Free State Civil War Events and the Jasper Raid
By: Peter J. Gossett
A number of the early settlers of what is now known as the Free State of Winston fought in the War of 1812 with General Andrew Jackson, who later became President of the United States. One of these settlers, Solomon Curtis, felt very strongly for the Union, as did many of those who fought with Andrew Jackson. They did not want to see the Union that they worked so hard for "divided against itself." On his deathbed in 1860, Solomon asked that his children stay with the Union.
Many families in Winston County, Alabama, were divided. James B. Bell had three sons to die in the Union Army and one in the Confederate Army; he died himself while taking care of his children because they were sick in Tennessee. James, along with several of his children, wrote letters to Henry, the one in the Confederate Army, trying to persuade him to come home. Here is one such letter:
"Dear Son, it is with pleasure that I seat my self this morning to let you know that we are all well at present hoping when these few lines comes to hand that tha may find you all well and doing well. I received A letter from you and Andrew Lowirmore this morning and was glad to hear that you are well but it was disgusting to me to think that I had Raised A Child that woud Cecede from under the government that he was bornd and Raised under it is Something Strane to me that people Can forget the grones and crys of our fourfathers in the Revoloutin So quick. Henry just think back to the time when our forefatherse walked over the frozened ground bare foot leaving ther blood on the ground when fighting for the liberties that you have enjoyed ever Since you hav had a being in the world God forbid that I ever Should even be Cald a Cecessionist. I had jest as Soon be Cald a tory, as to Comit treson ganst the government that was Sealed with the blood of my fathers. the Scripture informs us that a House Devided against its Self Cannot stand. The Scriptures informs us that the Isralites divided in to Northism & Souhisn’s and She was in bondage in less than ten years. Henry you are out in a Ceceding Country and tha have got you puft up with Cecessionism as tight as a tode. I dont see what you nede to care for you hant got no Slaves. All tha want is to get you puft up and go to fight for their infurnerl negroes and after you do there fighting you may kiss ther hine parts for a tha ceare. Henry you wrote that if we was in a inlighten Country that we could see better. I want you to understand that we ant in a hethen Land or wasent until Ala went out of the union and this ant any nigher a hethern Land than that. Thare is as Smart men in this Country as thare is in Mississippi and as intellagent gentlemen as lives anywhere. henry may time hasten to Roll around when you can se your own intrest and turn your Back upon the Cursed question Caled Cecessionism and Return like the prodigal Son and then Come over and we will kill the fated Calf. So I will Close my few Remarks hoping when you se these few lines that you will no longer a Cecessionist. J.B. Bell to Henry Bell"
Since Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, and it was popularly believed in South Alabama that he was going to free the slaves, convention meetings were held and Christopher Sheats of Winston was elected by the people to go to Montgomery and represent Winston. He stated that he would vote against secession "first last and all the time." This he did by being one of few who did not vote for Alabama to secede. However, Alabama did secede, and the people of Winston, along with some of the neighboring counties, decided to have a meeting, and that was the famous Looney’s Tavern Meeting. Conflicts arise on the date of this meeting: some say July 4, 1861, while others say it was April 1862. Nevertheless, all agree that the resolutions, stated below, were written and adopted at the Looney's Tavern meeting.
"First, we commend the Honorable Charles C. Sheets and the other representatives who stood with him, for their loyalty and fidelity to the people whom they represented in voting against secession first, last, and all the time.
"Second, we agree with Jackson that no state can legally get out of the Union. (Copy statement regarding Lincoln having Jackson’s papers and the Bible). But if we are mistaken in this, and a state can lawfully or legally secede or withdraw, being only a part of the Union, then a county, any county, being a part of the state, by the same process of reasoning, could cease to be a part of the State.
"Third, we think our neighbors in the South made a mistake when they bolted and nominated a ticket, which resulted in the election of a republican. They made another and a greater mistake when they attempted to withdraw from the Union and set up a new government. But we don’t want our neighbors in the South mistreated and we are not going to take up arms against them; but, on the other hand, we are not going to shoot at the Flag of our Fathers - the Flag of Washington, Jefferson, and of Jackson! Therefore, we ask the Confederacy on the one hand, and the Union on the other, to leave us alone, unmolested, that we may work out our political and financial destiny here in the hills and mountains of Northwest Alabama."
