The Vagabond – 109 Years Ago Unveiling of the Emma Sansom Statue


 The Emma Sansom statue on Broad Street in Gadsden was dedicated back in 2007, and many locals celebrated the unveiling. 

This week The Vagabond once again has his nose stuck in the old history book. Sometime way back, Patsy Hanvey of Turkeytown and the late Hazel Oliver bought the dedication to my attention.

On July 4, 1907, a local newspaper reserved the entire front page on this new statue. It headlined: “Unveiling of Splendid and Everlasting Memorial Shaft to the Heroine, Emma Sansom Marks an Important Epoch in the South and Stimulates Commemoration of Brave Deeds.”

The monument was made possible by the members of the Gadsden Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC is an organization pledged to preserve the heroism and heroic conduct of men and women that served in the Confederacy. The organization still exists today, and in 2007 many of its members came out wearing period dresses to place flowers by the statues.

The shaft of the statue is 21 feet wide and eight feet deep. This was long covered over when the Memorial Bridge was later built. The top of the old original shaft is now some 24 feet in the ground. The statue was originally taller than what it is now. The base was made of granite and the statue itself made of white Italian marble by one of the leading sculptures from Italy.

An interesting fact that the statue itself is not Emma Sansom but that of a young girl who was said to look like Emma as a young girl. 

Mrs. Jennie Cain, the sister of Emma, unveiled the statue, and Moses H. Clift of Forrest’s Cavalry was the orator. There was placing of garlands on the monument, just as the pre-sent UDC did this year. There were many contests, including three greasy poles with monies placed on top.

For those that don’t know about the story of Emma Sansom, here it is:

The Sansom household consisted of Emma’s widowed mother, her sister Jennie, 24, and Emma, 15. Her brother Rufus, 22, was at home recuperating from wounds he had received in battle.

In April 1863, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalrymen entered northern Alabama to pursue Union General Abel Streight, whose mission was to destroy the Confederate railroad near Chattanooga, Tenn. General Forrest caught up with the Yankees and attacked their rear guard. The Yankees repulsed the attack and continued their journey.

On the morning of May 2, 1863, Emma heard the sound of hoof beats coming down the road. Moments later, hundreds of Yankees arrived at the farm. 

Many of the Union soldiers dismounted and crowded around the well in the Sansom yard. The soldiers searched the farmhouse for guns and saddles and took Rufus prisoner.

Streight soon arrived and the troops prepared to cross Black Creek. Heavy rains had left the creek swollen, and Streight thought that destroying the bridge by fire would stave off Forrest’s pursuit for a few hours and allow his weary men to rest.

The women were standing on the front porch when General Forrest came into view. He asked them if there was another bridge nearby. They told him that the closest one was two miles away. Emma then said that she knew of a place where she had seen cows cross the creek and thought Forrest and his men might be able to cross there.

Forrest asked Emma to get on his horse behind him and show him the way. Mrs. Sansom objected but allowed it when Forrest assured her that he would bring the girl back safely.

Bullets from the Yankees across the creek were soon whizzing around their heads as they rode across the cornfield. After delivering Emma back to her mother, Forrest and his men crossed the creek, and the chase was on again.

The following day, Forrest surrounded Streight and his entire command. The exhausted Union general reluctantly surrendered and soon learned that 322 Confederates had captured his 1,466 men.

General Forrest always credited this victory to Emma. The time she saved him by directing him to the alternate crossing allowed him to continue his pursuit of Streight.

Emma became a heroine to the local people. She married Christopher Johnson on October 29, 1864, and moved to Texas in 1867 or 1868. She died in August of 1900 in Upshur County Texas, leaving five boys and two girls.

In 1907, just 109 years ago, the monument was constructed with Emma’s arm outstretched to show General Forrest the way to the ford on Black Creek. A new school built in 1929 was named Emma Sansom High School. 

Though she had moved away all those years ago, the people of Gadsden never forgot Emma’s important contribution to the Lost Cause.

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