Days Gone By - stories from the pastGenealogy Information

Once a section of Alabama tried to secede from the state – here’s what happened

The people of Winston County, Alabama regretted that a majority of the delegates at the convention in Montgomery before the Civil War passed the resolution of secession, for they believed it meant war, death, and destruction.winston county

They did not believe that it was for the best interests of the Democratic party, or the country as a whole.

Statue in front of Winston County, Courthouse

duel destiny

Winston County is located in the hilly terrain of North Alabama. Its shallow soil is highly unsuitable for plantation-style agriculture, and thus the county was never home to very many slaves. The 1860 US Census shows there only 3,450 white residents in the underpopulated county, and just 122 slaves. Winston’s residents were mainly poor farmers who viewed the Confederacy with suspicion, fearing it was meant to maintain the political control of the wealthy planter class.”winston county

Winston County’s representative at the January 1861 Alabama Secession Convention was Charles Christopher Sheets, a 21-year-old school teacher. He refused to sign Alabama’s ordinance of secession, even after it had been passed by a vote of 61 to 39. Sheats became so vocal in his opposition that he was finally arrested. On his release, he became a leader of a pro-neutrality group. Later, he would become an open supporter of the Union and spend most of the war in prison.

Charles Christopher Sheets

Charles Christopher sheets

The Southern Confederacy, November 22, 1862

A Public House Without Sheets–The Alabama House of Representatives yesterday decided by a nearly unanimous vote, that Christopher Columbus Sheets, of Winston County, is no longer worthy to occupy a seat in the Legislature as a representative of any portion of the people of Alabama. The evidences of his complicity with the enemy were complete, and it was therefore due to the dignity of the House that he should be expelled. — Montgomery Advertiser

Many people of Winston County, Alabama were against secession and they were not alone in the attitude they took, for on page 524 of Volume 1, of Moore’s History of Alabama, he says: “Many people in North Alabama were not pleased with the work of the convention or with the Southern Confederacy…Secession was distinctly a South Alabama achievement…” Footnote, page 525: “That feeling ran high was evidenced by the fact that Yancey was burned in effigy in Lawrence County.”

 William Lowndes Yanceywilliam lowndes yancey

Many Winston County residents refused induction into the Confederate Army, and some spoke openly of organizing troops to support the Union. The worried state authorities moved to enforce obedience through conscription and loyalty oaths, which only made matters worse. A meeting was held at Looney’s Tavern, where a series of resolutions were passed. These stated that the people of Winston County had no desire to take part in the war and intended to support neither side. One resolution declared that if a state could secede from the Union, then a county could secede from the state. Richard Payne, a pro-Confederate, laughed with delight. “Winston County secedes!” he shouted. “Hoorah for the Free State of Winston!” From Payne’s remark was born the legend of the “Republic of Winston”

Payne is credited with coining the phrase “the Free State of Winston” during the Civil War.

Looney’s Tavern

payne and tavern


In April 1862, the Union Army invaded north Alabama. Many of the pro-Union Winstonians enlisted in Union Army’s new 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment. While the Union 1st Alabama Cavalry would play a heroic part in the war, they did so generally outside of Alabama.

From the California Newspaper, The Daily Evening Bulletin, 3/17/1864
Loyal Alabamians — The First Alabama Calvary Regiment.
Correspondence of the N.Y. “Post”
Pulaski, Tenn. Feb. 1, 1864
Submitted by Marie Young

But few persons are aware of  the existence of a loyal white regiment of Alabamians; yet it deserves honorable mention in this age of strife, as much for the circumstances under which it was organized, as for the signal service it has since rendered to the Government. This little body of men, around which thousands,many yet to gather, owes its organization chiefly to Col.George E. Spencer, its commander, and Charles B. Cagle of Winston county, Alabama. Uncouth and illiterate as was the latter, he possessed the qualities of bravery, fine feeling and native intelligence, which rendered him superior to his class in every respect. It is said he was never outside of Winston County until the war broke out of the State in the whole course of his life; but even while surrounded by ignorant people and pernicious influences, he was staunch and firm in our cause and never yielded in his determination to maintain it.

