Thursday, April 29, 2010
Completed in 1851 atop the ruins of an earlier structure that had been destroyed by fire, the beautiful old structure was built in the Greek Revival style. Its remarkable interior spiral staircase was designed by Horace King, a former slave who had been given full freedom by Act of the Alabama State Legislature in recognition of his accomplishments as an engineer and builder.
When the Cotton States began to leave the Union in December of 1860 and January of 1861, Montgomery was selected as a central location for a meeting of delegates to decide on a common future. The convention started on February 4, 1861, in the Senate Chambers and the delegates quickly declared themselves to be the provisional legislature of the Confederate States of America.
Inside the historic building, the Confederate legislators drafted a constitution and undertook the work of establishing a new national government for the Southern states.
The Alabama State Capitol was occupied by Union troops at the end of the war, but like the nearby First White House of the Confederacy, somehow escaped the destruction visited on many other key Southern structures of the War Between the States.
During the 20th century, the building became a focal point of the Civil Rights Movement and was the backdrop for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s noted "How Long, Not Long" speech.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/montgomerycapitol1.
Monday, April 26, 2010
As bloody as the fighting was at places like Manassas and Pea Ridge during the first year of the Civil War, a battle that developed along the Tennessee River during the final days before the first anniversary of the bombardment of Fort Sumter stunned the nation with horror that surpassed anything ever seen on the North American continent.
It was called the Battle of Shiloh, the name taken from a small log church on the battleground, and by the time the guns went silent, nearly 25,000 men had been killed, wounded or were missing. As the stunning news spread North and South from Tennessee, it was difficult for many to believe. Until, that is, the casualty lists began to appear in the newspapers. The lists of names went on and on and on.
Shiloh came just one month after the bloody battle at Pea Ridge in Northwest Arkansas and the news was just as bad for the Confederacy. Moving north from Corinth, Mississippi, the Confederate army of General Albert Sidney Johnston struck the Union army of General Ulysses S. Grant. The Federals were camped around Shiloh Church and Pittsburg Landing and Johnston knew that their nearest reinforcements were at least a day away.
In the end, the butcher's bill was more than 23,476 in dead, wounded and missing. Nothing like it had been seen before, but more was to come. To learn more about the Battle of Shiloh and see photos of Shiloh National Military Park, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/shiloh1.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
The Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter prompted President Abraham Lincoln to call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the "rebellion in the cotton states." Lincoln's move, in turn, infuriated the people of Southern states that had not yet left the Union and they quickly joined forces with the other states already forming the Confederate States of America. Among these was the Commonwealth of Virginia, where leaders expressed outrage and alarm that Lincoln's new army might try to march across Virginia soil for an attack on her sister Southern states.
The decision of Virignia to join the Southern Confederacy caused many of her native sons to make difficult decisions about their own futures. Not least among these was Colonel Robert E. Lee, a U.S. Army officer who watched events unfold from his home at Arlington House, a beautiful mansion that overlooked the city of Washington, D.C. from the heights on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.
Lee had been married at Arlington in 1831 and he knew that any war between North and South would likely turn his own yard into a battlefield. His decision became truly significant, because he was offered command of the army that Lincoln was raising to destroy the Confederacy. Like many Southerners, however, Lee believed that his home state was part of a voluntary Union and felt that the founding fathers, of whom his own father was one, had intended for the states to remain strongly independent of the central government.
Forced with making a decision that could have made him a hero across the North, he chose instead to remain loyal to his home state and declined the offer to command Lincoln's army. When Virginia left the Union, he offered his services to his home state and was quickly named commander in chief of Virginia's military. He eventually became the Confederacy's most famed general, but in 1861 he was but one of many Southern officers who volunteered to defend their home states.
The war cost Lee his own home, as Arlington House was quickly occupied by Union troops. The grounds today make up Arlington National Cemetery. To learn more about this remarkable historic site, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/arlington.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Early on the morning of April 12, 1861, a mortar shell rose high into the air over Charleston Harbor in South Carolina and exploded above Fort Sumter. It was the signal for the beginning of a bombardment that would tear America in two.
South Carolina, along with a number of other Southern states, had seceeded from the Union, but 127 U.S. soldiers commanded by Major Robert Anderson, a Southerner himself, clung tenaciously to their tiny island in Charleston Harbor. As they watched Confederate troops mount cannon in batteries that ringed the harbor, they worked feverishly to do the same in Fort Sumter. They were running low on food and other supplies, but the supply ship Star of the West had been driven away by cannon fire. The critical hour had come. A delegation of officers from General P.G.T. Beauregard demanded the surrender of the fort, but Anderson refused. At the same time, however, he noted that he and his men were almost out of food and would soon have to yield the fort or starve.
