Written by: Judge John Bennett Weaver
This story apparently continues after 1862; however, no one has been able to find the complete story up to 1865.
REVIEW OF THE WAR OF 1861
The Confederates had won the large arsenals at Harper’s Ferry and near Norfolk; had won the two great battles of the year – Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek; had been successful in the minor battles at Big Bothel, Carthage, Belmont, and at Ball’s Bluff.
The Union had saved Fort Pickens near Pensacola, and Fort Monroe; had captured the Forts at Hatters Inlet and Port Royal. The Union had won at Phillipi, Rich Mountain, Boonville, Carrick’s Ford, Cheat Mountain, and Carnifex Ferry; had been successful in winning for its cause the States of Maryland, West Virginia, and Missouri. The Union had nearly succeeded in throwing the Confederacy into a state of seige, "the Armies on the north and west by land and the Navy in the east by sea maintaining a vigilant blockage."
No assistance was given the Union during the year of 1861 by any citizen of Winston County so far as we have been able to find out; and during 1861, very little aid was given the Confederacy by the Winston people.
A large majority of the citizens of Winston County heartily approved the Platform adopted at the Looney’s Tavern Mass Meeting, held on July 4, 1861. The position taken as expressed in the three resolutions as set forth in said Platform was one of neutrality. The people here desired, hoped, and prayed that their position would be understood and respected by both the Confederacy and the Union. This was done on the part of the Union but not by the Confederacy, after 1861. Both were glad to welcome volunteers.
A few did volunteer, and entered the Confederate Army during the late summer and fall of 1861, among whom were:
Oliver Casey, Robert Downey, Robert A. Hill, and Stephen McCollum. All were good men and all returned home after the war, except Oliver Casey, who was killed at the battle of Shiloh, on April 7, 1862. Others, just a few, also entered the Confederate service the first year.
1862 – THE UNION PLANS
At the beginning, the Union Army numbered approximately 500,000; the Confederate about 300,000. President Lincoln’s plan was to take the offensive, as follows: (1) Open the Mississippi; (2) blockade the southern ports; and (3) capture Richmond, the Confederate Capital. This was not done in one, two, or three years. It took a little over three years, and saved the Union.
The Union Army from northern Kentucky, after capturing Fort Henry and Donelson, on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, on February 6 & 16, soon moved south and captured Nashville. It marched on south and won the great battle of Shiloh on the 6th and 7th of April. During the month of April 1862, the Union Army was in northeast Mississippi, and in the Tennessee Valley, in north Alabama.
On page 59 of L.D. Miller’s History of Alabama, the following appears:
"On the 11th of April, General O.M. Mitchell, with a division of Federal troops, after a forced March, entered Huntsville and captured twenty-three engines, two trains of cars loaded with arms and supplies and about 200 prisoners. Decatur was captured by the Federals, April 13, and Tuscumbia April 16, 1862."
CONSCRIPTION AND TRAGEDIES BEGIN IN 1862 IN WINSTON
In April the Confederacy passed the "Conscript Act," the first that had ever been passed in America since Columbus discovered it.
The Confederacy could find no one in Winston, except four or five slave owners who would admit they favored the Conscript law. It was so detestable, obnoxious, and repulsive that the people – an overwhelming majority, would grit their teeth when it was mentioned.
The wealthy did not have to fight. The owner of twenty slaves was exempt. If over the age, he could keep his son at home. If a man worked for the government, set type or run a loom, he was exempt. If he could mix medicines, he did not have to fight. But the poor farmers – all who were able physically had to go and fight. And all, or nearly all in Winston were poor farmers. Hence, the expression, or slogan: "The rich man’s war and the poor man’s fight."
Abner Little, "Alp," as he was called, was a large slave owner, and lived at or near Thorn Hill, now south Haleyville, a close neighbor of Judge Oran Davis. Abner Little represented Hancock County, (Winston in 1858) in 1855 and 1856, and helped enact the following Bill to wit: "No. 50 – An Act"
"To prohibit the teaching of slaves to read and write." Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Alabama in General Assembly convened;" "That if any person or persons shall teach or be engaged in teaching, in this State, any slave or slaves to read or write, he, she or they shall be liable to indictment therefore, and on conviction, shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars and be imprisoned in the County jail not less than three months, one or both, at the discretion of the jury trying the case." "Approved February 15, 1856."
The above is found in Acts of Alabama of 1855 and 1856 on page 50.
The people here thought the law was too cruel, and it became increasingly so when the attempt was made to enforce the Conscript Act. We will soon see why the Winston people shifted from their former position of neutrality to that of resentment, resistance, and hostility. The trend of events gradually forced the change, as it would have to any people situated as we were here.
The presence of the Union Army in north Alabama, and its reported brutalities and cruelty to the people, caused the Confederate authorities of the adjoining counties to speed up induction into the Confederate service, in those counties, the men subject to the Conscript Act. In a short time, since the people were antagonistic to the extent that they ignored the Act altogether in Winston, the authorities of the Confederacy in adjoining counties sent men into this County to force the men in conscript age to go and fight in the Confederate Army. A large majority here refused to do this. Trouble came – it increased.
By the first of May 1862, men from Marion County came into the west part of Winston, near what is now Haleyville. These men represented themselves as "Enlistment Officers" for the Confederacy. There were five men in the first group. Their leader was called "Ham Carpenter." They went to the home of Joe Comeens, who had married Martha Barker, daughter of John Barker, and a sister of Bill Barker and Tom Barker. Mrs. Martha Barker Comeens had a single sister named Sarah who was in the home when the five men came. Mrs. Comeens and Sarah were there alone. Mrs. Comeens was to be confined in about a month. Her husband, Joe and two brothers, Bill and Tom, were visiting another brother-in-law, Joe Curtis, who lived over east near Houston, the County seat.
When the group appeared at the Comeens home, the leader, "Ham" Carpenter, asked: "Where is your husband today?" Mrs. Comeens answered: "My husband and two brothers, Bill and Tom, are visiting my sister and husband, Joe Curtis." "When do you look for them back home?" asked Ham Carpenter. "They were going to hunt a day or two and I do not know just when they’ll be home," replied Mrs. Comeens.
Following this, the leader stated that they were from Marion County, and were rounding up young men to go and fight for the Confederacy, under the Conscript Act; that they were "Enlistment Officers," and had the authority to act for the Confederate Government.
Just at this time, Mrs. Comeens became somewhat excited and provoked, and said: "My father, John Barker was a grandson of a Revolutionary soldier, who fought for freedom in the Revolutionary War, under General George Washington. They won our freedom without conscription. We have all decided that we are against conscription, and are not going to shoot at the Flag and help destroy the Government Washington helped to establish. Please, go back to Marion County, and leave us alone. My husband and brothers are not going into the Army to fight for the Confederacy, and against our Government."
The leader, appeared to be somewhat provoked himself, and said: "If your husband and brothers refuse to go into the Confederate Army and fight for the South, we’ll take them to jail."
"O, you will, eh?" replied Mrs. Comeens. By this time, Mrs. Comeens had evidently gotten mad and was very nervous. Her sister, Sarah, saw that she was upset, and said to the men, "leave her alone, for she is in no condition to hear you men, from outside the county, threaten to take away the liberty of her husband and her brothers. You might cause her to lose her baby, due in about a month."
About this time, a red-faced, Irish-talking, young man, called "Joe Clack," by the leader, entered into the controversy. Joe Clack saw and picked up out of a chair a suit of clothes that had been completed that morning by Mrs. Comeens for her unborn baby. Joe Clack asked Mrs. Comeens the following question, as he raised the hand in which he held the baby’s suit about even with his shoulder: "Did you make this suit for that unborn traitor?" Joe was evidently unbalanced that day, for he was grating his teeth and trembling, too.
