An Excerpt from
DALE COUNTY AND ITS PEOPLE DURING THE CIVIL WAR
(Reminiscences of Mary Love (Edwards) Fleming)1
When the Civil War was going on I was quite a young girl, consequently, my recollections of that period are not as accurate as or complete as those of a person of; more mature age at that time. But before writing these pages I have confirmed the accuracy of my recollections by talks with my mother, aunts, uncles, and brothers, who are still living near our old home.
Home in western part of Dale County
Our home was in the western part of Dale County in south-east Alabama, seven miles west of Ozark, five miles south of Haw Ridge, and about one mile from Clay Bank Creek. This creek is almost as large as Pea River, which flows through Dale and Coffee Counties and about ten miles from us. There were two large mills situated on this creek, one a mile east of us, belonged to Judge Crittenden, and the other, Parrish’s mill, was about two miles away and further down the creek.
Dale County is named after Alabama Pioneer Captain Sam Dale
At Crittenden s mill lumber was sawed, corn ground into meal, and rice was cleaned. There was also a wood shop and a blacksmith shop there. At Parrish’s mill corn was ground into meal, and the little wheat that a few of the farmers occasionally raised, was ground into flour. This grain did not seem to thrive in our country, and consequently little of it was planted.
Almost all of the citizens of our neighborhood were well to do, respectable people. I do not think I have ever known any better society in town or city than we had there. Of course, it was not as fashionable and ceremonious or wealthy a community as some others, but life there was wholesome and good, which cannot be said of a great many places today.
The Crittenden, Edwards, Mizell, Ardis, White, Mobley, Matthews, Martin, Goff, Chalker, and Byrd families were the principal ones living in our neighborhood. Nearly all of these families came originally from Georgia. The Martin and, I think, the Byrd families came from North Carolina. My relatives,-the Mizells, the Edwardses, and the Whites,—emigrated from Georgia to Russell (now Lee) County in middle-eastern Alabama, and settled in and near Opelika and Salem, from there they went to Dale County before our family went there, which was when I was about two years old. More families came soon after, and soon it became a thickly settled community.
The Crittenden Family came from Georgia about 1860, and the Ardis family just after the beginning of the war. Mr. Ardis had sold his home in Pike County, near Perote, expecting to go west, but he was prevented from doing this by the outbreak of the war. So instead he moved to our neighborhood in Dale County. He had a large family and a hundred or more slaves, and it was said that he found it difficult for a time to get enough for them to eat. Moving at the time that he did made it much harder for him.
Dale County Court House in Ozark ca. 1900
They were the two wealthiest in neighborhood
The Ardis and the Crittenden families were the two wealthiest in our neighborhood. Mr. Ardis had more slaves than any other man in our community and Judge Crittenden was next in wealth and owned nearly as many slaves. Then in the scale came my Grandfather Edwards, my father’s father. Grandfather Edwards had about twenty-five slaves, my Uncle Amos Mizell had twenty or more, and several others had almost as many.
Mr. Grandfather Mizell, my mother’s father, owned only one family of slaves when he died about 1858. He lost most of his slaves when he was a comparatively young man by standing security for a brother-in-law. That was an unsafe way of doing business but was common at that time. My father had only one family of slaves,-Henry and his wife, Maryland their three girls and one boy. My father was quite a young man when he married, only twenty years old, and he was only thirty-two when he joined the Confederate Army. So he had not had time to accumulate much property.
Grandfather Edwards gave him the negro woman, Mary, and her baby daughter when my father was married, though her husband, Henry, lived and worked on our farm Grandfather gave Henry to us as a protector when my father left home to join the army.
The Edwards, Mizell, Crittenden, and.Ardis families had the farms in our community, though there were other farms as well improved and cultivated. The Crittendens and Ardis soon became related to us by several marriages, for after the war an uncle, a cousin, a brother, and a sister married into the Crittenden family, and two of my uncles (Ambrose and Young Edwards) married Ardis girls.
The ladies of these families dressed well, some in silks and satins. I remember Grandmother Edwards was a very dressy did lady She always had a black silk dress, and she nearly always wore that or a fine white dress when she went to Church or to visit relatives and friends She wore white more of the time in summer. Before the war she wore a mantilla for a wrap when it was cool, and in summer a linen duster. She was a very religious old lady, and read her Bible as much as any one but she never outlived the pride of being well dressed.
