Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Battle of San Jacinto - LaPorte, Texas

San Jacinto Battleground
Photo Courtesy of Moore Archeological Consulting
The Battle of San Jacinto was a history-changing engagement fought on the outskirts of what is now the mega-city of Houston, Texas.
Texas had declared its independence of Mexico after the government of that country issued a racial edict prohibiting any further Anglos from emigrating to previously approved colonies in the province. Armed forces of both Texians and Tejanos had driven Mexican troops from Texas in 1835, but 1836 brought a brutal counter campaign led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

Santa Anna styled himself the "Napoleon of the West" and stormed north across the desert, driving his army through winter conditions to appear in San Antonio in February. He took the Alamo, putting its garrison to the sword, and then ordered the slaughter of an even larger group of men that surrendered at Goliad.

Entrance to San Jacinto Battleground
Photo Courtesy of Moore Archeological Consulting
Knowing he could not hope to stand against Santa Anna with the force at his disposal, Texas general Sam Houston began a strategic retreat up the coast of the newly declared republic, scorching the earth as he went. Civilians fled for their lives as the Mexican armies advanced, many escaping with little more than the clothes on their backs. The retreat is remembered in Texas to this day as the "Runaway Scrape."

Everything changed on April 17, 1836. Having reached a site within today's location of the city that bears his name, Houston ended his retreat. Instead of taking a road that would lead him on to the Louisiana border and the protection of the U.S. Army assembled there, he instead turned down the San Jacinto River.

Prairie across which Houston Attacked
Photo Courtesy of Moore Archeological Consulting
By this time Houston, once a U.S. Army officer and the former Governor of Tennessee, had been reinforced and supplied. The strength of his army had also been augmented by the arrival of two small cannon. Dubbed the "Twin Sisters," these guns had been sent as a gift by the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio.

In the days that followed, Houston took up a position near the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River, placing both streams to his rear as a clear signal to his men that there would be no retreat. Santa Anna advanced and assembled his army across a marshy prairie from Houston's men.

Although the Mexican general had the larger army and better artillery, it was Houston that seized the initiative. Sending mounted men to burn a bridge to Santa Anna's rear, he formed his men to battle with shouts of "Remember the Alamo!"

The Battle of San Jacinto lasted less than 30 minutes, but ended with Texas having assured its status as an independent republic. Santa Anna lost 630 men killed, 208 wounded and 730 captured. Houston lost a total of 39.

To learn more about the battle and to see more photos of the battleground, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanjacinto.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gold Rush in the North Georgia Mountains!

Dahlonega Gold Museum
With the holiday season now here, the ideal place to look for a nice piece of gold this year might be a stream in the North Georgia mountains!
It is a little known fact that 20 years before the California Gold Rush of 1849, the mountains of Georgia were the scene of America's first major gold rush. Residents of the area around what is now Dahlonega called it the "gold fever" and within just months of the discovery of the first nugget, thousands of men made their way in from all over the United States to search for the elusive yellow metal.

There was so much gold in the North Georgia mountains that Dahlonega was made the site of a U.S. Branch Mint by Congress. Between 1838 and 1861, the mint there turned out $6,000,000 in gold coins. And the face value of those coins was based on the early 19th century evaluation of gold!

Panning for Gold in North Georgia
USFS Photo
The gold rush began in the winter of 1828-1829 when a bit of gold was found in an area about 30 miles north of the Georgia town of Gainesville. This was the area that is now part of Lumpkin County and in the vicinity of the soon to rise boomtowns of Dahlonega and Auraria.

Within just three years after the discovery, an estimated $212,000 in gold was brought out of the North Georgia mountains (in 1831 dollars!). Based on the current prices, that amount of gold today would be worth $18,586,900.

Gold Stream in North Georgia
By 1831, Georgia was America's top gold producing state. The boom days continued until 1849, when news spread east of the strike at Sutter's Mill in California. The departure of so many miners for the west prompted concerns at the U.S. Branch Mint in Dahlonega. Dr. Matthew Stephenson, an assayer for the mint, took to the steps of the Lumpkin County Courthouse (now the Dahlonega Gold Museum) to urge miners to stay.  Pointing at surrounding ridges, he correctly prophesied that millions of dollars in gold remained to be found there.  It is said that he was the first person to use the now well-known phrase, "There's gold in them there hills!"

There is still gold in those hills. As gold prices have soared over the last few years, a whole new generation has begun panning the streams of North Georgia.