What the men of this regiment of Alabama have suffered none but those who have instead of the same bitter cup can conceive. Reared among slave holders, it was no easy matter for them to withdraw from their interests and openly support a cause in every way antagonistic. To avoid being swept away by the furious tide of Secession became an almost (Hercalean ? unreadable) task. Some were conscripted, in spite of every effort to avoid it, and afterwards arrested, coming into the Federal lines at the risk of life -sacrificing home, property, friends, everything in the act. Is it to be wondered at if these men, smarting under the sense of manifold wrongs, have proved themselves mighty in the use of the avenging sword – if their arms are steeled by intenser purposes, their nerves strung to more than ordinary endurance? And not for themselves only does the hot blood boil and surge through their veins. The nuity of the old States has been ruthlessly broken; the old flag which they were taught to love and honor, insulted. Summing up the whole, they have a fearful account to settle with the hot- headed authors of a nation’s distress.

The regiment was raised in Corinth, Miss.; its organization was completed in September last. The first company was raised in January, 1862 by Captain Burdick, and was composed entirely of the refugees then in the Federal lines and around Corinth. Immediately after the completion of the first company a second was started increasing thus until the entire twelve were filled. The regiment now numbers more than 1200 men, having for duty, at present, about 900 out of the 1200.

The (un-readable) recruiting was singular and ventursome. Men, acquainted with the country, were sent from the camps to the Union counties in Alabama, traveling at night and through the woods to avoid observation: in that way penetrating a distance of from 150 to 200 miles. They would then hide themselves in the caves and mountains, and by statagen manage to (un-readable) with the Union men. After having got together 40 or 50 men willing to run the risk of attempting to gain the Federal hues, they would start cautiously, travel by night and through the woods, siremanously avoiding the public roads till out of reach of danger. Under every trial this mode succeeded admirably, Corinth being reached safely in each instance. This was carried on so successfully for some time that Governor Shorter, of Alabama, offered $10,000 reward for the body of any Federal recruiting officer taken in the State. The numerous caves in Winston county, in the vicinity of Charles Cagle’s residence, made his house a favorite rendezvous for our recruiting parties. He received all who came to him cordially, fed and aided them in his power. For two years previous to his murder this poor fellow had been obliged to sleep in some of these caves for safety.

But to continue: as a specimen of the success of recruiting at that time, I will mention one instance worthy of notice. In September, Col Spencer selected Lieut.Wamel as the most suitable person for this purpose, directing him to raise a company in Walker county, Alabama. He traveled with a detail of packed men, a distance of some 200 odd miles. They walked the entire distance, got together 110 men, returning to camp in 15 days from the time of starting, bringing with them 12 prisoners and a valuable rebel mail. The (unreadable) of Wamel’s expedition gave him the caplaincy of the newly recruited company, and his brother officers unite in declaring that a braver or better man in not in the service.

Since the organization of the regiment it has been in constant and active service. It has captured over 900 prisoners. It has lost in one action, killed and wounded upwards of 100 men- 4 non-commissioned officers and 13 men killed, and 39 wounded. Col. Spencer had taken with him in the expedition 10 companies, numbering 520 men. They were attacked by Gen. Ferguson with 5 regiments and 6 pieces of artillery. Ferguson’s force was not less than 2,300 in number. This was the 26th of October. The fight lasted from 2 o’clock, P.M. until 8, when Col. Spencer withdrew his force under cover of night, leaving his surgeon to take care of the wounded. The surgeon reported the loss of the rebels about 150. Doubtless the escape of the regiment was a severe blow to the confederates, with their superior force; they had calculated upon an easy capture, and lost all.

Col. Spencer has been out on expeditions at various times, penetrating as far as Black Warrior, in the heart of the State, burning and destroying leather factories,mills, and tanneries, returning safely to Corinth. The Colonel has asked leave to raise a brigade, believing that he can raise three or four regiments in a short time.

