If you’re looking for a good book to read, especially if you’re a history buff, I highly recommend that you check out “Streight’s Foiled Raid on the Western & Atlantic Railroad: Emma Sansom’s Courage & Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Pursuit” by Dr. Brandon H. Beck.
Published in 2016 by The History Press, this 111-page book details one of the most dramatic incidents to have occurred in Alabama during the Civil War, the ill-fated and embarrassing “Streight’s Raid” in North Alabama. For those of you unfamiliar with this incident, in the spring of 1863 Union Col. Abel D. Streight set out to destroy portions of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, a vital supply and troop transport route in northern Georgia. Your first clue that this was going to be a disaster for the Union side was that Streight decided to set out on ill-mannered mules instead of horses.
Once the Confederates figured out what Streight was up to, they sicked Nathan Bedford Forrest on Streight’s forces, and Forrest proceeded to harass and chase Streight’s men all over North Alabama. The Yankees, who were as terrified of Forrest as they were of the boogeyman, were severely outmatched by a force of much smaller size that happened to be more ably led. The end result was Streight’s surrender to Forrest at Cedar Bluff after Forrest tricked Streight into thinking that he was grossly outnumbered.
Beck, who is the Director Emeritus of the McCormick Civil War Institute at Shenandoah University in Virginia, does an outstanding job of describing the role that Gadsden teenager Emma Sansom played in Streight’s Raid. Sansom, who was just 15 years old, famously guided Forrest and his men to a shallow water crossing of Black Creek in Gadsden. Sansom earned Forrest’s personal thanks for her assistance and secured herself a place in Civil War lore for years and years to follow.
Beck’s book is also full of easy-to-understand maps and unique photographs that help illustrate the finer points of the subject matter. The book also makes mention of a number of sites and museums that will no doubt interest Civil War tourists in the reading audience. I was unfamiliar with several of the sites mentioned in the book, and I plan to pay them a visit the next time I’m in that part of the state.
Serious Civil War readers in the audience will also want to check out the nearly 10 pages of references in the back of the book. Beck has essentially laid out a roadmap for further reading in his detailed list of sources, which includes a comprehensive list of other books, articles and other sources.
I’ve read quite a bit about Streight’s Raid over the years, and I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a better book about the incident than Beck’s 2016 book. Not only will it interest Civil War enthusiasts, but I’d say it’s also a “must-read” for Alabama history buffs. If you read this book and enjoy it, you might also want to check out some of Beck’s other books, including “The Battle of Okolona: Defending the Mississippi Prairie” and “Holly Springs: Earl Van Dorn, the CSS Arkansas and the Raid That Saved Vicksburg.”