Thursday, April 2, 2020

Sports have been interrupted in the past by sickness and war

We’re living in strange times due to the ongoing Coronavirus situation, especially when it comes to sports.

As best that I can remember, in my lifetime, sports have never been completely shut down like they are now. All high school, college and professional sports have been brought to a halt and about the only sports-related things you can do nowadays are hunt turkeys and fish a little. There is much to be said for hunting and fishing, but the absence of sports like baseball and softball is being felt by many.

Our local high school seniors certainly find themselves in a bad spot. Most of us who played high school sports at least had the opportunity to mentally prepare for playing what would be our last game, whether it be the last game on a regular season schedule or a playoff game. Our local seniors though probably didn’t think that they were playing in their last high school game ever when things were brought to an end by the Coronavirus a few weeks ago.

I remember that sports were briefly postponed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Most events were postponed for a week or rescheduled for later in the season. Most people during that time welcomed the return of sports because they felt that it would bring back a sense of normalcy to the country in the wake of the events in New York and Washington, D.C.

There have also been times in the past when high school sports were postponed by flu outbreaks. These periods were brief and did not result in a complete shutdown like we are seeing now. I know that this happened at least once in the 1950s, and it has likely happened at other times as well.

During World War II, most of your high schools didn’t field football teams or other athletic teams. The main reason for this was that many boys left school to join the military or to help farm due to the big labor shortage that was hitting the country at that time. Intramural athletics was a big thing at this time, but few schools, except maybe those in big cities like Mobile or Montgomery, fielded true sports teams like football, basketball and baseball.

High school sports were totally different in the early 1900s when the flu pandemic struck the United States during World War I. There were a lot fewer high schools back then and most high schools didn’t field their first football teams until after World War I. For example, Evergreen High School (which was actually called the Southwest Alabama State Agricultural School at the time) didn’t field its first team until 1919.

In the end, in light of current events, I hope all of this blows over before the start of next football season. If you think about it, football season will be here before you know it with preseason practice to start in August. In the meantime, everyone take the proper precautions because that’s what it’s going to take for things to get back to normal.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Greatest 'secret mission' in Wilcox County history took place in 1865

Union General James H. Wilson

This week’s newspaper marks the first edition of the month of April, and each year when the calendar flips over to the month April, it’s hard not to think about the exciting events of April 1865 in Wilcox County, events that resulted in perhaps the greatest “secret mission” in county history.

For much of the Civil War, Wilcox County had been a relatively quiet and peaceful place while most of its able-bodied men were off fighting in places like Virginia, Tennessee and Mississippi. All of that changed in the closing days of the war as Union troops moved through Wilcox County as part of Union raids throughout Alabama. Little information survives about exactly what happened in Wilcox County during this time, but what we do know is pretty interesting.

According to Vol. 2 of “Within the Bend: Stories of Wilcox County” by Ouida Starr Woodson, Union soldiers swept into Camden in April 1865 and ransacked the Wilcox County Courthouse, destroying many of the books and official papers contained inside. They scattered or tossed everything else into the streets of downtown Camden. The most important county documents however had been secretly removed from the building prior to their arrival by Probate Judge Zoraster Selman Cook and local coffin maker James Patrick Dannelly.

In secret, as word of the approaching Yankees reached Camden, Cook had Dannelly build a number of wooden boxes to store the county’s most important records and documents. “When Mr. Dannelly completed the boxes, they were carried to the Courthouse under cover of night,” Woodson wrote. “Bound books of deed, estate, marriage, mortgage, court and tax records were packed into the boxes.”

Those boxes of records, which weighed about 200 pounds each, were then clandestinely moved by wagon to a hiding place called “Hilderbrand Field,” which was located off the Bridgeport Road, several miles from downtown Camden. This hiding place was said to be thickly wooded and covered with briars and dense underbrush. Men enlisted to help in this secret mission to move the boxes included Herod Holt, John Hill, Jacob Wilkerson and Frank Corzelius.

Woodson also noted that Judge Cook’s son, John T. Cook, helped hide other important documents in a trunk that was transported to their plantation on the other side of the Alabama River near Kimbrough. A short time later, that trunk was once again moved to a “secluded wooded area” near the Clifton community, Woodson said. After the war, all of these hidden documents were returned to the courthouse, safe and sound.

