Mentone Alabama: A History
By Zora Shay Strayhorn
Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Civil War
September 1863, two years into the Civil War, was extremely dry; streams and ponds were dried up in Mentone and across the land. There was a thick layer of dust over everything. Little River and DeSoto Falls, called Indian Falls at the time, still had water, according to historians who wrote that Union forces camped along Little River.
The Union General W. S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland had driven Confederate General Braxton Bragg out of Kentucky into Chattanooga, Tennessee, with the Army of the Cumberland in hot pursuit. General Rosecrans’ three corps crossed the Tennessee River. The 21st Corps under Major-General Thomas L. Crittenden was sent in the direction of Chattanooga. Major-General George H. Thomas with the 14th Corps was ordered up Johnston’s Crook near Trenton, Georgia, on the west side of Lookout Mountain into McLemore’s Cove. Major-General Alexander McD. McCook with the 20th Corps was to cross Lookout Mountain from Valley Head to Alpine, Georgia, near Menlo with the intention of continuing on to Summerville, Georgia, to stop Bragg’s intended retreat to Rome, Georgia.
Bragg waited and watched until all of Rosecrans’ army was across the Tennessee River to make his retreat. He feared his supply lines might be cut off from Atlanta. The Federal generals thought that General Bragg would retreat to Rome, Georgia, but he retreated only about twenty-eight miles to LaFayette, Georgia.
McCook’s 20th Corps crossed Sand Mountain with an estimated strength of between 20,000 and 40,000 troops. Arriving at Valley Head, September 3, 1863, the Union headquarters was made at the home of Colonel William 0. Winston, and was under the command of Brig.-General Jefferson C. Davis. (No relation to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy). The troops put up tents and camped in and about Winston and Allen Springs.
Ascending Lookout Mountain, the advance cavalry camped along Little River the evening of September 3, 1863.
By September 10, 1863, part of the 20th Corps had heaved and pushed wagons through brush and boulders, deep dust and sand across the mountain at Mentone to near Alpine, Georgia.
General Rosecrans was elated at the ease with which Major-General Crittenden took Chattanooga September 9, 1863. He quickly realized that he was no longer the pursuer but the pursued; that he had been trapped, his Army scattered between mountain ranges, and he was almost cut off from his supply-the railroad. Rosecrans had been outmaneuvered by Bragg. McCook’s troops were ordered to join Thomas; McCook again crossed Lookout Mountain at Mentone. Following on September 19th and 20th was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Chickamauga.
Because of Colonel Winston’s vote of loyalty to the Union not to secede during the Secession Convention, there was an order given by General Davis that nothing was to be disturbed at Winston Place. Other settlers of the area did not fare so well, as extensive raids were made by the Federal troops on the sheep, cattle, corn and other food products of the area.
The story is told that one hungry soldier disobeyed orders and sneaked into Mrs. Winston’s kitchen and snatched a baked hen reposing on the oven door. The startled black cook raised the hue and cry when she saw the fleeing soldier with the baked hen in his hands.
Upon learning of the incident, an indignant but fearless Mrs. Winston marched down to General Davis’ headquarters and informed him of the theft.
The punishment of the soldier was prompt and severe. He was strung up to the limb of a tree by his thumbs in the front yard of the place. To make the punishment even more severe, he was placed so that he had to face the afternoon sun.
Will, one of the Winston sons, was a cadet at West Point at the time the War between the States broke out. He became involved in a heated argument with fellow cadets. The argument ended when young Will broke a plate over the head of a cadet, stalked from the room, and returned home to Winston Place.
He joined the Confederate Army, formed a company of soldiers, and used a large field on Lowry Road (Valley Head) as his drill site.
Both Will and his brother George gave their lives to the cause of the Confederacy. Both are buried in the Winston family cemetery which lies at the back of the house.
Other than a small skirmish between opposing troops which took place in Winston Gap, no major battle was fought in the area.
History books state that thousands of troops camped in Valley Head, came up Winston’s Gap, camped at DeSoto Falls and along Little River, crossed the mountain into Alpine, Georgia, and a week or so later returned by the same route.
The Old Alpine Road started at Price’s Switch between Valley Head and Fort Payne; it was the mail route to Alpine, Georgia, and frequently used. There was a small station beside the railroad tracks for the railroad to drop off mail. All work on the railroad stopped during the Civil War and the trains came only as far south as Valley Head. Afterward work resumed and service was continued beyond Valley Head to Price’s Switch and Fort Payne.
Allen’s Spring and Winston Spring were in the vicinity. Early settlers could wave a train down going in either direction; the train would stop and pick up passengers. From Price’s Switch, the Old Alpine Road meanders up from the valley to Mentone and is still used. DeKaIb County Road 106, the Old Alpine Road, went up the hill by Camp Alpine to continue east to Flat Landing Ford to cross the east branch of Little River into Alpine, Georgia; part of the old road is now a trail.