The Confederacy was willing to wait no longer. A telegraph had come from Montgomery, Alabama, then the capital of the Southern nation, authorizing the reduction of the fort.
For 34 straight hours, Confederate cannon battered the walls of Fort Sumter. The woodwork of the brick barracks inside the fort caught fire, filling the masonry fortification with suffocating smoke and threatening to ignite its powder.
Anderson would surrender the next day, but the war ignited by the firing on Fort Sumter would lost for four more years and claim the lives of more than 600,000 men. For most of that time, the fort in Charleston Harbor became a symbol of Confederate defiance. Battered to pieces by Union cannon, the fort held out. Even after all of its guns were dismounted by cannon fire, the fort refused to surrender. In fact, it was not until Sherman began his march into the Carolinas that the Southern troops gave up Fort Sumter. Even then they did not surrender, but simply evacuated the ruins by boat and then marched away.
To learn more about Fort Sumter, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortsumter.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
It might require a little rewriting of history, but the first hostile shots of the War Between the States were fired by U.S. troops in Florida, not by Confederate troops in South Carolina.
On January 6, 1861, sentries at Fort Barrancas, an important post protecting Pensacola Bay and the Pensacola Navy Yard, observed shadowy figures approaching the main gate of the fort through the darkness. Barrancas was then the only one of the harbor fortifications at Pensacola occupied by the U.S. Army in any strength at all. The nearby posts of Fort Pickens and Fort McRee were held only by caretakers and the Advanced Redoubt, a subsidiary work to Fort Barrancas, was not occupied at all.
The men occupying Fort Barrancas that night normally occupied more comfortable quarters in the nearby Barrancas Barracks, but Lt. Adam J. Slemmer had moved them into the main fort after hearing rumors that state militia troops planned to seize the fort. According to a report filed just three days earlier, Barrancas was heavily armed. The Ordnance Department in Washington had reported on January 3rd that the fort contained 44 seacoast and garrison cannon and 20,244 pounds of gunpowder.
It was later disclosed that the figures on the drawbridge had been volunteer soldiers from Alabama who approached the fort after hearing a rumor that it had been evacuated by the Federals. Instead they found themselves facing the firing end of the muskets of Slemmer's sentries and scrambled for cover. No one was injured in the incident, which happened before the firing on the Union ship Star of the West by cadets from The Citadel a short time later and more than three months before the bombardment of Fort Sumter.
To learn more about Fort Barrancas, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortbarrancas1.
Monday, April 19, 2010
In Virginia, for example, Governor Bob McDonnell ignited a firestorm of debate when he signed a proclamation declaring that Virginia would once again observe Confederate History Month. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour chimed in that the controversy was much ado about nothing, but it continues to rage just the same.
To many of us born and raised in the South, this is a tragedy. There is much that should be remembered about our Confederate ancestors and the struggles they faced during the most turbulent time in American history. Many were not firebrand secessionsits and the vast majority neither owned slaves nor aspired ever to do so. The causes of the War Between the States have been debated since the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter in 1861 and the discussion will not end with anything said here or anywhere else this year.
It seems to me, though, that we should all be able to find room in our hearts to remember the sacrifices made by tens of thousands of Southern soldiers and their families between 1861 and 1865. So many people today seem to have forgotten, if they ever knew, that regardless of the cause of the war, the vast majority of Confederate soldiers fought for reasons far removed from today's debates of political correctness.
Dozens of my own ancestors fought for the Confederacy (and a few for the Union). Only a few of them owned slaves. Most served because they felt it was the right thing to do. Their state was under attack and their families and homes were in danger. Loyalty in the Deep South in those days was much more focused on local communities and home states rather than a government far away in either Richmond or Washington, D.C. It was a time when kin mattered more that almost anything in the world except God.
My great-great grandfather Joseph B. Cox, for example, was a farmer. He supported ten children and a few other miscellaneous relatives through the labors of his own hands. He owned no slaves and there is no indication that he took much more than passing interest in the war at all before 1864. That was when he, like tens of thousands of other Southern men, was conscripted (drafted) into the army. Ordered to report to a conscription camp at Marianna, Florida, he received rudimentary training, a uniform and a musket. In May of 1864 he was mustered into the service as a private in Captain Wilson W. Poe's Battalion (Company C) of the First Florida Infantry Reserves. He went on to fight at the Battle of Marianna and was standing guard duty in 1865 when the war came to an end.
These men from my own family are good examples of the average men and boys who went to war in defense of the South. They cared little about slavery, states rights or any of the other great issues of the day. They wanted only to do their duty so they could return home to their farms. They fought when their home county was attacked, not only because it was the right thing to do, but because their neighbors and relatives also turned out to fight. The went to war knowing that their families at home would suffer because the men would not be there to tend the fields or care for the animals and buildings. Many families of Southern soldiers went hungry during the four long years that the war lasted.