On and off over the years, I’ve done a fair amount of research on the Yankee “invasion” of Wilcox County, but I’ve always been left with more questions than answers. It’s my belief that this movement of Union troops through Wilcox County was part of what’s known as “Wilson’s Raid,” a large operation led by Union general James H. Wilson. This operation, which was the largest cavalry operation of the entire war, aimed to destroy the region’s ability to support Confederate forces with supplies like food and ammunition.

With that said, even with the help of other researchers and a review of official field reports, I’ve been unable to pin down the exact dates when Union troops entered Wilcox County and ransacked the county courthouse. It would also be interesting to know exactly which Union cavalry units operated in Wilcox County and whether or not those units included any famous soldiers. Perhaps some of them went on to become famous after the war.

In the end, I’d like to hear from anyone in the reading audience with more information about the April 1865 Union raid in Wilcox County. Also, please let me hear from you if you know where “Hilderbrand Field” was located or if you have any more details about Judge Cook’s secret mission to save county records. April is Confederate History Month, so it is fitting that we make an extra effort to document the facts of these events for the generations yet to come.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Evergreen Courant's News Flashback for March 31, 2020

MARCH 28, 1974

Local weather observer Earl Windham reported 0.1 inches of rain on March 4, 0.2 inches on March 12, 1.2 inches on March 18 and 0.8 inches on March 21. He reported a high of 82 degrees on March 20 and lows of 38 degrees on March 17 and March 22.

Evergreen Police Chief James “Pappy” Ellis will turn the reins over to Russell Phillips when he retires Sunday. The popular chief is retiring after a career that saw him rise from “meter maid” to head of the police department. He will be honored Friday at a prayer breakfast.

It will be Chief Russell Phillips come Monday. The retired State Trooper Sergeant and former police chief at McIntosh will succeed Chief James Ellis who is retiring March 31. Phillips has been on duty with the Evergreen Police Department since March 1 to get familiar with the city and department personnel.

Phillip Harold Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Harold, Evergreen, an eighth-grade student, was winner of the spelling bee held at Marshall Middle School. Phillip, whose mother is the former Laurice Adams, will compete in the state finals in Birmingham on May 4 in a contest sponsored by The Birmingham Post-Herald.

Officer James R. Taylor of the Evergreen Police Dept. is attending the ninth session of the Southwest Alabama Regional Law Enforcement Training Academy at Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette.

MARCH 26, 1959

Youngsters to show fine cattle April 20: Plans are proceeding for the annual Conecuh County Fat Calf Show to be held April 20. Assistant County Agent John Horne, J.H. Witherington and W.S. Coker are organizing a committee to stage the 13th annual show.
The committee will take the place of the Evergreen Junior Chamber of Commerce as sponsors of the show. The local Jaycees founded the show in 1947 and had sponsored it each year since, but the group disbanded last fall.
County youngsters are feeding out some 40 beef calves to enter in the show. Horne states that a number of these will grade prime and that the top calves may be the best in the history of the show.
The show will have no financial troubles as county residents have already provided funds for it through their gifts to the United Fund of Conecuh County.
The show usually draws a large crowd and the auction sale following it is one of the best of the year. County cattlemen usually sell a number of fed animals at this sale.
The Conecuh County Fat Calf Show is considered the best county show in the state and rates favorably with the district shows. The show will again be held at the Conecuh Cooperative Stockyards and will be followed by the sale.

Firm Records Song By Local Composer: The Star-Crest Recording Company of Hollywood, Calif. announces that it is considering for recording and national album release a song written by a local composer.
The composer is Miss Lucile Ross of 114 Belleville St. Her song is “Separation: Two Friends Part.”

George Ashcraft will serve as president of the Evergreen High School Parent-Teacher Association during the 1959-1960 school year. He and other officers were elected at the regular meeting of the PTA Tuesday night.
Elected to serve with Ashcraft were: Mrs. Ruby Moses, vice-president; Percy Brantley, treasurer; and Mrs. W.J. Millsap, secretary.

MARCH 30, 1944

Dr. H.H. Kendrick, former citizen of Evergreen, died suddenly at his home in Montgomery Saturday evening about 7 p.m. His death was said to have been caused from heart ailment. He had worked all day at his office and was taken ill shortly after arriving home, the end coming soon after he was stricken.
Dr. Kendrick practiced his profession of dentistry here for a number of years before going to Montgomery more than 20 years ago. Prior to his residence here, he lived in Greenville for a time.

