By Danny Crownover
Back in the early part of May of 1994, some 20 years ago, Jeff Sauls of the Turkey Town Valley Camp #1512 and Sons of Confederate Veterans wrote an article about the Civil War engagement that happened at Turkey Town. He writes:
“As the leaves of the South put on its autumn color, the Southerners’ dreaded nightmare came to a reality, Yankees [are] in the deep South. Atlanta had fallen into the hands of the enemy following Confederate defeat at Jonesboro. General Sherman and his destructive force had taken that prized city.
“As September, 1864, arrived, the Confederate army retreated from Atlanta. As the army neared Lafayette, Georgia, it turned west into Alabama. General John B. Hood now breaks a promise made to President Davis in which he had said that he would never abandon Georgia. Hood has asked General P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of the Department of Alabama and Mississippi, to meet with him to create the next plan of operation.
“The place of the meeting was Gadsden, Alabama, a small village of 350 people located on the western bank of the Coosa River in Cherokee County, now Etowah County.
This is not the first time war had crossed the city’s path. During the Creek Indian War some of the action took place here. Then, [the area] was a part of Turkey’s Town, the capitol of the Cherokee Nation. Principal Chief Pathkiller had cooperated with Colonel Andrew Jackson and his militia by sending Cherokee braves to fight with Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814.
“In May of 1863, the raiders crossed North Alabama. General N.B. Forrest pursued the Union force, and after being helped by 15 year-old Emma Samson of Gadsden, captured Colonel Streight near Cedar Bluff, Alabama.
“The 30,000 soldiers of the Army of Tennessee arrived in Gadsden on October 20, 1864. The I Corps of Major General Frank Cheatham camped on the western and eastern banks of the Coosa River in downtown Gadsden.
“The II Corps of Lieutenant General A.P. Stewart moved west of the city to Black Creek, and III Corps of Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee camped north of the city in the old Indian town. While here, the army was re-supplied with clothing, shoes and rations.
“During the movements from Atlanta to northwest Georgia and then to Gadsden, General William T. Sherman and his massive Union army kept close pursuit.
“The first of his 70,000 plus soldiers moved into the Gaylesville, Alabama, area on October 20. Over the next few days, the Union army inhabited northeast Cherokee County.
“Confederate cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler protected the Confederate’s rear during this time. While here, General Sherman continued his plan of destruction of Georgia. He sent General U.S. Grant in City Point, Virginia, the following communication on October 22. 1864: ‘From the field, Gaylesville, Ala. I feel perfectly master of the situation here. I still hold Atlanta and the road with all bridges and vital points well guarded and I have in hand an army before which Hood has retreated precipitately down the valley of the Coosa, It is hard to divine his future plans but by abandoning Georgia, and taking position with his rear to Selma, he threatens the road from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and may move to Tennessee by Decatur. He cannot cross the Tennessee except at Muscle Shoals, for all other points are patrolled by our gunboats. I am now perfecting arrangements to put into Tennessee whilst I break up the railroad in front of Dalton, including the city of Atlanta and push into Georgia, and break up all its railroads and depots, capture its horses and negroes, make desolation everywhere, destroy the factories and Macon, Milledgeville and Augusta, and bring up with 60,000 men on the seashore above Savannah or Chaleston…’
“General Beauregard arrived in Gadsden late on October 20, and the two Confederate generals unfolded their plans to each other at the First Baptist Church, which back then was located on the NW corner of 5th and Broad and now is the Cultural Arts Center.
General Beauregard’s plan was to remain upon the Alabama line, to take position, entrench and attack Sherman, then follow on his rear as he moved south.
“General Hood’s idea, which he had already sent to General Braxton Bragg and Secretary of War J.A. Seddon in Richmond, was to move north, crossing the Tennessee River at Guntersville, then to Stevenson, Bridgeport and on to Nashville. From here, he would move north to arrive on the rear of the Union forces of General U.S. Grant in Virginia and allow General Robert E. Lee to command the combined armies to defeat Grant and march on the city of Washington. This he thought was the only hope to bring victory to the Confederacy.
“The discussion in Gadsden took most of two days. The agreement came after General Beauregard convinced Hood that if he engaged in his projected campaign, it would be necessary to leave the cavalry under Wheeler in Alabama and Georgia. The cavalry would watch and harass Sherman, thus giving time for the army to move north. It would also be necessary for the cavalry force of General N.B. Forrest to join the army before crossing the Tennessee River. The two generals inspected the troops and executed the plan of operation into Tennessee.
“On October 22, with 20 days rations in their haversacks and wagons, the Army of Tennessee moved forward toward Guntersville. As the soldiers moved north, it would take the best of two days to leave Gadsden. General Beauregard remained to assure the movement out of town and assist General Wheeler with the protection of the rear. The last of the army left Gadsden on the night of the 25th. General Wheeler and his troopers were all along the Coosa River and Shinbone Ridge, ready to see to General Sherman.
