EARLY HISTORY OF S.E. AL
Beginning at top of a page numbered 313 - 317, a story follows:
. . . mounted infantry company in the western portion of Dale and left Haw Ridge the 24th of August 1862. Capt. Bethune's cavalry left Clopton the 26th of August 1862. No more companies were made up until just before opening the spring campaign. The J. O. Wiley of Troy raised a company and left Ledbetter's store in the eastern portion of the country, Feb 2, 1863.
(This paragraph had a label or piece of paper over it when it was copied and cannot be read in its entirety for transcribing as a working copy. Below is what could be read with omissions indicated " . . .") "This constituted the roster of volunteer companies in Dale County and consisted of nearly two thousand of the . . . . But it did not close the contribution . . . 1863 the age limit was extended and later in . . . Congress. Enrolling officers were . . . and those subject under the act were required . . . . Those found subject were allowed to . . . . in this way the regiments depleted by disease and the enemies' bullets in the field, were recruited. Some who were able hired substitutes to go in their place, and some others who were not eluded the conscript officers by going to the woods.
"The Confederacy was losing ground, her currency was depreciated, her supplies nearly exhausted, and her army out numbered four to one by a foe with almost unlimited resources. Pushed to the last ditch the Confederate Congress passed a measure carrying with it authority for the impressment of provisions, stock, and calling for nearly all classes hitherto exempt, including those who had put in substitutes. Many of these exempts went to the from under this drastic call, but some of them believed the war would soon be at and others were among a class who voted against succession in the outset. These latter classes went to the woods where they joined those who had evaded the conscript net of 1863, and a few others who had deserted their commands and come home. Up to the summer of 1864 Dale county had experienced little inconvenience and less injury at the hands of the enemy either domestic or foreign, but it was realized that trouble was being fomented. J. R. Breare, an Englishman by birth, and a lawyer by profession resigned his command at the front and came home, taking care to bring with him authority from the State department to organize a company to be know as the Home Guards. This organization had two objects, one was to force all who were liable to service to go to the front and the other, to protect the people in life and property against depredations either at the hands of the common enemy or of the dissatisfied element at home.
"The opposing elements were now organized and a little later on the clash came, filling the hearts of the people with consternation and staining the soil of our hitherto quiet section with blood.
"One wing of deserters had banded themselves together under 'speckled' John Ward, as he was known, and of whom the reader will hear more a little further on. They had a regular code of laws embraced in thirteen articles and by which they were governed. For reasons manifest later on we publish this code in full as follows:
ARTICLES OF AGREEMENT
"Article 1. That we will protect and defend each other under all circumstances at the risk of our lives.
"Art. 2. We do pledge ourselves to strictly observe and execute all orders given by the leader of the squad, or company.
"Art. 3. That we will strictly observe honesty, not pilfer, steal, nor take away anything from, or injure any person's property, unless it becomes necessary for our support, and then it shall be done by the consent of the leader, or a majority of the company.
"Art. 4. That no member shall be compelled to assist in taking of any secesh that is not in arms against us.
"Art. 5. That no one shall leave the squad, or company, without consent of the . . . .
"Art. 6. Anyone becoming dissatisfied and wishing to withdraw from the company shall have the right to do so by duly notifying the company, provided there be no charges against him.
"Art. 7. That we shall not be bound to protect the person, or property of any one that has not become a member of our company.
"Art. 8. Any person failing to report any violations of rules under his knowledge shall be considered as an accessor, and shall be punished to such.
"Art. 9. That good morality shall be observed, and gambling and card playing prohibited.
"Art. 10. Any person attempting to betray us shall be considered guilty of treason and shall be dealt with as such.
"Art. 11. Any one attempting to betray us shall be considered guilty of treason and shall be death with as such..
"Art. 12. In all cases of offenses a committee of three, or more, prominent members shall have the right to try any member and report to the leader who shall have the right to order the execution of decision in any way he may think best.
"Art. 13 If the leader shall assume any arbitrary authority that does not belong to him, on proof thereof he shall be cashiered.
"These articles of agreement seem to have been framed solely for the purpose of self preservation with perhaps a little cut at the secesshes in article 4, who might be in arms against them, probably referring more particularly to Breare's Home Guards. This 'squad', or company, had their headquarters at first in the swamps of the rivers in eastern Dale, but later they moved uncomfortably close to the little town of Ozark. Another bunch of deserters had their place of hiding in the swamps and thickets of the Claybanks, and still further west a few others were secreted. Some few were scattered about in other portions of the country, but I think those mentioned constituted the principal ones.
