Tap Roots, a 1948 movie based on a novel, presents a highly fictionalized and inaccurate version of Winston County’s Civil War history.
(continued from Once a section of Alabama seceded from the state – here’s what happened )
Winston County never actually seceded
Although Winston County, Alabama never actually seceded from the State of Alabama and the Confederacy, it was referred to as the Free State of Winston for many years.
Although Winston County’s Unionists wanted to be left alone, the governments of the Confederacy and of Alabama did not oblige. The hill-country Unionists soon faced Confederate conscription beginning in 1862 and many fled their homes, seeking refuge from conscription agents in the county’s rugged forests and canyons.
Natural bridge was a gathering point for Unionists
The natural bridge in western Winston County was said to have been a major gathering point for Unionists avoiding the draft or who had deserted from the Confederate Army. From Winston County, many of these Unionists eventually made their way north to the Tennessee River valley and joined the Union Army, most commonly enlisting in the First Alabama Cavalry, USA.
A few of the county’s residents, including Bill Looney, served the Union Army by helping Unionists escape to the safety of Union lines. In July 1862, Colonel Abel D. Streight led a detachment of Union troops into the hills to gather more recruits for the Union Army.
Colonel Abel D. Streight
Unionist farmers fled into the woods to avoid Confederate draft
The Unionist farmers who fled into the woods and to the Union Army to avoid the Confederate draft could not work on their farms. Hence, the county’s residents had difficulty growing enough food. Confederate impressment agents worsened matters by taking food and livestock from the county to feed the Confederate army.
After the Civil War, Winston County became a bastion of the Republican Party in Alabama, in sharp contrast to the overwhelming support for the Democrats in the rest of the state. In 1877, the eastern portion of the county became part of Cullman. The first county seat was Houston, but it moved to Double Springs in 1883.
Double Springs, Winston County, Alabama Courthouse
Excerpts from newspapers
The following excerpts from the Mountain Eagle of Walker County, Alabama, provide an idea of the hard feelings on both side after the Civil War about the incident:
Mountain Eagle, September 8, 1886
In Winston county there are only seventeen negroes, and out of that number only one voter. Another singular fact is that Winston, the whitest of all the white counties, was until recently the banner Republican county of the State. It furnished quite a number of soldiers to the Federal army. C.C. Sheets, who is a native of Winston county, has always been the leader of the people there and they followed him implicitly.–Advertiser.
Mountain Eagle, April 23, 1890
Winston’s First Convention. A special correspondent from Double Springs to the Birmingham Age-Herald says: The Democratic county convention of Winston convened here today. Hon. R.D. Templeton was elected chairman, with C.D. Hudgins for secretary. The convention adopted the platform of the last state and national conventions.
Hon. P.H. Newman was nominated for representative. Hon. Allen Weiler, A.M., principal of the Godfrey high school was nominated for county superintendent of education. The vote in both cases were unanimous. James Blanton was chosen a delegate to the state convention, with Duncan Wilson, alternate. Charles D. Hudgins the congressional delegate, with W.R. Bonds, Jr., as alternate. The delegates are uninstructed.
After the business of the convention was disposed of Hon. P.H. Newman was called for and made a brief but pointed speech, in which he pledged himself to support the principles of his party willingly, and, if elected, to labor for what he thought the best interests of his county and state at large. Mr. Newman’s remarks about the race issue in the South were exceedingly caustic, and whoever carries the Republican banner in this county will have a warm time defending his party from Mr. Newman’s fire on this point. Mr. Newman has served two terms in the general assembly and knows what he is about.
Hon. Allen Weiler and Hon. Duncan Wilson also made brief and telling speeches before the convention.
This is the first convention ever held in Winston county, and from the indications it is prophesied that it will result in Winston county going into Democratic tanks this summer.
Mountain Eagle, February 22, 1893
Winston County. An Eagle Scribe Visits The Free State. There is no county in Alabama that is more abused and at the same time a more profitable field for investment than the “Free State of Winston.” After an absence of eight or ten years it was the privilege of an Eagle representative to attend the recent spring session of the circuit court at Double Springs, the county site of old Winston, and that time had worked gratifying changes at once impressed us. True, the county is poor, and the people are poor, the roads are execrable, and the waters are menacing–but Winston is still on hand top-side up with mineral wealth, an abundance of good timber, and a veritable elixir of good health and good cheer.