A Confederate sympathizer was here in this crowd, and his name was Richard E. Payne. He supposedly made a remark upon the reading of the second resolution above declaring that "Winston secedes! The Free State of Winston!" Winston has been known as this nickname ever since, although it never did secede from the state.
So Winston County declared its neutrality; however, the Confederacy took this as treason. In late 1861, there were a total of 128 Confederate sympathizers in Winston, with 70 of those already in that army. However, there were a total of 515 men with Union sympathies, with none of them in the Army. George S. Houston visited Winston in late 1861, in hopes of rousing some Confederate support "and made the most fervent and eloquent appeals to the said disaffected citizens with the hope of exciting in them a spirit of fealty to the government; and whereas all these efforts have not only failed to produce any good effect, but on the contrary it appears, that the spirit of rebellion grows more open and violent every day" and "whenever an effort is made to get volunteers, the said Unionists concert together to prevent it, and declare that they will fight for Abe. Lincoln before they will fight for Jeff Davis..." A meeting was held November 30, 1861, with Andrew Kaeiser Chairman, J.M. Bibb Secretary, and twenty-two other committee members, all for the Confederacy. We will see though that at least one of these twenty-two men turned with very strong Union sympathies. The twenty-two were: John York, Thomas M. Martin, William York, M.M. Moore, Van. T. Davis, Joseph Davis, Millinton Ballard, George Ballard, Ambrose Burns, D.J. McClesky, Thomas G. Poe, George Wilson, William W. Beard, J.T. Noles, Samuel Noles, Joseph Noles, Thomas Davis, Joel Manis, L.M. Doe, W.W. Fretwell, Early Fretwell, and Daniel York.
Because of the presence of the Union Army in North Alabama, the Confederacy started enforcing their Conscript Act. This act stated that anyone of conscript age was to fight for the Confederacy, except those wealthy enough. Hamilton Carpenter headed a group of "Enlistment Officers" for the Confederacy; they started making their way into Winston County from Marion County to conscript people and ended up provoking several families. Newt Austin was killed near Nauvoo for his Union sympathies, and a Mr. Pugh was also killed near Double Springs. Joe Comeens was not present at his home when the officers showed up, but his expecting wife, Martha, was. She got into a heated argument with one of the officers, causing her to lose the baby. Another trip by the Comeens residence was when this same officer, by the name of Joe Clack, stole a suit of clothes that was being prepared for the baby when the miscarriage happened. This angered Martha’s brothers, Tom and Bill Barker, to the extent that they hunted this officer down, killed him, and returned the clothes to their sister. The group had tried to conscript several other Winstonians when one of their horses was shot in the rear, causing excitement for them and allowing the would-be conscripts to escape. This was called the "Dock" Spain method. Before they left though, Stoke Roberts gave news that the "Enlistment Officers" would be back with more people and enforce the conscription.
On May 24, 1862, a secret meeting was held at John Taylor’s house to discuss what was to happen. Many people were at this event. Judge John Penn gave the following speech:
"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."
Tom Pink Curtis, Probate Judge, was also at this meeting. He stated the following:
"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?
"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.
"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."
A committee soon prepared resolutions, and after reading them, the meeting was concluded. The resolutions were as follows:
"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."
However, the event that turned Winston extremely bitter against the Confederacy was the murder of George Washington Curtis, son of Solomon Curtis and brother to the probate judge. Wash was the first of three of Solomon Curtis’ children to die at the hands of the Confederates. Probate Judge John Bennett Weaver, early historian, has the following account:
"It was on or about the 8th of June, 1862, when Stoke Roberts, with about 20 men, came into the county [Winston]. 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 [Probate] 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...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 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."
The Home Guard was a group, usually of older men not able to fight in the Confederacy, who went around to get supplies for the Confederate Army. However, several of these groups turned out to be robbers and murderers. In December of 1863, the second child of Solomon Curtis to die during the Civil War was Joel Jackson Curtis from the actions of Captain F. Lee B. Goodwin's men. The following is an account from ...And West is West by Charles E. Wilson:
"The Home Guard captured Joel and carried him to Jasper and put him in jail. He was given five days to sign up with the Confederate Army. Joel refused and they carried him to what they called the Slaughter Pen and shot him in the back. He was buried in a shallow grave. At the time of Joel’s death he was married to Lucinda Barker. When Lucinda heard of Joel’s death she went to Jasper, dug him up, and brought him to Union Grove. Some of the neighbors helped to bury him next to Wash and Solomon. Lucinda made this trip in a steer wagon, which was a slow way to travel. She had to make this trip herself. The men knew if they went to help her they would be put in jail. On her way back some of the people along the way tried to get her to spend the night with them. She refused due to the condition of Joel’s body as he was stinking."