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

While there, be sure to follow the links at the bottom of the page to Dahlonega, the Dahlonega Gold Museum and the U.S. Branch Mint at Dahlonega.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ichetucknee Springs State Park - Fort White, Florida

Head Spring at Ichetucknee Springs State Park
While most people head to the mountains in search of fall color, Florida offers a chance to see fall and winter color of a different kind!
Take Ichetucknee Springs State Park, for example. Located at Fort White the park is only 20 minutes from I-75 at Lake City. The blue color of its water on sunny fall days is absolutely remarkable.

Ichetucknee Springs (the name is said to be an Indian word meaning something like "place of the otters") is actually a group of seven large springs that are among the most remarkable in the world. They pour out an astounding 85 billion gallons of crystal clear water each year, straight up from the Floridan Aquifer.

Interpretive Panel at Ichetucknee Springs
Fall and winter is actually a great time to visit the park because the swarms of people that flood there to swim, tube and canoe during the summer tend to vanish after Labor Day.  When I stopped by Ichetucknee in late October, I saw only two other people the entire time I was there.  If you like peace and quiet and scenic beauty, now is the time to go.

The springs are also rich in history. Hernando de Soto passed through the area in 1539, taking a Timucuan Indian chief and his daughter hostage and forcing many of their followers into slavery.

Clear Blue Water at Ichetucknee Springs
In 1608 the Mission San Martin de Timucua was established at Fig or Mission Springs in the park. Consisting of a church, convento (friar's home), plaza and cemetery, it was associated with a large village of Timucuans.  The Franciscan friars worked at Mission San Martin until 1656, converting many of the villagers to Christianity, before the mission was destroyed in an uprising by its inhabitants.

In later years Florida's famed Bellamy or Pensacola to St. Augustine Road passed by the springs and they were a popular stopping point for visitors making their way through the wilderness of Territorial Florida.

To learn more about the history and natural beauty of Ichetucknee Springs, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ichetuckneesprings.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

National Naval Aviation Museum & 100 Years of Naval Aviation

World War II Aircraft
2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the year that the U.S. Navy first took to the air.  That entire span of history can be viewed at the outstanding National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.
Located on board Naval Air Station, Pensacola, the museum preserves aircraft and artifacts from all eras of Naval Aviation. Exhibits range from displays of the earliest types of aircraft flown by the U.S. Navy to the reconstructed deck of an aircraft carrier to artifacts from the exploration of space. It is a little known fact that the first American in space, Alan B. Shepard, was a naval aviator.

Jet Fighters
The museum offers a chance for visitors to get up close to some of the most powerful weapons of war ever created. Fighter planes from all eras of the 20th century are on display, along with trainers and other aircraft. From jet fighters that saw service around the world to World War II planes recovered from the deep and even the biplane trainer flown by President George H.W. Bush, the aircraft displays are remarkable and fascinating.

Visitors to the National Naval Aviation Museum can also experience what it is like to fly in some of the U.S. Navy's top aircraft thanks to MaxFlight 360 flight simulators. These remarkable simulators offer the chance to "fly" in 3D and feel what it is like to be in air to air combat.

The museum also preserves and displays artifacts and exhibits that tell the stories of heroism exhibited by some of America's finest pilots and crews in conflicts including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East campaigns.

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

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Weekend - Looking for good, historically-based, Ghost Stories??

Crescent Hotel - America's Most Haunted?
Halloween weekend is here!  And while many people enjoy trick or treating, costumes  and fake but scary haunted houses, others like to read or share "real" ghost stories.

At www.exploresouthernhistory.com we focus exclusively on stories that have a verifiable historical background. Not only that, we dig into stories to find out as best we can what the truth behind them might be!

You can check out the full list at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ghost1, but here are some of our favorites:

Just use your back button to come back to this list!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Claude Neal Lynching: FBI investigating 77 year old Florida crime

Edited Photo of Claude Neal Lynching
The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a new investigation into the notorious 1934 lynching of Claude Neal near Marianna, Florida.

FBI agents have been looking at archival records and interviewing family members of Neal as well as public officials in Jackson County, where the lynching took place. The Justice Department neither confirms nor denies such investigations, but has said that it is looking into nearly 100 such cases as part of a new focus on unsolved crimes of the Civil Rights era. Officials in Marianna, speaking off the record, confirmed that they have talked with the FBI about the case.

Claude Neal was a 23 year old black farm laborer in Jackson County at the time of the lynching. The series of events leading to his death began on October 18, 1934, when a 19 year old woman named Lola Cannady left her home in a rural area and walked a few hundred yards across an open field to water her family's hogs. She never came back.