Breare's company was scouting the country in search of conscripts and these deserters. A knowledge of their mission in communities fired the hearts of the deserters and their friends and with a strange admixture of fear and determination - a condition of which desperation of which desperation is born and being well (can't read) they became more bold. The Yankees by this time had cut their way through Georgia to the sea and entered Florida. Small parties were raiding the western coast of that State and some of them threatened even our own country. All these events served to strengthen those who were fighting battles outside the ranks of the Confederate army. The leaders of the Confederate cause saw their armies swept down and the country overrun by the enemies; the men who had banded together to keep out of the war were encouraged that the conflict would seem ended, to keep out of the war were encouraged that the conflict would soon be ended, not the whole country was in an uproar. Breare's company had become desperate and the conditions were ripe for a last struggle - for anything that might happen. Both sides were preparing for this an the scenes of terror long read of by the quiet people of this section had them transferred to their very near doors. Thomas Speller was employed by the government to bring supplies of ammunition and other things from Montgomery by wagon, and he prepared top send his son, Alec, , then a young man grown was grown, and Nat, his twelve year old brother, with a four mule team on a journey. John Ward happened at Speller's old brother, with a four mule team on the journey. John Ward happened at Speller's house the morning the team left and learned at what time it would return and the route. He also knew that Lieut. Spears and Miller would accompany the team. Thus armed with all the facts he reported to the 'squad or company', and they determined to secure from the wagon as much of the ammunition as they desired. Accordingly they pitched their camp in a deep ravine between where Noel Dowling and M. G. Matthews resided and not far from the road by which the wagons would return. They watched the road.
"On Saturday, the 8th day of October, 1864, a little after 1 o'clock the team passed the residence of Noel Dowling. The deserters were in ambush scarcely a quarter of a mile from his home near a hog pen at the forks of the Newton and Ozark roads and where some short leafed pines, oak and chinqu3pin bushes stood, a little south and west of the Newton Road. Ward had ordered his men to not to shoot, as the booty could be taken without bloodshed. When the wagon rolled up to the fatal spot. Alec Speller heard someone say 'halt', but supposed it was Spears who was walking along behind leading his horse, and not heed. The next moment he heard a gun and raised up in the wagon to see what it meant. When he did he saw the men in ambush with guns presented and immediately dropped back under the wagon cover, but just as he did another charge of heavy shot was fired through the wagon sheet. The assassin had guessed well, and three shot passed through Speller's lips and mouth knocking out his front teeth, and three had pierced through his shoulder and breast. Lieut. Spears was lying with his face in the wagon rut dead, and Speller was almost fatally wounded. The deserters approached and took such things as they wanted, including a case of cartridges, then told young Nat Speller to 'git'. The deserters fled to the woods with their booty and the boy turned his team up the road towards Ozark. He stopped at Wesley Dowling's, the first house, one mile distant, where his brother Alec was cared for, and a Messenger dispatched post haste to summon Dr. J. C. Holman who was at the time boarding with Rev. A. Harris, three miles north. Under whip and spur the good doctor went to the relief of the wounded young man and dressed his injuries. The news spread as it on the wings of the wind, the people aroused. Breare's company arrived about night and scoured the country for the assassins. R.A.K. McDonald, assisted by S. J. Andrews, make Speares' coffin, and next morning his body was sent to Newton by Noel Dowling with an escort from the home guards. But the deserters had escaped and Capt. Breare determined to have revenge He arrested three citizens on suspicion that they had harbored the murderers and was going to hang them, but was prevented by the bravery of Capt., Jno. W. Dowling as told in a former chapter. He then secured blood hounds and began to scour the country. Four days later, the 12th of October , 1864, his men came upon the Ward 'company' in camp behind the big pine log three miles southeast of Ozark in what is now known as the Noah Carroll field. There a fight ensued during which H. H. Mizell, of the Home Guards, was shot in the hip. The deserters fought bravely but soon fled, all except Ward, who kept popping away, for he was a brave determined man. Seeing that his companions had fled, and that he could no longer hold the guards at bay, he also fled, leaving their camps and camp equipages. The Guards took possession, and what they found will be better told by the following letter which I found copied from a Columbus paper in the Montgomery Weekly Advertiser, date December 21, 1864, and which was found among papers in the hands of Mrs. Annie Jane Dowling, widow of the late Jno. W. Dowling.