This produced a tragedy: Mrs. Comeens fainted. Her sister, Sarah, proceeded to do what she could to revive her.
About this time a couple of neighbors, Nathan Hall and Jim Scott, were passing and heard and realized that something out of the ordinary was taking place. They stopped and made inquiry. The group of five soon left. They did not return for about two weeks. The leader, Ham Carpenter, realized that Joe Clack had lost his head, and acted "the fool."
Mrs. Comeens was so badly upset that she miscarried about mid-night the same day this took place, and about a couple of hours after her husband and brothers returned home.
All of this added to the grim determination of this family not to aid the Confederacy in any way; and many others shared the same determination. On the other hand, it increased their devotion and love for the flag and Government of their fathers.
This incident spread like wild fire in a sedge patch on a dry day in March. The people became fighting mad to learn that men from an adjoining county would impose and intrude upon the privacy of a home, where there were only women in it.
The leader stated a short while before they left that they would return later. The promise was kept.
About the middle of May, around seven o’clock in the morning, there came to this home seven men, one of whom was Silas Cummins, a cousin to Joe Comeens, who had been captured and forced to accompany the group. The five who visited the home about two weeks prior had gotten a new leader, whose name was Stoke Roberts. The five appeared glad to follow their new leader, who was crabbed, harsh, and stern.
When the seven arrived that morning, Mrs. Comeens and her sister, Sarah, were the only ones in the home. Her husband and two brothers, Bill and Tom Barker, had gone hunting very early that morning, and had not returned. Mrs. Comeens had recovered rapidly from the tragedy that resulted from the previous visit. She was a brave and ordinarily fearless woman; but the memory of the lost baby of two weeks before was vivid. She kept her nerve for a short while, probably, because her husband’s cousin, Silas Cummins – "Si," as he was called was along. (Their names were spelled different in the U.S. Census of 1860).
Soon after the group arrived, the following took place:
"Where is your husband and two brothers, Bill and Tom Barker?" asked Stoke Roberts. "They went hunting very early this morning and have not got back yet," replied Mrs. Comeens.
"When do you look from them back, today or tomorrow?" asked Joe Clack, the man who got beside himself and caused the misfortune on the previous visit.
"I do not know just when they may be back home," answered Mrs. Comeens. While Mrs. Comeens was not pleased, she asked no questions and made no replies. She was pale, and lamenting.
This log cabin home had a rail fence all around it. On that yard fence was beds, quilts, sheets, and wearing apparel, put out there to sun. Joe Clack saw and picked up and carried off an infant’s suit, very much like the one he picked up there two weeks before, which resulted in the premature birth and loss of the baby. Mrs. Comeens wanted to keep the baby’s suit as a memorial to her lost child, but this was denied her. At any rate, for that day.
Stoke Roberts rebuked Joe Clack for his senseless, unwarranted impoliteness in again molesting Mrs. Comeens, but did not prevent him from taking off the baby’s clothes when he left. About this time, Stoke Roberts stated:
"We’ll find them all at the home of Joe Curtis, near Houston; come on boys, we are late now. It must be nearly eight o’clock." He then ordered Silas Cummins to ride by his side, and the order was obeyed. "Si" Cummins was a union man at heart, but was forced, at gun point, to go along to show the group the way. Joe Clack was the last man to leave; but, as stated, carried the baby’s suit over the objections and protest of both Mrs. Comeens and her sister, Sarah Barker. As the suit was carried away, Mrs. Comeens was crying.
A little after nine o’clock and about an hour after the "Enlistment Officers" had left that home, Joe Comeens, Bill and Tom Barker came home from the hunt. They found Mrs. Comeens grief stricken and crying. Joe Comeens asked this question:
"Honey, what has happened to you, now?"
"That red-faced scoundrel that caused me to lose my baby has just left here; he stole my baby’s suit of clothes. He was riding a black horse – six other men were in the group. They claimed they were on their way to Houston, to sister’s husband’s to the home of Joe Curtis," answered Mrs. Comeens.
The tempers of the three men rose to a white heat, as Mrs. Comeens related what had taken place that morning, while they were away.
A meal was hastily prepared, and enjoyed; and, in less than an hour, the two Barker brothers mounted their horses with a good gun and pistol each, and pursued the intruding trespassers in an easterly direction. It was thought best – Joe Comeens remained at home, as Bill and Tom suggested. The Barker brothers were determined to overtake Joe Clack and repossess the baby’s suit, even if they had to shoot him to do it – and they did. They had seen him one time, a few weeks before, at a cotton factory, or a wool carding manufacturing plant upon Bear Creek in Marion County. Tom said:
"Sister, I think I know that man; I saw him a few weeks ago. With the description you have given, I’ll not be mistaken. When I see that heartless murderer, Joe Clack, he will pay with his blood for what he has brought upon you." And he did.
The Barker brothers were fearless, brave, and knew the county. They knew the roads, the woods, and the people; they knew the bluffs, cliffs, and the streams. The roads were few and not too good, but passable – all of them. The leading roads followed the ridges quite a bit. People lived near water. The Barker brothers knew where; the outsiders did not.
Stoke Roberts ordered Si Cummins, who lived in Winston and knew the west part of the County and the people and where they lived, to carry the group, off of the main road to the homes of the families where there were young men, two or more. This he did, but the men were all gone from home on that morning. This delayed the group, and the pursuers were, in about two hours or a little less, nearly in sight of the self-styles "Enlistment Officers."
About a mile and a half south of what is now the Macedonia Baptist Church, and near the old Booga Tree, the group ran into or came near to three men who were hunting; Elijah Sutherland, Lindsay Cummins, and "Dock" Spain. Cummins and Spain were near each other, and about 100 yards down the road south from Sutherland. They heard the group up the road and went into a thicket in the head of a hollow on the west side of the road, after Elijah Sutherland was approached.
The group had captured Elijah Sutherland, but he escaped soon thereafter. Just as Sutherland was captured, "Lim" Cummins, as he was called, and "Dock" Spain heard and understood what was taking place, just before they secreted themselves. They had time to plan a little, and did. In about five minutes, after Sutherland had been questioned by Stoke Roberts, the group proceeded on down the road south, forcing Sutherland to accompany them. He was a foot.
Just after the group passed and had gotten about fifty yards down the road, "Dock" Spain, shot one of the horses from the rear from near where he and Cummins were hid in the thicket. The horse was not hurt much, but was excited, as the group were. This caused the group to put the spurs to their horses, and speeded on down the road in a southerly direction. At this time, Elijah Sutherland, with no horse, was left, to his joy, after being a little excited. In just a few minutes, Sutherland was back with his hunting companions, "Lim" Cummins and "Dock" Spain.
After discussing what had taken place, they started up the road. The three, Sutherland, Cummins, and Spain, met Bill and Tom Barker, not more than a quarter of a mile from where Sutherland was captured. They were good friends, and had all been together the day before.
After the Barker brothers met the hunters, "Dock" Spain related to the Barkers what had just happened. Then Tom Barker told them about what had taken place at the home of his brother-in-law, Joe Comeens, that morning; how that Joe Clack had stolen his sister’s baby clothes, and that he and his brother were on pursuit, and what they had planned to do about it.
At the conclusion of the conversation, which lasted about five minutes, "Dock" Spain turned and went with the Barkers to aid in the recovery of the baby’s suit; while "Lim" Cummins and Elijah Sutherland decided to go over to the home of Sutherland’s father-in-law, John H. Taylor.
Some three miles, southeast of where Sutherland was captured and escaped, John Myers, an old man, owned a grist mill. Sutherland during the time he was captured had heard Stoke Roberts order "Si" Cummins to carry the group by the John Myers Mill. Sutherland gave this information to "Dock" Spain and Spain gave it to the Barkers. So on they went in hot pursuit.
