When talk of the Civil War broke out in northwest
Alabama, approximately 2500 men in the area
had one thing in common - they were totally against secession.
While they did not want to fight against their southern neighbors,
they certainly did not intend to fire on the
"Old Flag" of their country.
Many of the anti-secessionist hid out in the hills
and caves of north Alabama, wishing to remain neutral. The caves
and deep gorges of Winston County provided a natural sanctuary
for these men. When this attempt failed, these men chose to remain
loyal to their country and the result of their choice was the
First Alabama Cavalry, USA, which was formed in 1862. One of these
men stated: "I have slept in mountains, in caves and caverns
till I am become musty; my health and manhood are
failing me, I will stay here no longer till
I am enabled to dwell in quiet at home, I am going tomorrow
to the Union army."
Three of these men included Andrew Ferrier McWhirter
(Great, Great Grandfather of the author) and two of his sons,
Thomas Andrew and George Washington McWhirter. When their attempt
to remain neutral was denied them, they saddled
their horses and rode over one hundred miles through the dense woods, dodging the Confederate Soldiers, to Huntsville,
Alabama to enlist in the Union army on July
On September 8, 1862, the First Alabama Cavalry,
USA was ordered to report "without delay"
to Nashville and was assigned to the Army of the Tennessee, Major General Ulysses S. Grant Commanding. After
arriving in Nashville, there was an outbreak
of measles and on October 8, 1862, Andrew Ferrier McWhirter's
son, George Washington McWhirter died from this disease in Army
Hospital #14. On October 23, 1862, just over two weeks later,
Andrew Ferrier McWhirter also succumbed to this disease, in the
same hospital. Army Hospital #14 was in fact
the Nashville Female Academy which was held by the
Union Army from 1862 until 1865. It was also used as headquarters
for the provost marshal and as a shelter for
Andrew and his son, George, were buried in the Nashville
City Cemetery, later being disinterred and reinterred in the Nashville
National Cemetery. Several other men who belonged to the First
Alabama Cavalry, USA are buried in this cemetery.
Thomas Andrew McWhirter was forced to continue the
war without his father and brother. He was involved in many battles,
captured by the enemy and held prisoner on several different occasions
and was with General William Tecumseh Sherman
on his famous "March To The Sea".
Thomas McWhirter survived the Civil War and was mustered out in
Nashville, Tennessee on July 19, 1865. He returned to his home in Marion
County, Alabama to face the hostilities of his southern neighbors.
The loyal men who served in the First Alabama Cavalry, USA followed their heart and fought for what they believed to be the right thing to do. They paid a terribly high price for their loyalty and convictions. Even after the war, some were threatened, some murdered, and all were scorned by their southern neighbors. Many of them moved west to escape the persecution.
Thomas A. McWhirter chose to remain in Marion County, Alabama.
On February 15, 1866, he married Mary Jane Hallmark and they had ten
children, several of whom died at birth or shortly after. He died August 27,
1917, and is buried in the Old Poplar Springs Primitive Baptist Church
Cemetery. His younger brother, Andrew Jackson McWhirter (Great Grandfather
of the author) was a Primitive Baptist Circuit Rider and was pastor of this
church for a number of years. He preached in TN, AL, MS and TX. It is said
that he preached in every county in Texas with the exception of three. He
was too young to fight in the Civil War.
Col. Streight estimated that Union sympathizers outnumbered the
secessionists "nearly three to one" in sections of Marion,
Walker, Fayette, Morgan, Blount, Winston and Jefferson Counties.
He also had this to say about the 1st Alabama Cavalry, USA:
"...surrounded by a most relentless foe, mostly unarmed and destitute
of ammunition, they are persecuted in every conceivable way yet up to this
time most of them have kept out of the way sufficiently to avoid being
dragged off by the gangs that infest the country for the purpose of plunder
and enforcing the provisions of the rebel conscription act. Their horses and
cattle are driven off in vast numbers. Every public road is patrolled by
guerilla bands, and the Union men have been compelled to seek protection in
the fastnesses of the mountainous wilderness...When it is taken into
consideration that these people were all hid to avoid being taken by the
rebels...this case is without a parallel in American history - I have never
witnessed such an outpouring of devoted and determined patriotism among any
other people....Never did people stand in greater need of protection. They
have battled manfully against the most unscrupulous foe that civilized
warfare has ever witnessed. They have been shut off from all communication
with anybody but their enemies for a year and a half, and yet THEY STAND
FIRM AND TRUE. If such is not to be rewarded, if such citizens are not to
receive protection, then their case is deplorable indeed."
Long after the Civil War ended, tensions between
Union and Confederate sympathizers in northwest
Alabama, remained high and for some, the war was never over.
An article published in the Marion
County Herald on May 30, 1889, entitled
"A REMARKABLE FAMILY", stated:
"Marion County has one of the most remarkable
families within her borders, probably, that exists within the
limits of the State. It is the family of Andrew F. McWhirter.
Some 50 years ago Mr. McWhirter moved to Marion County,
from Tennessee, and settled near Goldmine,
where he lived to the date of his death which occurred during
the war. At the time of his death he had 5 children, 4 boys and 1 girl. The daughter married Mr. Harbin and lives
near the old homestead. The boys are all temperate men, two of
them never even drank a cup of coffee and not one of them use
tobacco. The combined weight of the four men is over 800 pounds.
The four have 22 living children and 7 dead. Three of them are
farmers and one a preacher. The oldest, T.A. (Thomas Andrew) is
a farmer and is 47 years of age; W.H. is a farmer and 35 years
old; and A.J. (Andrew Jackson), who is the baby, is 30 years old
and weighs 211 pounds. He also is a farmer
(and preacher) and holds the office of county commissioner, and
by the way he is one of the best commissioners in the State. The
are highly respected, and gentlemen of moral worth, and men
of which any county might well be proud."