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Tallassee: Battles for the Armory Sesquicentennial

 

The 17th Annual "Battles for the Armory" War Between the States Reenactment will be held November 7th, 8th and 9th at Gibson's View Plantation in Tallassee. The event commemorates the 1864 Battles of Chehaw Station and Franklin which saved Tallassee's Confederate Armory from destruction by Union Army raiders. Heralding this year's event as the 150th anniversary of the battles, the Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans wisely selected this reenactment as the State Division's sesquicentennial event for 2014.

A brief history of the battles begins with facts determining the location of the carbine factory in Tallassee. In April 1864 Col. Josiah Gorgas, Chief of the Confederate Ordinance Bureau wanted to move the Richmond Carbine Factory to a more secure location. Several locations were considered (including Macon and Athens in Georgia) but the little cotton mill town of Tallassee was selected because it seemed to meet the criteria Col. Gorgas desired. Tallassee was advantageously remote, making it less vulnerable to enemy attack and Gorgas knew the nearby Tallapoosa River would provide a reliable power source. Two officers spent several days in Tallassee and submitted a detailed report to Col. Gorgas who approved the 1844 structure (built as a cotton mill by Thomas Barnett) for the armory at Tallassee to manufacture the new model .58 caliber muzzle-loading carbines. Throughout June, July and August of 1864 metal working machinery, gunsmiths, blacksmiths and their apprentices began arriving in Tallassee. The sudden and very visible increase in activity at a little cotton mill town in East Alabama meant it didn't take long for Union forces to discover the facility had been moved from Richmond to Tallassee.

The official record of the "Battle of Franklin" is chronicled under "Wilson's Raid" as "Skirmish off the Georgia Road." Gen. Wilson's forces left Montgomery on April 14th headed to Columbus, Ga. On April 15th two companies were sent out in advance of the brigade with orders to "destroy some mills and bridges on the Tallapoosa River." One account from Virginia Noble Golden's, "A History of Tallassee" explained upon reaching Cowles Station downriver, the officer in charge asked a local black man to guide him to Tallassee. The "guide" told the commander they'd have to cross the river to the west side of Cowles Ferry. The commander's outdated map showed Tallassee on the east side of the Tallapoosa River, so the Union commander, thinking the black man was trying to mislead him, ordered him shot!

Union troops continued up the east bank of the river, but were met by a "superior force" of the local home guard and militia from the area. When the Union commander finally realized his mistake, he was unwilling to retrace his path for fear of running into Gen. Forrest's Calvary in hot pursuit of Wilson's forces. Making their way eastward, the Union detachment rejoined Wilson's command near Auburn and never had an opportunity to fire upon the Confederate Armory at Tallassee.

All was almost lost again in mid July when Major General Lovell H. Rousseau swept across Alabama with 2,500 Union Cavalry armed with new Spencer repeating carbines. After fighting a major engagement near Decatur on July 14, 1864 against units of the 6th and 8th Alabama Cavalry, Rousseau and his men advanced along the railroad, burning and destroying railroad bridges, buildings and supplies along the way. In Dadeville they destroyed the depot and several miles of railroad track, burned a locomotive and six boxcars loaded with leather, nails and shovels, likely headed to Tallassee. Rousseau's aim was to destroy the Montgomery and West Point Railroad between Opelika and Chehaw Station. For over a week "Rousseau's Raiders" as they were known, roamed through eastern Alabama, leaving a path of destruction through Auburn, Loachapoka, Notasulga and other villages along the line.

On the morning of July 18th Rousseau sent Major Baird, commander of the 5th Iowa with a detachment of his regiment and detachment of the 4th Tennessee Calvary (Tennesseans who committed acts of war against their own State) to Chehaw Station between Tuskegee and Tallassee to begin destroying the railroad and any mills or bridges along the way. Upon arrival at Chehaw Station, Major Baird and his detachment were met by a unit of the Tuskegee Home Guard. During the skirmish which ensued (referred to as the "Battle of Chehaw) a train arrived carrying a battalion of 16 and 17 year old cadets from the University of Alabama who had been training in Selma for six months in preparation to fight the invasion. Armed with old flintlock, muzzle-loading muskets and one small cannon, the cadets joined the fray. As the battle intensified, a group of mounted militia from Tuskegee (clad in brown linen) appeared and assisted the home guard and the cadets. Arrival of the Confederate militia prompted Baird to order his troops to withdraw. Rousseau's report to Gen. Sherman estimated Confederate dead at about 40, while Union losses were small. Rousseau's main force proceeded through Chambers County and back into Georgia.