About one half mile north of the mill of John Myers, the Barkers and Spain decided not to go on down to the mill south, but to turn east, and get ahead of the group. This they did. The Barkers and Spain went to and crossed the largest prong of Clear Creek, sometimes called the "Nix Creek" and "Pulliam Creek." They hitched their horses on the ridge, on east side of the creek and north of the road. They hid themselves on the east bank of Clear Creek just above the Ford, where the group would pass on their way to Houston. They were hid in an ivy thicket.
The group, after spending a short while at the mill of John Myers, (afterward known as the Jonathan Barton Mill) where they captured Jim Gurley and forced him to go along with them, soon rode down the hill on the west side of Clear Creek, and on down into the creek, where their horses were drinking. Tom Barker saw Joe Clack on the black horse, the man who had brought so much grief to the home of his sister. In about a quarter of a minute after the black horse began drinking, Tom Barker shot and killed Joe Clack. Just after this took place, Bill Barker shot the black horse. This was as planned.
The leader Stoke Roberts saw what had happened, and was excited. His group were very much excited. Notwithstanding this excitement, Stoke Roberts ordered the men to remove the dead man from the horse and out on the west bank. This was done. Stoke Roberts aided his men. The water was shallow.
Stoke Roberts then asked Jim Gurley, after they had gotten the dead man out on the bank, the following question: "Jim Gurley, if we will release you and pay you $5.00, will you bury Joe Clack, the dead man, and guarantee that you will?"
"I certainly will get help and bury the man if you want me to. Of course, I want to know where you want the dead man buried," replied Jim Gurley.
"Jim, here is your $5.00, and you can bury Joe anywhere near here, but put him above the high water mark, but put him on the south side of the road, as he was very much for the South," stated Stoke Roberts.
"I will do that," replied Jim Gurley.
This was done. The writer saw the grave in the 1890’s.
After Jim Gurley agreed and the deal was closed, Stoke Roberts gave the following order:
"Silas Cummins, you lead us out of here along a ridge, the nearest and safest way. Do not lead us across any creek or deep ravine. If you will do this, you will be released to go home. Will you do it, Silas?"
"I will, follow me," replied Silas Cummins.
The group followed Silas Cummins out up the ridge road, down which they came; and when they arrived at Old Thorn Hill, now, south Haleyville, "Si" Cummins was released by Roberts, as per the agreement.
Jim Gurley left the scene and went back to the John Myers Mill and got help to bury the dead man, Joe Clack. One of the Miller’s sons from Walker County was there and had one of his slaves. They both went and helped Jim Gurley bury Joe Clack.
Just after the burial, Jim Gurley waded into the creek and found tied to an old saddle on the black dead horse a baby’s suit of clothes. About this time, the Barker brothers and "Dock" Spain came down the hill on the east side of the creek; and when Jim Gurley informed them of what he had found on the saddle, the baby’s suit, Tom Barker informed Jim that the baby’s suit belonged to his sister, Mrs. Joe Comeens. Jim Gurley immediately delivered the baby’s suit to Tom Barker, who carried it and delivered it to his sister, Mrs. Joe Comeens the next day.
Just before Stoke Roberts released Silas Cummins, he informed "Si" Cummins that "he would return with a lot more men than he had on that trip, in a couple or three weeks, to apprehend, arrest, and carry to adjoining counties all he could find in the county subject to the Conscript Act of the Confederacy for induction into the Confederate Army. We intend to do this, Silas, and will shoot to kill any one who resists." The last thing that Stoke Roberts said before he released Silas Cummins was, according to "Si" Cummins, as follows:
"Silas, you tell all you see within conscript age, who are not exempt, cease their opposition to the Confederacy, and its authority, or they will be shot as traitors."
Silas Cummins replied as follows:
"Mr. Roberts, I will tell the people here what you say. However, it is my opinion that the Confederacy would be better off, much better, to leave the people of Winston County alone. If this be done, the people here will remain neutral; otherwise, they won’t."
The wise advice was flouted, ignored, as other raids were made into the county by outsiders, from time to time, as we shall soon see.
THE THREAT OF STOKE ROBERTS AROUSES THE PEOPLE TO ACTION. A SECRET MEETING AT JOHN H. TAYLOR’S RESULTED.
After Silas was released he spent the night, a sleepless night at home. Over and over in his mind, he tried to weigh, and understand, what had taken place. Silas Cummins was a brave and fearless man. He had been captured early that morning by Stoke Roberts and his gang; had been forced at gun’s point to go along and lead the way for the so called "Enlistment Officers," by the home of his cousin Joe Comeens, the home of the recent first tragedy; had witnessed the red-faced, young Irishman’s second foolish act of intimidation and insult of his cousin’s wife; had seen Elijah Sutherland captured and released; and finally, witnessed the shooting of Joe Clack in mid stream of Clear Creek; had led the captors in compliance with the leader’s order back to Thorn Hill, now south Haleyville; and had been given orders, and released.
Silas Cummins was happy when released, but became miserable, when he pondered the threat and the order he was to carry to his people.
Silas Cummins arose early and had breakfast by daylight the next morning after the tragic and strenuous day before.
"Who shot Joe Clack?"
"What became of Elijah Sutherland?"
Silas Cummins wanted to know the answers, and was determined to find out what he could. He saddled his horse and rode to the home of Elijah Sutherland. Just as he arrived at Sutherland’s home, three other men rode up. All wanted to see Sutherland. The names of the three men were: "Dock" Spain, Tom Barker, and brother Bill Barker. The Barkers had spent the night before with "Dock" Spain.
Elijah Sutherland was at home. He knew, and was glad to see the four visitors – Cummins, Spain, and the Barker brothers, Tom and Bill.
All five were interested, on the alert, got busy, and went into a huddle.
Silas Cummins came first, and took the floor. He related briefly some of the events of the day before. How he was captured, and forced at gun’s point to lead the Stoke Roberts group, and what occurred, culminating in the order to Silas Cummins to carry this threat to the people of Winston County to wit:
"Silas, you tell all you see within conscript age, who are not exempt, to cease their opposition to the Confederacy, and its authority, or they will be shot as traitors."
Just as Silas Cummins completed quoting the threatening order, Tom Barker indignantly exclaimed: "Yes, and somebody else will be shot, too."
After the five men talked for some time, they decided they wanted the advice of some older people. Silas Cummins made the suggestion, and Tom Barker, concurring, replied:
"Old men for counsel, young men for war." All agreed to take time, and seek good advice. To whom should they go?
John H. Taylor, a grandson of a Revolutionary soldier, born in North Carolina, had been living in the community for more than twenty-five years, was in the fifties. Besides being the father-in-law of Elijah Sutherland, John H. Taylor was one of the most outstanding citizens of Winston County. He was honest and had good judgment. His advice was worth quite a bit. John H. Taylor’s oldest son, Charley, had married Solomon Curtis’ only daughter, Louise; and two of Solomon Curtis’ sons married two of John H. Taylor’s daughters. Tom Pink Curtis married Mary Taylor, and Frank Curtis married Elisa Taylor. The Solomon Curtis family was the most prominent family in the County during the war and for more than a half century thereafter. Solomon Curtis was born in North Carolina in 1797 and was a son of a Revolutionary soldier. He died during the first of the war in the fall of 1861.
Tom Pink Curtis had just been elected Probate Judge of Winston County.
After a brief discussion, the quintet, Cummins, Spain, Sutherland, and the two Barkers decided to visit the home of John H. Taylor, and they did immediately. They found John H. Taylor at home; he gave all a hearty welcome. He was courteous by receptive, and sympathetically responsive. Sutherland had infomred Mr. Taylor the day before of his capture and release, and Mr. Taylor heard that some one had been shot. He was Joe Clack. John H. Taylor was soon given the facts that caused Joe Clack to be shot.