Aviation Cadet Harry L. Johnston, son of Mr. and Mrs. Martin L. Johnston of Owassa, Ala., has completed approximately one-third of his Pilot Training and will soon report to an Air Corps Basic Flying School in Newport, Ark. for the intermediate phase of his flying training.
Before entering the Air Corps, Cadet Johnston attended Evergreen High School; Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Auburn, Ala.; and the 55th College Training Detachment, Gettysburg, Pa. Cadet Johnston was accepted as aviation cadet at Montgomery, Ala., in March 1943.

Ensign R.G. Kendall Jr. will leave Friday for Hollywood, Fla., where he goes for training.

PIX THEATRE – A Martin-Ray Theatre – Evergreen, Alabama: Sunday, April 9th – “Son of Dracula” – Robert Paige, Evelyn Ankers, Lon Chaney.

MARCH 28, 1929

BERRY SEASON OPENS AS 1ST CRATES ARRIVED: Movement of Conecuh County strawberries by express started with a rush this week with the advent of warm weather and its continuation will likely mean that cars will begin moving sometime next week.
The first full crates came in to both Evergreen and Castleberry Monday. Steve Howard brought and shipped to Birmingham, Evergreen’s first crate while at Castleberry, R.B. Findley started the season off with four crates which were brought by G.T. Young and also shipped to Birmingham.

LOCAL TROOP RETURNS FROM FLOOD DUTIES: Concluding a 10-day stay in the Brewton-Flomaton flood zone, members of Evergreen’s national guard company, Troop C, 55th Machine Gun squadron, returned home late Monday to receive the praises of the commander, Capt. W.D. Lewis, for duty well performed.
The company left Evergreen Saturday, arrived in Brewton Saturday afternoon where headquarters was maintained until Tuesday, then moved on to Flomaton where they remained until Monday.
During the stay in the area, the major tasks of the troop were feeding 3,334 people, guard and patrol duty to prevent pilfering and looting, establishing contact with the outside world, dispatching emergency cases for the Red Cross and doing needful buying.

The northbound and southbound crews which are clearing and grading for the Evergreen-Castleberry highway will meet in about 30 days, according to estimate Tuesday by W.L. Flaughter, resident engineer of the state highway department.

MARCH 26, 1914

A northern gentleman, who is spending some time in Evergreen, says he saw the first shot fired on Fort Sumter.

1,482,254 bales of cotton were ginned in Alabama from the 1913 crop, 19,295 bales were ginned in Conecuh County, which was 1,376 more bales than was ginned in the county from the 1912 crop.

C.F. Archer has recently added a picture framing department to his photo gallery, where he will be permanently located. Archer does viewing, copying and enlarging. If you have an old, faded tintype, bring it. He will make it new.

Commencement exercises of Effie school, Tues. evening, March 31. Everybody cordially invited. Admission 25 cents and 15 cents.

S.L. Witherington of China was in the city Wednesday.

John Deming, who has been attending school at Marion for the past three months, returned home Thursday on a short vacation.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Evergreen Courant's Sports Flashback for March 30, 2020

Gov. James E. Folsom

MARCH 29, 2007

Sparta Academy senior Michael Campbell has been named to the Alabama Sports Writers Association all-state basketball team.
Campbell, a 6-4 forward/center, is a second team selection to the ASWA’s Alabama Independent School Association all-star team for all three classifications in the AISA.
He helped lead Sparta to the AISA’s Final Four tournament this season, where the Warriors suffered a 49-44 loss to Lowndes Academy in the semifinals at Huntingdon College.
Sparta also won the AISA, Class 2A regular season and tournament championships this season.
Campbell led the Warriors in scoring and rebounding this season, finishing the season averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per game.

Hillcrest High School’s baseball team has been snake bit again. This time the Jaguars had to choke down a 7-5 loss to Frisco City High School last Thursday in Evergreen.
Hillcrest’s five runs came on eight hits with Neil Presley, Marc Barlow and Quin Lee picking up two hits each to pace the offense.
(Other players on Hillcrest’s team that year included Jarrod Thomas, Ryan Moore, Keon McCaskill, Jerrod Thomas and Quinton Simpson. Rick Badger was head coach.)

