Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Grave of General William J. Hardee - Selma, Alabama

Known affectionately as "Old Reliable," Lieutenant General William J. Hardee was a brave and intelligent military officer who served in both the U.S. and Confederate armies.

Born in Camden County, Georgia, in 1815, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1838. Commissioned as a lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons, Hardee served in Florida during the Second Seminole War until he became seriously ill.

Unlike many who were incapacitated by sickness during that terrible war, he recovered and went on to serve under both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott during the Mexican War. He won two field promotions for bravery, suffered a battlefield wound and was taken prisoner and exhanged during that conflict.

After the war, Hardee published his famed Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics, which became one of the most consulted military books for commanders both North and South during the Civil War.

Resigning his commission in January of 1861 following the secession of his home state of Georgia, Hardee eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant General in the Confederate army. He commanded troops at Shiloh, Perryville and Chattanooga, as well as during the Atlanta Campaign. Left with few men, he bravely tried to stop Sherman's March to the Sea and then achieved the remarkable evacuation of his small army from Savannah under the very eyes of Sherman's much larger command.

After the war, Hardee settled on his wife's plantation in Alabama. After living there briefly, the couple moved into Selma where he engaged in various business pursuits and was president of a railroad. He died while on vacation in West Virginia in 1873, but was returned to his home in Selma for burial. His peaceful grave can now be seen at the city's Old Live Oak Cemetery.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/hardeegrave.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, Florida

Tomorrow (Saturday, February 20th) marks the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, the largest Civil War engagement fought in the state of Florida.

Part of a politically-inspired campaign to return at least part of Florida to the Union in time for President Abraham Lincoln to claim the the state's electoral votes in the hard fought 1864 election, Olustee was a major Confederate victory. Ignoring orders from his direct superior to consolidate his newly achieved position in and around Jacksonville, Brigadier General Truman A. Seymour instead headed inland with 5,500 men.

He did not realize it, but he was marching into the teeth of an army of similar size being assembled at Olustee, a railroad siding between Jacksonville and Lake City, by Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Finegan. The two armies collided in the pine woods just east of Olustee on February 20, 1864.

The Battle of Olustee was a stand-up fight in the open woods, with neither side using breastworks. By the time it was over, Finegan and his second-in-command, Brigadier General Alfred Colquitt, had handed Seymour a major defeat. Over 1,800 Union soldiers were dead, wounded and missing, while Confederate losses were just under 1,000.

The site of the battle is now preserved at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park on U.S. 90 between Jacksonville and Lake City, Florida. To learn more, read original reports and see photographs of the battlefield, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

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

One of the most interesting naval artifacts in the South can be found not by the ocean, but far inland on the city hall lawn in Selma, Alabama.

Displayed there, through the courtesty of the Naval Historical Center, is one of the original 7-inch Brooke Rifles from the famed Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee. The gun weighs 15,300 pounds and had an effective range of 4 1/2 miles. It was one of the most powerful and advanced weapons of its day.

The gun on display in Selma was the stern pivot gun of the Tennessee. It was a critical part of the ironclad's armament during the Battle of Mobile Bay and it was at this gun that Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan was wounded.

The Tennessee was actually built in Selma, which was also the place where its guns were manufactured. Launched in February of 1863, it was commissioned one year later. On August 5, 1864, with only a few small wooden gunboats to help, the ironclad tackled the entire Union fleet that was storming its way into Mobile Bay. By the end of the battle, the Tennessee's steering chains had been shot away and the ironclad was surrounded by the ships of the Union fleet as they pounded it over and over with cannonballs. Unable to maneuver it surrendered after one of the most heroic fights ever waged by the Confederate navy.

Although the Tennessee was scrapped after the war, several of its cannon still survive. The one on display in Selma was returned to the city where it was cast in 1981. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/csstennessee.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Battle of Selma - Selma, Alabama

On April 2, 1865, Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest fought his last major battle when Union troops stormed the defenses of Selma, Alabama.

The Battle of Selma was one of the events that marked the final collapse of the Confederacy and even with Forrest's military genius, the outnumbered Southern troops could not prevent the capture of the vital Alabama city and its massive military industrial complex.

