Mystery Civil War signs appearing all over Etowah County


This week the Vagabond wants to share a mystery to the readers. There are Civil War signs appearing all over Etowah County by a group that calls themselves the “Gadsden Civil War Roundtable. Rumors are that it is someone living in Southside that is pushing it. Of course, this has to have been done due to the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. So far the Vagabond has seen only four signs. These are wonderful signs and the Vagabond encourages more to be installed. 

Emma Sansom and the Forrest/Streight Raid

In 1863, 15-year old Emma Sansom and her family lived near this site.  On the morning of May 2, approximately 1,000 Union soldiers under the command of Colonel Abel Streight arrived here with the intent of crossing Black Creek and moving into Gadsden.  They had been on a mounted infantry raid across Alabama since April 30th.  Their goal was to reach Rome, Georgia and destroy military installations and parts of the railroad in or near that town.

Emma was small, slender, round faced, with auburn hair and dark blue eyes. Her family had moved here in 1852 from Georgia. Her father was dead by 1862, and living in the house with Emma was her mother Levina, her sister Jennie, a neighbor girl Mary and a slave, Fannie. Her brothers were serving in the Confederate Army.

Once the Yankees arrived, they began to search the house for food and guns. They demanded the girls give them some water and then posted a guard at the house. Soon, all the Yankee troopers made their way to the nearby bridge over Black Creek. This bridge was located approximately 200 yards east from the Sansom home. Today, that site is where Tuscaloosa Avenue crosses Black Creek.

Pursuing Confederate cavalry commanded by General Nathan Bedford Forrest soon arrived at the Sansom house.  General Forrest asked if there was an alternate crossing of Black Creek, since Streight had posted a guard and had partially burned the only bridge. Emma personally assisted Forrest in locating and utilizing a little known cattle ford on their property. This action allowed Forrest’s men to flank the Yankees at the bridge and threaten the bulk of their command then in Gadsden. Streight ordered his men to continue east toward Rome, thus sparing the city from any major destruction. 

Emma would marry Christopher Johnson in 1864.  She and her husband and their children would move to Texas in 1876.  Emma died in 1900 and is buried in Upshur County, Texas.

Southside’s Elihu Griffin was first Confederate casualty at Gettysburg

Fought July 1-3, 1863, the battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania is considered one of the most important Civil War battles fought between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America.  Buried in Pilgrims Rest Cemetery is the first non-mortal Confederate casualty from this battle.

Elihu H. Griffin, Sr., was born in 1838 and died in 1914. He enlisted in the Confederate States Army on August 19, 1861 in a unit called the Calhoun County Sharpshooters.  These local men of what is today southern Etowah and northern Calhoun Counties were officially mustered into service as Company B of the 5th Alabama Infantry Battalion where they eventually became part of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.   

The 5th Alabama Battalion was under the command of Major A.S. Van de Graaff, and the unit was chosen as the lead unit as Lee ordered his nearly 80,000 man army into Gettysburg.  Major Van de Graaff later wrote, “On the 1st my battalion was deployed was skirmishers…we drove the (Union) calvary over three miles.”

Opposing Griffin and 5th Alabama was the Union calvary including the 8th Illinois. The first shots fired in this historic battle were between these units and first man to be shot was Elihu Griffin.  Private E.T. Boland wrote, “As soon as the (Confederate) skirmish line entered the swamp a shot range out, it being the first gun fired in the great battle of Gettysburg.” 

The 5th Battalion would have over 200 men wounded, killed or captured at Gettysburg. Griffin would return to Green Valley after the war, where he raised his family and farmed.

Emma Sansom helps Forrest at Black Creek – the Forrest/Streight Raid

Late in the morning, May 2, 1863, 15-year old Emma Sansom directed Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest to a ford on Black Creek.   Located approximately 50 yards upstream (east) from this location, Emma, riding with Forrest on his horse, personally revealed to him the site of  a little known-cattle crossing their animals used to get across this creek.

Forrest had been in pursuit of Union Colonel Abel Streight had been ordered to ride from Tuscumbia east across Alabama and into Georgia and destroy the rail connection, munitions, plants and iron foundry in Rome. Forrest harassed and clashed with Streight for two days before both forces arrived here. Streight and his men were a couple of hours ahead of Forrest as they traveled from near Walnut Grove east toward Gadsden.

After crossing here, Streight’s men attempted to burn the bridge that allowed the Tuscaloosa Road (now Tuscaloosa Avenue) across the rain- swollen creek. In addition, Yankee soldiers were posted at the bridge, thus anticipating a halt to Forrest and his cavalry from getting over the creek and attacking Streight’s men as they made their way into Gadsden.

Once Emma divulged to Forrest the location of the ford, against her mother’s wishes, she volunteered to take him to the site. Together the two rode 200 yards east from the Sansom house to the nearby crossing. This valuable contribution by young Emma would allow Forrest to cross the creek and flank the soldiers posted at the bridge.  

Utilizing the ford, the Confederates quickly rou-ted the guards and following a short skirmish, crossed here on the still useable Tuscaloosa Road Bridge. The Confederate calvary soon galloped into Gadsden as Streight and his forces escaped east toward Turkeytown.

Confederate Commodore Ebenezer Farrand  

Born in New York in 1803, Ebenezer “Eben” Farrand entered the United States Navy in 1823 and was advanced to commander in 1834. While in command of the United States Navy Yard at Pensacola, Fla., he resigned his commission in January of 1861 to join the armed forces of the Confederate States of America.

In an unusual twist of fate, he immediately was ordered to demand the surrender of all United States forces stationed at Forts Barrancas and McRae at the Navy Yard in Pensacola. Farrand wrote, “We have decided it is our duty to hold our position until such a force is brought against us to render it impossible to defend…”

Ordered to Drewry’s Bluff, Va., in the spring of 1862, Farrand was charged with building defenses to prevent the United States Navy from advancing up the James River and capturing the capital of the Confederacy. The battle of Drewry’s Bluff on May 15, 1862 was a resounding Confederate victory.  Farrand saved the City of Richmond and was praised for his “gallantry and courage.”

Transferred to Selma, he was given command of the recently established Naval Foundry and built it into a large military industrial complex. Farrand commanded the Confederate Naval forces in Mobile following the battle of Mobile Bay in August of 1864. He surrendered himself and his command at Mobile on May 8, 1865. 

After the war, Farrand became an insurance salesman in Montgomery and owned a home and a hotel along the railroad in Attalla. He died in 1873 and eventually was buried in the Attalla City Cemetery.

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