Part myth? Dramatized? The Blair’s march and an actual letter from Emma Sansom


The Vagabond is asking a hard question that even he doesn’t know the answer for. Hopefully somebody out there will help. During the Civil War there were some Confederates (or Union) soldiers that came off Sand Mountain heading to what is now Collinsville. Some of the official records indicate they went through Cox’s Gap to what we think was Mills Hill Road to Duck Springs Road, then on to what is today Collinsville. Whoever wrote the report thought it was unusual and made a record of climbing a very tall hill. Can anyone help the Vagabond as to the source?

There is another incident that went along the same route. The late Fred Nicholson wrote about this and reported on what happened:

One event in the Civil War, unrecorded in history, that touched Etowah County was Blair’s March from Decatur to Rome, Georgia May and June 1864.    

Special Field Orders, No. 11, of General Sherman, required Major-General Frank P. Blair, Jr., later a member of the U. S. Congress, to march the Third and Fourth Divisions of the Seventeenth Army Corps and a brigade of cavalry to reinforce him.  The route chosen was the most direct, the Old Georgia Road.  The sick were left along the way.

The force of 8,000, veterans of Vicksburg where Sherman had perfected living off the land, was joined by 2,500 cavalry.  They had 400 wagons and 30 pieces of artillery in the march.

The march started at noon the 27th of May 1864, from Decatur. By May 30, 1864, they camped at Warrenton (south west of Guntersville.) The next day, the 31st, they entered Etowah County on the Old Georgia Road (just south of Sardis) and camped at Short Creek.  The men would break ranks, go to the farm and “forage” all they could carry.  This happened again and again until the farm was stripped.  As one black man, Fayette Appleton, in Will’s Valley said:  “They called it foraging, I called it plain stealing.”

At Short Creek, Blair’s column passed by the Andrew Wilson Yancey farm.  Mrs. Margret Elizabeth Johnson Yancey was expecting a baby.  The Yankees continued to march by and forage, she became frightened and went to hide behind the corncrib. There she gave birth to a healthy boy, Reuben Isaac.

Apparently foraging parties broke off from the main column and went into Will’s Valley, in Etowah County, through one or more gaps down Sand Mountain.  These parties swept up Sand Valley, Big Will’s Valley and Little Will’s Valley.  Greenwood (Keener) was foraged.

Near the current DeKalb County line, in Big Will’s Valley, the Yancey and Owen farms were foraged.  The Yankees were coming up the valley when Mrs. W. A. Yancey was warned of the approaching troops.  She took her mule to a hiding place near Big Will’s Creek.  The Yankees foraged the farm and went on up the valley into present-day  DeKalb County where they apparently talked to someone.  They came back, demanded and got the mule.

When the Owen farm was foraged, it was marked by wanton destruction.  A feather bed was taken outside, slit and the feathers thrown into the wind.

General Blair set up Headquarters Camp at the Edward’s farm (Edwards Bridge in DeKalb County.)  He declared a farm day to rest the artillery horses and gather goods.

Blair’s troops spent June 2 foraging and continued the march June 3 through Collinsville, Sand Rock, Blue Pond and Gaylesville to Rome. He delivered 10,350 men to Sherman which replaced his loses on his march to Atlanta.

The March through Etowah County/DeKalb County did not amount to much in the Civil War, unless you lived there!

Generally, both Union and Confederate armies were in and out of the Etowah County area and it makes the Vagabond wonders if all could ever be recorded.

This week is the 150th anniversary of  Emma Sansom leading Forrest to the ford. So much misinformation has come up over the years such as (1) her brother Rufus Sansom lead Forrest and not her, (2) it is part myth… and… have undoubtedly been dramatized,  (3) the bridge was still useable after it was burned when in fact it was destroyed. (4) it was easy to cross the creek when in fact it was rain-swollen, (5) etc.

The Vagabond will someday discuss all the above in a future article. The most important thing is we do have letters that came from Emma Sansom and the Vagabond gets requests all the time for them. The following is one she wrote to Dr. John A. Wyeth prior to his book about General Forrest: She writes:

“When the war came on, there were three children—a brother and sister older than I. In August, 1861, my brother enlisted in the second company that left Gadsden, and joined the Nineteenth Alabama Infantry. My sister and I lived with our mother on the farm. We were at home on the morning of May 2, 1863, when about eight or nine o’clock a company of men wearing blue uniforms and riding mules and horses galloped past the house and went on towards the bridge.