Forrest knew that he could not hope to hold the extensive Selma fortifications with the troops at his disposal and had tried to prevent the Federal army of Major General James H. Wilson from reaching Selma at the Battle of Ebenezer Church the previous day. When the separated Confederate forces proved unable to converge on Ebenezer Church as Forrest had hoped, Wilson prevailed in that battle and in less than 24 hours was outside the fortifications of Selma.

The Confederates took up positions behind the Selma earthworks, but the line was so extensive that there was only a man every 10 to 15 feet. Many of these were not seasoned soldiers, but were workers and citizens of the city who took up arms in a last ditch effort to defend Selma. Wilson complicated the situation by attacking via two roads leading into the city. While one force demonstrated along the main road, a second stormed the works defending the Summerfield Road.

Once the Confederate lines were pierced, Forrest pulled back to a still incomplete inner line and briefly stalled the Union advance. In the end, though, the Federals took the city and Wilson's soldiers spent days destroying the military factories, arsenal and storehouses there. Forrest managed to cut his way out at the end of the fighting.

The Battle of Selma marked the last time that Nathan Bedford Forrest would lead troops in action in a major battle and also opened the door for the Union capture of Montgomery, the original capital of the Confederacy.  To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/selmabattle.

Battle of Ebenezer Creek - Stanton, Alabama

On April 1, 1865, Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest fought one last time on ground of his own choosing in a last ditch effort to stop the Union army then advancing on the vital manufacturing center of Selma, Alabama.

The Battle of Ebenezer Church is often remembered today as a preliminary to the Battle of Selma, which was fought one day later. In reality, though, the April 1st encounter decided the fight for Selma before it ever took place.

Knowing that he could not hope to defend the vast fortifications surrounding Selma with the limited number of troops at his disposal, Forrest searched for good defensive ground north of the city where he could spring a trap on the army of Major General James H. Wilson. The Union general was then driving south through Alabama, destroying ironworks and farms as he advanced, and there was no doubt that his target was Selma and its militiary manufacturing facilities.

Forrest selected a site at Ebenezer Church, in today's community of Stanton about 24 miles north of downtown Selma. There he was able to place three brigades of troops into a line of battle stretching from a high hill on the left to Mulberry Creek on the right. The Confederate general hoped that with reinforcements coming up under Brigadier General James R. Chalmers he would be able to hold this line until 3,000 additional Southern troops came in behind Wilson and struck the rear of his army.

The battle did not unfold as Forrest hoped. Chalmers was unable to reach the field in time and only a portion of his brigade took part in the fighting at Ebenezer Church. The other 3,000 men that he planned to hurl against Wilson's rear were prevented from crossing the Cahaba River and did not reach the field.

Even without these men and despite the fact that he was outnumbered more than 2 to 1, Forrest waged a fierce fight at the Battle of Ebenezer Church. He was wounded by a saber blow during the fighting and also killed a Union officer who is thought to have been his 33rd combat victim.

To learn more about battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ebenezerchurch.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Schedule for 2010 Muskogee Azalea Festival now available

The annual Muskogee Azalea Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma, is one of the premier Spring events in the South.

When many Americans think of Oklahoma, they think of "wind sweeping down the plain." What many do not realize, however, is that the eastern part of the state is a beautiful region of mountains, lakes, forests and farms. Very much a part of the South, it is an area with historic sites that range from Civil War battlefields to historic forts and even plantations.

In fact, one of the finest annual displays of azaleas, dogwoods and other flowering plants in the South can be found each April at Honor Heights Park in Muskogee. A free event that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, the Muskogee Azalea Festival focuses on the scenic beauty, culture and history of the unique Oklahoma city.

The main day of this year's festival will be April 10th. That's the day of the parade and many other major events, although the festival continues daily for the entire month of April.

More specific information, including a link to a complete schedule of events for this year's Muskogee Azalea Festival, is now online at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/okmuskogeeazalea.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow Falls in Two Egg, Florida

For the first time in more than a decade, snow has fallen on our unique little community of Two Egg, Florida!

The Two Egg area joined the list of Southern communities receiving snowfall as the record-breaking winter continues. Two Egg doesn't see snow very often, but today it began to fall at around 3:30 p.m. and continued for more than an hour and a half as a winter weather advisory was issued across Northwest Florida by the National Weather Service.