Location of Lola Cannady Murder, 1980s
As concern over her disappearance grew, family members and neighbors started to search the surrounding fields and woods. Near the hand pump at the hog pen they found indications of a large fight. Footprints went around and around in circles and there were blood splatters on the ground. They also found a man's footprints leading from the scene across a field to a nearby home.

When they followed the prints to the house, they found two women - Sallie and Annie Smith - trying to wash blood from a man's clothes. Annie's son, Claude Neal, was not home and would not return home that night. A bloody hammer was also found at the house.  The women would soon admit that the clothes belonged to Neal and Annie Smith would tell Sheriff W.F. "Flake" Chambliss that she had seen Neal and Cannady near the hog pen and had heard her screams.

Lola's mother looking at her daughter's body, 1934.
Lola's body was found in a wooded area the next morning. She had been raped and beaten to death. A blood-stained piece of cloth was found near her body. It matched a piece that had been torn from the sleeve of Claude Neal's shirt. Searchers also found the stem and loop of a pocket watch at the scene. When he was arrested that day, Neal was carrying a pocket watch but deputies quickly noted that it was missing its stem and loop. The watch parts found near Lola's body fit perfectly onto the broken part of Claude's watch.

The Jackson County sheriff tried to protect Neal from a growing mob that was determined to exact revenge on him by taking him from authorities and turning him over to Lola's father. The suspect was moved to jails in Chipley, Panama City and Pensacola, Florida, before finally being moved to a double-locked cell at the jail in Brewton, Alabama.  He was taken from the latter place by mob members armed with shotguns, pistols and sticks of dynamite.

National Guard troops from company sent to Marianna.
Claude Neal was carried back to Jackson County where he was tortured and then killed by a small group of six men who held him in the woods near a riverboat landing on the Chattahoochee River. His body was then carried to the Cannady farm and from there it was taken to Marianna and hanged from a tree on courthouse square.

Marianna was the scene of rioting on the day the body was found at the courthouse and Florida Governor Dave Sholtz had to send in two companies of the Florida National Guard to calm the situation.

The Claude Neal lynching became a focal part of an effort by the NAACP and other groups to secure the passage of a national anti-lynching law. The men that killed Neal were never tried and all are now dead. The shadow of the lynching, however, lingers even today as an important part of both the history and present of Florida.

To learn more and see a new online video on the case, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/claudeneal.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Best Autumn Drives #5 - Highway 190 in Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, Georgia

Overlook at Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park
Highway 190, which passes along the crest of Pine Mountain through the full length of Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park in Georgia, is one of the most beautiful fall drives in the South.
The park takes its name from the President that led the United States through the dark days of the Great Depression and World War II. In fact, President Roosevelt died at his Little White House near Warm Springs on the northern slopes of Pine Mountain. He frequented the beautiful scenery now included in the more than 9,000 acres of the state park.

Highway 190 enters the park at the Callaway Store and Overlook just north of Hamilton, Georgia. From there it winds its way along the top of the mountain, past overlooks, the park office, cabins, picnic areas, trail heads and other points of interest until it exits the park just outside Warm Springs. The total length is just under 12 miles.

Roosevelt Statue at Dowdell's Knob
Along the way, be sure to take Dowdell Knob Road out to Dowdell's Knob, a favorite picnic spot of President Roosevelt. The knob is a hilltop that projects from the side of the mountain and provides a spectacular, panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.  During the fall it overlooks an amazing natural canvas of color, especially reds and golds.

Highway 190 itself is simply a spectacular drive in years when the leaves are good.  Along much of the route, the trees form natural arches over the roadway. When these take on their full color, the scene as you pass through the trees is simply amazing.

The drive is also just minutes away from Pine Mountain's famed Callaway Gardens, which also offers spectacular fall scenery.  The grounds of the Little White House near the northern end of the highway are also beautiful in the fall.

If you want to enjoy a great lunch while visiting Pine Mountain, consider the Callaway Country Store located at the southern entrance to the state park. The dining room there has what may be the best fried chicken in Georgia and features spectacular views from your table.  You can also take a picnic and enjoy the mountain scenery itself as there are plenty of great picnic spots along the road and the weather is usually mild, but cool (be sure to take a sweater or jacket).

To learn more about Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fdrstatepark.

You can also check out the views from Dowdell's Knob at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/dowdellsknob.

You can read about the Little White House and President Roosevelt at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/littlewhitehouse.

