Friday, March 25, 2011

The Athens Double-Barrelled Cannon - Athens, Georgia

The Double-Barrelled Cannon
It was a "secret weapon" of the Confederacy that wasn't all that secret: a double-barrelled cannon that its designer hoped would become the ultimate anti-personnel weapon of the Civil War.

The famed Athens Double-Barrelled Cannon now rests on the grounds of City Hall in the North Georgia city and - besides the Georgia Bulldogs - is perhaps the most photographed attraction in Athens.

A Civil War Landmark
Cast in 1862 at the Athens Foundry, the cannon was designed by John Gilleland, a home builder and home guard private. He envisioned a weapon that would fire a load that could best be described as "extended chain shot." Parallel barrels fired two 6-pound iron balls simultaneously. The barrels of the gun diverged by about 3 degrees, allowing the balls to spread out as they emerged from the double muzzle. An 8-foot iron chain connected the cannonballs and as they were fired, the entire load was expected to begin spinning and cut an 8-foot wide swatch through any attacking enemy infantry force.

Local legend holds that the gun didn't work as expected. It is said that it was impossible to fire the twin barrels simultaneously and that the chain broke in the test firing causing the balls to speed off in different directions, killing a cow, destroying a chimney and demolishing a field of corn.  War-time accounts, however, indicate that the cannon might have been more effective than is traditionally thought.

To read more and learn about the Athens Double-Barrelled Cannon, please visit

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ten Favorite Spring Destinations in the South

Muskogee Azalea Festival
Today is the first day of Spring, so I thought I would share with you ten of my favorite Southern spring destinations. Some of these are well known and some are off the beaten path, but all are well worth a visit.
Maclay Gardens
  1. 2011 Muskogee Azalea Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma. One of the finest events of its kind in the South, the annual festival draws in tens of thousands of visitors from around the world. Held Show alleach April at Honor Heights Park in Muskogee, the festival gives visitors the chance to roam through an amazing setting that features more than 30,000 blooming trees and plants representing more than 625 varieties. To learn more and see a schedule of this year's event, please visit
  2. Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee, Florida. Now in bloom, Maclay Gardens is one of the most beautiful Spring settings in the Sunshine State. Located in Florida's historic capital city, the park features a magnificent garden of azaleas, dogwoods, redbuds and other blooming trees and plants that was developed over decades beginning in 1923. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the gardens are open daily. To learn more, please visit
  3. Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. One of the South's premier attractions, Callaway Gardens covers 16,000 acres on the slopes and valleys adjoining Georgia's historic Pine Mountain. Established to revitalize overworked fields where its founders discovered a rare native azalea plant growing, the gardens are simply magnificent. To learn more, please visit
  4. Eufaula, Alabama. A beautiful, historic city on the Chattahoochee River in southeastern Alabama, Eufaula is known for its stunning spring blossoms and magnificent historic homes. Its Annual Spring Pilgrimage is one of the finest such events in the South and will take place on April 1st through 3rd this year. To learn more, please visit
  5. Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. A world class botanical garden covering 210 acres on a peninsula that extends into Lake Hamilton, Garvan Gardens are magnificent year round, but take on amazing beauty during the spring. The gardens feature winding paths that lead through stunning arrays of flowering trees and plants and past waterfalls and many other unique features. Much like Callaway Gardens in Georgia, Garvan Gardens were begun to restore a setting to its natural beauty. To learn more, please visit
  6. Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. A winding national park area that extends from Natchez on the Mississippi River to the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, the Natchez Trace is another "must see" Southern destination. It takes drivers through 444 miles of beautiful scenery, rich in the natural spring color of dogwoods, redbuds, wild plum and other native varieties. The parkway also passes scores of historic sites and points of interest. To learn more, please visit
  7. Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site in St. Francisville, Louisiana. The National Park Service describes Rosedown as one of the best preserved antebellum plantation complexes in the United States. In addition to the magnificent main house and other historic structures, the historic site preserves one of the largest private gardens of the 19th century. Covering 28 acres, the gardens feature winding paths, summer houses, fountains and an amazing array of blooming plants. To learn more, please visit
  8. Dogwood Canyon Nature Park near Branson, Missouri. Covering 10,000 acres of Ozark mountain country on the border of Missouri and Arkansas, Dogwood Canyon is offers spring beauty of the wilder variety. The trams and bike paths take visitors through a beautiful valley rich in redbuds, dogwoods and other blooming trees. The park also features trout streams, historic sites, magnificent waterfalls and even herds of American bison (buffalo) and elk. To learn more, please visit
  9. Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, Florida. Once a privately-owned amusement park enjoyed by untold millions of visitors over the years, Rainbow Springs is now the focal point of a state park not far off Interstate 75 in the charming town of Dunnellon, Florida. In addition to the magnificent main spring, the park preserves some of the original gardens with their azaleas, waterfalls and other points of interest. It is also one of the state's most affordable destinations, with an entrance fee of only $2 per person or $5 per vehicle of up to 8 people. To learn more, please visit
  10. Waterfalls of Alabama. Although it has been a bit dry so far this spring, many of Alabama's beautiful waterfalls are running well. The state features some of the prettiest falls in the South, a number of which are easily accessible. The premier ones include Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, DeSoto Falls at Mentone and Little River Falls near Fort Payne. To learn more, please visit
You can also learn about hundreds of other unique Southern historic sites, natural wonders and points of interest at

