Uncovering nuggets of buried history


I love to read; I especially enjoy reading history. A while back, I wrote about who is the real Lone Ranger. You can find it somewhere on the Chronicle’s website if you are interested. In that column, I share how myself, and more knowledgeable historians than me, were convinced that the Lone Ranger was based on the real lawman in Oklahoma Territory, named Bass Reeves. I was excited to see Paramount produce a series, called “Lawman: Bass Reeves.”

In the series, Reeves leaves a silver coin, just as the Lone Ranger did in the TV series from the 1950s. Bass also rides a white horse. Hmm, if you have not seen the series it’s worth binging. David Oyelowo, a British actor and director, stars as Bass Reeves. The series also features other notable actors, like Donald Sutherland and Dennis Quaid.

Because of my love for history, I get especially excited when I come across nuggets about the American Civil War, nuggets that are not well known and may have been buried by Confederate sympathizers. I came across a book by Howell Raines, former executive editor of the New York Times, entitled “Silent Cavalry: How Union Soldiers from Alabama Helped Sherman Burn Atlanta — And Then Got Written Out of History.”

This book is about a little-known cavalry regiment from northern Alabama that refused to fight for the Confederacy. The residents of Winston County, Alabama, were loyal Unionists in a deep South state. They declared themselves the “free state of Winston.” They helped end the war by aiding Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in his infamous march to the sea that effectively ended the war (Google information about Sherman if you are not sure who he is).

This unit was the 1st Alabama Cavalry. They were scorned by their state — their story never came to light. Why? It would be forever adrift in the “Lost Cause” myth (not sure what the lost cause myth is? Google it to find out). For Raines, the story is personal; he is a native Alabamian from Winston County. Haines writes in an article in the Washington Post, “His name is a version of the biblical name Hames Hiel Abbot, who helped his son slip through enemy lines to join the First Alabama … That son is buried in the national cemetery at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Until a few years ago I was among the thousands of Southerners who never knew they had kin buried under Union Army headstones.”

Raines later tells the Guardian, “My paternal grandmother gave me the first hint, when I was about 4 or 5, that our family didn’t support the Confederacy.”

Raines writes in the introduction to his book, “History is not what happened. It is what gets written down in an imperfect, often underhanded, process dominated by self-interested political, economic, and cultural authorities.”  Raines goes on to say, “Histories of the Confederacy were written, and supported, by Dunning-trained scholars who developed a warped history of the Confederacy: Very, very racist, very classist in terms of their contempt for Southern poor whites,” referring to William Archibald Dunning, a historian at Columbia University.   

Raines’ book is a journey into the people and times in the Alabama Hill Country. As Lincoln Loyalists, they believed that all persons are created equal. This belief in equality was fostered by the deep roots of the Church of God in this area of Alabama. They did not buy into the common myth, during those days, that Black people were somehow inferior to whites.

Another book about these brave Union Alabama hill people, “Tories of the Hills,” was written by Wesley S. Thompson. “Tories of the Hills” is a novel set in the Civil War era, set in Winston County, Alabama. It was initially published in 1953 and has been out of print for a long time. I cannot find a used copy of the book anywhere, but I would love to read it. Another book that talks about these Union Alabamians is “Free State of Winston,” by Don Dodd and Amy Bartlett-Dodd. This book is still available.

The citizens of Winston County were also a part of a spy network that infiltrated the Confederacy’s inner workings in the South. It is refreshing and heartening to hear and read stories like these. Brave men and women from the Alabama Hill Country stood against racism, and for freedom, and did not back down.

Inspiring examples for us to follow today, don’t you think?   


Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at drstride@icloud.com.