And, last but not least, read about Callaway Gardens at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/callawaygardens1.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Best Autumn Drives #4 - Cheaha State Park Loop, Alabama

View from Cheaha State Park Restaurant
Alabama's highest point is a spectacular destination year round, but the top of Cheaha Mountain (or Mt. Cheaha as it is commonly known) turns into a stunning wonderland of color during the annual fall leaf change.
Bunker Loop is a paved drive that takes visitors around the top of the mountain. Beginning at the park entrance on Highway 281 (Talladega Scenic Drive), it winds its way around the main plateau atop the mountain and offers beautiful scenery and numerous points of interest.

Bald Rock Overlook
Among the stops of note along the loop is Bunker Tower, a beautiful stone structure built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) back in the 1930s that rises high into the clear mountain air from the peak of Alabama's tallest point. From the top visitors can take in a remarkable 360 degree view of Cheaha and the surrounding Talladega National Forest.

Just up the loop from the tower is the parking area for the Doug Ghee Accessible Trail to Bald Rock. A very nice boardwalk is accessible for visitors of all abilities, the trail leads to an overlook atop Bald Rock on the edge of the mountain. The view is stunning and in the fall an array of color stretches for as far as the eye can see.

Also accessible off the loop is the trail to Pulpit Rock. A rugged walk through rock fields and down a steep slope, the trail ends at a stunning rock that juts out from the side of the mountain.

Cheaha State Park also offers a wide array of amenities, ranging from a hotel to cabins and campgrounds to a mountaintop restaurant with perhaps the best view of any place to eat in Alabama.

To learn more about the park, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/cheaha1.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Best Autumn Drives #3 - Pig Trail Scenic Byway, Arkansas

Ozark Mountains of Arkansas
Continuing our look (not in any particular order) of some of the best autumn drives in the South, this post focuses on the famed Pig Trail Scenic Byway in Arkansas.
So named because it is used as a short cut by many fans on their way to University of Arkansas Razorbacks football games on weekends in the fall, the Pig Trail passes through some of the prettiest scenery in the Ozarks.

The Pig Trail actually originated as a winding trail that provided foot access for ancient Indian hunters as they made their way into the mountains of the Ozarks from the Arkansas River Valley. When French hunters and trappers arrived in Arkansas during the 1600s, they discovered this path and used it as well. In fact, they gave the name Aux Arcs (which has been corrupted in English to "Ozarks") to the wide bend of the river at the point it is intersected by the trail. This is now the site of the town of Ozark.

Pig Trail Scenic Byway
In later years, the trail was used by early settlers of the mountains and later by Union and Confederate soldiers, as well as the riders of the vicious guerrilla bands that infested the region, during the Civil War.

The mountains surrounding the Pig Trail became part of the Ozark National Forest when it was established in the early 1900s and over the years the road became a favorite way to access the mountains and the beautiful Mulberry River area. The National Forest Service designated it as a scenic byway and today it provides a way for visitors to explore a stunning area of mountains, valleys, wild rivers and waterfalls.

To learn more about the Pig Trail Scenic Byway, please follow this link: http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pigtrail.html.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Best Autumn Drives #2 - Talimena Scenic Drive in Oklahoma & Arkansas

Queen Wilhelmina State Park
The Talimena Scenic Drive is extremely popular with sightseers from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, but license places from other states are very common as well.
Stretching from Mena, Arkansas, for 54 miles along the top of the Ouachita Mountains to near Talihina, Oklahoma, the drive crosses some of the highest points between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Rockies. The views from both sides of the Talimena are spectacular and the landscape is dotted with historic sites and geological points of interest as well.

Among the key attractions along the drive is Queen Wilhelmina State Park. Located not far from Mena near the eastern end of the scenic roadway, the park is one of the crown jewels of the Arkansas State Park system. In addition to hiking, sightseeing, picnicking, camping and other traditional outdoor activities, it also offers a lodge, cabins, miniature railroad, antique railroad equipment and historic structures.

Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery
Just west of the park is the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery, which contains the graves of early residents of the area and is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young girl who died during Civil War days.

Other key historic sites along the Talimena Scenic Drive are Horse Thief Springs, Old Military Road, the original Choctaw boundary line, historic Rich Mountain fire tower and more. Points of natural interest include spectacular views, unique rock formations and the stunning vistas of Winding Stair Mountain, which was declared a national recreation area by President Ronald Reagan in 1989.

View from Winding Stair
If the name Winding Stair sounds familiar, it could be because it was the setting for much of the book True Grit. In the book and subsequent movies, the name Winding Stair is read or heard as the location that Rooster Cogburn, the Texas Ranger and their young female companion go in search of the outlaw gang of Lucky Ned. The association with True Grit is appropriate as the Winding Stair area was frequented by outlaws during the violent days that followed the Civil War and deputy U.S. marshals from Fort Smith often went there in search of wanted men.