The third child of Solomon Curtis to die was Thomas Pinkney Curtis, Probate Judge of Winston County. The following account is taken from the papers of Judge John Bennett Weaver:
"On January 19, 1864, six or seven cavalry men came from South Walker, East Fayette, and North Tuscaloosa Counties...to the County Seat [then Houston], took Thomas P. Curtis, the Probate Judge...and told him that he would be released if he could pay them as much as $2,000.00. Judge Curtis was mad and expressed himself freely but finally decided that they meant to kill him, so he went to his home, where his wife and children were, and told his wife to get his pocket book, and when he counted out the $2,000.00 he had about $1,500.00 more, and when the cavalrymen saw it they took the pocket book with its contents above the $2,000.00. There were no banks here in those days. Judge Curtis was already mad, of course, and when that happened he expressed himself to the extent that the cavalrymen were provoked." Apparently, Judge Curtis did not want to give up the money; in other accounts, it states that he was persuaded with a red-hot poker, which severed his spine. "The next day, on January 20th, pretty early, about nine o’clock A.M., the friends of Judge Curtis found him shot to death down under a bluff about 30 feet high, with his head leaning back against a tree and his feet down in a branch. The branch was frozen over." He had been shot once in his right eye and once above his right eye.
While in the Union Army, Henry Tucker fired at Stoke Roberts, missing and angering Stoke. After Henry’s leave from the Union Army, during the war, Stoke and more of the Home Guard caught Henry at home and took him to Bald Rock in the southwest part of Winston County. Here, they extremely and brutally tortured him before finally killing him. Some have said that William Rowell heard him screaming from a great distance and that he was found four days later by Tom Johnson and Andy Ingle, just as the band of Home Guards left him, hanging from a tree.
The Hyde family also suffered at the hands of the Home Guard. They lived in east Winston. Six brothers, Caleb, James, Elisha, Isaiah, Isaac, and Aaron were apparently tortured and hanged near Nesmith then buried by their family in a mass grave nearby. A popular legend of the county is that the Home Guards spared the youngest son, Aaron, and accounts vary as to the number of the brothers killed. Another legend is that the father got a group of men to go after one of the Home Guards (Stoke Roberts), found him, and drove a railroad stake through his mouth nailing him to the root of a tree. He was found days later near Lynn and buried close to the tree.
In August of 1864, Jim Curtis, another brother to those killed and was also, at one time, tax collector of Winston County, learned about the deaths of his brothers and got a furlough from the Union Army; he worked in a hospital. While he was at home, he was captured by Southern Raiders and put in jail in Jasper. Either on the way to the jail or during his stay in the jail, he learned the names of the men who took part in the killing of his brothers. A brother to Jim, Frank Curtis asked a man by the name of Sam Ellenburg to make a saw that would cut through iron, and of course Sam made the saw. Someone smuggled it in to Jim, and he was free in no time. On the way back to Winston County, or shortly thereafter, Jim Curtis, along with Bennett Jones, Jack Revis, Bill Farley, Tom Barker, Bill Barker, Bal Brown, and a Mr. Williams stopped by Dr. Andrew Kaeiser’s plantation in southwest Winston County, shot, and killed him on September 2, 1864. He was instrumental in the deaths of his brothers. A daughter of Andrew Kaeiser, Mattie Moody, later in life, wrote a biography that included what happened when Dr. Kaeiser was killed:
"September 2 was a miserable day for us all...late in the afternoon my Mother called my sister and me to walk to a graveyard out in front of the house, where baby sister who had died in infancy from whooping cough was buried. As we reached the front gate, I looked up and saw 2 men standing beside little sister's grave. I called Mother's attention to this so she went back and sat down in a chair near the front door. About that time my Father walked out into the front yard. The men at the grave had evidently been waiting to make sure he was about the house, and must have given a signal, for immediately six men came riding down the road to the front gate...the man in front who had his gun raised and cocked, asked, "Who are you?" Pa answered. "Dr. Kaeiser." He took aim and shot him through the heart. The bullet went through his body and was buried deep in a plank of the house. Pa fell and Mother sprang to him and took his head in her lap. He opened his eyes once and that was the last. He could not speak. My sister and I, supposing they were coming to rob the house again [as happened the night before], had run upstairs and began putting on extra clothing. As soon as we heard the shot we knew instinctively what had happened, so we ran