who hid out in the vicinity. The site is relatively close to the Old Military or Fort Towson Road, which led from Fort Smith south to Fort Towson near the Texas border. This road was a major route for travelers in the 19th century and was frequented by outlaws.

From the end of the Civil War for about 25 years, outlaws used places like Horse Thief Spring before the diligent deputies and Indian police finally brought their presence to an end. To learn more about this unique historic site, please visit