MARCH 26, 1992

Evergreen native Bob Meeks is considered by many to be in line for an early selection in the upcoming National Football League draft April 26 and 27. Meeks gained national attention for his dominant play as a member of the Auburn Tigers.

“Bob Meeks is preparing for professional football future” by Artie Wright: Years of lifting weights and preparing his body and mind for ‘wars’ are paying off for Evergreen native Bob Meeks. The former Auburn University football standout is hoping to find out what direction his future will take him in the upcoming National Football League draft next month.
Taking some time off during spring break from Auburn, Meeks is visiting his family in Evergreen this week. But even his time away from the Plains is taken by his future prospect as a professional football player.
During a weight-lifting session at Hillcrest High School, Meeks talked with The Evergreen Courant about his years at Auburn, his hopes for the future and his feelings for his hometown.
Meeks’ consistent play and domination on the offensive line caught the eyes of many while playing center for the Tigers. His play helped the university win two Southeastern Conference championships and threaten for a national title.

MARCH 31, 1977

The Evergreen High School baseball team opened the 1977 season Tues., March 22, with a 15-9 win over J.F. Shields at Beatrice. Righthander Darnell Spears was the winning pitcher, allowing one run on three hits in three innings of work.
(Other players on Evergreen’s team that year included Tony Hawsey, Turner Murphy, Jimmy Lambert, Phillip Harold, Leon McCall, Ernie Edeker, Wendall Parker, Wayne Malden and Thomas Rodgers. Rex Bynum was head coach.)

Jimmy Zellers, 12, killed his first wild turkey Saturday morning and it was a fine one. The Tom weighed 19-1/2 pounds and had a 10-inch beard. Jimmy’s father called the turkey up to him.

Clyde Gibson celebrated his fifth wedding anniversary Friday morning by killing this 19-1/2 turkey. The bird had a 19-1/2-inch beard. The editor trusts that Clyde didn’t forget to give his good wife, Maurice, an anniversary present other than the turkey.

These Big Bam All Americans, representing radio station WBAM of Montgomery, will play the Castleberry Community Club tonight at 7:15 in the Conecuh County High School Gymnasium. Admission will be $1.50 for adults and $1 for students with all proceeds going to the club’s scholarship fund.

MARCH 29, 1962

Alma Martin Post 50, The American Legion will have a special showing of the films of the Alabama-Arkansas game in the 1962 Sugar Bowl at the Post Home Friday night at 7:30. The showing is open to the public, according to Commander Howard Geck.

The Evergreen Aggies will play their annual Green and White intra-squad football game at 7:30 Saturday night at Brooks Stadium.
Starters for the Greens are LE John Brock, LT John Pierce, LG James Ward, C Robert Rigsby, RG William Sessions, RT Stan Coker, RE Ronnie Jones, QB Sid Lambert, Halfback John Lowrey, Wingback Jimmy Warren and FB Leon Adams.
The Whites will lead off with Winston Pugh, LT Pete Tharp, LG Ronnie Shaver or Bobby Hammonds, C Alvin Dees, RG Bobby Lynch, RT Donnie Jones, RE Jimmy Weaver, QB Mike Mininger, Halfback Mike Borders, Wingback Bob Ivey and FB Paul Deason.
(Other players included Scott Cook, Jerry Horton, Steve Baggett, Johnny Huggins, Robin Cox, Vann Davis, Scott Cox, Bob Tanner, Tommy Hartley, Billy Kendall, Mike Moorer, Charles Pierce, Calvin Smith, Billy Wilkins, Eddie Thornley, Rusty Price (manager), Wayne Tolbert, Jimmy Ellis, Daniel Kelley, Brent Thornley, Joe Glass, Rodney Mitchell, Mike Fields, Ronnie Hayes, Billy Lynch, Ronnie Barlow, Arlie Phillips, Marshall Dees and George Fontaine (manager). Coaches were John Law Robinson and Lewis Ramsey.)

MARCH 27, 1947

Auburn Trustees Vote To Renew Football Tilt: MONTGOMERY – At a regular meeting in Governor James E. Folsom’s office, the board of trustees of Alabama Polytechnic Institute vote unanimously in favor of renewing the 40-year dormant football schedule between Alabama’s two leading universities.
The adopted resolution introduced by trustee, Dr. Joe Davis of Albertville, directed the president of Auburn to “make negotiations to resume athletic relations at the earliest possible date.”
The Auburn board made it plain that the next move is up to the University of Alabama Crimson Tiders.