downstairs, out the back door to the kitchen where the cook had started supper...The men who killed him met some of the Negroes coming home from the field and said to them, "We have killed your old Master. So dig a hole and put him in it." They did not intend that he should have a decent burial. Mother called on the Masons to bury him, and although most of them were friends and probably some relatives of the men who fired the shot, they did not dare refuse that call. My Father, a Mason was Royal Arch and even higher orders. He had several suits of regalia. These Tories had sent word to all the neighbors that any of them who went to Mother's assistance, should share the same fate. One old man...said he was an old man and did not have long to live anyway, so he was going to Mrs. Kaeiser, even if they killed him. His wife went with him. Mother and I went up into the loft to get burial clothes, linen sheets, etc. Mother with the help of this old man and his wife, and the Negroes prepared him for burial. The man who fired the shot was Jim Curtis...My Father was killed Friday evening, Sept 2, 1864. Saturday some of the Negroes made a wooden coffin and covered it with some black cloth Mother had. They covered the inside with cotton batting and a white linen sheet. Into this they put my Father's body and on Sunday afternoon, Sept 4 he was buried with Masonic honors on the hill beside my little sister."
According to Mr. Will Burns, Dr. Kaeiser was killed in his barn with his throat being cut. This actually happened to one of the other people who had killed the Curtis brothers.
Thomas M. Martin, at one time, was in the Jasper Jail. Thomas: "I was arrested in the year 1864 by Col. McCaskell, "a Rebell Commandant," and was carried to Jasper, Walker Co. Ala. and there put in jail and remained therein about 15 hours. He then gave me what he called a Parole and turned me out of jail and sent me home. I give no bond or took any oath to get out." According to Thomas’ Southern Claims Commission file, Anderson Ward testified for his loyalty:
"In the year 1864 Jesse Nevels, and V.S. Roden was lying out to keep out of Rebell Service near Claimant's [Thomas Martin's] house in the County of Winston, State of Ala. Claimant fed and harbored them and give them all information that he could In the last of the year 1864 or the 1st of the year 1865. The Union Scouts and U.S. Soldiers and outlyers burned up the jail and town of Jasper in Walker Co. Ala. and before we done this we got the Claimant to go down to said town of Jasper as a spy. He done so. Come back and reported to us the situation of the place. How many Rebel’s was stationed there and all about the place in general. He told us they kept arms and ammunition in the Jail House and that they also had a Union Prisoner in the Jail. The prisoner’s was took out of jail, the jail and courthouse fired and burned up. Before we done all this, I learned from our Union boys that Claimant had been furnishing them Rations for several days before the Raid was made on Jasper before stated. And mostly afterward, Claimant fed and assisted us Union boys in running out a Gang of Cavalry out of this settlement that was in here as we supposed to burn up the Houses of Union men and their families. And all such favors and things was bestowed and given by the Claimant from beginning to the end of the Rebellion."
In early 1865, Confederate raiders made another sweep through Winston County, and carried at least five Union men to the Jasper Jail awaiting to join the Confederacy or get the firing squad. These men were: Bill Walker, Dock Baird, Will King, George Wilson, and George Davis. Bill Looney was named to ride to the Union camp at Decatur and get assistance to raid the Jasper jail and free the imprisoned men. So soon thereafter, a worn Bill appeared at the headquarters of the Federal Army in Decatur.
Bill Looney, nicknamed the "Ol’ Black Fox," is a legend in the hills of Winston County. He literally brought hundreds of men to the Union Army from various places in North Alabama; try as they might, no one could ever catch (and detain) him.
Looney spoke with General Mitchell, and a party of twenty-six Union men organized to go to Jasper and free these prisoners. They decided to meet at the south part of the Rocky Plains, and the mode of travel was either horseback or in wagons, as there were no buggies even at that time. Some of them lived a great way off. Some camped at the residence of Thomas M. Martin; he provided meal (ground by David C. Manasco, who carried men in the area to the Union lines, forty-one at one time) to some of those who went to Jasper. It took them all night and all the next day, until about eleven o’clock, to get to the appointed meeting place. They went on quietly to the town of Jasper, which was small then. When they got to the top of the hill, within 150 yards of the jail, they stopped. Six of the men had shotguns, eighteen of them had hog rifles, and two had pistols. They had thirteen horses and mules in making that trip; they would take turns at riding.