To me, these have always been the people that Confederate History Month memorializes. The war to them was not about race, it was about home and family. They deserve to be remembered, just as do the men and boys in blue who turned out to fight for the cause in which they believed. They all risked their lives for reasons dear to them. They fought for family and home, for their states and for their country. They came from all races and all walks of life. And more than 600,000 of them died. Whether they wore gray or whether they wore blue, they should never be forgotten . Yet we as a nation seem determined to wipe their memories from the pages of history.
Perhaps Americans of all points of view should take a few minutes to remember that it is wrong to judge people of another generation by the standards and political correctness of our own. Perhaps we should remember that things are never as cut and dry as we might wish them to be. Perhaps we should realize the value of honoring all of our ancestors and celebrating their lives. Surely we can put aside political divisiveness to look back and realize that those who became before us were human beings who made their choices and did their best to do their duty to home, family, state, country and God as they saw it.
In honor of Confederate History Month, I will devote my postings for the rest of this month to historic sites dating from the War Between the States. Until my next post, you can earn more about many of these places by visiting the main site directory at http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
The Red Oak Creek Covered Bridge was built in the 1840s by famed bridge builder Horace King. Born a slave of African American and Catawba Indian descent, King was either freed or purchased his freedom from John Godwin. A contractor who had relocated to Girard, Alabama, (today's Phenix City) across the river from Columbus, Georgia, Godwin recognized King's abilities as an engineer early in his life and mentored him in the development of his remarkable skills. After King secured his freedom, the Alabama State Legislature passed a special act guaranteeing him of full rights so that he could travel freely, own property and otherwise pursue his career as an engineer and bridge builder.
Including its planked approaches, the Red Oak Creek Covered Bridge is the longest wooden bridge in Georgia. Built in the Town Lattice Truce style, its main span is also the longest unsupported span in the state.
A beautiful survivor of the antebellum past when such bridges were common in the South, the Red Oak Creek bridge is in remarkably good condition despite its exposure to 170 years of weather, floods and aging.
To learn more about this beautiful old covered bridge, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/redoak.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Known locally as Castle Morgan, apparently in honor of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, the prison was established by the Confederate military in 1863 to house Union prisoners of war, many of whom were taken by the troops of General Nathan Bedford Forrest in his operations in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Making use of an uncompleted cotton warehouse on a bluff overlooking the Alabama River, the Confederates established the prison they thought would contain 400 or so prisoners.
Unfortunately, Confederate prisoner of war camps overflowed in 1864 and 1865 due to the decision by President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant to end all prisoner exchanges with the South. As a result of this decision, thousands of Union soldiers remained confined in prisoner of war camps across the South and as the number of prisoners taken grew, the rough prisons overflowed with inmates.
At Cahaba, for example, a facility with only 432 bunks overflowed with more than 3,000 prisoners by 1865. The stockade surrounding the facility measured only 125 by 200 feet and with so many men confined inside, there was only 8 square feet of space per soldier.
It is generally thought that around 147 men died while confined at Castle Morgan. They are memorialized in a special area adjacent to Old Capital Cemetery in Old Cahawba.
The prisoners were released when the war came to an end in 1865 and today little more than an open space of grass and the low rectangular mound of earth and rubble remain to remind visitors that the prison ever existed. Interpretive markers ring the site and the memory of Castle Morgan is an important part of the Old Cahawba Archaeological Site. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/oldcahawbaprison.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Growing from a settlement that was established as early as 1814 following the Creek War of 1813-1814, Lownesboro is located in one of the most historic areas of Alabama. The Battle of Holy Ground, where the Creek leader WilliamWeatherford made his fabled horseback leap into the Alabama River, took place just ten miles north of town. A skirmish was fought in the streets of Lowndesboro during the closing days of the Civil War, but spooked by false rumors of a small pox outbreak, Union soldiers moved on quickly sparing the town the severe destruction suffered by many Southern communities.
Lowndesboro will host its annual Heritage Celebration on May 1st. It is a great time to visit the town and experience the hospitality of this beautiful Alabama town. Events planned for the day include tours, a living history encampment, demonstrations of historical weaponry and more.
To learn more about historic Lowndesboro, please visit our new page at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/lowndesboro.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Usually the blooms at places like Honor Heights Park, home of the Muskogee Azalea Festival in Oklahoma, and Callaway Gardens in Georgia would have been in full bloom a week ago, but they are just now beginning to come out. Garden experts indicate that this should mean two things for this year's display. First, the blooms should be quite spectacular over the next week or so. Second, the blooms may not remain at their height as long as normal this year.