Two Egg's last noticable snow was in the early 1990s, although there have been a few flurries over the years since. Today's snowfall was enough to dust the grass and cover the tops of cars and roofs. Nearby communities reported slightly heavier amounts.

If you would like to see more of today's Two Egg, Florida snow, please visit www.twoeggfla.com/snow2010.

Branson, Missouri - Reliving the Romance of the Rails

There is an aura of romance that surrounds the old passenger trains that once rolled across the railroads of the South. As we continue our St. Valentine's Day look at romantic places in the South, it seems appropriate to focus on the Branson Scenic Railway in southern Missouri.

One of the finest such attractions in the South, the Branson Scenic Railway is a rolling historic site that takes passengers for rides through the scenic Ozark Mountains of Missouri and Arkansas. Leaving from its station in downtown Branson, the historic Ozark Zepher is a beautifully restored passenger train that features observation cars, a club car and regular passenger cars. It rolls through mountain valleys and over historic trestles and provides passengers with a chance to experience a 40 mile train ride that recreates the romance of train travel in days gone by.
The Zephyr uses a historic line of track that was laid between 1902 and 1905 at a then remarkable cost of $12 million. The challenge of building the tracks through the mountains caused the construction cost to soar, but the line was eventually finished, bringing passengers by rail to the developing resort area of Branson, Missouri.

The train station from which the Zephyr departs was built in 1905 and is now 105 years old. It provides an authentic beginning for trips into the past.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Waterfalls of Arkansas - Romantic Cascades of the Mountains

Continuing with our St. Valentine's Day theme, waterfalls are an important part of American culture and life. They thread through favorite stories and the romance of our youth and are favorite destinations for Southerners of all ages.

The Natural State of Arkansas is blessed with hundreds of waterfalls and cascades, ranging from thundering Cedar Falls atop Petit Jean Mountain to small falls along the mountain streams that dot the Ozarks and Ouachita Mountains. A surprising number of these are very easy to access and at least one - Pig Trail Falls on the Pig Trail Scenic Byway - can even be seen from the windows of your car.

Although temperatures can be quite chilly in Arkansas this time of year, it actually is a great time for hand in hand visits to the state's waterfalls. They tend to run best during the late winter and early spring, before the trees put on their leaves. Many are near some of the more interesting historic sites in the state and are also within convenient distance of major communities.

To help you find some of the easier to access ones, I've put together a new web page with photographs and links for more information. To take a look, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/arkansaswaterfalls.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

St. Simons Island, Georgia - Romantic Jewel of the Southern Coast

Continuing our St. Valentine's Day look at some of the most romantic destinations in the South, there are few places that possess the charm and beauty of historic St. Simons Island on the Georgia coast.

One of the Peach State's famed Golden Isles, St. Simons is a place unto itself. There are ruins of the old English settlement and fort of Frederica, the beautiful St. Simons Lighthouse, oak canopied streets, unique shopping and dining districts and an array of unique and charming places to stay. Dolphins play off the waterfront and the island fronts an area of the Atlantic that is a noted habitat of the magnificent North Atlantic Right Whale.

St. Simons was inhabited by Native Americans for centuries before Spanish missionaries arrived to bring Christianity to the Guale Indians. The Spanish eventually gave way to the English, who established Fort Frederica on the island during the 1700s. The ruins of the old fort and town can still be seen beneath the magnificent moss-draped oaks at Fort Frederica National Monument.

Visitors can climb to the top of the St. Simons Lighthouse for spectacular panoramic views of the island and adjacent waters. They can also learn the history of the beautiful old tower as well as the story of its well known ghost.

And the causeway out to the island passes over the Marshes of Glynn, made famous by the noted Southern poet Sidney Lanier.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stsimons.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Natchez Trace Parkway - Beautiful Drive through the Romantic Old South

Continuing our St. Valentine's Day look at some of the South's most romantic places, a drive down the Natchez Trace is an unforgettable experience.

The parkway shadows the route of the original Natchez Trace, a road deeply embedded in the romance of the Old South. It was blazed during the 1700s by "Kaintuck" boatmen making their way back home to the Cumberland and Ohio River Valleys from trips down the Mississippi River to New Orleans on flatboats. This was during the days before paddlewheel steamboats made their way up and down the great river.

