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Emma Sansom - Civil War Heroine

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Emma Sansom - Civil War Heroine

During Col. A. D. Streight's cavalry raid across north Alabama (April 19-May 3, 1863), he was pursued by a Confederate force half the size of his Union company. Led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederates had several advantages. They were riding horses; the Union troops were riding mules (except for a small contingent of cavalry composed of north Alabama Unionists who were showing Streight the way). Horses were faster and quieter. Stories from the north Alabama hills tell that one could hear the braying of Streight's mules for miles. For this reason, Southerners called Streight's Federals the "Jackass Cavalry." During the raid, a sixteen-year-old Gadsden, Alabama girl became one of the most well-known heroines of the Confederacy. In 1914, when French horse-armies were being slaughtered by German machine guns in World War I and the cavalry was instantly made obsolete, Bennett H. Young, a Confederate cavalry officer, published a book about several Confederate engagements, including the story of Streight's Alabama Raid and Emma Sansom.

The following is from pages 472-478 of Bennett H. Young, Confederate Wizards of the Saddle, 1914; reprint, Kennesaw, Ga.: Continental Book Co., 1958.

By the afternoon of May 2d, the pressure of Streight and his men by Forrest was at its fiercest tension. Guided by his two companies of Alabama refugee horsemen, Streight had been told if he could only cross Black Creek and burn the bridge, that he might hope for a few hours' respite, and if he could not feed his weary men and wearier beasts, he could at least let them sleep enough to restore a part of their wasted energy, and from a few hours' repose get new strength for the struggles and trials that yet faced them in this perilous campaign upon which they had so courageously come....

Sitting in their cottage, mayhap talking of the soldier brother, there fell upon the ears of these defenseless home-keepers strange sounds: the galloping of horses, the clanging of swords, frequent shots, sharp, quick commands. They wondered what all this clamor could mean, and rushing to the porch, they saw companies of men clad in blue, all riding in hot haste toward the bridge over the creek. They were beating and spurring their brutes [mules], which seemed weary under their human burdens, and in their dumb way resenting the cruel and harsh measures used to drive them to greater and more strenuous effort. The passers-by jeered the women, asked them how they liked the "Yanks," and told them they had come to thrash the rebels and run Bragg [Gen. Braxton Bragg] and his men out of the country. They said "Old Forrest" was behind them, but they had licked him once and would do it again.

The well in the yard tempted them to slake their thirst, and dismounting, they crowded about the bucket and pulled from its depths draughts to refresh their bodies and allay the fever that burned in their tired throats. They asked if they had any brothers in the army; and not to be outdone, the women said they had six, and all gone to fight the Yankees. Two cannon went rumbling by. The men on their horses were belaboring them with great hickory wythes, and were driving at a mad pace to get over the wooden bridge. Some of the blue-coated men came in and searched the house for guns, pistols, and opened and pried through the drawers of the wooden bureau, and looked in the closets and presses and under the beds; but they found nothing but a side saddle; and one, more malignant than the others, drew his knife from a sheath dangling by his side, and slashed and cut its skirts into small pieces and threw them upon the floor at the feet of the helpless women.

The line grew thinner. In double and single file some stragglers were all that was left of the men in blue, and then the rear guard came, and over the creek the women saw the cannon on the banks, the horses unhitched, and the little Federal Army dismounted, scattered out among the trees and bushes and standing with guns in their hands, waiting for somebody else to come. They saw the men tear the rail fence down, pile the rails on the bridge, and then one started into house; and, seizing a piece of blazing coal from the chimney place, ran in haste to the bridge and set fire to the brush and rails, and the flames spring high into the air. They looked down the road and wished that some men in gray would come and drive away these rude soldiers who had disturbed the peace of their home, ungallantly destroying their property, and cutting into fragments their saddle which had come as a gift from the dead father whose grave was out in the woods near the garden gate. As they looked down the road, they saw one single blue-uniformed man riding at highest speed, rushing along the highway

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