Hills of north Alabama hid many Union sympathizers
by Jennifer Cohron
Apr 17, 2011 | 5235 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The 1st Alabama Cavalry reenactors group honors the service of the more than 2,000 Southerners who fought in the Union unit during the Civil War. Photo special to the Eagle
The 1st Alabama Cavalry reenactors group honors the service of the more than 2,000 Southerners who fought in the Union unit during the Civil War. Photo special to the Eagle
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The drums of war were echoing throughout Alabama long before shots were fired at Fort Sumter in April 1861, but everyone was not marching to the same tune.

Alabama’s Ordinance of Secession had passed by a vote of 61 to 39 at a convention held at the state capital in January.

Robert Guttery of Walker County was one of three delegates who refused to sign the ordinance and never fought for the Confederacy, according to Auburn University’s online Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Guttery later served with the 1st Alabama Cavalry, one of six Union regiments from Alabama.

Christopher Sheats, who represented Winston County at the secession convention and also voted against seccession, was born in Walker County as well.

Before the war, residents in 22 north Alabama counties voted for cooperation, or a wait-and-see approach with the new president, rather than immediate seccession. The people of Walker County voted 796-143 for cooperation.

Pro-Union sympathies were so strong in this area that there was talk of joining with Unionist east Tennessee to form the loyal state of Nickajack.

Ryan Dupree of the 1st Alabama Cavalry reenactors group said that Unionists had various reasons for not supporting the Confederacy.

“One of the misnomers is that everybody fought to free the slaves. For some guys, slavery was the last thing on their mind,” Dupree said.

The ground in north Alabama could support subsistence farming but not plantations.

In 1860, Winston County ranked last in cotton production and slaveholding. Only two percent of its families owned slaves.

Poor mountain farmers saw no need to die so that wealthy planters could keep their slaves.

In an online history of the 1st Alabama Cavalry, author Dean Barber shares the words of one Unionist farmer from Winston County to his Confederate son in Mississippi. In the letter, the man said, “All the [slaveholders] want is to git you pupt up and go fight for there infurnal negroes and after you do there fighting you may kiss there hine parts for o [all] they care.”

Also, some Unionists were directly descended from Revolutionary War heroes and refused to betray their forefathers.

One of the resolutions passed at Winston County’s Looney’s Tavern early in the war stated specifically, “We are not going to shoot at the flag of our fathers, ‘Old Glory,’ the Flag of Washington, Jefferson and Jackson.”

The end of the resolution asked that the Confederacy and the Union leave the people of north Alabama alone so that “we may work out our political and financial destiny.”

Neutrality was not an option for long.

In April 1862, the Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act subjecting all able-bodied men between 18 and 35 to military service.

According to Barber’s online history, Gov. John Gill Shorter had warned earlier that “in case a draft should be ordered, the Western portion of Walker County — and the whole of Winston County will be among the first included, as it is notorious that they have not furnished anything like their proportion of volunteers.”

When federal troops invaded Alabama in the summer of 1862, they were met by small groups of Confederate deserters and Unionists who had been hiding in the hills for months.

They were finally ready to fight but not under the Stars and Bars.

The 1st Alabama Cavalry was organized in late 1862. More than 2,000 Southerners (both black and white) from 35 Alabama counties and eight other Confederate states served in the 1st Alabama during the Civil War.

Approximately 60 who enlisted were from Walker County, according to author Stanley Hoole in “Alabama Tories.”

So far, Dupree has documented 29 1st Alabama veterans who are buried in Walker County.

Dupree said many history books do not mention that a war was raging within the states during what is sometimes referred to as the War Between the States.

As a result, the sacrifices of people such as the Curtis family of Winston County are overlooked.

Dupree said that when Solomon Curtis was on his deathbed, his sons swore to him that they would remain loyal to the Union.

One son was killed by Confederates in Jasper for refusing to enlist in the Confederate Army in 1862. Another was shot in front of his wife and three children in 1863 by a local home guard while on leave from the Union Army.

Tom Pink Curtis, the probate judge of Winston County, was also seized by a home guard. His body was pierced with a hot poker twice, his spine was severed and his clothes were set on fire.

His body was then taken to Houston, where he was hung, shot several times and thrown over a bluff.

Jim Curtis, the only brother who survived, is said to have avenged his siblings’ deaths by killing every rebel responsible for them.

Dupree said the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is an opportunity to reclaim similar stories that have been lost.

“It’s important to remember the Civil War, but it’s just as important for people to get interested in their own histories,” Dupree said.

More information on the 1st Alabama Cavalry is available at www.1stalabamacavalryusv.com.