Thursday, March 12, 2015

Next week marks 150th anniversary of Conecuh County Civil War events

Andrew Barclay Spurling
This month marks the 150th 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 for one of its participants.

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 finish out the war. In March 1865, those Union efforts included a sweep of forces up from Pensacola and Mobile into Southwest Alabama.

On 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.

Men 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 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.

Around 11 a.m., 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 pillage, 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, 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 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. 

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