Among the deputy marshals known to have operated in the area was Cal Whitson, the one-eyed lawman that many believe was the real Rooster Cogburn.  Please click here to learn more about his life.

To learn more about the Talimena Scenic Drive and its points of interest, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ARTalimena1.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Best Autumn Drives #1 - Scenic Highway 7 in Arkansas

Overlook on Scenic Highway 7
With the first hints of fall in the air, I thought you might enjoy looking at some of the best autumn drives in the South. First up is the stunning Scenic Highway 7 in Arkansas.

Dedicated in 1994, Scenic Highway 7 was the Natural State's first national scenic byway. It has been named as one of the ten most beautiful drives in the nation and stretches for 290 miles past waterfalls, mountains, valleys, streams, historic sites and more. The northern half of the highway passes through the rugged and scenic Ozark mountains and takes in some of the most spectacular scenery in the South.

Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area
Scenic Highway 7 begins near Harrison and not far from the noted Ozarks resort area of Eureka Springs. From there it winds south through the mountains to the Buffalo National River, a scenic and historic national park area that protects more than 150-miles of the free-flowing Buffalo River. Noted for its deep canyons, scenic bluffs and historic sites, the park is nothing short of spectacular during the fall leaf change, which usually begins in October.

From the Buffalo River region, the highway continues south through the mountains of the Ozark National Forest and eventually emerges at Russellville on the Arkansas River. The southern half of the byway then picks up and extends down through the Ouachita Mountains to Hot Springs and eventually on to the Louisiana state line.

Hot Springs National Park
As it passes through Hot Springs, Scenic Highway 7 becomes the main street down historic Bathhouse Row at Hot Springs National Park. This stunning national park preserves a major resort of the 19th and early 20th century, along with the remarkable hot springs that feed its saunas and pools.  The park also protects thousands of acres of spectacular mountain scenery.

To learn more about Scenic Highway 7 and the array of natural and historic points of interest along its route, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/scenic7.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reenactment of Battle of Marianna, Florida set for September 24th.

Ely-Criglar Mansion in Marianna
Marianna Day, which features a parade, live music, memorial services and a battle reenactment, will be observed on Saturday, September 24th, in Marianna, Florida.
The city is located along Interstate 10 and U.S. 90 in the Florida Panhandle, 66 miles west of Tallahassee, 133 miles east of Pensacola, 55 miles north of Panama City and 36 miles south of Dothan, Alabama.

The annual Marianna Day event commemorates the Battle of Marianna, a Civil War engagement that culminated the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Union troops during the entire Civil War. It was one of the fiercest small battles of the war and involved full speed cavalry charges, a bayonet assault and hand to hand combat.

St. Luke's Church, Scene of Heavy Fighting
The Battle of Marianna took place on September 27, 1864, when a Union column led by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth launched simultaneous frontal and flank attacks on the city, which was defended by the Confederate forces of Colonel Alexander Montgomery. Both commanders had been wounded earlier in the war - Asboth at Pea Ridge and Montgomery at Second Manassas - and many of their men had already fought on some of the largest battlefields of the war. The result was a confrontation unlike any other fought in the Deep South during the entire war. To learn more, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com or consider the book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition (also available for Kindle and iBooks download).

The main day of events will begin on Saturday morning (Sept. 24th) was a parade through downtown Marianna. The downtown reenactment will immediately following the end of the parade. Other events planned for the day include memorial services, a fall festival featuring live music at Madison Street Park beginning at noon and a mock battle complete with cannon fire (not a representation of the real battle) at 3 p.m. at Citizens Lodge Park on Caverns Road. A second mock battle will be held at Citizens Lodge Park on Sunday (Sept. 25th) at 3 p.m. Please click here for more information on the weekend's events.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Archaeologists bring story of Civil War prison camp to life

Archaeological Excavation at Camp Lawton
A second season of research by archaeologists from Georgia Southern University is adding a great deal to our understanding of life at Camp Lawton, a Civil War prison camp near Millen, Georgia.
Millen is about an hour south of Augusta and was along the route of Sherman's March to the Sea. Camp Lawton had only been in use for about six weeks when the approach of Sherman's army forced its evacuation. During that short time of operation, however, more than 10,000 Union prisoners of war were confined in the 42-acre stockade and over 700 died.