Today's highway is a limited access national park that stretches from Natchez in Mississippi up to the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. As it winds its way through beautiful scenery in Mississippi, Alabama and tennessee, the Trace takes visitors past historic plantations, Indian mounds, the ruins of a school where John James Audubon once taught, battlefields, sites associated with the Trail of Tears, waterfalls, lakes, natural points of interest and much more. Visitors can even visit the grave of Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame and the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

There are numerous hotels, bed and breakfast inns, campsites and other accommodations in the towns and parks along the parkway, which can be accessed at points all along its route. The National Park Service operates visitor centers and contact stations at multiple points on the parkway and rangers and staff are always available to answer questions.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

St. Marks Lighthouse, Florida - Romantic Sentinel on the Gulf

Continuing our look at some of my favorite romantic spots in the South for St. Valentine's Day, one of the most beautiful is the solitary white tower of the St. Marks Lighthouse in St. Marks, Florida.
Located far out in the marshes of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the St. Marks Lighthouse has guided ships in and out of the port of St. Marks for nearly 180 years. Completed in 1832, the lighthouse has witnessed the changes of ships from sail to steam to modern gas and diesel engines. It has weathered untold hurricanes and even Union attack during the Civil War. And yet it still stands, one of the most beautiful spots on Florida's Gulf Coast.

This is the place that millions of Monarch butterflies gather in the fall for their annual migration across the Gulf of Mexico and the sweeping views of the marshes and the Gulf provide outstanding opportunities for seeing wildlife and birds. It is an amazingly beautiful setting, far removed from the crowded beaches and scenery blocking condos of much of the rest of the Florida coast.

The lighthouse grounds are open to the public daily and there are walking trails, a scenic overlook and displays telling the history of the lighthouse and the significance of the national wildlife refuge. It is a remarkable and often overlooked place.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stmarkslight.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Robbers Cave, Oklahoma - Romantic Destination in the Sans Bois Mountains

Continuing with our theme of romantic historic spots in the South for St. Valentine's Day, today's focus is on a unique spot in Oklahoma.

One recent magazine labeled it "America's Sexiest Cave." I don't know about that, but I do know that Robbers Cave, the focal point of a beautiful state park in the Sans Bois Mountains of eastern Oklahoma.

The cave takes its name from local legend that holds that it was once a hide out for such infamous Old West outlaws as Belle Starr, the Daltons and Jesse James.  There may be some truth to the tales. Belle Starr had a cabin not far away and the Daltons definitely roamed the hills of the Sans Bois. Jesse and Frank James committed a couple of robberies near Hot Springs in the Ouachita Mountains and some believe they probably escaped to the west into the area.

The Old West stories add a unique feel to Robbers Cave State Park, which may also be one of the most beautiful in Oklahoma. Located in a beautiful mountain setting, the park features caves, rock formations, bluffs, a lake, nature center, lodge, camping, picnic areas and more.

Its unique setting gives the park year-round beauty. The views are spectacular during the winter when the lives of the trees are gone and there are plenty of pines to keep greenery in the setting as well.

If you are looking for an outdoor adventure that is steeped in the romance of America's Old West, then Robbers Cave should be at the top of your list. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/okrobberscave.

New Book on the Civil War in Florida is now Available

 I'm pleased to announce the release of my latest book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States.

Available at Amazon.com, the book is 330 pages long and focuses on the history of the people - white and black - of a typical plantation county of the Deep South during the Civil War years. Jackson County was then one of the most prosperous and heavily populated counties in Florida. The home of the state's Confederate governor, it suffered more severe economic devastation during the war than any other county in Florida. The county seat, Marianna, was the objective of the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Union troops during the war.

Events covered range from suicides and escape attempts in the county's slave community to "brother against brother" battles between local troops and their former friends and neighbors who became members of guerrilla bands and Union cavalry regiments. The book also includes a large amount of previously unpublished material on the life of Governor John Milton, who committed suicide in Jackson County on April 1, 1865, after telling friends that death was preferable to defeat at the hands of the North.