The Union forces could have crossed Little River at many places during the dry season when the river was low. The area south of the Old Alpine Road and between the East Fork and the West Fork of Little River was known as the “Forks in the River” community.
Evidence of the presence of Union troops has been found along Little River at camps and resorts. Minie balls used as rifle bullets in the nineteenth century have been found in Mentone.
And what is known of people living in the Mentone area around the time of the Civil War?
The U.S. Census of 1840 revealed that DeKaIb County had 5,929 settlers. By 1850 there were 8,245, including 506 slaves and 9 free blacks. Most of these people lived in the valley where the land was more suitable for farming. The area around Mentone had more inhabitants than Mentone itself--communities such as Holly Springs, Forks of the River, Little River, and Head River, Georgia.
Built of logs some time between 1850 and 1865, the Holly Springs Baptist Church was used also as a school and as a public meeting place. Split logs were used for benches. The only known early teachers were Lawrence Dider Smith and his wife Lula Leola Blake Smith, who taught after the Civil War years.
The Little River Church was first known as the Baptist Church of Christ and was active between 1850 and 1859. The Kirby field house and members’ homes were also used as meeting places. When the Kirby house burned, money was raised for a church building and land was deeded August 11, 1861 by M. J. Kingston, and a new church was built. Because of the war, no services were held between October 1861 and August 1865. The old church burned, and Little River Church was built in 1894 or 1895. It still stands in 1986.
One charter member of the church was John Christopher Crow, who was twelve years old in the Census of 1850. He was a Confederate soldier and had a grist mill at Little River about 1859.
In the 1850 Census Hannah Crow, daughter of Isaac Crow and a sister of John Christopher Crow, was eight years old. She grew up to marry Greenberry Crow, no relation. At age sixteen, Greenberry enlisted in the Confederate Army, August 14, 1861. He was wounded April 16, 1864, shot in the left leg and right arm, and was a patient in the hospital in Rome, Georgia.
Jason C. Kirby married Elizabeth Crow in 1844 and moved to DeKaIb County in 1851. They had nine children, one of whom was Thomas Nelson, born in 1849. During the Civil War Kirby was a soldier in the Union Army, stationed near Stevenson, Alabama. In 1864 he became ill, died, and was buried there. His wife Elizabeth left her fourteen-year-old daughter at home in charge of the younger children. She traveled to her husband on a mule, with her son Thomas Nelson walking beside her. She is buried in Little River Cemetery in Mentone.
William Calvin Perkins was born June 16, 1867, in Walker County, Georgia. As a young boy he moved to Mentone with his father Jim Madison Perkins, a Civil War veteran. He mentioned playing with Ned Jackson, a former slave who (in 1898) lived in the log cabin now part of Cragsmere Manna Restaurant. William Calvin Perkins carried mail from Valley Head to Mentone on horseback. He was a farmer and a sawmill and gristmill operator.
James Madison Blalock, a physician, was in the Confederate Army, but moved from Head River, Georgia, to the western part of the United States. Edith Blalock Lyday married John Miller Lyday, whose father, Edmond Socrates Lyday, was a young man during the Civil War. He told of stories of the wanton destruction of chickens, hogs, sheep and cows as the Union Army plundered through the Mentone area.
Lawrence Dider Smith married Lula Leola Blake, whose father Jack Blake owned a saddlery in Rome, Georgia, that was burned during Sherman’s march through Georgia.
Charlotte and Francis Marion O’Rear had five sons, one of whom was John William 0’ Rear, born in 1850, and raised near Cloudland, Georgia. As a boy he climbed a tree and watched Union Army soldiers marching across the mountain; the tree was gray-white with dust.
Francis Marion O’Rear was deaf and was a non-commissioned officer in the Confederate Army. He was in charge of the commissary and for the most part found only thin cattle to slaughter for the troops.
Robert Vernon, born in 1845, built what is generally considered to be the first house in Mentone proper in 1864. It is the log cabin that in the 1980’s forms the central structure of St. Joseph’s-on-the-Mountain Episcopal Church.
“The Berry Patch” is the original home of Eldridge Jones who was born in 1811 and died of bullet shots in 1865.
Eldndge and William J. Jones married sisters. Eldridge married Elizabeth Lane and William J. married Julia Lane. The Lanes had extensive land holdings near Bankhead. They were one of the few families in the Mentone area who had slaves during the Civil War.
Eldridge Jones refused to take sides in the war. A Home Guard caught a Union soldier stealing fruit from the Jones’ property and shot him. The following few hours or the next day a Union officer appeared on the scene to investigate. That night Eldridge was dragged from his home and shot to death and is buried in the Jones’ cemetery.
Although Mentone was far removed from the issues of slavery and states’ rights that are usually thought to have caused the Civil War, its impact on this small Appalachian town was heavy and direct.
Next Section: Post Civil War Times
Back to: Mentone Home Page