After John H. Taylor was informed by Silas Cummins of the threatening order to the people of Winston County, "within conscript age, who are not exempt, to cease their opposition to the Confederacy, and its authority, or they will be shot as traitors," he replied. "Boys we have already had some trouble, but a great deal more is on the way. We need to use our brains and hold our tongues. We should have a meeting of the leading citizens of Winston County. We must plan together and work together." All present agreed.
This was on Tuesday about the 20th of May, 1862. After several minutes of discussion, all agreed that a meeting should be held to discuss the "threat" of Stokes Roberts; also, how and what to do to meet and prevent the unwarranted "threat" from being carried out by citizens living outside of Winston County.
Many people moved in to Winston after the close of 1860, and nearly all of them were against secession. Several people moved back to the County after 1860, when the war came, who had previously lived in the County; and, they, too, were for the Union.
This was well known and discussed by John H. Taylor and his visitors. All agreed to have the meeting on the following Saturday at the home of John H. Taylor. Only those who opposed the Confederacy and conscription were to be invited. This included an overwhelming majority of – perhaps – forty to one in the county.
Just at this time, the men were ready to go home, when two prominent young men, strong Union men, came to Mr. Taylor’s home. This delayed the departure of the visitors. The two late arrivals were: Bill Godsey, a neighbor and a good man, and Frank Curtis, a son-in-law, and a very shrewd, loyal Union man.
The arrival of Mr. Curtis and Mr. Godsey caused a renewed discussion, of the threat, proposed meeting, plans, etc.
After about thirty minutes discussing and going over what had been agreed upon, a unanimous decision was reached, that the meeting was to be held at the home of John H. Taylor, on the following Saturday; that only those who were opposed to the Conscript Act of the Confederacy were to be invited. The following named persons volunteered their services to go and notify and invite the ones the group wanted to attend said meeting, to wit:
Tom Barker and Bill would invite those in the Littleville and Thorn Hill communities; Silas Cummins would contact and invite the Dodd’s, the Barton’s, the Ingles’, the Norris’, and others in the southwest part of the county; Bill Godsey, those in the north part of the county; "Dock" Spain, those in the south central part; while Frank Curtis was to go to Houston, the county seat, and invite the people in that part of the county.
Saturday, the latter part of May came. There was a large crowd on hand, as planned. Everyone present at John H. Taylor’s was eager, and interested in learning the answer to the two questions: "When will Stoke Roberts and his men return to Winston?" and "what next?" Also, they wanted to know what they planned to do.
Judge Tom Pink Curtis would visit his father-in-law; but would be a little late. This was made known by his brother, Frank Curtis, when he arrived. Jim Curtis, who had married "Dock" Spain’s sister, Priscilla, was also present. In fact, the Solomon Curtis family was well represented. "Wash" Curtis, Joe and Bill, Solomon’s three oldest sons were present, in addition to Jim and Frank; also, Solomon’s son-in-law, Charley Taylor was there.
Frank Curtis said among other things: "Brother Tom Pink, Probate Judge, advised me to tell all to obey the law, keep our heads, and hold our tongues; and that he would do his best to get Judge John Penn, the 4th Probate Judge of Hancock County, and, also, Bill Sheats, the father of Christopher Sheats, - both rather old men – to be present, to advise." Jerry Burns spoke up, and said: "We would all be pleased to see Judge Penn and Bill Sheats at this meeting."
Hardly had the sound of Burns’ statement died away, when Frank Curtis remarked:
"Well you will be pleased, Jerry, for yonder they come, Judge Penn and his neighbor, Bill Sheats. They told me they would be here." They arrived in about a couple of minutes, and were given a very courteous reception by all present.
Judge Penn was the son of Stephen Penn, a Revolutionary soldier of Maryland, who fought for the American Independence under General George Washington. Judge Penn’s father, Stephen Penn, lived for many years in Lawrence County, and died there.
When Judge Penn, a few minutes after his arrival, addressed the meeting at the residence of Mr. Taylor, he stated, among other things, as follows:
"Gentlemen of Winston; your presence here is an indication of your love for, and loyalty to the Government our fathers fought for and helped to establish. I wish I could tell you I am happy, but I am not. I want to say that, while I am not discouraged, I realize fully that perilous times are here. Dark and bloody days have been forced upon us and our children by the Secessionists, who would destroy the Union. The chief corner stone of the Confederacy is, perpetuation of slavery.
"But the question is, what are we to do? We did not, nor do we now, want to take up arms against our neighbors in our own state. We desire to be let alone that we may remain neutral. If the Confederacy continues to treat our county as a part of it, and attempts to force our citizens to serve in the Confederate Army, as we hear threats that indicate it will, then in that case, neutrality will cease in Winston County. The people in Winston County rather than be forced to fight for the perpetuation of slavery in the Confederate Army will abandon neutrality, join the Union Army and fight for the Union. It looks, now, like that is what is going to take place.
Again, in closing, what are we to do? And thank you."
Just as Judge Penn concluded the foregoing brief address, his two oldest sons, Jim and Bill, and his son-in-law, Bill Looney, rode up; also, John Sheats, son of Bill, was along. All were given a hearty welcome.
In less than fifteen minutes, the late arrivals were given the details of the recent history that led to the meeting. They had already been informed of the purpose of the meeting; had learned of the capture and escape of Elijah Sutherland; had learned of the how and the why that Joe Clack was pursued and shot; and had, also, been informed of the threatening order that Stoke Roberts left with Silas Cummins for the people of Winston County. All of this convinced all present that, if Stoke Roberts attempted to carry out this threat, it would completely wipe out any thought of a continuation of neutrality among the people of Winston County.
Judge Tom Pink Curtis with his family came to spend the weekend. Judge Curtis received a roaring welcome by the crowd. His brother Frank had already informed the Judge of the recent history, as to Joe Clack and the threat left with Silas Cummins, early in the week. The citizens present, when Judge Curtis arrived, were discussing the question, or rather the answer to the question suggested by Judge Penn:
"What are we to do?"
In response to a request that Judge Curtis make a talk, the Judge made the following statement.
"Judge Penn’s question is a good one – direct, and to the point. What we need to do, I think, is, to give careful consideration, weigh every angle, and arrive at a logical, sane conclusion.
"I want every one here to understand me. I surely want every one to obey the law. However, the law of the United States is one thing, and the law of the Confederacy is another. I believe it to be true that a large majority of the people of Winston County have never desired to be any part of the Confederacy. On the other hand, the people are, at heart, loyal to the United States Government."
"I will state further that, under the state constitution of Alabama, you and each of you, have the constitutional right to follow the dictates of conscience. Why do I say this?" Answer:
"Paragraph 4, under Article one of both State Constitutions of 1819 and 1861 of Alabama are exactly the same, verbatim, word for word, letter for letter, and also, as to punctuation, as follows:
"Paragraph 4. No human authority ought, in any case whatever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience.
"The State Constitutions of Alabama, 1819 and 1861, under the caption, Militia, paragraph 2, are exactly the same, verbatim, and reads as follows, to wit:
"Paragraph 2. Any person, who conscientiously scruples to bear arms, shall not be compelled to do so, but shall pay an equivalent for personal service.
"In view of these paragraphs, I believe it to be the duty of every one to follow the dictates of his conscience. If any one believes it to be his duty to enlist and fight for the Confederacy, I think he would have the Constitutional right to do so; and a few will do that very thing. On the other hand, any and every citizen who believes it to be wrong to aid the Confederacy, I believe with all my heart they would have the constitutional right to do so, as many of them will, I’m sure. I will go further than that. If any one believes it to be his duty to join the Union Army and fight for the preservation of the United States, I have no doubt that he would be justified under the State Constitution in doing so.