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Audubon Pilgrimage - St. Francisville, Louisiana

Rosedown in St. Francisville
The annual Audubon Pilgrimage is underway this weekend in St. Francisville, Louisiana.

A charming community that was once the capital of the short-lived "Republic of West Florida," St. Francisville is located atop a high ridge overlooking the Mississippi River at the intersection of U.S. Highway 61 and Louisiana Highway 10. The town is 30 miles north of Baton Rouge and 60 miles south of Natchez, Mississippi.

St. Francisville is well known because it is surrounded by some of the most beautiful surviving plantation homes in the South. There is Rosedown Plantation, considered one of the country's finest surviving antebellum plantation complexes by the National Park Service; Oakley Plantation, where famed naturalist John James Audubon painted many of his best known bird paintings and The Myrtles, considered by some to be America's most haunted home. Also just south of town is Port Hudson State Historic Site, scene of a bloody Civil War battle and siege.

The annual Audubon Pilgrimage features a full weekend of events, including tours, live music, candlelight graveyard tours, a noted antique show and sale and much more. To learn more about St. Francisville and the Audubon Pilgrimage, please visit

Friday, March 11, 2011

Oklahome to close Heavener Runestone State Park (Updated with news that the park remains open)

Heavener Runestone
Note: The park remains open thanks to the city of Heavener stepping up to save it. It is now operated as a municipal park and is open daily, so stop by and visit when you can!

The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department has announced plans to PERMANENTLY close seven state parks, including Heavener Runestone State Park.

The announcement from the department indicates that the closures will take effect on August 15th and result from budget cutting plans. Other parks slated for closure are Adair State Park in Stilwell; Beaver Dunes in Beaver; Boggy Depot in Atoka; Brushy Lake in Sallisaw Lake Eucha in Jay; and Wah-Sha-She in Copan. The measure will eliminate only 10 full-time positions and save the department around $700,000, but the economic impact on the communities affected could be tremendous.

Waterfall near the Runestone
Heavener Runestone State Park alone, for example, annually attracts around 100,000 people to eastern Oklahoma. The loss of this visitation will have a tremendous economic impact on Heavener and other local communities, reducing sales for merchants and tax collections for the state.

The park, which occupies a beautiful setting on the top of Poteau Mountain, takes its name from unique carvings found on a large boulder there. The characters have been identified as Norse runes, but there is debate over their age and authenticity. A solid core of believers think they provide evidence that Viking explorers came up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers hundreds of years ago and made their way as far as eastern Oklahoma. Others believe they are forged. Still others believe they are of more recent origin, but were not intended as a forgery but simply to add character to the ravine where the boulder was found.

Although there are some variations, most believe that the runes spell out either "Glomesdal" or "Gnomesdal." Roughly interpreted, this would mean either "Valley of Glome" or "Valley of the Gnomes." I tend to favor the latter interpretation, as the ravine is quite beautiful and brings to mind stories of mythical creatures like gnomes and fairies. Others believe that "Glome" could have been an early Norse explorer who settled in the region. Several other smaller runestones have been found around the area.