Stream and Prison Site
The site has long been preserved as part of Magnolia Springs State Park and the adjacent Bo Ginn National Fish Hatchery. Because of this preservation, the site of the stockade and its related components has been protected for years and the artifacts associated with the prison and its inmates have been left in the ground where they fell nearly 150 years ago.

Interpretive Kiosk at Camp Lawton Site
As archaeologists uncover these artifacts, they are pushing away the fog of time to learn much about what life was like in the prison. Not only has their work revealed traces of the stockade and other structures, it has located places where prisoners lived. Artifacts found so far include a unique ring, traces of huts lived in by prisoners and even buckles and other items bearing regimental insignia. The latter items help pinpoint where men from various units lived in the prison.

In addition to the prison site itself, Magnolia Springs State Park features the well-preserved earthworks of the Confederate fortifications that surrounded the stockade. In addition, there are interpretive panels and signs to help visitors learn about the prison and its history.

To learn more about Camp Lawton, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/camplawton.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park - Kennesaw, Georgia

Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield
A park that commemorates the Atlanta Campaign and preserves the scene of some of its heaviest fighting, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is a rare Civil War landscape in the rapidly spreading Atlanta metropolitan area.
Fought on July 27, 1864, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was one of the few direct Union assaults of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's campaign to take Atlanta. The Federal troops tried to storm heavily fortified position along the slopes of the mountain but were hurled back with severe losses. More than 4,000 men were reported killed, wounded or missing in just a few short hours.

Cannon on top of Kennesaw Mountain
The battle developed as Sherman pushed the last few miles to the Chattahoochee River, beyond which no natural barriers separated him from the vital rail junction of Atlanta. To reach the river, however, there was one more great natural barrier to pass - Kennesaw Mountain and its connected ridges.

The high ground, however, was held by the outnumbered but still determined Confederate Army of Tennessee led by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. His Southern forces had entrenched themselves heavily on the mountain and connected slopes and his cannon were firing from the summit of the mountain on the trains that brought Sherman's supplies down from Tennessee.

Monument at the Dead Angle
Recent rains had made a flanking maneuver too difficult to undertake, so on the morning of July 27, 1864, Sherman hurled his forces at the mountain.  The attack went wrong almost immediately. The Confederate positions were just too strong and the Union attacking columns were swept by Southern cannon and musket fire.

The Confederate victory at Kennesaw Mountain would be the last Southern triumph of the Atlanta Campaign. Five days later Sherman was able to move his army around one of Johnston's flanks and Southern troops were forced to give up the mountain and fall back first on the line of the Chattahoochee and soon into the defenses of Atlanta itself.  Johnston was replaced by Gen. John Bell Hood who launched poorly coordinated and futile attacks on Sherman's forces, decimating his army and losing Atlanta in the process. The fall of the city drove a bayonet into the heart of the Confederacy.

To learn more about this beautifully preserved battlefield, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/kennesaw.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ghost of Allatoona Pass - A 19th Century Haunting in Georgia

Tracks near Allatoona Pass
Much as American newspapers did with UFOs in the 1950s, the papers of the 19th century often covered reports of ghost sightings as hard news. As a result, some of the best documented alleged ghost appearances in American history are those that took place during the 1800s.

One particularly unique story involves a ghost that appeared on the trains of the Western & Atlantic Railroad (W&A) during the years after the Civil War.

Deep Cut at Allatoona Pass
According to an 1872 issue of the Atlanta Journal, the ghost appeared on trains as they passed along the stretch of tracks between Allatoona Pass and Tilton, a crossing not far from Dalton in North Georgia.

...This individual appears suddenly on top of the freight cars, takes a seat and remains there for many miles, then the unknown brakesman disappears. Conductors, seeing him, have often gone out to collect his fare, but on nearing him, he would vanish like mist. - Atlanta Journal, Dec. 1872.

The spectre most often appeared as the trains steamed out of the Deep Cut at Allatoona Pass and picked up speed.This prompted speculation among the railroad men that it might be the ghost of a Civil War soldier killed in the frightful battle at the pass on October 5, 1864.

The ghost did not attempt to frighten anyone and seemed more like the mere image of a man than a troubled spirit. It simply sat atop a freight car on the train. It made no sound. It did not move. It was almost as if it were a photograph on the air.

A number of train crews saw the figure and finally a particularly brave engineer decided to get to the bottom of the mystery. Learn what he discovered and read more about the Ghost of Allatoona Pass by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/allatoonaghost.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Battle of Allatoona Pass, Georgia - First Battle of the Franklin & Nashville Campaign

Monuments at Allatoona Pass Battlefield
Not far from Cartersville in Bartow County, Georgia, a beautiful battlefield park preserves the scene of the Battle of Allatoona Pass.