Grandmother Mizell was also a good, religious, high-principled woman, but she was so afflicted with paralysis that she was confined to her home nearly all the time that I can remember her. When the war began she could do little but knit, and finally she became so helpless that she could scarcely walk, and she could not do any work except pick the seed out of the cotton. She employed herself at this much of the time as long as she was able to sit up, but she was confined to her bed two years or more before she died in 1868. It was said that the cotton she picked from the seed by hand was better for spinning purposes than the cotton that had been ginned, It seemed a slow and useless work, but she had always been such an active and industrious woman that she could not be satisfied to be absolutely idle.
My Grandfather Edwards had had a limited education for he had poor opportunities to attend good schools in his youth, but he greatly improved what education he had by wide reading. He was a strong-minded ambitious man and accumulated his property by his industry and good management. He exerted a strong influence for good because of his exemplary life and his justice and good judgment.
My Grandfather Mizell died when I was such a small child that I do not remember much of him, but from others I know that he was a good, religious, high-principled man, and a preacher in the Methodist Church. Many years before his death he had been a missionary to the Indians on their reservation in Russell County, Alabama. When he died he left my Grandmother and two unmarried daughters, Adeline and Jane.
We were not wealthy
None of our people were wealthy, but almost all these families had slaves,—some a few, some a hundred or more, and a few who owned none. But all moved in the same circle of society, attended the same Churches, and schools, and all were respected alike.
There were no class distinctions, and all were treated alike at social gatherings. Ours was a thickly settled community. Scarcely any of the families lived more than a mile from the nearest neighbor, and many of them were as near as a quarter or half a mile. Some of the young people and their elders visited the cities and towns often enough to keep up fairly well with the fashions, and relatives and friends from the cities returned these visits.
Some of the wealthier women wore silks and satins, but most of them dressed in the commoner materials, cotton or wool, but made with care and taste although the sewing was done almost entirely by hand. Only two families in our community had sewing machines when the war began, but this did not prevent the women and girls from putting a great deal of work on their clothes. Some of the ladies almost covered the skirts of their dresses with ruffles, when that was the style. Many of them did a great deal of embroidery and other fancy work. My two maiden aunts, Adeline and Jane Mizell, did more embroidery than any others that I knew, and their work was prettier and more intricate.
Memories of the Indian Wars
Dale County was more recently and more thickly settled than the central part of Alabama. The land was more fertile than in eastern Alabama, and the men were all farmers. I suppose that was the reason that so many people left Russell County and went to Dale County during the forties and fifties.
My Mizell and Edwards grandparents and their families were living in Russell County at the time of the Indian War in 1836. One of my uncles, William Williams, nearly always had several Indians working for him. These Indians liked him and his family, and when they knew that there was to be war with the whites, they warned my uncle and told him that he and his people had better leave the country.
Grandfather Mizell was a local Methodist minister and missionary to the Indians. The Indians had great respect and reverence for him, they had the utmost confidence in what he told them, and often went to him for advice and counsel. They told him that they did not want him or his family ever to be hurt by their people. So, on the eve of war, they warned him, too, to leave the country, and my Grandfather Mizell with Uncle William Williams and other white settlers took their families in wagons to their relatives in Georgia.
Some of their property they took with them. But much of it was left at their homes. When they returned after all danger was passed, much of their property had been destroyed and some of their houses had been burned. But the Indians had harmed nothing on Grandfather Mizell’s place. They said that Grandfather was a good man, and that they were afraid the Great Spirit would be angry with them if they destroyed anything belonging to him.
I have often heard my mother and my Aunt Jane (both of whom are still living (1902), relate stories of the Indian War and of the massacres which occurred when they were small children living in the Indian country. They told of the raid on the home of one of my uncles after the family had fled, when the Indians stuck a dog head foremost into a large jar of lard and left the animal there.
At the home of another relative the Indians heaped the feather beds in the middle of a room, built a fire under the house and left, expecting that the house would burn. But the fire went out after it had burned a large hole through the floor. A short time before the Indian War began a small Edwards cousin was shot and killed by an Indian’s bow and arrow while the child was on his way to a neighbor’s house with his little sister. My Aunt told us of hearing of white babies whom the Indians threw into the air and caught on the points of their knives.
Nearby towns and villages
Westville was a small village in our community and about two miles from our home. I think that Eufaula, about six miles away, was the nearest town located on a railroad. Eufaula and Greenville were the cotton markets for the Dale County farmers before and for some time after the war. It usually took the cotton wagons five or six days to make the trip to market and return. They would carry cotton and return loaded with dry goods and groceries for the Westville merchants. After the war the railroads were built nearer and nearer until the Central of Georgia and the Atlantic Coast Line came almost to our doors.