"If an attempt is made to carry out the threat of Stoke Roberts, it is my opinion that many citizens will go and enlist in the Union Army, which is, now, in the Tennessee Valley, some fifty miles north of this county.
In conclusion, permit me to say that, in my opinion, the attempt to secede and establish the Confederacy will come to naught. Why?
"The answer is, I think, that public sentiment in the world is so strongly opposed to the indefinite perpetuation of slavery, that no government can be established and made to endure for long, whose major objective is the perpetuation of slavery, in this, the last half of the 19th century. In my opinion, slavery is on its way out. Italy abolished slavery centuries ago. Slavery was abolished by England in the 1830’s; by France in the 1840’s; by Holland in 1859; and Russia, imperialistic Russia – freed her slaves, more than 40,000,000 of them in 1861, about one year ago. But enough for this time."
After the close of the speech of Judge Curtis, and for about thirty minutes, or a little longer, those present were discussing the threat that Stoke Roberts left with Silas Cummins for the people in Winston County, and what to do if, and when, Roberts and his men came, and what could be done. Many opinions, by different ones, were expressed.
A committee of five had been selected, and had been together and studying and carefully considering the difficult question of how and what to do, when Roberts and his men came, if they came, to attempt to force the men into the Confederate Army to fight for the Confederacy and against the U.S. Government – against their consciences.
The names of the members of the committee were: Judge John Penn, Chariman; Andy Ingle, Secretary; and Charley Long, Bill Sheats, and John H. Taylor. The chairman announced the committee would be ready to report in a few minutes.
THE COMMITTEE REPORTS:
"We, the committee, after some study of the difficult situation, beg leave to report and recommend the following:
"1. Let us be loyal to the principles adopted at the Looney’s Tavern Meeting, on July 4, 1861, which was one of neutrality; that is, if we are left alone by outsiders.
"2. Let us follow the dictates of conscience, and obey the law.
"3. Let each one keep a good loaded gun, and hunt game quite a bit.
"4. While we regret the circumstances, which resulted in the death of Joe Clack, we affirm that it is the duty of the men to protect the women and innocent infants in the log cabin homes and elsewhere in accordance with the law of conscience under the Constitution.
"5. If the Confederate agents invade this county and attempt to force our citizens to leave their homes and their county to go and fight for the Confederacy, and that against the dictates of one's conscience, this, in our opinion, would justify our citizens in abandoning their position of neutrality. In that case, it would be up to the citizens of the county – individually and collectively – to take whatever action they deem necessary for their safety and security.
"6. If the threat be carried out, of if, and when the attempt is made to force us into the Confederate service, each one will have to use his best judgment to defeat the agents, and escape being captured. If captured, the "Dock" Spain method to obtain release is hereby recommended, and you all know what "Dock" Spain did to procure the release of Elijah Sutherland, on last Monday. It succeeded in a great way, and we think it would again.
"7. Should the Confederate agents succeed in forcing some of our citizens into the Confederate service against their convictions, we recommend the following in that case, to wit:
"(A). Desert, and come home. If conscience dictates, join the Union Army.
"(B). We recommend that for each person forced into the Confederate Army against the dictates of his conscience, that two citizens volunteer and enlist in the Union Army, if their conscience approve.
"(C). That if the Confederate agents kill any of our citizens in attempting to carry out the threat of Roberts, the one who perpetrated the crime be punished in the same way and to the same extent.
"8. In closing, we stress the following: Let us all be very careful. Let us keep our ears and eyes open, and close our lips and hold our tongues. This do at all times, and especially when the enemies and the unfriendly are near.
"9. Report all bad news to your friends and neighbors."
The foregoing report was approved by all present. If any one opposed any of the statements in the report, it was not known. The Curtis brothers were young men, very shrewd, and were going through the crowd, trying to find out if they could find any one not in sympathy with the meeting or its purpose.
In doing this, they were following the advise of their father, Solomon Curtis, who had passed away in the autumn of 1861. Their names were: "Wash," Joe, Bill, Jim, and Frank. The five named were all at the meeting, as was the Probate Judge Tom Pink. The three younger, Darrell, John N., and Jasper Newton were not at this meeting.
The writer knew Frank Curtis, "Uncle Frank," as he was called, from 1898 to the time of his death in 1927. We were very close friends, and he gave me a lot of historical information on Winston County; especially is this true, as to the events that took place just before, during the war between the states, and for twenty-five years thereafter.
Frank Curtis was one of the shrewdest uneducated man I ever saw. John Dodd told me in 1907 that Frank Curtis was the best politician he had ever met. I decided a little later that he was about correct. Frank Curtis was the father of both Judge Curtis’, John S. and James J. Both were able, accommodating, and very popular.
When the meeting at Mr. Taylor’s adjourned, or just before, it was decided that Judge Penn and John H. Taylor go and see Oran Davis, and inform him that, in the event of an attempt to carry out the threat of Stoke Roberts against the people or any of them in Winston County, it would result in revolutionizing the sentiment of a large majority of the people in said county, which would result in many citizens changing from an attitude of neutrality to one of antagonism and hostility to the Confederacy. Later they would, (many of them) join the Union Army. The one who suggested that Judge Penn and John H. Taylor go to see Oran Davis was Frank Curtis. Both Judge Penn and Mr. Taylor agreed to go. Judge Penn wanted Frank Curtis to go with them to see Oran Davis, and he did.
Oran Davis lived at Thorn Hill, now South Haleyville, had been Probate Judge by appointment for a short while. Judge Davis was the largest slave owner in the county, and the largest tax-payer. He owned 49 slaves in 1860 and 52 in 1862. It was thought, as he was the largest slave owner and had been Probate Judge, if he could be convinced that, to attempt the enforcement of the threat of Stoke Roberts, it would not be in the interest of the Confederacy to carry out the threat, that he could prevent the attempt to carry out the threat. Frank Curtis thought that Judge Davis would be interested, and would see the Confederate authorities in adjoining counties; and, as a result, the attempt to carry out the threat would be averted.
The three went and saw Judge Davis on the following Tuesday, and presented the matter. Judge Davis appeared to be impressed and agreed to go the next day to Pikeville, the county seat of Marion County and to Jasper, county seat of Walker County, the next day, and take the matter up with the Confederate authorities. Judge Davis, it was said, expressed himself as being of the opinion that the authorities at both county seats would be impressed and favorable, and could prevent the threatened attempt.
Judge Davis was to let John H. Taylor know the result of his trips to Pikeville and to Jasper, that is, what assurance Judge Davis received, if any, from the Confederate authorities at those places that efforts would be made to prevent any other, or further attempts to force the Winston people, against their conscience, to go and fight in the Confederate Army. John H. Taylor was to receive notification from Judge Davis, not later than the next Friday P.M. or Saturday A.M., as to what success he had had, if any, in his efforts to halt said attempts to force induction into the Confederate service.
On their way back, and after the interview with Judge Davis, Judge Penn, and John H. Taylor, both expressed complete confidence in the success of their efforts to avert further raids to enforce conscription. They expressed their belief that Judge Davis was in full accord, and that he would do what he could to achieve the objective. Frank Curtis was uncertain, doubtful. Mr. Curtis said to Judge Penn and to his father-in-law, Mr. Taylor:
"I hope our trip proves worthwhile, for I suggested it. But, I’m sorry to say, I have serious doubts. Judge Davis claimed from the beginning that he was opposed to secession. He may have been, but I have always doubted that. However, I thought the effort should be made, and we have made it. I shall always be glad that we put forth the effort, even if to no avail."