Anderson Ward, a sergeant in the Union Army, was elected Captain to lead them in releasing these prisoners. He made a mark on the ground and made this proposition: "No one here is to hurt anyone unless we have to. Every man that is willing to obey my orders, which will be to go down this hill by a method that I will explain a little later, and take them out of that jail, or die in the attempt, cross this line." They all crossed but two: Vincent Roden and Jesse Nevels. Whereupon Anderson Ward, the Captain, said, "Gentlemen, have you deserted?" Their answer was: "No, but we only have pistols, and we think somebody ought to keep the horses." All agreed on this.
The plan was to have all the Union Soldiers in front and all the shotguns in front. Ward said, "I want the first two men in Blue to walk just as close together as possible, side by side, and I want the next two to be about twelve feet behind, a little further apart, and the next two to be about the same distance, etc., in order to make a display, and we will be on a quick until we see the people in the town have discovered us and then we will give the ‘Yankee yell’ and put on a double quick." The strategy worked well. As the sun set on January 10, 1865, the Union soldiers, in a "v" formation, marched into the town of Jasper, and they gave such a yell that everyone left town; they did not fire a shot. It had been raining, thus Town Creek was up, and it was not bridged. Thirty-five Confederate forces plus other men, women, and children plunged into that creek and left. They arrived in the jail yard, which was not enclosed by a fence. They were building a house just across the road from the jail. The Captain ordered twelve of the men to pick up one of the big house logs and run and jab one end of it against the jail door, which was a wooden jail with a wooden door. The second time, then the third, they hit the door, they burst the hinges on the inside, and the prisoners came walking out.
About this time the jailer, Gilbert Sides, came up with a pistol in his hand. Jim Curtis threw a shotgun on the jailer and made him drop his pistol. He then gave the jailer this specific command: "Now sir, you stick fire to the God damn jail." Mr. Sides piled all the straw and shuck bedding together in a corner of the jail. After this, he was ordered to go to one of the nearby houses and get a stick of wood from the fireplace with a blaze of fire on it and stick it among the bedding. The group of men remained there until the jail was burned to such an extent that they saw it could not be extinguished. Then Jim Curtis ordered the jailer to strike a long trot and not look back, to disappear South, and about the time he got out of sight they turned and marched back up the hill to the horses."
After Dr. Kaeiser was killed on September 2, 1864, his wife was forced to leave her home; she moved to Jasper.
"Mother rented a house in Jasper and we children went to school at the "Academy," a good school taught by a Northern man, a Canadian, I think, and his wife. We lived there until January 1865. About the 12th of January, I think, the Tories met in force at our house in Winston County. They burned our house but none of the Negroes houses. I think they never troubled our Negroes much, after they went back. Having spies in the town [of Jasper] they knew just when to come in while the soldiers were feeding their horses. Our soldiers had no discipline, no pickets out, or guards of any kind. While they were feeding, the Tories got between the soldiers and their guns, so our men were obliged to run into the woods. Jasper was just a village then and the "woods" were not far from the heart of town. The Tories opened the jail, released the prisoners, burned the jail...burned our house, and left town."
According to George Davis in his Southern Claims Commission file, "I was arrested by one rebel Capt. D.H. Whatley in the summer of 1863 and taken to Jasper Ala. and there put in jail and kept there two weeks and I then released and I went home without takeing any oath or making any promise. I remained at home about three or four weeks, and was again arrested by Capt. D.H. Whatley and William Rutlidge. They taken me to Jasper Walker Co. and again put in jail and remained in jail seven days and at night of the seventh day, about midnight a friend of mine was placed on g[u]ard at the jail-house door, and he secured the jail kees and let me out, and he and I both made our escape and came home. I there in staid at home and there about in the woods the most of the time, untill the winter of 1864. I was again arrested by one rebel Capt. F. Lee B. Goodwin, was tied by his orders and taken to Jasper again and remained in jail untill a squad of Federal soldiers came and released the prisoners and burned the town. I then went home and never was arrested any more. I never was arrested by the U.S. forces. I was threatened by Capt.s D.H. Whatley and F. Lee B. Goodwin to be hanged on account of my Union sentiments. I was molested and badly injured by being in prison, tied and abused by rebel authorities on account of my Union sentiments."