Elsewhere across the South, you can expect about the same conditions at gardens from about the midpoints of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and north. Along the coastal plain, everything looks really nice. Here in Northwest Florida, the azaleas are just spectacular.
Here are links to some of our garden pages at ExploreSouthernHistory.com:
- Muskogee Azalea Festival - Muskogee, Oklahoma
- Callaway Gardens - Pine Mountain, Georgia
- Dothan Area Botanical Gardens - Dothan, Alabama
- Eden Gardens State Park - Point Washington, Florida
- Rainbow Springs State Park - Dunnellon, Florida
- Garvan Woodland Gardens - Hot Springs, Arkansas
- Maclay Gardens State Park - Tallahassee, Florida
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The warm weather is bringing the blooms out and they should be out nicely by the weekend, so if you are planning to visit the festival this year, the time is here! Because of the cold winter, the gardners are not sure how long the azaleas will stay in bloom, but they should be quite pretty by this weekend and will stay that way for at least the coming week.
The main day of the festival this year will be Saturday, April 10th, and will include a parade and a variety of other activities. Honor Heights Park will be alive with activity all day, including carriage rides, food, activities for children and, of course, the beautiful flowers.
To learn more and see a full schedule of event, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/okmuskogeeazalea.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Although it seems far removed from the large Mississippian era mound groups of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia and the other Deep South states, Spiro played a critical part in the development of the Native American culture that spread across much of the Southeast and Midwest between A.D. 900 and A.D. 1540. The town maintained vast trading networks and archaeologists have found artifacts at the site that originated as far away as the Great Lakes and Florida.
Spiro Mounds also seems to have played a major role in the development of the ceremonial or religious beliefs of the Mississippian people, a culture that received its name because it is thought to have spread from the Mississippi River throughout the Southeast in around A.D. 900. Spiro is believed to have been occupied as early as A.D. 850 and research there has revealed a dramatic quantity of high quality ceremonial artifacts and artwork.
Research at the site has also revealed that the extensive complex of mounds was designed to coincide with key celestial events. The inhabitants of Spiro could mark the changing seasons by the way the sun and stars aligned with their mounds on key days of the year.
Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center is a major park owned and preserved by the Oklahoma Historical Society. It is open to the public five days each week and features a museum, walking paths, interpretive exhibits and more. To read moer about Spiro, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/SpiroMounds1.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
This beautiful little tree explodes in white blossoms each spring and is one of the favorite blooming trees. It grows across the South and is popular as a yard tree, but also grows wild in the woods across the region.
The legend holds that the tree was once very large and because its wood was strong and sturdy, it provided building material for a variety of purposes. According to the story, it was the dogwood tree that provided the wood used to build the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Because of its role in the crucifixion, it is said that God both cursed and blessed the tree. It was cursed to forever be small, so that it would never grow large enough again for its wood to be used as a cross for a crucifixion. At the same time, however, the tree was blessed so that it would produce beautiful flowers each spring, just in time for Easter.
The most unique part of the legend is that the petals of the dogwood actually form the shape of a cross. Upon close examination, it can be seen that the blooms of the tree always have four petals. And the tips of each of the petals are indented, as if they bear a nailprint. There are even colors in the petals that bring to mind the drops of blood that spilled during the crucifixion.
To learn more about this unique legend, please visit our sister site on the historic community of Two Egg, Florida, at www.twoeggfla.com/dogwood and click the link for "Dogwood Tree Legend is a Two Egg Favorite." Here are links to some great places in the South to see dogwood trees in bloom:
- Muskogee Azalea Festival - Muskogee, Oklahoma
- Dogwood Canyon Nature Park - near Branson, Missouri
- Garvan Woodland Gardens - Hot Springs, Missouri
- Natchez Trace Parkway - Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee
- Dothan Area Botanical Gardens - Dothan, Alabama
- Maclay Gardens State Park - Tallahassee, Florida
- Callaway Gardens - Pine Mountain, Georgia
Friday, April 2, 2010
That was in the days before the completion of the interstate highway system diverted traffic from roads such as U.S. Highway 41, steering would be visitors away from attractions like Rainbow Springs and on their way to newer and larger destinations in such places as Orlando. The fall off in traffic proved devastating to many well known Florida attractions and they were eventually forced to close their doors. Rainbow Springs was among them.
Located just three miles north of downtown Dunnellon on U.S. Highway 41, Rainbow Springs State Park preserves over 1,400 acres surrounding the head spring and much of the short but strikingly beautiful Rainbow River. There are no more "submarine boats" or monorails, but visitors can enjoy the crystal clear waters of the spring and walk the paths in the now preserved gardens of the original amusement park. There are striking waterfalls and beautiful flowers.
To learn more about Rainbow Springs State Park, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/rainbowsprings.