Coach Wendell Hart has been putting about 35 aspirants for football through their daily spring practice workouts.
Several newcomers are giving last year’s returnees a scrap for the different positions. Glenn McIntyre, stellar halfback on last year’s squad, has been running from this position during spring practice. Mickey Logue has been operating from the quarterback slot and seems to be hitting the mark with his passes as good as ever.
(Other players participating in spring practice that year included Billy Carpenter, Hillmon Davis, John Law Robinson, James Ryan, Dean Shaver, S.L. Brooks, W.K. Salter, Arthur McCreary, Tommy White, Bobby Carter, Sammy Hanks, Harold Robison, Nick Stallworth, Shelton Craig, Benton Carpenter, Dickey Bozeman, Oliver Indindoli, Gillis Jones, Pete White and Billy Pierce.)

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Old newspaper excerpts from The Monroe Journal newspaper of Monroe County, Alabama

MARCH 25, 1999

Community mourns lost leader: Monroe County lost a friend during the weekend with the death of Col. Armistead R. Harper.
Harper, 82, died at Mobile Infirmary Sunday night from problems with his pancreas, according to his daughter, Pat Booker.
The Monroe County native retired in 1969 after 30 years in the regular Army and returned home five years later following a brief banking career in Yuma, Ariz.
It didn’t take him long to get involved in the community as he joined the Monroeville Presbyterian Church, Monroeville Kiwanis Club, was appointed to the Monroeville Planning Commission in 1975 and served in several other civic organizations.

Excel upends UMS in 3A Area 1 battle: Excel stunned UMS-Wright 2-0 to open its area baseball schedule Friday, then dropped an 8-4 decision to area rival Flomaton Monday.
Excel got the best of UMS-Wright’s Bulldogs at Murphy Park in Excel to open play in the 3A Area 1 race. Josh Deese scored what proved to be the winning run in the fifth inning in Excel’s 2-0 win over UMS-Wright.
(Other top Excel players in that game included Al Black, Jamie Duke, Jacob Ledkins, Keith McKinley, Jason McLelland, Jared McPhaul, Justin Mixon and Nathan Mixon.)

The Second Annual Writers Symposium May 6-8 will continue its celebration of Alabama writers and scholars. The focus for this year’s symposium will be “Alabama – the Place.” Participants will also attend a production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the old courthouse Friday night.

MARCH 28, 1974

Newspaperman E.M. Salter dies: Edward Motley (Ed) Salter of Monroeville, former part-owner and business manager of The Monroe Journal, whose family ties to the newspaper stretched back to the early 1880s, died Saturday in a Pensacola hospital. He was 87.
Mr. Salter was a partner in The Journal from 1929 to 1947, but he first worked for the paper in 1907 as a printer for his uncle, Q. Salter.

Twenty-six men have been practicing three weeks for the Frisco City Whippets (during spring football drills), with nine returning starters on the squad.
Returning to the squad will be Larry Watts, a 155-pound strong side guard; Johnny Ridgeway, a 185-pound strong side tackle; Wayne McGinnis, a 165-pound tight end; Pat Banks, a 153-pound running back; Floyd Williams, a 140-pound end; Johnny Alread, a 160-pound running back; Mitchel Evans, a 140-pound fullback converted to quarterback; Ronnie McGinnis, a 150-pound end converted to center; and Willie Earl Lee, a 135-pound fullback.
(Other players going through spring drills included Lester Banks, Scot Brown, Jerry Browning, Barry Childs, Kenneth Dudley, Robert Finklea, Julius Lambert, Raymond Lett, Bobby McGinnis, David Peavy, Craig Sawyer, Albert Sims, Christopher Williams, Jerry Williams and Kevin Williams.)

Ziebach joins local firm: Elmo Douglas Ziebach, a native of Theodore, has joined Prouty Forestry Service in Peterman and Monroeville. He will serve as a buyer for Prouty Forestry Service.

MARCH 31, 1949

Journal Gets New Assistant Editor: John E. Hill, 23-year-old native of Boaz, has joined the staff of The Journal as an assistant editor, assuming his duties Monday.
A former student at Snead Junior College in Boaz, Mr. Hill has been a student for the past two years at the University of Alabama.
He will serve primarily as news editor and reporter for The Journal.