Judge Penn: "Frank, you may be correct. I think the effort, as you say, was the correct thing to do. John and I are glad we made the effort, and that you came with us, regardless of consequence."
On Saturday morning, Judge Davis arrived, as per agreement, at the home of John H. Taylor, and made the report as to his efforts to prevent further raid into the county to force men into the Confederate Army. The report of Judge Davis was:
"No success at either Pikeville or Jasper. My suggestion to you, Mr. Taylor, is, for you to see your son-in-law, Judge Tom Pink Curtis, and request him to tell all of his friends, who are within conscript age, to go and volunteer to fight in the Confederate Army. This was suggested to me at Jasper and at Pikeville. If this is not done, and if volunteers from Winston County do not enlist in the Confederate Army pretty soon, the Officers will be in this county rounding up those within conscript age and force them to go and fight for the Confederacy."
John H. Taylor’s response: "Very few men in this county, Judge Davis, are going to fight for the Confederacy. The Officers may force a few to go into the Confederate Army, but they will not stay in very long. The attempt by any one, and especially by men from other counties, to force any citizen against his conscience to go and fight for the Confederacy, will cause others to go and join the Union Army."
This completed the conversation and Judge Davis left for home or elsewhere.
John H. Taylor had his son, Charley, and his son-in-law, Frank Curtis, to go, see, and inform Judge Penn, Judge Tom Pink Curtis, Bill Sheats, and a number of the leaders, who opposed secession and conscription, of the report of Judge Davis. People were notified of the report in all sections of the county in less than one week. The report and what it implied displeased a large majority of the people of the county. The result was to alert the people. Put them on notice that, those in draft age would be hunted, arrested, and carried to the county seat of another county, and forced to enlist in the Confederate Army; or, if they refused, to be shot in the back.
In all parts of the county, the people were indignant, and would express themselves freely and openly. In every home, at the mills, at the meeting houses, and at the shops, people met in groups to discuss and speculate on what the future had in store for them. Some said they would die before they would be made to go and fight in the Confederate Army; that they would go and volunteer in the Union Army before they would be forced to fight for the Confederacy against their conscience. Many of them did do that very thing in a very short time, just after the attempt was made to force them to go into the Confederate Army.
For some three weeks before the meeting at John H. Taylor’s, during the meeting, and after, Bill Looney was busy. Bill Looney was the son of Moses Looney, Jr. and the grandson of Moses Looney, Sr., a Revolutionary soldier from North Carolina, and the son-in-law of Judge John Penn. Bill Looney was a small man, with jet black hair, and small, keen black eyes. Bill was thirty-five years old, a scout of the first order, and awake from his shoestrings up. He knew northwest Alabama; the hills, the flats, the ridges, the ravines, the streams, the cliffs, and crags. Bill knew many people, and was as fearless as a lion among lambs. He was as sly as a fox, and was captured by the Confederate four times; but he was always lucky, and would escape. The Confederates nicknamed him, or called him, "The old black fox."
Bill Looney had correctly decided that the Confederate authorities would attempt to force the Winston people into the Confederate Army, had been telling the people they would, and that the people should abandon all thought of neutrality, if and when this was done, and go and volunteer in the Union Army. Bill was on the alert day and night, and had been for several weeks. Even before the meeting, Bill Looney had gone to Decatur, and had been courteously received by the Commander of the Union Army, and had been assured by said Commander that any citizen from Alabama would be gladly received into the Union Army, if they wished to volunteer for service.
Bill Looney, before leaving the Union Commander, had informed him that Union sentiment in Winston County had been developing rapidly since the early part of the year; that I am certain that, by mid-summer, there will be forty or fifty volunteers from Winston here to be inducted into your Army.
THE MURDER OF WASH CURTIS
By early June 1862, the Union Army had won and held possession of Kentucky and Missouri, a large part of Tennessee, northern Arkansas, a part of northeast Mississippi, and a large part of the Tennessee Valley in north Alabama, including a greater part of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad from Memphis to Chattanooga.
The Union was slowly but surely winning two of its major objectives for the year. "Open the Mississippi" and "Blockade the Southern Parts."
The task had not been completed but considerable advances had been made. New Orleans had been captured on April 25, and Memphis by early June. Only Vicksburg, Miss. with about 150 miles, north and south, on the river remained in Confederate control.
The leaders of the Confederacy realized that, while it had been successful in Virginia to a considerable extent, taken as a whole, the situation did not look good. Several of the southern parts had been captured by the Union. Importation of badly needed war supplies had not been received. The Union had a much larger, up to date Navy, than the Confederacy. Added to this: the hope that the Confederacy would be recognized by foreign governments as a belligerent, and later, aid granted had faded.
The Confederate authorities at Richmond called upon the states to enforce the Conscript Act, as soldiers were badly needed in the Army. Alabama, one of the Confederate States, got busy, and sent all subject to the Act that could be found that would go and fight, as best it could.
The authorities in this State never succeeded in getting a local board in Winston County to act for the Confederacy. When not enough of men could be found who were willing to serve on a board for this county, the state authorities got a few men, who were designated as "Enlistment Officers for the Confederacy," to come into the county for the purpose of enforcing the Conscript Act. That is, to force those within conscript age to go and fight for the Confederacy. The people here thought they had no constitutional right to force the citizens here into Confederate Service against their conscience.
It was on or about the 8th of June, 1862, when Stoke Roberts, with about 20 men, came into the county. It was said that the group came from Eldridge, the west part of Walker County; that, while their names are not known, the men lived in northeast Fayette, southeast Marion, and northwest Walker. Roberts and his men arrived in the vicinity of Rock Creek Baptist Church, about four miles north of Double Springs, about eight o’clock, A.M.
Wash Curtis, the oldest son of Solomon Curtis and a brother of Judge Tom Pink Curtis, lived about two hundred yards northeast of the church. "Wash" Curtis had been hunting as well as hiding from the "invaders," as he called the Enlistment Officers, just as many others were doing. Wash had word from his brother, Judge Tom Pink, who had been informed by the Probate Judge of Marion County, that Roberts and his group were coming to get his brother, but Judge Tom Pink thought it was his brother Joe, who had married John Barker’s daughter, Lucindoe, and not Wash. Wash, however, thought that he might have been the one, at any rate, he was alert, on the lookout. Wash did not think the invaders would come during the night, but had slept in the woods under a bluff near his home the night before. He had gone north hunting turkeys before dawn that morning.
Wash Curtis realized that the Confederate authorities were using pressure on the out of county invaders to come, and that the invaders would be happy to capture any one and especially a brother of the Probate Judge. He, also, knew that they were likely to appear any day, and that he would be captured or killed unless he could elude them. Wash had gone on horseback that morning, but had to have food for himself and his horse. That was one thing; but he could get that from a friend. The impelling reason for returning to his home was, his only daughter, Nancy, had a baby about three weeks old; and she was to be at his home that day. He wanted to see Nancy and especially his grandchild on its first visit to his home. Nancy had married Jim Lane and Jim was a Confederate sympathizer, and did not accompany his wife to visit his father-in-law on that day.
Wash Curtis rode up to his home and hitched his horse. His daughter had arrived with her young baby about eight o’clock, or a little before. The weather was a little cool. Shortly after Wash reached the door and greeted his daughter with a kiss, his wife returned with two buckets of water from the spring. Her given name as shown by the U.S. Census in 1860 was Nancy, her daughter being named for her mother.
"Wash Curtis, Dear, I have got a plenty of food prepared for you to do you a couple of days, there in that sack. You should lose no time in getting it, and getting away from here. Strange men have been slipping around here. Two groups have been in sight at two different times in the last half hour. They are surely Confederates, for they didn’t look right. Wash, I beg you, believe your dear wife, you had better get your sack of food, and get away from here, or it will be too late. We will all be in trouble, unless you hurry. Go now!"