The following are some of the twenty-six men who raided Jasper: Anderson Ward, Stoax S. "Dock" Spain, Vincent S. Roden, Jesse Nevels, Bill Looney, Bill Farley, Jim Martin, Big George Wilson, James Curtis, and Benjamin Franklin Curtis. It is possible that the first sheriff of Hancock County was there as well: Willis Farris. According to ...And West is West via information given by J.L. Rice, great grandson of Jim Martin:
"After the raid Uncle Frank [Curtis] and Jim Martin hid out northeast of what is now Antioch Church. They were surprised by a band of Home Guards and Uncle Frank was shot in the knee [while his horse continued for a few steps and fell over dead]. He begged Jim Martin to leave him and escape. Jim picked up Uncle Frank and they hid under a bluff on Caney Creek. Jim Martin cared for Uncle Frank until he was able to travel. Due to the injury, Uncle Frank was a cripple for the rest of his life."
A little over two months after Winston’s raid on Jasper, the Wilson’s Raid came through Jasper. Led by General James H. Wilson, the town was briefly occupied by the Union forces on March 27, 1865. Although another town-target (the courthouse) was not destroyed during Winston’s raid, Wilson’s men finished what the Unionists had left undone. No money was lost, but the books of the government assessor and tax collector, along with records and papers of the county officers and courts, were destroyed.
Wilson’s raid was one of the final events of the war. His march through Winston County left most all the people without food, as the cavalrymen had to eat on their way. Anyone researching the Southern Claims Commission will find evidence of what was taken from the citizens during Wilson’s raid. A portion of the cavalrymen went through what was later known as the "Yankee Trace Road," and it is Winston County Road 17 today.
Wilson’s men were deeply disappointed at the appearance of Walker County and Jasper. "We had heard of this place for several days and expected to find a smart little village, at least, but were never so disappointed in our lives, as it was the poorest excuse for a town we ever did see. It once had a log jail and was surrounded by a half dozen log cabins, but a short time before this the jail had been burned down by Union citizens, which left the cabins alone in their glory." Another soldier remarked after marching through this piney-woods hill country, "the woods through which we have passed to-day are horrible in the extreme, and the country poor beyond conjecture."
Jim Curtis continued his "manhunt" of those who took part in the killing of his brothers. He killed two of them in Walker County, shooting them in the dogtrot of their home. He also killed two in Texas and two in Mississippi. His wife, Priscilla Spain, tried to get him to forget about it and told him that if he continued, to not come back home. After he was through with his manhunt, he moved to Wayne County, Tennessee and became a doctor. Although Priscilla never remarried, Jim did. While picking cotton one day, a lightening storm came up, and he put the cotton basket over his head. When the storm was over, the people there found him dead.
The Confederacy lost the war.
Several people still living in Winston County, descendants of these families related here, still have strong Union sentiments that will continue forever in the hills of Winston.
The Curtis Family:
Winston: An Antebellum and Civil War History of a Hill County of North Alabama (Annals of Northwest Alabama Volume IV) by Donald Dodd and Wynelle Dodd
"A Brief History of Winston County, Alabama" by Judge John Bennett Weaver
"1862" by Judge John Bennett Weaver
"The Saga of William Bauck ‘Bill’ Looney" by Leola Looney Hessom and Wesley S. Thompson
Thomas M. Martin’s Southern Claims Commission File (Claim #2231)
George Davis' Southern Claims Commission File (Claim #6090)
Montgomery Advertiser, 4/4/1952, Page 4A: "Winston County Hasn't Forgotten Civil War, and May Not Do So"
...And West is West: The Wests of Winston County, Alabama, Their Kin and Kith, Volume II: The Way West by Charles E. Wilson
Sons of Solomon by John Lucian West
"Andrew Kaeiser" by Mattie Kaeiser Moody
History of the 72d Indiana Volunteer Infantry of the Mounted Lightening Brigade by B.F. McGee
Letter from James B. Bell to Henry Bell, April 27, 1861
"Destruction of Jasper in the Year 1865," The Mountain Eagle, February 11, 1925
"The Agonizing Death of Henry Tucker" by Joel S. Mize
"Inclosure in Kaeiser to Shorter" Alabama Historical Quarterly, 1961, Volume 23, Pages 282-284