Baseball Training Begins At MCHS: Seventeen players reported to Coach LaVaughn Hanks Monday afternoon to begin workouts for the baseball season. Monroe County High will be fielding its first baseball team in a number of years. The first game will be played with W.S. Neal High on April 8. Games will be played at the new recreation center.
(Players reporting for that first practice included Felix Nicholas, Curtis Tomlinson, Havard Jaye, Bill Jaye, Karl Mims Lazenby, Kenneth Hundley, Bobby Moore, Alvin Ryland, George Klepac, Rusty Smith, John Calvin White, Bill Dailey, John Arthur Sirmon, John Arthur Morgan, Pink Jackson, Douglas Hendrix and William Fowler.)

Monroeville Soldier Assigned To Famous 2nd Armored Division: Camp Hood, Texas, March 31 – Sgt. Clarence W. Rawls, Monroeville, recently arrived at Camp Hood and has been assigned to the famous “Hell on Wheels” 2nd Armored Division.
A veteran of eight years military service, Sgt. Rawls served 52 months in the European Theater of Operations. He participated in the invasion of Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and the Central European campaigns. For his services, he was awarded the European Theater ribbon and the Victory medal.

MARCH 27, 1924

The Monroe County High School will close its annual session in about two weeks. The graduating class this year will consist of forty-odd members, the largest in its history.

Mr. J.F. Davis has opened a new barber shop in the old courthouse annex. The place has been neatly fitted up and furnished with modern equipment.

Jacob Rikard, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Rikard, died at the family home on Thursday morning, March 20, after an illness of several weeks, aged 16 years. Funeral services were conducted by Rev. W.C. Tenney. Interment was made in the Baptist cemetery.

Judge I.B. Slaughter has been appointed trustee of creditors of the Moore Hardware company which recently closed its doors.

Mr. A.B. Tucker, traveling representative of the Montgomery Advertiser, spent a few days in Monroeville last week in the interest of that paper.

Hon. I.T. Quinn of Montgomery was a visitor to Monroeville Tuesday. Mr. Quinn has made a good record as State Commissioner of the Department of Game and Fisheries and is a candidate to succeed himself in that position.

BOY SCOUT MEETING: A meeting of local Boy Scouts will be held in the courthouse at three o’clock next Saturday afternoon for the purpose of electing a patrol leader and other officers. All boys throughout the county interesting in the organization of a troop are invited to be present at the meeting.

MARCH 29, 1889

Mr. J.T. Stevens is at work repairing the breaks made by the prisoners who recently escaped from the county jail.

The attractive new belfry to the Baptist Church has been completed, and the bell, which we learn is a gift to the church from Col. B.L. Hibbard of Birmingham, placed in position.

Distemper is prevailing among horses to a limited extent in this vicinity.

Tax Assessor Jones completed his second and last round of sittings for this year. He will start out soon to look up delinquents.

Mr. A.L. Boyd of Buena Vista has accepted a position as clerk in Capt. Wiggins’ store.

Judge Leslie has replaced the ancient rail fence opposite his residence with a nice plank fence.

Honor Roll of Bells Landing Academy for February 1889: Katie Stallworth, Minnie Hunt, Sarah Nettles, Minnie Chunn, Mattie Abernathy, Maria Pattison, Nannie Abernathy, Corinne Dunn, Katie Abernathy, Hellen Davis, Willie Davis, Ollie Grace, Harry Davis, Judson Chunn, Walton Hybart, Urn McCants and Willie Holloman. – M. Dannelly, Teacher.

Hon. Nick Stallworth of Evergreen was in town Monday on professional business.

Mr. Ryland, wife of Thos. Ryland of Burnt Corn, was stricken with paralysis last Thursday, 21st.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Historical Claiborne Cemetery was heavily damaged in July 1972

Old Claiborne Cemetery in Monroe County, Alabama.

(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Historical Claiborne Cemetery is damaged” was originally published in the July 20, 1972 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

The peace and solitude that abounds around the Old Claiborne Cemetery was shattered last week by the angry snarl of the power saw, as the sharp whirling teeth bit into the trunks of the tall majestic pines that have stood for a hundred years among the final resting places of Monroe County’s earliest citizens. Before the shadows fell that day, most of these silent sentinels would feel the teeth of the logger’s axe. They were to fall across the very graves that they had protected and sheltered for well over a century. Their falling branches were to break and shatter most of the few remaining tombs that marked the plots in the City of Sleep.