Wash replied to his wife:
"Dear, I have not seen my grandchild, as it is on the bed asleep. I will have to hug and kiss my grandbaby this morning, for I may never see it again."
Just as Wash was making the foregoing reply, his daughter ran into the house, grabbed her sleeping baby in her arms and ran back to her father, who hastily took it into his arms, hugged and kissed it, while tears were streaming down his cheeks. While this was taking place, Wash’s wife screamed out:
"Wash, yonder they come! Be in a hurry, or they will get you. They are just now in sight. Not more than fifty yards up the road. It looks like an Army. They are coming in a hurry. Hurry Wash, or it will be too late."
Wash grabbed his sack, ran, unhitched and mounted his horse. It was too late. Just as he got balanced in his saddle, he applied his heel spurs to his horse a little too hard. This excited the horse, and caused him to stand on his rear feet. Just as the horse’s front feet reached the ground, he refused to go forward. Wash, again, applied his spurs to the horse’s sides, which caused the horse to stand on his rear feet again when Wash, about the same time pulled the left rein of the bridle, which caused the horse to whirl to the left in a circle almost half around to face the invaders. They were within sixty to seventy-five yards up the road, the old Cheatham Road, and they were still getting nearer every second. Without any orders to halt, or any warning whatever to the victim, Wash Curtis was shot by several of the invaders led by Stoke Roberts. Wash died in less than a minute. When Roberts saw that Wash Curtis was dead, he immediately turned and fled up the road, down which they came. They fled in great haste.
Charley Taylor lived about one-half mile north of the home of Wash Curtis, on Sandy Creek. Charley’s mother-in-law had spent the previous night with Charley and his family. Her name was Sherlotte Curtis. Charley Taylor was carrying his mother-in-law to visit her oldest son, Wash Curtis, when he was shot. They were almost in sight and heard the gun.
As they approached the home of Wash, they heard the scream of Wash’s daughter and her mother. As they viewed the tragic scene, Wash’s body on the ground drenched in blood, and witnesses grief-stricken, sobbing mother and daughter, Wash’s mother fainted. This of course, diverted attention from the dead man’s body to his grief-stricken mother, until she was revived. During this time, Wash’s widow Nancy detailed to Charley, as best she could, how it happened.
Charley knew Stoke Roberts, and had heard that he was coming into this county to do about what had been done. He knew, also, that it would be impossible to get enough men together that day to pursue the invading murderers for the purpose of retaliation. Charley Taylor, after a few of the neighbors had arrived to look after the dead man’s body, decided that, if he could get a couple of men to go with him in pursuit of the group for the purpose of learning the names of some of them, they would do that.
About three o’clock P.M., John Long and Sam Mitchell, who had helped to move Charley Long from this community to near the precinct Littleville, came to the home of Wash Curtis. Charley Taylor and John Long and Sam Mitchell followed the invaders to the John Myer’s Mill (later Jonathan Barton) that afternoon, and returned. They learned the names of one or two of the group.
Sherlottie, the mother of Wash, revived, and saw the remains of her murdered son carried into the log-cabin home. Wash’s widow ran down to a neighbor’s house, Bill Latons, to get help. Bill had married Charley Long’s daughter Kate. They lived about one-half mile southeast. Another son-in-law of Charley Long was Perry Shipman. He lived on Sandy Creek about one-half mile north. Hieke Lunsford married Jane Long, also a daughter of Charley’s. George Shipman, father of Perry, and a Mr. McCloister prepared the remains of Wash Curtis for burial.
A large crowd assembled at the home where the dead man was. Judge Tom Pink and all of his living brothers were there by three P.M. the same day, as were many of their friends. Many came from around Houston, the county seat. All present were indignant. They were ready to use their guns; that is, many of them were, not for the Confederacy, but they were ready to shoot, to kill, those who had murdered Wash Curtis. Many of them were ready to join the Union Army, which they did in a short while as we shall see.
The burial of Wash Curtis was at old Union Grove, about ten miles southwest of where he was murdered. This was in the community where his father had settled in the early 1850’s. A large crowd attended the funeral of Wash Curtis, which was at about 3 o’clock P.M. the next day after the murder.
Bill Looney was at the funeral and was busy soliciting volunteers to go with him and enlist in the Union Army. A few agreed to go in the near future.
Anderson Ward, John Baughn, Jonathan Barton, and Simeon Tucker and son, Green, and a few others were deer hunting the afternoon before on "Splunge Creek," about one-half mile south of "Old Sardis." This was on the "old Sutton Road," later called the Jasper and Russellville Road, still later, the Lynn Road. There were two or three shots fired in the bottoms at a deer about the time the "Roberts invaders" were nearest the hunters. The hunters who did the shooting were about 100 yards away in a thicket and did not know the "invaders" were passing. The hunters did not know at the time that Wash Curtis had been murdered but found it out late in the afternoon. They learned, also, that the Roberts group thought they had been shot at.
Bill Looney had been in this section of the county, too, taking volunteers for the Union Army. He spent the night before the funeral with Anderson Ward, who lived near Old Sardis. Ward and Looney went from Ward’s home to the funeral together. Anderson Ward accepted Bill Looney’s invitation and joined the Union Army, a little later, as did many others in this part of the county. This section of the county at the time was in a voting precinct, the name of which was "Black Swamp." Today, it is in the Lynn precinct.
"Black Swamp Territory" was one of the most loyal sections of the county to the Union. More than seventy men from this precinct enlisted in the Union Army and fought against the Confederacy. As stated, this was not as first planned. There were in the Union Army five sons of Willis Barton and two sons-in-law; their names were: James, Jonathan, William, Matticus, and Gilford; and Caloway Harris and Jesse Hyde. There were three Dodd’s and five Holt’s. Many people from this precinct attended the funeral of Wash Curtis. All agreed that neutrality was a thing that had passed; was dead, buried, and almost forgotten.
The unprovoked, unwarranted, brutal murder of Wash Curtis aroused the fiery indignation of an overwhelming majority of the people not only in Winston County but in the adjacent territory in the adjoining counties. People became fighting mad – but what could they do about it? They soon found the answer. They would take to the woods until they get ready to go and join the Union Army. Those who did not wish to do that should plan together and work together.
Just as the remains of Wash Curtis was being deposited in the grave, Jim Curtis and his brothers-in-law, "Dock" Spain and Bill Looney agreed to get together for a brief conference before leaving for home. This they did. They decided to spend the night with Jim Curtis at his home, that they might discuss and plan. This was done.
Jim Curtis and "Dock" Spain went early the following week to Tuscaloosa and bought the best gun each that they could find. The writer was informed that each one got an old time double barrel shotgun, a muzzle-loader type. This was agreed upon by Bill Looney, Jim Curtis, and Dock Spain at the home of Jim Curtis the night following the funeral of Wash.
The three discussed the situation: past, present, and future. While they were brave, calm, and fearless, they realized that dark days had passed; but even darker ones were in the near future. Each of them had good judgment. They spent the greater part of the night planning what to do, and how to do it. They slept but little.
The trio wanted everyone to obey the law, and remain loyal to conscience. Of course, they could not endure any one who indorsed the "Joe Clack philosophy" or the dastardly murder of "Wash" Curtis.
Among other things agreed upon before separation the next morning were as follows: Jim Curtis and Dock Spain were to see and get men to aid them, and organize in the various communities to Hamer, hinder, and prevent the "Enlistment Officers" from other counties to force the men in Winston County into the Confederate Army against their conscience. They believed repeater raids would be made from time to time for this purpose. They believed, too, that it would take men of courage to stand up and use their guns to prevent as many men as possible from being carried away to adjoining counties for the purpose of forcing them into the Confederate Service.
