The campaign at Crooked Creek

Published 11:00 pm Friday, July 1, 2011

Union Cavalry fords Black Creek ahead of Forrest’s brigade

For just a day, Pike County farmer Joe Murphy traded his “overalls” and pitched his “fork” for a Confederate uniform and a horse and a day at Crooked Creek.

Murphy has long been a student of history and the Civil War has been of great interest to him because his great-great grandfathers fought with the men in Gray.

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So, when Civil War re-enactor, Bob McLendon of Troy called Murphy and asked him to participate in a re-enactment of Streight’s Raid, he agreed to leave the farm behind and play soldier for a while.

“Streight’s Raid was a Civil War campaign conducted by Union colonel Abel D. Streight from April 19 to May 3, 1863 to destroy portions of the Western & Atlantic Railroad,” McLendon said.

The campaign’s significance lies in the legends that grew up around Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest’s capture of Streight and his men and the aid of Emma Samson, McLendon said.

“I had been asked to participate in a documentary that was to be made for the Crooked Creek Civil War Museum in Cullman County,” McLendon said. “The documentary will be about the Battle of Day’s Gap that took place in Cullman County near Sand Mountain,” McLendon said.

Cullman County was along the path of a Streight’s provisional brigade’s mounted raid across northern Alabama and into northwest Georgia wherey it would strike the Western & Atlantic Railroad, one of the Confederate Army of Tennessee’s supply arteries located at Rome.

“ Streight and his men left Tennessee for northwest Georgia on mules to destroy the railroad,” McLemdong said. “This was an infantry unit and many of the men had never been on a horse or a mule but the War Department decided for them to ride the more surefooted mules.”

McLendon, laughingly, said that Streight’s provisional brigade lost a day of travel time because his men kept getting bucked off the mules.

As Streight’s brigade moved through North Alabama, Forrest and the Confederate Cavalry gave chase that culminated at the Battle of Day’s Gap.

During the fight, McLendon said Streight’s men thwarted Forrest’s attempts to surround him from the rear. Undeterred, Forrest resumed the attack against Streight’s men who had dismounted and occupied a ridge along Hog Mountain to prepare for what they thought was a larger force.

“Forrest was greatly outnumbered but Streight didn’t know that because Forrest tricked him by running cannons in circles where Streight could see them, giving the appearance of a much larger force than he had,” McLendon said.

Later, Streight crossed Black Creek ahead of Forrest and burned the only bridge impeding the Confederate pursuit.

“Black Creek was swollen and Forrest’s men couldn’t cross,” McLendon said. “Forrest rode to a nearby home and found 16-year-old Emma Samson who helped him locate the ford. Forrest crossed it and caught up with Streight’s force. One thing that helped Forrest was that when Streight got to Black Creek, the mules his men were riding were so thirsty that they wouldn’t stop drinking and that delayed their progress.”

Streight finally surrendered his command but that’s a whole other story, McLendon said.

“What we re-enacted for the documentary for the Crooked Creek Civil War Museum was the Battle of Day’s Gap at Crooked Creek,”

Murphy said he knew little about the campaign or the legends that surrounded it. He was interested in learning and excited to have an opportunity to participate in a re-enactment and to learn, in a small way, what it was like to be a soldier during the Civil War.

“I know a good bit about the Civil War,” Murphy said. “But what I have learned is mainly out of history books — about the campaigns and where they were fought and who fought them. But to participate in a re-enactment is another page of the books.”

Murphy has a Confederate uniform and Union uniform and he had the opportunity to wear them both at the Battle of Day’s Gap.

On one shooting of the documentary, Murphy wore the Blue and portrayed a Union soldier. Then, he pulled off the Blue for the Gray and mounted his horse and joined the Confederate cavalry.

“It was interesting to have some idea of what a day in the life a Civil War soldier was like,” Murphy said. “The uniforms, for example, were made at different depots – Atlanta, New Orleans, Richmond — and each was different so you could tell just by looking at a soldier where his uniform was made.”

Murphy said being involved in a re-enactment was an interesting and learning experience and also very rewarding.

“We are in a decade of history, the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the War Between the States,” he said. “Being a part of the re-enactment was like being a part of history. The Civil War is of interest to me because of my ancestors who fought in it.”

Murphy said that, to try to understand how a man could take up arms against his own country, you can’t use today’s mindset.

“You have to keep an open mind based on those times,” he said. “At that time, the South was the richest part of the country and Southerners were paying a large portion of the taxes – it was greatly overbalanced. And, the North had a larger population so they had more votes in Congress to go their way, so there was tension on both sides.”

With each side thinking their cause was just, families were divided and war raged. When the war finally ended, around 620,000 men had died and the Union had been preserved.

As re-nactors, McLendon and Murphy bring to life battles from this great war and hopefully greater understanding of those who fought them and respect for the decisions they made to fight for a cause they deemed just.