The following is excerpted from a book written by the Gadsden’s Women’s Club called “A Little Book about Gadsden.” The book tells about the early periods of the Gadsden area.
Civil War Days – 1861
The Civil War stopped all internal improvements. [Etowah] County, then [called] Cherokee, furnished five companies of soldiers who were part of the 19th Alabama Regiment whose first colonel was Joseph Wheeler, later termed Fighting General Joe Wheeler.
The captain from Gadsden was W.P. Hollingsworth, who survived the war.” Dr. John P. Ralls represented the great County of Cherokee at the Secession Convention, which met at Montgomery in 1861. He also was a member of the Confederate Congress for four years. His wonderfully cultivated mind and spiritual nature were an enlightening force in the community for years.
A May morning dawned clear after three days of ceaseless rain. A 15-year old girl stood on the porch of her log home and drank in its beauty. It was just one more glorious morning to her, in spite of the rumors of war and the terror that Streight’s march through the county and burning of the bridge over Black Creek had caused in the hearts of the natives.
Little did [Emma] dream that this May 2, 1863, would bring into her humble life an event that would immortalize her name. It did not seem heroic to her to mount behind General Forrest and waving her sunbonnet defiantly at the whistling bullets of the enemy [and] pilot him across the swollen stream of Black Creek.
But, because of this simple act, Forrest was able to overtake and capture the Yankee General Streight and his army. This, together with the famous ride of John Wisdom, prevented the planned attack on Rome, Ga., an ammunition manufacturing center of the Confederacy.
To commemorate her brave act, a monument has been erected to Emma Sansom at the lower end of Broad Street [in Gadsden] at the entrance to Memorial Bridge. The ground on which the monument stands was called “The Commons” in the early days. It was the hitching ground and general meeting place.
On this same memorable morning, General Forrest stopped on the street which now bears his name and talked with Mrs. R.B. Kyle in the shade of a large cedar tree which stood in front of the old Kyle residence, now the Elliott home, on Forrest Avenue.
John Wisdom’s Ride
On the morning of May 2, 1863, Streight, with 2,000 men, marched through the little village of Gadsden on his way to capture Rome, Ga., and destroy the railroad system. Behind him Nathan B. Forrest, with what was left of his army of 600 brave men, was in close pursuit.
John H. Wisdom, who owned the ferry at Gadsden and who was a mail contractor for the Confederate Government, had gone about 10 miles into the country on the east side of the river. Returning about 3 o’clock [sic] in the afternoon, he found that the Union Army had sunk his ferry and had gone on up the west side of the river towards Rome. He called across the river to his neighbors and told them to tell his family that he was going to warn Rome before the raiders should reach there.
Starting out in his buggy at 3:30 in the afternoon, Mr. Wisdom made, with many relays of fresh horses, one of the most brilliant rides of which American history gives account.
Paul Revere rode from Boston to Concord, a distance of 18 miles. John H. Wisdom rode from Gadsden, Ala., to Rome, Ga., a distance of 67 miles, in less than seven hours, and as a direct result of this wonderful ride [that] Streight and all of his men were captured.
As a token of gratitude, the people of Rome presented Mr. Wisdom with a silver service valued at $400. It was a gallant act, an act conceived in his own mind and carried into execution by his own initiative. It is little known, but Gadsden does not forget her son, John H. Wisdom. (Excerpts from an article by W. P. Lay)
The County Seat
The first official act of Andrew Johnson, who succeeded to the presidency at Lincoln’s death, was to organize governments for those states that had withdrawn from the Union. The provisional governors appointed were authorized to call elections to choose state legislators.
This newly-elected legislature convened in the fall of 1866 and created Baine County, with Gadsden as the county seat. William David Baine was a native of Ohio and was educated for the law at Pittsburgh, Pa. He came to Alabama in 1847 and settled at Centre. Here he practiced his profession and showed such promise that he was called to Lowndes County, where he accepted a responsible position.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Baine enlisted as a private in the Confederate army but soon rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In 1861, Baine lost his life fighting for his adopted state. It was for this gallant soldier that the county was named. Baine County however, was destined to be short-lived.
When a new congress convened in the fall of 1867, it passed laws abolishing President Johnson’s provisional governments and nullifying all the laws passed by the legislatures of those governments.
The South was under the strict military rule of the federal government. The Alabama Legislature in 1868 re-established Baine and changed its name to Etowah.
It was not until the early [1870s] that Etowah’s first courthouse was built. It was situated at the rear of the present site (at that time northwest corner of 4th and Broad) in a grove of stately oaks. The lot on which it was built was a gift of Samuel Henry.
Gadsden Grows – 1867
In this year, work was resumed on the railroad but the route was changed and built to Rome and Dalton. The name was changed from the Alabama and Tennessee Rivers Railroad to the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad.
Gadsden lost this railroad, but with her steamboat connection with the railroad at Rome, Ga., she could ship all produce she had for sale and received all merchandise purchased on straight bill of lading, direct to Gadsden via the Georgia/Alabama Steam Boat Company at Rome for all merchandise purchased in market.
Some of the merchants had business connections with commission houses in Rome and New York, to whom they shipped cotton and other produce and drew on them to pay their bills in market and furnish them currency. The citizens in the surrounding counties brought their farm products to Gadsden for sale and purchased all their needed supplies here.”
Gadsden was a different looking town in this year. There were a dozen or more stores with good stocks of merchandise. In addition, there were several grocery stores, two drug stores, one jewelry store and three saloons.
In this year, the A.G.& S. Railroad was completed to Attalla.
The railroad from Gadsden to Attalla was completed.
“In 1876, the Centennial year, Gadsden had a Fourth of July celebration and invited everybody and they all came. I never saw so many people in Gadsden before, and I do not suppose I will ever see that many again.
The assembly ground was at Standifer’s Spring and the grove adjoining beyond the T.A.G. Depot. There was no barbecue, just a basket dinner.
The Reverend J.A. Kennibrew, pastor of the Baptist Church, read the Declaration of Independence. While it was being read, the ladies were spreading dinner on the ground.
“Before dinner was announced, some [people] standing nearby began to help themselves. Then they closed in and took everything in sight. I don’t think that there was enough there to have fed that crowd if everything had been equitably divided. Some got a bountiful supply; others got none.
“Those who got none were the ladies who furnished the dinner. They had to go home with emp-ty baskets and prepare themselves some eatables. Gadsden has never had another Fourth of July celebration like that one and never will [again] unless it will be at the next Centennial. If so, I won’t be there.”
(From the private memoirs Of J. A. Green)