Residents and visitors alike may not be aware that Athens and Limestone County are rich in Civil War history.
Athens was once thought to be a strong Union town, according to former Mayor William T. Tanner and it is believed to be the last town in Alabama to take down the Stars and Stripes.
In April 1862, things changed when Limestone County was invaded and captured following the arrival of the federal army in Huntsville.
Limestone County later became home to one of the bloodiest land battles fought in a single day in Alabama. The Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle Sept. 5, 1864, near the town of Elkmont claimed the lives of some 30 Confederate soldiers and at least 200 federal officers and men.
The Civil War was very real and devastating to Athens and Limestone County from 1861 to 1865.
In remembrance, Athens Visitors Center is offering a Civil War Trail brochure meant to enhance the historical experience in Athens and Limestone County.
The trail provides an overview beginning with Captain Thomas Hobbs and his men of Company F, 9th Alabama Infantry leaving Athens on June 6, 1861; "Sacking" of Athens; Battle of Athens; Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle; success of General Nathan Bedford Forrest's "Railroad War" and the return of Confederate soldiers walking home seeing the devastation.
It is a self-guided driving tour featuring 11 stops that include the Limestone County Archive, the Sacking of Athens Historic Marker, Founders Hall, Fort Henderson, Engagement with Decatur Relief Force, Hays Mill, Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle, Elkmont Historic Marker, Holt’s Trestle and Mill Creek Block House, Rails to Trails and Athens City Cemetery. Points of interest also include the Limestone County Courthouse, Alabama Veterans Museum, Cambridge Methodist Church, Moorseville and New Garden Cemetery.
“2011 is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War,” said Jeannette Dunnavant, Athens-Limestone County Tourism Director. “Tourists interested in Civil War history can take the tour and learn how the war affected Athens-Limestone County.
We anticipate tour buses will bring tourists to Athens during 2011-2014 during the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Tourism provides a great stimulus boost to our community and we're proud to share our history and culture with others.”
The Civil War Trail brochure and a $5 CD are available at the Athens Visitors Center. The brochure provides site names, addresses and a map and the CD provides a history of each stop and driving directions.
It also provides a geocaching experience, according to Dunnavant. Geocaching is a worldwide recreation activity enjoyed by using a Global Positioning System. Games are available which take cachers to six sites on the Civil War Trail. To find out more about the game, visit www.geocaching.com.
Those still looking for a taste of history can also visit the Antebellum Trail "Columns and Culture.” The trail features homes that were a part of Athens during the Civil War, some of which were used as hospitals.
The Visitors Center is located at 100 Beaty Street North in Athens. For more information, call 1-866-953-6565 or 256-232-5411.