Winston County itself was suffering from its own internal war. Confederate Home Guards in the county were poorly disciplined and often used their uniforms as excuses to settle old grudges. The Union men responded by forming their own irregular bands, and by the end of the war Winston County had been largely devastated by its own

After the 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. Winston’s unique history has become the basis of a small tourist industry, which included an outdoor drama loosely based on the events.  The theatre and surrounding park, which included a smaller theatre, a gift shop and a restaurant, were closed for financial reasons and is no longer open.duel destiny

A passenger boat named the “Free State Lady” plies the waters of nearby Smith lake. “Dual Destiny”, a memorial statue of a young soldier dressed half as a Union troop and half as Confederate, is frequently photographed.


  1. A Brief History of Winston County, Alabama By: Judge John Bennett Weaver
  2. Wikipedia

( continued)

TORIES OF THE HILLS Civil War Centennial Edition


Historical Reference Books

See all books by Donna R. Causey


Discordance:: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) A novel inspired by the experiences of the Cottingham family who immigrated from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to Bibb County, Alabama

Discordance:: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) (Tapestry of Love) (Kindle Edition)

By (author):  Causey, Donna R

List Price: $7.99
New From: $7.99 In Stock
buy now

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

Liked it? Take a second to support Alabama Pioneers on Patreon!


  1. Enjoyed this article. Am presently reading “Tories of the Hills” All of this is fascinating to me having grown up in Walker Co. and only recently found out about my ancestors who fought in the 1st Calvary for the Union.

  2. My 3rd Great Grandfather was at Looney’s Tavern that day.

    1. My Grandmothers Great- Great Uncle was Chris Sheats:)

  3. Do you have any stories about him?

  4. He was John Newton Lowrimore. He fought with the 1st Alabama Cavalry Union. Here is a testimony he gave for David Manasco.

  5. He was John Newton Lowrimore. He fought with the 1st Alabama Cavalry Union. Here is a testimony he gave for David Manasco.

    1. Steve my ancestor was Sarah Icedo Lowrimore, dau of Andrew (Andy), Son of William. We connect right? My Ingles come off of Peter Ingle.

  6. My Lowrimore’s are also mentioned in “The Bell Letters”. Elizabeth Lowrimore Bell is John Newton Lowrimore’s aunt.

  7. My Lowrimore’s are also mentioned in “The Bell Letters”. Elizabeth Lowrimore Bell is John Newton Lowrimore’s aunt.

  8. This is an excellent article on Winston County History…Do you think anybody will care in the future that the First 911 call or call center as well as the 911 code was created in Winston County,Alabama in the small town of Haleyville,Alabama on Feb.16,1968??? This historic landmark is Haleyville’s City Hall and is used daily by the mayor/water/fire/police/dispatcher and municipal court but yet the current mayor and council are in the process of selling it to a developer who plans to demolish this historic landmark and replace it with a CVS drugstore..Do you think it is worth preserving??? I do and I have tried every thing I know to do to make this happen..Our governor and our state and federal representatives will not get involved in local issues..This is a historic landmark known worldwide as the beginning of saving lives and should be preserved for future generations to visit and learn more about its humble beginnings..

  9. Very.true.history

  10. The Winston County Archives is across Hwy. 195 from the courthouse and Duel Destiny Statue.

  11. […] (continued from Once a section of Alabama seceded from the state – here’s what happened ) […]

  12. My family was part of The Free State of Winston 🙂

  13. Eileen Cummings LeMaster

  14. Read the book, “Tories of the Hills” by Wesley S. Thompson. What the people of Winston County went through simply because they did not want to be involved.

    1. If you’ve got a copy of Tories … it’s worth a lot.

    2. BTW I’ve read it along with So Turns The Tide, and The Free State Of Winston by Sylvester Thompson also the Annals Of Northwest Alabama by Carl Elliot have a lot of the history of that era. Volume 2 has the most.

    3. I have all of them. Hard backs

    4. I’ve got a copy…It’s all about my ancestors (mom’s side). Another good one is Southerners in Blue…several 3rd GGrandfathers in both.