"Rockey Head, Dale Co., Ala.
"The first call for troops by the Confederate Congress as for twelve months volunteers. In the winter of 1861, another call was issued for troops for volunteers for three years, or during the war. It was not until the early spring of 1864 that the Congress passed a conscript law, but providing for certain exemptions such as judges. Ministers, men owning a certain amount of slaves, and blacksmiths, shoe-makers, millers and a few others. The law also provided that those who desired could employ his able bodied substitutes to go in their places.
"Military post were established to carry out this provisions of this law. The post established at Newton is this county had Col. White of Tennessee for its head, Dr. Gray, as medical examiner, and Capt. McGuire, as orderly. Noah Fountain. A highly respectable and brave man, who kept a pack of hounds trained to run outlying slaves, volunteered as an attaché of Colonel White's post notwithstanding he was over age. His dogs were put in, also.
"Rather than to go to the front a number of men made their homes in the woods, some digging caves and other finding different places of refuge. A short time afterwards the Confederate Congress issued a call, extending the age limit and embracing a number who had been exempt under the former act. 'Speckled' John Ward, as he was called to distinguish him from others of the same name, was in the class of exempts now asked to enlist, and he employed Harrison Peacock as a substitute. When later the call embraced even those who had substituted in the field, Ward appeared before the board at Newton and was found subject to service. He was a man of means, owned a huge mill this side of Clopton, a plantation near by and other property. He was charitable to soldiers wives and widows and many bushels of meal were carried from his mill to their homes with little, or no, compensation. Beside many acts of kindness in spite of the fact that he was an ardent Union man. As a citizen he had always born a good reputation and was respected by the community, but this demand to enter the services of his country when he had employed a substitute, so enraged him that with an oath he told the board he would not obey. Ward returned home, burnished up his gun and took to the woods where he joined a of his. Noah Fountain lived in that community and Ward sent him word not to run him with his dogs on penalty of his life.
"About the middle of Sept., 1864, Noah Fountain with a detachment of Breare's company went on a scout in that section. They had captured Dolph Richardson and several others who were placed under guard. Fountain decided to go by home on the return trip, and as the route lay through Ward's plantation he left his horse and dogs, took John Hatton of the Guards, and struck out on foot. In the field they found two freshly made tracks, one of which was small, and recognized by Fountain as that of John Ward. Following it up they came to a cross fence running along the boarders of a small pond. The bushes and underbrush were very thick, and Fountain with gun in had, began to part the bushes. The breaking of a stick woke Ward and his companion who had fallen asleep just on the slope of the low bluff leading to the water, and Ward, seizing his gun, fired a charge of buck shot into Fountain's head and he fell mortally wounded to the ground. Hatton fled for his life, and Ward's companion dropped his gun and ran. As Hatton left Ward fled for his life, and Ward's companion dropped his gun and ran. As Hatton left Ward popped the cap on the other barrel of his gun, and then tried to empty both barrels of his companion's gun at him, but all failed to fire. Hatton reported the tragedy to Fountain's family, but they were afraid to go. The shooting took place about 3 o'clock and it was nearly dark when Fountain was taken to his home where he died during the night without regaining consciousness. Ward was hung for murder.
"This was the beginning of a reign of terror. In discharge of lawful duty the military post and Breare's Home Guard's had confined their action to legal lines without bloodshed, but now the evaders of law, on whatever pretense, had shed blood; the first blood -- and the military authorities determined on a more vigorous policy in the discharge of their duty.
"The who country was awakened and many realized that they were entering upon a series of bloody tragedies the end of which they could not foresee.
"Ward left the neighborhood then, and knowing he would be hunted down, organized a squad of nine men the better to protect himself, and made his headquarters in the river swamps; at the head of this squad, with laws for their government, and plenty of ammunition he felt reasonably safe. But they lacked ammunition, and determined to waylay the wagon sent to brings supplies to the Home Guards, which resulted in the tragic death of Lieut. Spears and the shooting of Alec Speller as related in our last chapter. To add fuel to the raging fires already burning the Yankees had reached had reached the sea through Georgia and bands as assembled on the Gulf coast. Sanders, and unlettered, but brave man, had organized a company of deserters and was making raids on the south and coming this way. The intrigues of a certain class of deserters and the rumored approach of the Yankees and Sanders with his men, had emboldered the more strong headed Negroes of the country and they had become insolent.