“Pretty soon a great crowd of them came along, and some of them stopped at the gate and asked us to bring them some water. Sister and I each took a bucket of water, and gave it to them at the gate. One of them asked me where my father was. I told him he was dead. He asked me if I had any brothers. I told him I had ‘six’ He asked where they were, and I said they were in the Confederate Army. ‘Do they think the South will whip [us]?’ ‘They do.’ ‘What do you think about it?’ ‘I think God is on our side and we will win.’ ‘You do? Well, if you had seen us whip Colonel Roddey the other day and run him across the Tennessee River, you would have thought God was on the side of the best artillery.’

“By this time some of them began to dismount, and we went into the house. They came in and began to search for fire-arms and men’s saddles. They did not find anything but a side-saddle, and one of them cut the skirts off that. Just then some one from the road said, in a loud tone: ‘You men bring a chunk of fire with you, and get out of that house.’         The men got the fire in the kitchen and started out, and an officer put a guard around the house, saying: ‘This guard is for your protection.’ They all soon hurried down to the bridge, and in a few minutes we saw the smoke rising and knew they were burning the bridge.
    “As our fence extended up to the railing of the bridge, mother said: “Come with me and we will pull our rails away, so they will not be destroyed.” As we got to the top of the hill we saw the rails were already piled on the bridge and were on fire, and the Yankees were in line on the other side guarding it.
“We turned back towards the house, and had not gone but a few steps before we saw a Yankee coming at full speed, and behind were some more men on horses. I heard them shout, ‘Halt! and surrender!’ The man stopped, threw up his hand, and handed over his gun.
    “The officer to whom the soldier surrendered said: ‘Ladies, do not be alarmed, I am General Forrest; I and my men will protect you from harm.’
    He inquired: ‘Where are the Yankees?’ Mother said: ‘They have set the bridge on fire and are  standing in line on the other side, and if you go down that hill they will kill the last one of you.’ By this time our men had come up, and some went out in the field, and both sides commenced shooting. We ran to the house, and I got there ahead of all.
    “General Forrest dashed up to the gate and said to me: ‘Can you tell me where I can get across that creek?’ I told him there was an unsafe bridge two miles farther down the stream, but that I knew of a trail about two hundred yards above the bridge on our farm, where our cows used to cross in low water, and I believed he could get his men over there, and that if he would have my saddle put on a horse I would show him the way.
    “He said: ‘There is no time to saddle a horse; get up here behind me.’ As he said this he rode close to the bank on the side of the road, and I jumped up behind him. Just as we started off mother came up about out of breath and gasped out: ‘Emma, what do you mean?’
    “General Forrest said: ‘She is going to show me a ford where I can get my men over in time to catch those Yankees before they get to Rome. Don’t be uneasy; I will bring her back safe.’ We rode out into a field through which ran a branch or small ravine and along which there was a thick undergrowth that protected us for a while from being seen by the Yankees at the bridge or on the other side of the creek. This branch emptied into the creek just above the ford.
    “When we got close to the creek, I said: ‘General Forrest, I think we had better get off the horse, as we are now where we may be seen.’ We both got down and crept through the bushes, and when we were right at the ford I happened to be in front. He stepped quickly between me and the Yankees, saying: ‘I am glad to have you for a pilot, but I am not going to make breastworks of you.’ The cannon and the other guns were firing fast by this time, as I pointed out to him where to go into the water and out on the other bank, and then we went back towards the house.
    “He asked me my name, and asked me to give him a lock of my hair. The cannon-balls were screaming over us so loud that we were told to leave and hide in some place out of danger, which we did. Soon all the firing stopped, and I started back home. On the way I met General Forrest again, and he told me that he had written a note for me and left it on the bureau.
    “He asked me again for a lock of my hair, and as we went into the house he said: ‘One of my bravest men has been killed, and he is laid out in the house. His name is Robert Turner. I want you to see that he is buried in some graveyard near here.’
    “He then told me good-bye and got on his horse, and he and his men rode away and left us all alone. My sister and I sat up all night watching over the dead soldier, who had lost his life fighting for our rights, in which we were overpowered but never conquered. General Forrest and his men endeared themselves to us forever.”

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