The powerful machinery was to dig and gouge through the light turf as the heavy logs were dragged and pulled through the mounds and crypts, destroying or disfiguring everything in their path. Large piles of brush were to be pushed across the grave of a dear old lady, who had not many years before, selected the spot where she would sleep and wait for the final roll call of Eternity. The wheel of a huge skidder crushed into bits the small pot that held the lone artificial flower, placed there in tribute at the head of her grave.

And a short distance away, the same wheel was to break in two the marble slab that marked the burial place of a man whose descendants still live in the county today. The great old ironwood tree that had shaded the grave of Emily Bagby, wife of a governor, was cut down and dragged, to be left to hang crazily on the rim of the deep (gorge) known as the North Gorge.

The tomb of the Broken Hearted Stranger, of which many stories have been told, would lean at an awkward angle, the victim of a blow from the heavy machinery. The huge tire tracks were criss-cross the old cemetery, mashing beneath their paths countless unmarked graves of old Caliborne’s women and children, who were victims of the dread fever.

The few remaining markers were to point upward through the limbs and brush as though they were reaching skyward for the help that wasn’t coming. The sleep of the departed had been disturbed.

Yes, the old cemetery on the hill, overlooking the river, one of the most historical spots of Monroe County, is passing into oblivion. Visited by thousands who come and return again for reasons not known, it will soon be wasted away. The ties with the past will soon be broken, and all that will remain will be a memory to the few who care. And these pitiful few will look into the empty space where the grey granite makers once stood, and they will know that man had passed this way, and the place thereof shall know it no more.

[This column also included two photos, taken by Charles R. Floyd, of the heavily damaged Claiborne cemetery. The caption beneath the first photo read as follows: Portion of damage to tombs at Claiborne. The second photo caption said: Fallen trees shatter headstone at Claiborne Cemetery.]

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born to Vincent William Singleton and Frances Cornelia Faile Singleton, during a late-night thunderstorm, on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School in 1946, served as a U.S. Marine paratrooper in the Korean War, worked as a riverboat deckhand, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County on June 28, 1964 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from June 28, 1964 to Dec. 14, 1987. He was promoted from the enlisted ranks to warrant officer in May 1972. For years, Singleton’s columns, titled “Monroe County history – Did you know?” and “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. It’s believed that his first column appeared in the March 25, 1971 edition of The Monroe Journal. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Yankee troops invaded Conecuh County 155 years ago in March 1865

Andrew Barclay Spurling

This month marks the 155th anniversary of one of the most dramatic events in the history of Conecuh County, an event that was so important that it resulted in a Congressional Medal of Honor.

The story begins in the closing months of the Civil War. The Confederacy was on the ropes, and the Union was doing all it could to win the war. In March 1865, those Union efforts included a sweep of forces up from Pensacola and Mobile into Southwest Alabama.

On Thurs., March 23, Union forces led by Lt. Col. Andrew Barclay Spurling departed Andalusia, where they’d destroyed Rebel arms, ammunition and government property, and began making their way to Evergreen. Spurling’s men drew close to Evergreen at dark and established a picket line of sentries. Spurling, a native of Cranberry Isles, Maine, is said to have advanced alone in the dark beyond the Union picket line to survey what lay beyond when he came upon three Confederate soldiers.

Spurling opened fire, and the Confederates shot back. Spurling wounded two of the rebels, and he took all three captive. One of the wounded men was a young officer, who also happened to be the son of Alabama’s Confederate governor, Thomas H. Watts.

It was for this incident that Spurling would eventually receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. War Department records say that Spurling’s actions prevented the Confederates from obtaining information about Union troop movements and “was of great value to the Union cause.” His obituary said that the Confederates were riding to get reinforcements, “which probably would have wiped out the Federal command.”

Later on March 23, around midnight, Spurling and his men reached the Alabama & Florida Railroad at Gravella. Located five miles north of Evergreen, today we call it Owassa. Almost immediately, Spurling’s men cut the telegraph lines running through the area and then started to tear up the railroad tracks, which Confederates used to ferry troops between Montgomery and the huge Confederate depot at Pollard, which is located in Escambia County.

