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November 24, 2010

Athens sites featured on Alabama's Civil War trail

From staff, wire reports

Northerners who claim Southerners just can't forget the Civil War will find plenty of evidence in 2011 when people across the South commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the conflict.

In Alabama, reenactments of pivotal battles will occur throughout the year and visitors will be encouraged to visit historic sites. The state tourism department has produced a brochure to lead enthusiasts to important sites, including many in North Alabama. Visit 800Alabama.com, click "Travel Tools" and then "Brochures" to find a downloadable guide.

The brochure highlights 47 sites and attractions linked to the war. It provides details on the state's 18 largest Civil War battles and includes the dates of 14 war re-enactments that are held each year.

The head of the tourism agency, Lee Sentell, says the new effort comes ahead of next year's sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War. Prominent sites linked to the war in Alabama include the state Capitol and the First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery, along with Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan at the entrance to Mobile Bay.

But North Alabama has many historic sites, as well.

The brochure lists the city of Athens in its entirety as an important Civil War site. It states: "Athens changed hands a number of time during the war. One example occurred in May 1862 when Union troops under Col. J.B. Turchin burned and looted the

town. Another was when the Confederate cavalry under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest captured the town in September 1864."

The 1862 battle in the city, known as the Sack of Athens, and the 1864 Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle were both turning points.

During the Sack of Athens, Union troops pillaged the town and occupied many local homes and buildings. A historic marker on the courthouse lawn states: "Athens Sacked and Plundered: On May 2, 1862, Union troops of the 19th and 24th Illinois and the 37th Indian Regiments commanded by Col. John Basil Turchin went on a rampage thought the town. They looted and plundered stores and homes, stealing clothing, jewelry and anything of value, destroying what they didn't want. For months afterward, the soldiers stabled their horses in some of the town's churches, burned the pews for firewood and destroyed the interiors. Col Turchin, born Ivan Vasillevich Turchinoff in Russia, was court-martialed in Huntsville for encouraging these actions, but his wife appealed to Abraham Lincoln for clemency on his behalf. Turchin was promoted to Brig Gen. one day before the court-martial."

Founders Hall at Athens State University, which was a female academy in the 1860s, is a historic site surrounded by legend. According to lore, the headmistress at the time, Madame Jane Hamilton Childs, produced a letter from President Lincoln to prevent troops from occupying or damaging the building, or bothering the female students. However, no evidence of a letter exists and some historians believe that Childs' connections to several important people in the Union helped save the college.

The preserved Donnell House, built in 1845 by the Rev. Robert Donnell, was used during the war as bivouac. Other antebellum homes also were occupied.

For more information on these sites, go to the Visitors Center at Market and Beaty streets for brochures on Limestone County's Civil War Trail and Antebellum Trail or call 256-232-5411.

Athens City Cemetery is home to another reminder of Athens' embattled past. The statue of the Confederate soldier that looks down over the markers of the Confederate dead once stood on the Limestone County Courthouse lawn. But the soldier's bowed head reminded many Athenians of the recent defeat and a new statue was ordered for the courthouse, this one stands with its head held high. The original statue was moved to the cemetery, where its lowered countenance illustrates grief.

Along with the Civil War sites in Limestone County, several others in North Alabama are listed in the state brochure.

Decatur features:

• A Civil War walking tour with nine historic sites;

• Old State Bank, the oldest bank in Alabama, which was used during the war as a hospital;

• The Blue and Gray Museum of North Alabama.

Huntsville sites include:

• Historic Huntsville Depot;

• The Dred Scott Home Site at Oakwood College;

• The Buffalo Soldiers Monument.

Florence features:

• Pope's Tavern, a historic stagecoach stop used as a hospital by both Union and Confederate forces.

 

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