"John Ward moved his command from their quarters in the river swamps to the ridges, and soon after, the tragic killing of Lieut. Spears, the shooting of Alex Speller, and the battle at the pine log occurred.
"The deserters had instituted the reign of terror and bloodshed and Breare's men determined to protect the country at all hazards. Squads under the ablest leaders were sent out in search of the enemy, and an active campaign was waged on all lines. The Guards were supplemented in their work by the local patrol consisting of a few old men and beardless boys. On Sunday night, Nov. 20 1864, Spencer H. Matthews, John Calvin Parker, Tolbert J. Matthews, J. W. T. Smith, and Geo. Martin, were patrolling in the neighborhood to the south of Ozark. The night was dark, cloudy, and drizzling rain. Between where the colored Methodist church now stands at the forks of the road and the residence of Moses Matthews, the patrol passed two me, one riding a large bay mare with colt following, and the other riding a mule. They proceeded to Mr. Matthews and then turned south to William Matthews a half mile distant, and a half mile further down they were 'halted' under the large oaks in front of Elisha Matthews' residence. A detachment of Breare's cavalry, accompanied by William, son of the murdered Noah Fountain, had stopped there for a short time to rest. Young Fountain asked them if they had seen a mule, mare and colt on their own roads, and was told what they had discovered. Fountain accompanied them back y the route they had come, and Breare's cavalry went on up the road. The patrol got a light at a Negro cabin which was carried by Parker. Fountain recognized the mule's track as the one stolen from his lot by a peculiarity to the shoe he wore. They proceeded towards the forks of the road where Breare's men were to wait. When they got close enough for the light to begin to shine under the oaks they were frightened, but the report of a gun, and a moment later by the fire of another. They rushed to the scene and learned that as they approached a man stepped from behind a tree near Sam Windham, and he grabbed him by the aid of another in a hand to hand struggle in the dark they had made him fast. Two others had run away the squad, firing without effect at both.
"After some parleying the prisoner gave his name as Spencer (Dock) Prim. A short time after more guns were heard in the woods to the east, and believing that the men who escaped were firing a signal for companions, they hurried their prisoner to town where he was guarded for the night. The next morning it was learned from Prim that a Negro named Aus was one of the men with him. Aus was a stout black Negro belonging to T. G. Blackman whose guests they were, and they so informed their host. But such an important capture made it necessary to notify Capt. Breare and a messenger was dispatched. During the later afternoon of Monday the whole company arrived on the scene and a council was held. It was decided to scour the country to find others if possible and to make Aus tell the whole story. One Tuesday morning Aus was taken out to the gin house near by and bucked down to the still. A buggy trace was secured and he was given a severe flogging, after which he made a full confession. He said that Red, a Negro belonging to Moses Matthews, and one other, at the instance of Prim and another man, had stolen their masters stock, and the crowd were to escape to Sanders' raiders who were in the woods close by, carrying with them the stock belonging to Fountain also. They had heard Breare's men coming, but thought to hide in the darkness until they had passed by. Instead they stopped under the same trees with them, and when they saw the light coming kne3 they must be discovered and attempted to escape.
"Up to this time no new discoveries had been made, neither had Prims made any definite confession, and it was resolved to discover evidence if possible, to connect Prim with the killing of Spears. Having learned that Vine, a mulatto Negro woman belonging to M. G. Matthews, was laying out with the deserters at the time Spears was killed, Capt. Breare sent a detachment after her. This was now Wednesday morning, and I had been one of the guards over Spears the night before, though nothing but a boy. It was cloudy, cold and drizzling rain. A big fire was built forty yards west of Blackman's gate and near a large black gum tree. An old road, the one leading to Merrick's old store, had cut a route in the surface in that the fire was raise. About 10 o'clock the detachment was seen coming up the road with the Negro woman and Capt. Breare ordered fifteen men to throw blankets over their shoulder and sit down around the west side of the fire. The prisoner was ordered to be dressed in the same way and to take a place about the centre of the group. The most intense interest was felt but scarcely a word was spoken. Vine was brought to a point east of the fire and asked if there was anyone in that company who left camps on the morning Spears was killed. Looking around she replied in the affirmative. She was asked who, and she pointed at Prim, and said 'that man'.
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11/04/2009 Last updated
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