Not long after, around 4:30 a.m., a train from Pollard came up the tracks, derailed and caught fire. Three hours later, a train from Montgomery came along carrying 100 soldiers and seven officers headed for Mobile. That train didn’t derail, but Spurling’s men captured it, burned the locomotive, a baggage car, four passenger cars and two freight cars containing clothes, corn and other supplies.

People living in Belleville heard about the Union invasion and all available men went to help. On the way to Gravella, they met a squad of Spurling’s cavalry and turned back toward Belleville. All the Belleville men got away except for one, who was riding a sick horse and was taken prisoner.

According to B.F. Riley’s 1881 book, “History of Conecuh County, Alabama,” the “people of Bellville, having learned of the capture of their sister village, Evergreen, a body of mounted citizens proceeded in that direction, for the purpose of reconnoitering. When they had come within three or four miles of Evergreen, they suddenly encountered a small squad of Spurling’s command, that had been sent forward upon the Belleville road to guard against any sudden demonstration on the part of the citizens, while the chief command was moving along the dirt road toward Sparta.

“This squad had dismounted near the Bradley Plantation, in a sudden curve of the road, to burn a wagon, which had just been captured, when the Belleville deputation rode suddenly upon them. The surprise was equally shared in by both parties, but evidences of precipitate flight having been first given by the reconnoitering Bellvillians, nothing was left the invaders but a hot pursuit. When a clattering, pell-mell, the citizen soldiery, still clinging to their shotguns, fled back toward home.

“All would have reached their homes in safety, but for a diseased horse, which was ridden by Willie McCreary. Unable to keep abreast of the others in the stampede, his animal, continued to slacken in speed until he was finally overtaken at Hunter’s Creek. Here, Willie, then a lad of 16, fell into the hands of the enemy and was sent at once to Ship Island, as a prisoner of war.”

This same day, according to the late A.D. Clark of Castleberry, Spurling’s troopers encountered a Mr. McCreary on the road leading into Evergreen at the top of Murder Creek Hill, present day Fairview. Near the site where the antique store is currently located near the intersection of U.S. Highway 31 and U.S. Highway 84, McCreary was said to have been killed near this spot when he resisted as Union troops confiscated his wagon, goods and animals. Some say that the wagon contained corn, while others say the wagon also contained several piglets.

With all this in mind, you have to wonder if the wagon belonging to the “Mr. McCreary” mentioned by A.D. Clark was the same wagon that the Union troops were burning when the men from Belleville rounded the curve at the Bradley Plantation. Also, you have to wonder if the “Mr. McCreary” who was killed was related to the 16-year-old Willie McCreary who was taken prisoner. There’s also reason to wonder if the two names may have gotten confused over the years (or that if it was just a coincidence that they both had the same last name).

Ship Island is located off the Mississippi coast and was used as a prisoner of war camp and base for the U.S. Second Regiment throughout the Civil War. According to Civil War historian Steve Stacey of Monroeville, Ship Island “was an awful place,” where the guards “took potshots at Confederates going about their daily life.” What became of young Willie McCreary of Belleville remains unknown.

In any event, around 11 a.m. on Fri., March 24, Spurling entered Evergreen, where he destroyed some stores, foraged for rations and burned rolling stock at the train station. Evergreen was defenseless, and Spurling’s troops fired upon civilians and pillaged, stealing silver plate and jewelry. They also stole a number of mules and horses from surrounding plantations.

Around 2 p.m., Spurling headed toward Sparta, which was the county seat until 1866. Along the way, he burned railroad trestles and six box cars at the Sparta train station. His men went on to burn the train station and the Conecuh County Jail.

The next day, Sat., March 25, 1865, Spurling’s men left Sparta and headed for Brooklyn. They passed through Brooklyn around noon before entering present day Escambia County, headed for Pollard, which they reached around 6 p.m. on Sun., March 26. Between Sparta and Pollard, Spurling captured 20 prisoners in skirmishes and reached Pollard without losing a single man.

In the end, if you’re interested in reading more about this event, I encourage you to read “History of Conecuh County, Alabama” by Benjamin Franklin Riley and “Word From Camp Pollard, C.S.A.” by William H. Davidson. Both books go into greater detail about Spurling’s Raid, and history buffs in the reading audience will likely enjoy both books.