Heavener Runestone State Park
I'll confess that the lack of other artifacts causes me some serious doubts about the ancient Vikings theory, but I have visited the state park many times and it is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Oklahoma. Located atop a mountain, it provides spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, beautiful and rugged hiking trails, mountaintop picnicking, spring waterfalls and more. They mystery surrounding the Heavener Runestone adds a great deal of charm to the setting, which is well worth being preserved as a cultural landmark, whatever the truth behind it.

The land for the park was donated to the state and would revert back to the heirs of the original owners if the park is closed, so the state would gain very little from closing this park, which is extremely popular with visitors from around the region who come to enjoy the setting, as well as tourists who come from far and wide to see the famed runestone.

You can read more about the park and see additional photos at

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"The Battle of Marianna, Florida" - Expanded Edition now available!

I'm pleased to announce that the Expanded Edition of my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, is now available.

The new Expanded Edition includes nearly 50 pages of additional information as well as maps, new photographs, expanded casualty lists, bibliography and other features not included in the original. It also offers a much more detailed accounting of the battle and the 1864 raid across Northwest Florida.

The Battle of Marianna was fought on September 27, 1864, at the climax of the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Union troops during the entire Civil War. Leaving Pensacola Bay on September 18th and led by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, a column of 700 mounted Union solders devastated the populated areas of Walton, Holmes and northwestern Jackson Counties before reaching Marianna on the 27th.

The battle was one of the fiercest small engagements of the war. By the time it was over, nearly 20% of Marianna's male population had been taken prisoner and the bodies of killed and wounded men stretched from one side of the town to the other. A sharp street fight waged between bodies of both cavalry and infantry, the battle is sometimes known as "Florida's Alamo." Many of the participants were seasoned veterans and those who left accounts almost all agreed that it was the fiercest battle of its size they encountered during the entire war.

The new book includes expanded detail on the route of the troops to and from Marianna along a path that was longer in miles than Sherman's March to the Sea. It also includes an expanded narrative of the battle itself as well as new sources on the smaller fights at Eucheeanna, Campbellton and Vernon that took place as the Union column moved through the Florida panhandle.

The new book is now available by clicking the ad at the top of this post. Signed copies can be obtained through Chipola River Book and Tea in Marianna (on Lafayette Street across from the Battle of Marianna Monument). The book is also available in electronic format as a download for the Amazon Kindle reader device or the free Kindle software for computer or smart phone.

To read more about the battle, you can also visit

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida set for this Weekend

Natural Bridge Battlefield
The 146th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge will be commemorated this weekend with a reenactment and other activities at Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park near Tallahassee, Florida.

Fought on March 6, 1865, the battle was one of the last significant Confederate victories of the Civil War. It preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not captured by Union troops, kept the small port of St. Marks open to blockade runners and prevented the economic destruction of an important area of North Florida and South Georgia by Federal forces. It came just five weeks before General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

The Battle of Natural Bridge resulted from a major amphibious assault by Union troops. Moving up the Gulf of Mexico from posts at Key West and Cedar Key, U.S. transport steamers arrived off the mouth of the St. Marks River in late February of 1865. Joined there by a large flotilla of Union warships, the steamers held position while General John Newton and his officers developed their plans.

Confederate Earthworks at Natural Bridge
During the first week of March, demolition parties were sent ashore to destroy railroad bridges east and west of Tallahassee and then the navy began the difficult task of bringing the main body of Newton's command to shore at the St. Marks Lighthouse south of Tallahassee. The amphibious night landing was hampered by shallow water and darkness, but the men finally got ashore and started inland. The warships, meanwhile, began a move up the St. Marks River to engage Confederate batteries and put ashore hundreds of sailors who were to serve as additional infantry during the expedition.

The naval side of the expedition was a complete failure, due to difficulty encountered navigating the narrow twisting river channel. Things went even worse for the land force. Despite eight courageous charges, the Union troops (composed primarily of the 2nd and 99th USCT regiments) were handed a bloody defeat at the Battle of Natural Bridge.

To learn more about this unique and often overlooked battle, please consider the expanded edition of my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (also available as a Kindle download). You can also learn more and access a  schedule of this weekends events at