The first battle of Confederate General John Bell Hood's Franklin & Nashville Campaign, the fight took place on October 5, 1864, when Hood sent General Samuel G. French's division to take the Union forts that guarded the Deep Cut at Allatoona Pass. The cut, dug to a depth of 175 feet through the solid rock of the Allatoona Mountains, provided a usable grade for the trains of the Western & Atlantic (W&A) Railroad. This single track was the only source of supplies for General William Tecumseh Sherman's Union army then occupying Atlanta.

Deep Cut at Allatoona Pass
French was to capture and fill the cut before destroying the nearby bridge over the Etowah River, all part of Hood's grand plan to cut off Sherman's supply line even as the Confederate army slipped away through Alabama to Tennessee for a move on Nashville.

It did not take Union scouts long to realize that French was on the move with his 3,276 man division. From a tower on the top of Kennesaw Mountain near Atlanta, Sherman had messages sent by signal flag urging the 976 Union soldiers guarding Allatoona Pass to hold on until reinforcements could reach them. A Northern officer later remembered the message as saying, "Hold the fort; I am coming."

Earthworks of the Star Fort
In 1870, evangelist and composer Philip Paul Bliss heard Major Daniel Webster Whittle tell the story at a Sunday School convention in Illinois. So moved was he by it that he soon wrote the Christian hymn, "Hold the Fort." It remains a favorite in America's churches to this day and, strangely, has also been adopted - although with altered lyrics - as a rally song by the labor unions of Great Britain and the Carribean.

Sherman's two messages actually said "Sherman is moving in force; Hold Out!" and "General Sherman says Hold Fast. We are coming." When asked about the song in later years he said that while he never sent the message "Hold the Fort," that was certainly the intent of his messages.

The Union troops at Allatoona Pass did indeed "Hold the Fort." In a bloody mountaintop battle, they repelled four separate attacks on the Star Fort by the veterans of French's Division.

To learn more about the Battle of Allatoona Pass, the writing of the song "Hold the Fort" and to take an online tour of the battlefield, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/allatoonapass.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Faulty Reporting Ignites National Debate over Alabama's Confederate Memorial Park

Confederate Memorial Park
There is a lot of misinformation ricocheting around today about Confederate Memorial Park in Mountain Creek, Alabama.

An Associated Press report on the park has been picked up by newspapers, National Public Radio, the liberal Huffington Post and a host of other websites and blogs. The original report basically takes the premise that the State of Alabama is spending tax money to care for a park located on the grounds of the state's former Old Soldiers Home while other historic sites are in need of funding.

The idea the writer is attempting to convey, of course, is that state money is being spent on a Confederate landmark while other "more deserving" historic sites do not have the funding they need.

Cemetery at Confederate Memorial Park
First and foremost, its name aside, the park is NOT a Confederate landmark nor was the site involved in the War Between the States. In 1901, a new State Constitution was approved in Alabama that included a provision for a small amount of the state's taxes to be used in providing care for its elderly and disabled Confederate veterans. Union veterans received help from the U.S. Government, but Confederate veterans did not and the responsibility of caring for hundreds of needy and elderly veterans fell upon the people of the state. Otherwise, many of these men would have died homeless.

The inclusion of this item in the state's constitution was not intended to memorialize the Confederacy. Instead it was done to care for aged veterans that the U.S. Government had decided to ignore and forget. Over the years, the home provided a place to live and medical care for hundreds of veterans, many of whom were impoverished due to horrible wounds they had received in battle. Its cemeteries provided a final resting place for them.

Despite much of what is being written on blogs and message boards today, the funding was not a "Confederate tax," nor was it tied to the "Civil War." It simply was a humanitarian gesture to care for old men who had nowhere else to turn - a form of government healthcare, if you will.

Museum Exhibits
The park today preserves the historic grounds and ruins of the Old Soldiers Home and maintains the two cemeteries where more than 300 Alabama solders are buried. The museum there, contrary to much of what is being written there, is not a "Confederate museum." It is a museum that looks at Alabama's role in the War Between the States or Civil War from all perspectives. It does include exhibits on slavery, but also looks at how the war impacted the state. It presents a good balanced view of the war in Alabama and a visit is highly recommended to anyone traveling up and town I-65 between Montgomery and Birmingham.

This controversy is absolutely and totally ridiculous. Why should graves not be maintained and what is wrong with Alabama funding a museum that provides a balanced look at the Civil War?

