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Official Website of Lookout Mountain Alabama

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History of DeKalb County Alabama -  Civil War Skirmishes

Although there were no major battles in this county during the Civil War, there were a number of skirmishes or small battles. Unfortunately, however, there are few written accounts of these encounters between detachments of Union and Confederate troops. Most of these versions are based upon tales, which were passed along by word of mouth for many years, becoming colorful legends that perhaps reflected to some extent the sentiments of the south.

During the centennial of this war, in 1961, J.A. (Jim) Johnson, of Fort Payne wrote an article for the Times Journal entitled "Two Civil War Scrapes in DeKalb," about stories which had been told to him by Henry Small, of Copeland’s Bridge, and a Mr. Lively of Fort Payne. Most of these accounts are probably fairly accurate, except for the part about a Captain May. Based upon the facts, as presented in Johnson’s article, the two following stories describe two local war skirmishes.

Late in 1863, a group of Union soldiers was foraging for food and supplies in DeKalb County and causing fear and alarm about the countryside. A detachment of General Bedford Forrest’s cavalry, sent to engage them, stopped at Copeland’s Bridge to eat some lunch at the Small house, located on a hill near Wills Creek. They were unaware that the Federal troops they were looking for were camped at the springs by the old Copeland Bridge Church and had seen them pass by.

The Union troops led their horses slowly through the woods north of the houses, intending to capture their pursuers. However, a young boy who was squirrel hunting spotted the blue uniforms and ran to the opposite side of the Small home to notify the Confederated that Yankee soldiers were coming. The southern soldiers scurried around hiding their horses and grabbing their guns in preparation for the enemy. When they emerged from the trees, guns in hand, they were greeted with gunfire and several fell to the ground wounded. The others carried their wounded comrades and retreated to their horses, riding away as fast as their mounts would go.

The other skirmish occurred in 1864, when a detachment of Union soldiers under a Captain May were camped at the springs south of Fort Payne, where the water works were later located. With their unsaddled horses tied to nearby trees, they were seated around a campfire eating when a Confederate scouting party, investigating the source of smoke, sighted them. With a Rebel yell, the southerners charged in swift attack, scattering the startled enemy forces in different directions. Left behind were the wounded, the horses, and part of the arms, and the soldiers hot food. Some Federal soldiers made their way northward through the valley and some crossed Lookout Mountain. It was Lively’s understanding that two of them; Captain May and another had hidden out in what was then known as Little River Gulf until the end of the war.

It was the son of one of the Confederate soldiers who told Johnson about this second skirmish. According to Lively, his father had explained why his group did not pursue the Union men as they fled on foot to hide in the timbers of Lookout Mountain. The Rebels were simply too hungry, he said, to leave the food the Yankees had cooked.

General May and the Gulf

General Andrew Jackson (Jack) May, of Kentucky, organized the 10th Kentucky Cavalry; commonly known as May’s Regiment, to fight for the Union in the Civil War. During the battle of Atlanta he was ordered from Tennessee to join General Sherman’s forces. Along the way, May (then a colonel) ran into some light opposition from Confederates who only slowed him down until the Rebels dug in on the eastern side of the gulf. Then, although out-numbered they withstood the Union forces under Colonel May for several days as a rearguard action while other Confederate troops wheeled north toward Virginia. May’s forces finally broke up and made their way to Atlanta in separate groups. Some of them crossing the gulf at what was known for years as "Yankee Ford". Following the war, General May was assigned to survey and map the area and labeled the canyon as May’s Gulf in his report. The canyon, which has never been privately owned, was remapped by the Department of Interior in the 1930’s. When DeSoto State Park was created, the land was deeded to the state. The name was changed to Little River Canyon in 1954.

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Winston Place B&B
1831 Ante Bellum Mansion

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"May's Gulf" now known as the Little River Canyon
National Preserve
(Photo by Dan Brothers)

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