The court passed off quietly enough–no capital case on the docket, a few trifling misdemeanors and but little civil litigations of consequence claimed the attention of our juvenile Judge Banks on the occasion of his first visit, but the Judge, as well as the court was “carried away” with the open handed hospitality and good feeling which animated everybody with whom they came in contact.
The charged delivered on Monday evening was listened to bated breath, and our new and capable Judge is indeed a “high flyer” so far as Winston is concerned, adapting himself readily to existing conditions and having a “hail fellow well met” with everybody with whom he came in contact, he established himself “forever and a day” in the good graces of the honest yeomanry of Winston.
Perhaps the most graceful act of Judge Banks was the prompted dismissal of two unfortunate women and their little children who were incarcerated on a charge of vagrancy and prostitution. The State surely cannot be so jealous of the liberties of her citizens as to insist on the conviction and punishment of such unfortunates, and we incline to the belief that the Judge’s lecture was of infinitely more advantage to the culprits than a term in the mines.
Judge W.R. Adkins, the veteran Winston journalist still conducts the Winston Herald while his son Geo. W. is editor and proprietor of the Eastern Star, published at Houston, the old county site. Mr. M.D. Townley is the proprietor of the Observer, a Republican paper published at Double Springs. We regret to say that these papers are at outs. The longest pole will get the persimmon.
Young men have charge of the county business, most of the officers being of Republican antecedents and proclivities. Mr. E. Blanton, formerly of Walker county, drives a prosperous mercantile business at the Springs, and the writer has pleasure in here acknowledging courtesies shown him. The venerable Esquire R.D. Templeton runs the Templeton Hotel. We regret that we found him in extremely bad health, and sincerely wish him an early recovery.
The attendance at court was extremely orderly and the absence of old “John Barleycorn” was as gratifying as noticeable. Court was held in the store house of A.J. Ingle, one of the oldest and most prominent citizens of the county, who is also vigorously opposed to the issuance of bonds to construct a new court house.
It is evident, however, that if Double Springs continues to be the seat of justice, she must take steps to rebuild her court house; for there are now several competitors for this distinguished honor and among them we may mention Haleyville which is perhaps the largest incorporated town in Winston. As the guest of Mr. Charley L. Haley, one of the most enterprising merchants of Haleyville, it was our privilege and pleasure to spend a night in that nobby little town, and that we had a delightful time everybody who knows Charley Haley will vouch.
The town is handsomely located on the celebrated Byler road, 40 miles above Jasper, and is the most important shipping point on the B.S.&T. between Jasper and Russellville. The mercantile profession is represented by C.L. Haley, J.R. Miller, A.J. Ingle & Co., Freeman & son, and Dr. J.C. Taylor, besides doing a fine medical practice, has a well equipped drug store in successful operation. Miss Belle Phillips, a most estimable and accomplished young lady, is driving an interesting school known as the “Haleyville High School,” which has an average attendance of 40 pupils, and is at the same time giving universal satisfaction.
Mr. F.M. McDonald is running a well equipped saw and planing mill and the country contiguous is well timbered is evidenced by the fact that piled on the side of the railroad awaiting shipment is some 20,000 railroad ties which were gotten out at renumerative prices by farmers owning lands in the vicinity.
Natural Bridge, Delmar and Lynn are interesting points in Winston to which we shall call attention in a future issue. In the meantime the readers of the Eagle are assured that the “Free State” is coming to the front at a 2:40 gait.
Mountain Eagle, June 1, 1904
Col. C.C. Sheats Dead. Col. C.C. Sheats was found dead in bed at his home in Decatur last Thursday morning. He had been in bad health for some time and has been unable to walk for several months.
Col. Sheats was a noted character of Alabama. He was one of the members of the secession convention who voted against Alabama going out of the Union. He was raised in Winston county and at one time was United States minister to Denmark. He was, shortly after the war, elected governor of the state, but was counted out.
Formally he owned valuable property in Decatur, but died a pauper in a hovel on Bank street. One of the handsomest residences in the city was his, but he willed it to his wife, who recently died, and who obtained a divorce from him some time ago.
Alabama’s official Outdoor Musical Drama, “The Incident at Looney’s Tavern,” was based on a factual meeting that unfolded in Alabama’s Winston County during the opening stages of the War Between the States.
The first performances of “The Incident at Looney’s Tavern” were staged in a shopping center parking lot in 1987. It was such a success that the theatre was built. The play was designated as Alabama’s official state drama in 1993.