“From Gaylesville, General Sherman was trying to figure out the moves of General Hood. His destructive plan for Georgia was under way but he needed to do something with Hood. A reconnaissance order was given to Major General Peter J. Osterhaus and his XV Corps on the 24th. He was to see if Hood was still in Gadsden.
On the 24th, from Leesburg, Alabama, Brigadier General William B. Hazen’s 2nd Division led the way, with Captain Amdt’s 1st Michigan Battery B following. Brigadier General C. R. Wood’s 1st Division followed, with Captain Gray’s 1st Iowa Battery and 10 ammunition and ambulance wagons. The 3rd and 4th Divisions were still in Rome, Georgia.
“The first skirmish was at King’s Hill, the Slackland community of today. General Wheeler’s job was to harass, watch and to make it appear as though the army was still in Gadsden. As the 2nd Division deployed and formed its battle line, Wheeler withdrew. The running skirmish ended on the southern end of Blount farm. Losses for the 2nd Division were listed as 70, while Wheeler reported 25.
“On the morning of the 25th, General Osterhaus moved south again, arriving at a fork in the road to Gadsden, where he made his headquarters. The night before, he learned that the main force of the Confederates were some five miles south in Turkey’s Town Valley. “[Osterhaus] ordered the cavalry regiment of General Garrard to move south on the left road. As they reached the other end, they were fired on by Wheeler’s dismounted, entrenched troopers. The two pieces of Wheeler’s artillery sent screaming shot down on these Union horse soldiers. Osterhaus quickly sent 6,000 soldiers of the 1st Division down the same path.
“With Lookout Mountain at their backs and the Coosa River in their front, Wheeler’s dismounted cavalry held a strong position. The Southerner had a clean sweep of the valley below. The brigades of Allen, Iverson, Ashby, Harrison and Ferguson poured hot from their advantage point entrenchments on Shinbone Ridge. General Wheeler would hold this position behind the railed breast works and trenches until the time was right to withdraw.
“Union General Wood’s 1st Division arrived and stretched the line of battle across the valley from the river to the mountain. Battery B of the 1st Michigan brought up two three-inch rifled cannon and unlimbered near the J.D. White farm. General Osterhaus sent two brigades of the 2nd Division of General Hazen down the right road. A third brigade was held in reserve. About half way down the road was a gap in Shinbone Ridge that led into Owl’s Valley. The two brigades took that road along the slopes of Lookout Mountain. As they advanced southward, they arrived on the left rank of the entrenched Confederates but on the Northern side of Shinbone Ridge.
“General Wheeler, from the top of Shinbone Ridge, saw the advancing Union forces of Colonel Wells Jones and turned his attention to them. Finally, with his forces being overwhelmed, General Wheeler withdrew his command. He retreated to Gadsden with the reports of the day and the Union army’s movements. His losses were given as 30,
which included the loss of two staff officers and the severe wounding of his adjutant. Wheeler would continue to assault and harass Sherman’s army on their famous March to the Sea.
“The XV Corps gathered at 4 p.m. and withdrew to Turkey’s Town Creek. They counted their losses at 110. The next day they would rejoin Sherman at Little River.
“General Wheeler’s accomplishments had allowed General Hood and the Army of Tennessee to move north. However, on arrival at Guntersville and the Tennessee River, the Confederates found a larger force of Yankees than expected. It would be between Tuscumbia and Decatur before they could cross the Tennessee River. The battles of Franklin and Nashville would produce extreme hardships for this Confederate army and almost brought it to its end, while General Sherman’s march across Georgia proved to be a destructive blow to the South.
“The decisions made at the First Baptist Church of Gadsden in October of1864 are a part of history now. We know the outcome of the battles of Franklin and Nashville and the March to the Sea, but what if General Beauregard’s plan had been the one carried out? What effect would it have had on Sherman’s March, the Battle of Mobile Bay, Wilson’s Raid in Alabama, the Battle of Selma and the surrender of General Forrest? As we look back, we see how these so-called insignificant, forgotten, out-of-the-way places can bring some understanding to the [Civil] War. Perhaps they can give a glimpse at what might have been.
“On May 3, 1992, the Turkey Town Valley Camp 1512 SCV dedicated a monument to the above battle that took place in Turkey’s Town on October 23-25, 1864. Over 200 spectators gathered to learn about the history and origin of Turkey’s Town and to hear Past Alabama Division Commander William C. Scott, Jr., present a speech about the occasion. The 8,000-pound Georgia granite monument that was dedicated sits beside a well dug by the Cherokee Indians on US Highway 411 North at Gaston School. This is on the farm once owned by J.D. White, now owned by his great-great grandson, William E. Martin. Its dedication states, ‘May we never forget the men and women of Turkey Town Valley, who labored and fought to preserve their Southern heritage and freedom. This stone is then dedicated in their honor.’