Grandfather Edwards lived in Westville, as did his son-in-law, Mordecai White, who soon after the close of the war moved to Autauga County, Alabama. Autauga County honored him several years ago by sending him to the state legislature as their representative.
His wife, my aunt, was burned to death at her home near Autaugaville by the explosion of an oil lamp, when she covered the lamp with her dress to prevent the burning oil from being thrown on her small children.
The Kennons were a good family that moved from Georgia to Alabama and lived in Westville. They were related to us by marriage as my Aunt Adeline Mizell married Dr. John Kennon in 1869. The father and one son were physicians, and all moved to Texas, after the close of the war.
Westville had only one store, a woodshop, a blacksmith’s shop, and Dr. Kennon’s shop, for in those days every doctor kept his own drugs.
The tanyard owned by Mr. Ardis was nearby. The post office at Westville was in the store. For some time we had weekly mail, later twice a week, which was carried through the country on horseback or in buggies until long after the Civil War when the railroad was built through Ozark, nine miles away. During the war, the mail was carried on horseback altogether as buggies were not plentiful enough to be used for that purpose. The store was kept by my Uncle Mordecai White until he went into the Confederate Army, then it was kept by another man in the community. The merchants bought their goods in the nearest towns where they sold their cotton,-in Eufaula and Greenville, Alabama, and sometimes in Columbus, Georgia. There were very few poor people in our community, not more than two or three families that I can remember who did not own their homes. These families rented small farms or worked at the tannery or in the mills, and all made respectable livings. There was one worthless man who lived about three miles from our home and near the Crittenden place. I think he owned his little farm, but he was so lazy that he would not work enough to support his family.
When poor families could not make a living because of sickness or any other misfortune, they were helped by their more prosperous neighbors. Nearly everyone had a good common school education; some went away to better schools, but few, and none that I can remember ever went away to college, for that was not considered so necessary as now. A few who wished to practice law or medicine went to the cities to study these professions.
Everything was different after the Civil War
Before the Civil War, our people dressed well, and lived comfortably, and had good schools and churches, but after the beginning of the war, how different everything was! I have said that there were no social classes, but when it came to marriage the young people whose parents were better educated and were wealthier and owned many slaves seldom married into families that had less.
Wealth then consisted chiefly of land and slaves.
I knew one young lady who said she never expected to be married as her father would not consent to her marrying the young man she loved because his family had fewer slaves and less land than her family. He was a fine young man, better educated than she was, and her equal in everything except in property. But the war with the freeing of the negroes put an end to this inequality and she married the young man and with her father’s consent. The young lady was Joanna Ardis, the only daughter of Mr. Isaac Ardis, the wealthiest man in our locality, and the young man was my uncle, Ambrose Edwards. As-soon-as Uncle Ambrose came home from the war, he continued to make love to her and as the negroes were all freed, her father no longer looked unfavorably on the marriage. He gave his consent quite willingly not only to this marriage but also that of another of my uncles, Young Edwards, to his piece and ward, Mattie Ardis, the only daughter of his brother who was dead. These girls were double first cousins, as their fathers were brothers and their mother’s sisters, and their husbands were brothers. Mr. Isaac Ardis was guardian of his brother’s children, and both families lived near together on the same plantation.
A grand double wedding
They had a grand double wedding, which surpassed anything we children had ever seen. It was a country wedding, and there were more than a hundred guests. This took place soon after the close of the war when there still were plenty of servants, for many of the old servants had not really left their former owners, and the people did not yet know how poor they really were.
There were sixteen attendants in the bridal party, and as the house was not large enough, a kind of pavillion consisting of a wooden framework covered with white cloth, was built on the large lawn. There the tables were spread for the wedding dinner.
The effect was very pretty when the pavillion was decorated and lighted with candles. The beautiful table was loaded with everything good to eat that could be obtained, and syllabub and eggnog to drink. Wines were not used on our table, for we were a temperate people, and no whiskey was sold nearer than five miles away. But it was the custom to have syllabub and eggnog on festive occasions.
These two couples lived in Dale County only one year after their marriage when they and other Ardis relatives went to Texas, Uncle Ambrose Edwards had eight sons and no daughters, who are all grown now. Two of his sons were in New Mexico when I last heard from them. Uncle Young Edwards remained in Texas until about three years ago when he returned to Dale County. His wife had died a short time before, and, as he had no children, he preferred to return to his old home. He now lives at Enterprise with a nephew. His brother, Uncle Walter Edwards, and other relatives live there, too.
1Material furnished by Col. Thomas Spencer, for the Alfred Holt Colquitt Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Atlanta, Ga
- Excerpt Transcribed from The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 01, Spring Issue 1957