The Vagabond – Emma Sansom’s brief return to Gadsden


By Danny Crownover

In July of 1898 shortly before the United States had won the Spanish-American War, citizens of Gadsden were preparing a fine reception in honor of Emma Sansom (pictured at far right), who at that point was Mrs. Chris Johnson. Emma was the Etowah County teenage heroine who piloted C.S.A. General Nathan Bedford Forrest across Black Creek in his pursuit of Union raiders bent on destroying munition works in Alabama and Georgia.

The locals’ plan was to send an escort of Confederate veterans with Emma to Atlanta, Ga., to attend the national reunion of United Confederate Veterans. Because of the long distance from her home in Texas and disrupted schedules, she arrived in Gadsden only a few minutes before it was time to board a Southern special train to Atlanta. So far as it is known, it was Emma’s first visit to Gadsden after moving to Texas.

The Emma Sansom Camp of Confederate Veterans met earlier in the month and appointed a committee composed of A.L. Woodliff and S.H. Wilson to raise funds for paying Emma’s expenses to the Atlanta reunion, where she was to signally honored.

The camp elected Woodliff, T.H. Stephens, J.R. Ander and W.M. Meeks as delegates to that convention, with T.J. Walker, T.C. Galloway, J.L. Fletcher, and B.H. Nicholson as alternates. More than 75 Civil War Etowah County veterans composed Emma’s official escort to the reunion.

When the Sansom camp met that day, more than 25 former soldiers who had served under the command of General Joe Wheeler were present and celebrating the great victory of American troops under Wheeler at Santiago, Cuba. The veterans were not only jubilant but ready and willing to go to the front again, this time in defense of the Union flag.

Shortly after the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed a law forbidding any Confederate veteran from holding a commission in the United States Army. That law was repealed at the opening of the Spanish-American War, and soldiers like Wheeler and Fitzhugh Lee were accepted as U.S. generals. In fact, Wheeler was buried in the uniform of a general of the United States Army.

The rampant patriotic feeling in the district caused the sons of veterans to meet and organize a Wheeler Camp of Sons of Confederate Veterans. W.P. Johnson called the meeting to order and was elected permanent chairman on motion of W.T. Murphree. S.S. Caldwell was elected permanent secretary.

The following officers were elected: commander W.T. Murphree; first lieutenant commander W.R. Phillips; second lieutenant commander T.S. Kyle; adjutant George D. Motley; treasurer E.T. Hollingsworth; chaplain J.S. Robertson; surgeon E.S. Jones; quartermaster A.W. Woodliff; color sergeant S.S. Caldwell; and historian J.B. Martin.

The delegates to the Atlanta convention were W.P. Johnson, T.D. Malone, Dan C. Turrentine and E.T. Hollingsworth. Alternate delegates were T.H. Barnes, Otto Agricola, W.T. Sutton and Charles H. Manning.

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