    5. Another good read is The South Was Right by James & Walter Kennedy.

  15. There are no exit ramps onto I-65 in Winston County. Coincidence?

    1. I-65 doesn’t touch Winston County. Although prior to the civil war it did go to the area if I-65.

    2. There’s a sign for Double Springs at the 2nd Cullman exit.

    3. I 65 does not go through Winston county

  16. And it wasn’t just Winston County. Much of north Alabama was opposed to secession. But the hotheads in Montgomery prevailed.

  17. Supposedly when all the counties sent representatives to Montgomery for a vote on succession the man from Winston County made the statement: “We only have 3 slaves in the entire county, and we don’t think they are worth fighting a war over.” I thought that was a most enlightened and sensible statement.

  18. My gggrand was the first sheriff of Winston County

    1. After the war, mine was in Limestone

    2. So was my gg grand

      1. Post their names. They won’t mind. My gggrandfather, Joseph Benjamin Jackson was in the 1st Alabama Cavalry. His son, my great grandfather was named Union Asbury Jackson.

  19. I attended the Dick Payne memorial dedication at the Old Houston Jail. Took so many pictures and video that I came home feeling like a thief. The speeches were outstanding, especially a 20 minute one by a Confederate scholar who has taught the subject for decades.

  20. I have that book Donald L. Burleson. I’m going to get it back out and read it again..

  21. Very interesting. One of my ancestors, Greene Beauchamp, helped write the Alabama Constitution.

  22. Ownership of slaves back then is akin to owning a jet plane now,, both luxuries of the one %. Most wars only benefit that one %.. I’m always surprised how readily they can always find poor people to fight for their interests despite history always proving veterans are cast aside and forgotten afterwards. Nothing has changed .

    1. Interesting take on slavery. I never thought of fact that person was of some wealth in order to own slave. But an adult male was would bring around $1200 in 1850s. Such a strange concept now, it’s hard to imagine. My gr gr gr grandfather owned 8 slaves in Russell Co. Green Beauchamp was on list of top slave owners in Alabama history.

  23. I worked for Felton Collier, architect, while a student at Auburn. While we were designing buildings at Daniel Payne College, he told me about this and that they were the last county to get state funds for paving roads!!!

  24. Another book is Southerners In Blue by Don Umphrey.

  25. Very interesting piece of Alabama history. Used to be an outdoor play about this.

  26. Interesting. My family owned a lake house on Smith Lake in Winston County. I always wondered why — when driving down that dirt road in the middle of nowhere — there was a sign that said, “Welcome to the Free State of Winston County.”

  27. I was born and raised in Winston County.

  28. I grew up in Winston County, at Houston (the historical Civil War jail in Houston is incorrectly tagged as Looney’s Tavern), and had two great, great, grandfathers who fought in the war–one for the South and one for the North. The grandfather who was for the North later changed to the South after he met and married my great, great grandmother. When I was little there was an old wooden bridge between Houston and Arley we traveled frequently to go to my dad’s parents house in Arley.
    I remember being scared every time because it was so far down to the little creek that flowed through the canyon. That was before the dam was built at Curry to make Smith Lake.
    When dad was little Grandaddy Knight at Arley ran a grist mill in the middle of town, right where the town hall is today.

  29. […] This blog at its core is influenced by one of the strongest human desires…the quest for freedom.  The freedom simply to choose, to do, and to say what you think is right.  I admit I have been influenced by my upbringing, as I grew up in a rural county commonly referred to as “The Free State of Winston“. […]

  30. The sheets they talk about is kin to me

  31. According to The Free State of Winston by Dr. Donald B. Dodd, Winston County received almost no funding from the state until World War II because of their actions during the Civil War. Dodd also states that the meeting at Looney’s Tavern was also attended by Unionists from Lawrence, Walker, Blount, Marshall, Franklin, Fayette, and Marion Counties. Northwest Alabama was a hotbed of anti-secessionists with almost 2,600 crossing over to fight for the Union.

  32. Mississippi* My family was from Jones County. One was a Knight, supposedly related to Newt. But for that reason, no one would talk about her family. :/

  33. Even in Western North Carolina there were unionist counties

  34. There were union counties in every part of the Confederacy. In Virginia the entire western section of the state seceded to become West Virginia. It would be refreshing if these history posts were written with a stronger frame of reference and facts were checked (as noted below — the Free State of Jones is in Mississippi, not Missouri).