To prevent this, even after a citizen or citizens had been captured by the group from adjoining counties, some one was to go quickly and notify the ones who would take their guns, mount their horses, dash in ahead of the group, conceal themselves near the road they were to pass with the captured men, and shoot the horses of the raiding group, or Enlistment Officers. In other words, use the "Dock" Spain plan. This would excite the group and permit the captured men to escape. This was done in about two week’s time. It proved successful for a number of times.
While Jim Curtis and "Dock" Spain were seeing and getting into the organization, Bill Looney was to get as many as he could to go with him to Decatur and or Huntsville and enlist for service in the U.S. Army. Bill Looney said he would eat and sleep but little until he got as many as twenty into the Union Army, and he believed he would be able to get more than that in a month’s time or a little longer, as soon as the crops were done.
Bill Looney’s efforts were crowned far beyond his fondest dreams. In less than two months, and prior to August the 1st, Bill Looney’s all out sacrifice for the Union cause, directly and indirectly, succeeded in getting to the Union Army in the Tennessee Valley more than fifty men from Winston County and about as many more from the counties adjoining. In other words, more than one hundred men went into the U.S. Army in July, 1862, as the result of Bill Looney’s efforts. The following is a partial list of the men who enlisted in the Union Army in July, to wit:
Alfred D. Bain, John D. Bain, Isaac A. Canida, Ralphard Calvert, Archibald Davis, Jesse Davis, Mason Davis, Robert Davis, Jacob H. Day, Richard B. Day, Abraham Feltman, William Gardner, William B. Gay, Francis C. Grinmott, William Guthrie, Isaac Guthrie, William R. Guthrie, Jacob H. Hefner, Marion Hightower, George B. Hughes, John R. Hughes, Eli F. Hughes, James J. Ingram, Henry Inman, Benjamin F. Jaggers, James W. Jayers?, Jim Jett, John Jett, George Johnson, William Kilpatrick, Alexander Lankford, James Lawrimore, William P. Lawrimore, Lewis A. Lay, Anderson W. Looney, George W. Lott, William H. Miles, William Milligan, John Morgan, James K. Murphy, James H. Murphy, John D. NeSmith, William A. Nesmith, John T. Noles, Andrew J. Oden, William D. Oden, James Peak, Samuel Peak, William Pell, "Josh" T. Powell, William J. Powell, John E. Ramey, William P. Ramey, John L. Reed, Thomas D. Riddles, William Riley, Allen R. Self, Martin D. Self, Nathan C. Self, Daniel H. Smith, John T. Sheets, Carroll R. Speegles, Davis H. Speegle, Thomas J. Speegle, Joseph J. Stephenson, Andrew J. Stewart, Obadiah Stover, Wiley B. Taylor, Thomas Tedford, Simeon Tucker, Jonathan Walker, Henry C. Welch, Thomas J. Wiley, Jackson J. Wilhite, Riley Williams, and James R. Wolf.
The list is incomplete as set out, but contains over half of the men, who entered the Union Army at Huntsville, Alabama, on July the 21st and 23rd, 1862, as the result of the efforts of Bill Looney.
Nor was Bill Looney’s activities and continuous efforts, - day after day and night after night, - confined to Winston County. Bill spent almost as much time in the adjoining counties as he did in Winston. Especially was this true during the period from the burial of "Wash" Curtis to July the 21st, when so many began to enlist in the Union Army. This period was a little more than forty days.
Sometime during the early days in July, while Bill Looney was working so hard to get men into the Union Army, he was scouting in east Franklin and west Lawrence, near Mt. Hope, was captured in the late afternoon by the Confederates. Some three others were captured about the same time.
The Confederates near their camp, just after dark, imprisoned Bill and three others near the fort of the hills, several miles southeast of Tuscumbia, in a log-cabin formerly used as a home for slaves but had been recently used as a stable. The four were locked up and the door was nailed. They were given nothing to eat or drink that night. After Bill Looney admitted he was not in sympathy with the Confederacy, he was told by his captors that he was a traitor, and would be tried the next day. Two men were left to guard the four prisoners.
The weather was warm and the moon was full. The men were hungry and thirsty, too. The guard would not get them water, - much less food. The prisoners were calm, submissive; and talked but little. What they said to each other was in a whisper.
By nine o’clock all were asleep, except Bill Looney. Bill had been thinking and planning. He remained wide awake. By eleven o’clock, or around that time, Bill Looney decided that both of the guards were asleep, and they were. Bill had completed his plans, in his mind, as to how he and his three sleeping fellow prisoners could escape, if it worked out as he had planned it, and it did. Bill got busy.
Bill Looney shook each one of the three prisoners gently, and one at a time, whispering to each in a low tone, "boy, wake up, and help us get busy; the guardsmen are both asleep." The three were soon wide awake, and in good spirits. Bill Looney had already twisted, manipulated, and turned the feed trough, until it was easily slipped out. It had been a hollow log, split in halves, and beveled at both ends.
The trough was about ten feet long, the cabin being about ten feet wide and fourteen feet long. Two of the men could and did handle the trough easily. It made a good prize pole. One end of the cabin had been under-pinned with stone, not very large. Two men took the trough, and, after jabbing the stone near one corner for only a few times, succeeded in releasing a couple of stones. This was accomplished without making much noise. The stones were used as a feel crum, one upon the other; and the old trough was sound and used as a prize pole. They soon slipped one end of a log out. Bill Looney was a small man and the other three not much larger. They were all out in a short while. The four left immediately and quietly on their hands and knees. In a couple of minutes, the four prisoners were out of reach of the sleeping prison guards and rested on their feet. They left the prison guards snoring.
All four were exceedingly happy, and rested, and were not hungry. They planned for a couple of minutes. It was now nearly the middle of the night. The group went the Byler Road south, without disturbing the sleeping guards. When they reached the ridge road on top of the mountain south of Mt. Hope, they separated.
Before the separation, the three agreed to and promised to wind-up and go and join the Union Army. Their names are listed in the foregoing list. Bill Looney kept busy. He went to the home of his friend, Jim Curtis. At the home of Jim Curtis, about six miles northwest of Double Springs, Bill Looney got a dinner and a little rest. He never slept longer than four hours at a time, during this period. Bill and Jim conversed for about two hours, informing each other of what had been taking place.
Of course, the picture was dark. The Confederate raiders from some of the adjoining counties were coming in to various communities of Winston County, nearly every week. As a usual thing the men were in the woods; at any rate, they were not at home. The raiders, finding only women and children at the log-cabin homes, would pilfer, and do things to provoke.
Bill Looney was given the low down on all of this. In turn, Jim Curtis was informed by Bill about his capture near Mt. Hope and his imprisonment with three others by the Confederates on the afternoon previous, and how they made their escape.
Bill Looney and Jim Curtis went that afternoon to Houston to visit the brother of Mr. Curtis, the Probate Judge, Hon. Tom Pink. They arrived late in the afternoon, and found the Judge at home. Judge Curtis extended them a warm welcome.
Judge Curtis had just returned from Decatur that afternoon. Upon his arrival home, his wife informed the Judge that a couple of his friends from "Black Swamp" in the southwest part of the county had called to see him about noon. The names of the two were Jonathan Barton and Jesse Hyde.
The two had not as yet decided to go and join the Union Army. They left word that there had been a small group of the Stokes Roberts raiders in the vicinity the day before, and had been shot into by "Dock" Spain, a few miles west of the Double Springs.
This was news to Jim Curtis, as he had not heard it. In about five minutes Jim Curtis was on his way west to the home of "Dock" Spain. In a short while thereafter, Bill Looney departed for the Tavern, - were able to go and join the Union Army, at Huntsville, which many of them did, as previously stated.