Meeting what the Union record reported as a "superior Confederate force" of Tallassee Home Guard (comprised of young boys, old men and a group of local militia) the Tallassee Armory was saved at the "Battle of Franklin." Little doubt Gen. Forrest's presence in the area also compelled Gen. Wilson's forces to decide not to fight their way to Tallassee. It is comforting to meet those who understand how we benefitted from not suffering more devastation due to the efforts of these brave souls defending themselves from the forces pressing our State back into federal control - slowly establishing the Union as forced coalition. Holding constitutional conventions to voluntarily and bloodlessly exit a corrupt central authority and maintain independence was no more, 'progressing' us into the mess we observe today. We've showed ourselves to simply be an extension of the European ebb and flow of tyranny.

It is disheartening to hear far too many today delight in what Sherman did to Georgia and Carolina. To militarily accomplish the wealth transfers which the federal government couldn't do politically is the most terrible time in our nation's history. Anyone who holds truth dear cannot quibble about the gallantry and heroism by soldiers on both sides; similarly no one can dispute who was the aggressor/invader and who defending their homeland. The Tallassee Armory still stands today as the only Confederate Arsenal not destroyed by Union forces, thanks to the local home guard, a small group of mounted militia from nearby Tuskegee and the 16 to 17 year old cadets from the University of Alabama at the "Battle of Franklin." Many thanks to all who have preserved this history in fact and in Spirit.

Today, the fate of the 500 carbines manufactured in Tallassee is unknown. Near the end of the war Major Taylor (commander at Tallassee) was ordered to load all machinery and rifles on wagons and ferry across the river to Cowles Station. From there the Tallassee Carbines were to be shipped to Macon by rail. Only about a dozen Tallassee Carbines are known to have survived. One is on display at Confederate Memorial Park near Marbury, Alabama and another is at the Columbus, Georgia Museum. Union forces were under orders to destroy any ordinance that could be used by the Confederacy. By the time the shipment of rifles reached Macon, the city had fallen to Union forces. The 500 Tallassee Carbines were likely burned or thrown into the Oakmulgee River; the few which survived were probably taken as souvenirs by Union officers.

Reenactment of the battles begins with 'School Day' on Friday, November 7th with 10 to 12 different stations which include a Confederate flag demonstration, period dance, period music, infantry, artillery, cavalry, a field hospital, blacksmith, period toys, games and more. The registration fee is $5 per student. To register students for School Day, contact Sharon Kilpatrick at tallasseecitylib@gmail.com or phone 334-283-2732.

A ladies tea on Saturday morning at 10am; tours of the Confederate Armory from 11am until 1pm; a period ball Saturday evening at dark in the Anthony family barn and a period church service at 11AM Sunday at the barn are all a part of the 150th anniversary program. Battles will be reenacted at 2pm Saturday, November 8th and Sunday, November 9th. There is NO reenactor fee. Registration forms can be obtained along with more information about the "Battles for the Armory" at tallasseearmoryguards.org. Living histories, carriage rides and demonstrations will be conducted beginning at 9am each day of the battles. Admission for the general public is $5. There will be numerous period vendors, called sutlers and period/modern food vendors. Gibson's View Plantation is located about 1 mile off Alabama Highway 229 South of Tallassee on Elmore County Road 4. There will be signs along I-85 and Highway 229 leading into Tallassee to help find your way.

Postscript: many have asked my thoughts and/or expected my column to be on the 23 felony counts Speaker Hubbard recently indicted by a Lee County Grand Jury. I was shocked Mr. Hubbard couldn't stall Judge Walker (yet again) until after the election as accomplished in his low turn-out June primary win over Sandy Toomer. Reports of $1million unsecured loans (after NOT performing on past loans because of his poor business acumen) do appear to prolong/deny justice; it would've been an improvement for indictment to be well behind us and done back in April if not for all the stalling tactics. More importantly, this seems to be a moment to pause in prayer. A prayer of thanks for sufficiently rebuked and honorable men like Representative Wren who saved us the cost and further embarrassment to our State by pleading guilty, resigning from office and allow justice to better proceed. May our Heavenly Father see fit to receive Rep. Wren as the penitent thief in his final and most important judgment. I further pray Mr. Hubbard and his minions follow this honorable example and path of the penitent thief in preservation of their souls and allow us to move forward out of the darkness they've cast upon our State.

 

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