After all, doesn't the U.S. Government do the same thing at its national parks and cemeteries?

To learn more about Confederate Memorial Park, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/confederatepark.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Amicalola Falls State Park - Dawsonville, Georgia

Amicalola Falls
Located in the heart of the North Georgia mountains, Amicalola Falls State Park is home to the tallest cascading waterfall in the South.

Four times taller than Niagra Falls, Amicalola Falls is formed by Little Amicalola Creek as it roars its way down the mountain on its way to the Etowah River. The total height of the waterfall is 729 feet and the name is thought to be a Native American word that means "tumbling waters."

The falls were, of course, well known to the early Cherokee and their prehistoric ancestors, both of whom called this part of Georgia home. The Cherokee continued to live in the area until 1838 when they were forced from their homes and driven west on the Trail of Tears. Six years before that, though, a Georgia surveyor saw and described Amicalola Falls. He even tried to climb to the top but like many visitors today, he found the effort was a bit too strenuous for him.

Little Amicalola Creek
With the departure of the Cherokee, the falls area was opened for white settlement. A water mill was built just below the landmark in 1852 and a Methodist campground was established there in 1860.

Today the area around the falls is part of a magnificent Georgia state park. Established in 1940, Amicalola Falls State Park features the waterfalls, seasonal trout fishing, hiking trails, picnic areas, camping areas, cabins, a lodge, visitor center and, of course, great views of the falls.

To learn more about Amicalola Falls, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/amicalolafalls.

Friday, July 15, 2011

War Eagle Mill & Bridge - Northwest Arkansas

War Eagle Mill & Bridge
One of the most charming scenes in the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas is the view of the War Eagle Mill and Bridge from across the historic mill pond.

The current structure is the latest version of a mill that has stood on the banks of War Eagle Creek (sometimes called the War Eagle River) since the 1830s. Originally built by Sylvanus Blackburn, the mill was a thriving enterprise for two decades before the Civil War.

War Eagle Mill
The first structure was washed away by a flood in 1848, but was quickly replaced. When the Civil War swept with brutal force across the Ozarks, the War Eagle Mill was used to grind grain for both the Union and Confederate armies (at different times, of course!). After the Battle of Pea Ridge, a portion of General Earl Van Dorn's shattered Southern army passed by the mill during their retreat from the battlefield.

The second mill, like most such structures in the region, did not survive the war but was burned before the end of the conflict. The brutual economic conditions of the years after the Civil War prevented the rebuilding of War Eagle Mill until 1873. After it returned to operation, however, the mill served the people of the area for many decades to come.

The present structure, completed in 1973, is the fourth operating mill to stand on the site and is a recreation of previous structures. It is open to the public and is the focal point of major art & craft shows each fall and spring. It is also one of the most picturesque locations in Northwest Arkansas.

To learn more about War Eagle Mill, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/wareagle.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Wild Man - 19th Century Bigfoot Sightings in Arkansas

Swamps of Eastern Arkansas
It might be a common perception that the first recorded sightings of the gigantic, hair-covered creature known as Bigfoot took place in the Pacific Northwest, but this is not true.

As hunters and settlers pushed deeper into the wooded frontiers of the early South, they often came into a contact with a monster that they usually called the "Wild Man of the Woods." Mirroring modern-day accounts by eyewitnesses who say they have seen Bigfoot, the 19th century reports indicate the Wild Man was a gigantic, hair-covered creature with unusually large feet.

Some of the most compelling written accounts originated in Arkansas in the 1840s, although these same reports indicated the monster had been seen there as early as 1834. In 1846, however, a newspaper story spread across the nation reporting a sighting near Crowley's Ridge west of Memphis. The monster's track, it was said, "measures 22 inches, his toes are as long as a common man's fingers, and in height and make, he is double the usual size."

Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas
The description of the footprints clearly is almost identical with modern accounts and is one of the earliest recorded descriptions of a Bigfoot's tracks.

The sightings in Arkansas continued to be covered by the nation's newspapers until the eve of the Civil War when, of course, other news took priority. By the time the war ended, the Arkansas Wild Man had almost been forgotten, although the term "Arkansas Wild Man" continued to be used to describe rowdier residents of the Natural State.

There are, of course, Bigfoot sightings in Arkansas to this day and the southwest corner of the state is famed for its Fouke Monster (immortalized in the low budget film "The Legend of Boggy Creek"). But the historical 19th century accounts survive as some of the earliest accounts of the mysterious creature and as such are a unique part of the history of the Natural State.

To read a full account, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/arwildman.