  35. Too bad he couldn’t prevail.

  36. […] Source: Once a section of Alabama tried to secede from the state – here’s what happened | Alabama Pionee… […]

  37. When my son was in the 4th grade and studying Alabama history, I told him the story about the Free State Winston. We live in Baldwin County so it’s not well known there. When I got home the next night, he excitedly told me his teacher wanted me to come tell the class about the Civil War. I told him that I had already told him all I knew.

  38. In Carl Carmer’s book “Stars Fell On Alabama” there was mention of a meeting in Montgomery before the war started. All the counties sent a representative that could vote on succession. Charles Sheets representing Winston County, and he told everyone that there were only three slaves in Winston County, and they wasn’t worth fighting over, so he reckoned he and his neighbors would stay out of the fuss.

  39. Growing up in blount county in the 50’s there was still animosity toward ‘The Free State of Winston’ by the average person. But even Blount county had soldiers for both sides.

  40. Just so you all know that is not the flag that they were carrying then. Definitely not in Alabama. that is a battle flag from one state not the Confederate flag for our state.

    1. Its a fine flag. Why does it need context?

    2. Wrong. The battle flag was carried by the Army of Tennessee, the Army of Alabama, Mississippi. Most Alabamians would have fought under the battle flag. After 1862 the battle flag was used by most Confederate Armies to prevent confusion.

  41. “The Free State of Winston County”

  42. My ancestor Peter Ingle was one of the early settlers of Winston County. He came over on a boat from Germany in 1776, was a Calvary officer in War of 1812, and not long after settled near Black Swamp, which I think is named Lynn now…….

  43. My great great grandfather was in the 1st Alabama Calvary that fought for the Union. There is a book called Southerners in Blue and he is in it.

    1. Same here. And that is a great book along with Tories in the Hills.

  44. Please don’t let this great statue be torn down.

  45. I was a Civil War Reenactor for over 20 years. Each reenacting unit portrays both CSA and Union (US) companies, according to the needs of an event. When portraying a Union company, my unit chose “the 4th Alabama Cavalry Co. B, U.S, from the Free State of Winston”. Although I am a true Southerner at heart, I was also proud of a very interesting part of our Alabama history.

  46. Take it down or you’ll offend an African.

  47. It didn’t mean war. Many in the North didn’t want war either and many publishers in the North who did were locked up by Lincoln. The right of secession was a right by most all legal minds of the day. That was proven when Jefferson Davis was charged with treason but never tried because most legal authorities believed he was not a citizen of the U.S. Most thought the courts would have exonerated him making Lincoln’s war illegal. Search “Jefferson Davis the famous trail that never was” very interesting read.

  48. […] DR version: Geography as destiny. Winston County, alongside present-day Blount and Cullman Counties, had practically no slaves at […]

  49. The picture labeled Looney’s Tavern is actually the old Houston Jail. It’s an interesting part of our history, but it is NOT Looney’s Tavern.

  50. […] of William W. and Mary Sheets, Charles Christopher Sheets was born in Walker County, Alabama, April 10, 1839. He received a good education at the Somerville […]

  51. My three times great grandfather was William Hilley of northeast Georgia. He and his wife had fifteen children, two of which died as infants. When the civil war came, William was too old to fight , but of his sons and grandsons he furnished eighteen confederate soldiers.
    There were no union soldiers in this family.

  52. Most Southerners did not support secession until Abe Lincoln called upon 75,000 troops from Southern States to invade South Carolina..

    1. Rusty Crane and some of us southerners flew the black flag against the Yankee

  53. As a spokesman for Winston County, Mr. Sheets spoke up for what the majority of the people in Winston County believed. I admire anyone that stands up for their beliefs and convictions.

  54. Morgan county voted against secession, but Decatur was torn to pieces.

  55. And they were correct.

  56. The South was right. And nothing had changed. The Beast Behind the Beltway still lives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.