If you are in Jackson County, signed copies are available at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna (across the street from the Battle of Marianna Monument).  If you prefer to order directly from Amazon.com, please just click the ad above.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Noccalula Falls - Alabama's Romantic Legend of Love

Continuing our St. Valentine's month look at some of the most romantic spots in the South, the focus today is beautiful Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, Alabama.

Just off Interstate 59 between Birmingham and Chattanooga, the magnificent waterfall takes its name from the charming and romantic old Alabama legend of an ill-fated Cherokee princess. Her statue now graces the rim of the ravine created by the rushing water.

As the story goes, Noccalula was the daughter of a powerful Cherokee chief long before the first whites arrived in the area. She was in love with a brave but poor warrior from her own tribe. Her father, however, dreamed of expanding his power and influence by matching his daughter with the chief of a rival tribe.

Noccalula's father expelled her true love from his chiefdom and arranged for his daughter to marry the rival chief. On the day of her wedding, however, the heartbroken Cherokee princess took her own life by leaping from the waterfall. She committed suicide rather than marry a man she did not love.

The chief was so filled with remorse over his selfishness that had led to the death of his daughter that he decreed the waterfall should be named in her memory. It remains so to this day.

To learn more about Noccalula Falls and this fascinating old Alabama legend, please visit www.exploresourthernhistory.com/noccalula.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

St. Augustine - Florida's Romantic Spanish City

Continuing with looks at some of the most romantic historic places in the South, the Florida city of St. Augustine is absolutely exquisite.

This old Spanish city predates Jamestown, Virginia, and was more han 50 years old when the Pilgrims finally set foot on Plymouth Rock. It is the oldest continually occupied city in the continental United States and is rich not only in history, but in Old World and Southern charm that makes any visit an unforgettable experience.

In the restored historic district, St. George Street and the adjacent alleys and streets create a feel more like that of a European city than a coastal community in Florida. The walls, shops and cafes are centuries removed from Daytona, Miami and the amusement parks of Orlando. This is the old, real Florida.

For those seeking a romantic escape, in addition to strolling through the ancient streets or along the waterfront, there are carriages, charming bed and breakfast inns, unique hotels, tours of the harbor aboard a historic sailing vessel and unique cafes and restaurants, some of which rank among the finest in the South.

St. Augustine was founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565 during his campaign to drive the French from their settlement at nearby Fort Caroline, a fortress that the Spanish considered an intrusion on their lands. The city weathered storms, battles and pirate attacks over the years, but survived. By the time of the American Revolution, it was already more than 200 years old. The Plaza de la Constitucion in the center of town is the oldest public park in North America and the magnificent old Castillo de San Marcos is the nation's oldest masonry fort.

To learn more about St. Augustine, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/staugustine1. Be sure to follow the links on the page to learn more about the various sites and points of interest that we have visited and photographed in the historic old city.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Eureka Springs, Arkansas - Romance in the Ozarks

With St. Valentine's Day just two weeks away, I thought it might be interesting to spend some time exploring some of the most romantic historic places in the South.

My personal favorite is Eureka Springs, the beautifully preserved Victorian community in the Ozarks of Arkansas. On a per capita basis, Eureka Springs is the wedding capital of the United States. More people get married there each year per capita than in any other city in the country (including Las Vegas!).

There is a reason. With its charming scenery, inns, restaurants and beautiful Victorian architecture, Eureka Springs is one of the most beautiful places not just in the South, but in the world. Even the town's funnel cake stand is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Established as a health resort during the late 1800s, Eureka Springs developed as a place where people came to "take the waters" of the city's numerous mineral springs. It was thought in those days that the spring water held curative properties for a variety of ailments and people from across the nation came in by train in hopes of finding better health and happiness in the spas of Eureka Springs.

Its early days have much to do with Eureka's emergence as an eclectic community with a major focus on the arts, culture, history and charm. In fact, romance makes for booming business in Eureka Springs. There are wedding chapels, wedding locations, photographers galore, carriages, inns, cottages, cabins and hotels. You can even pick up your marriage license in the morning and get married in the afternoon.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/eurekaindex. Be sure to follow the links at the bottom of the page for information on a variety of historic sites around Eureka as well as for details on wedding services available in the city.