Alabama seceded 150 years ago today, BUT… there were Unionists

I’m tweeting some stuff about Southern Unionism in Alabama… after all, today is the 150th anniversary of Alabama’s vote to secede… but, at 61 for and 39 against, it calls for closer examination.

The online Encyclopedia of Alabama has a nice piece about Alabama Unionists => here (written by Margaret M. Storey, who is also the author of a larger look at Alabama’s Unionists in Loyalty and Loss: Alabama’s Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction). Here’s a paragraph from that piece in the online encyclopedia…

These delegates convened in Montgomery on January 7, 1861, and debated secession for four days. On January 11, 1861, the convention passed Alabama’s Ordinance of Secession by a vote of 61 to 39. Many of those who voted against the ordinance, however, ultimately did support secession, and four immediately reversed themselves and signed with the majority. Among the opposition, 33 delegates subsequently signed the “Address to the People of Alabama,” in which they pledged to consult with their supporters and then act on their wishes. of the address signed the ordinance to satisfy their constituents. Other delegates who rejected the ordinance eventually took active part in the war. Only three signers—Henry C. Sanford of Cherokee County, Elliot P. Jones of Fayette County, and Robert Guttery of Walker County—never signed the ordinance and maintained their Unionism throughout the war. Only two wartime Unionists—R. S. Watkins of Franklin County and Christopher C. Sheets of Winston County—signed neither the “Address” nor the Ordinance of Secession.

I’d like to point out where some (if not all) if those in favor were leaning. Specifically, we have the quote from William Lowndes Yancey who lashed out at those who opposed secession:

The misguided, deluded, wicked men in our midst, if any such there be, who shall oppose it [secession], will be in alignment with the abolition power of the Federal government, and as our safety demands, must be looked upon and dealt with as public enemies.

Strong words indeed, and focused on those who opposed secession as if they were in favor of abolition… rather than those who were in favor of secession… clearly in the quest to preserve of slavery.

Still, that’s not so much my point this evening. Rather, I’m interested in those named as absolutely against secession. Who were they? Well, while the same encyclopedia provides a quick sketch of Henry C. Sanford, there are no sketches for the others listed. Here’s what I’ve come up with in a quick search through the Web:

Elliot Priest Jones (1819-1880): A native of Lawrence County, Alabama. Democrat. Elected Judge of the County Court of Fayette, 1847; State Senator, 1850. Reelected 1853, 1855, and 1857. Member of Alabama’s Secession Convention, voting against. In 1865, a member of the Constitutional Convention to reorganize the State. Elected in 1865 to the Senate from the District composed of Fayette and Marion counties, serving through the sessions of 1865-66, and 1866-67. Honored by the Legislature of 1866 by a county named for him, though as others came into politics, this was no longer named, the county later being called Sanford. Source: Reminiscences of Public men in Alabama for Thirty Years (1872) by William Garrett.

Robert Guttery (1801-1877): Known as the father of the Primitive Baptist Church in Walker County. Elder in the Primitive Baptist Church. Regretfully, I could find little else about him. There was, however, another Robert Guttery who was a nephew, AND member of the 1st Alabama Cavalry (US). This Robert Franklin Guttery of the 1st Alabama, was a son of Rev. Johnson Guttery (1806-1876), brother to Elder Robert Guttery.

Richard Sharp Watkins (1815-1881): Born in Abingdon, Virginia. Relocated to Tuscumbia, and later Russellville, Alabama, where he practiced law. For sometime, associated in his practice with William Skinner, a Whig. Elected to Probate Judge of Franklin County, Alabama, 1843, remaining in that post until 1849, when he resigned. Watkins represented Franklin County in the lower house of the State Legislature from 1849-1854. Also served as revenue officer for some time, having sixteen counties under his supervision, and was Chancellor 1873-74. Delegate to the Alabama’s Secession Convention. Both Watkins and John Anthony Steele (1835-1916… see more about him => here… he later embraced secession and served as an officer under Nathan Bedford Forrest) represented Franklin County, and both voted against secession. Both also served on the famous “Committee of Thirteen” in that convention. Watkins brother-in-law, Henry Cox Jones (later a member of the Provisional Congress of the C.S.A.; see a biographical sketch => here), represented Lauderdale County at the convention, and also both opposed the ordinance and refused to vote for it. Watkins was also a Freemason. Source: Distinguished Men, Women and Families of Franklin Co., Alabama, (ca. 1928) by R.L. James.

Charles Christopher Sheats, also known as Christopher Columbus Sheets (1839- 1904): See his Congressional biographical sketch => here, and his Encyclopedia of Alabama biography, => here. The following piece is an entertaining read:

From The Mountain Eagle, June 24, 1914:

Chris Sheets Was Born in Walker County. Some Political History—Elder Sheets Lived in Five Counties Without Moving. Many people of North Alabama were consistently and bitterly opposed to secession. Several of these have been mentioned in these annals, but there were thousands. Some of them were good people and held the respect of their neighbors, but others were consistently wrong on all moral and political questions. When the secession convention was called by Governor Moore under instructions from the legislature, one of the delegates was C.C. Sheets, of Winston. Mr. Sheets was born in Walker county, of Georgia parents, April 10, 1836. The elder Sheets, the father of C.C. Sheets, used to remark that he had lived on a farm in Cullman many years; that during his occupancy it was in four counties. After that it was put in Cullman county, making five counties. Young Sheets got his education in the neighborhood schools, and in the academy at Somerville, Morgan county.

At the age of 18 young Sheets began to teach and took art in public affairs. At 22 he was elected a member of the most important convention the state had from the time of its admission, the secession of 1861. He was elected as a Union man and he opposed secession right through from the first day till the ordinance was passed, but took no part except to vote. He voted against it and refused to sign it, but he did not sign the statement made by those who opposed it. He went back home and became a candidate for the legislature the same year and was elected. In order to take his seat in the body he had to take oath of allegiance to the Confederate States to the State of Alabama, then out of the old Union. Mr. Sheets did take the oath and was seated.

His conversation caused an investigation of his loyalty and the committee recommended his expulsion and he was duly expelled in 1862. Sheets was soon arrested for treason and was imprisoned, his own words being the strongest evidence against him. George H. Thomas, of the Union army, arrested General McDowell and held him until Sheets was released by the Confederate government. The case was that Sheets had voluntarily taken the oath of allegiance and had violated it and had said in private that he would do what he could against it. He was under suspicion and under military survellance till the war ended.

After the war, Sheets promptly became a Republican and was elected to the convention of 1865 to restore Alabama to the Union. He was one of the few men in both conventions. He was a candidate for Congress in 1865 but was defeated. He was on the Grant electoral ticket in 1868 and was rewarded in 1869 by an appointment as counsel to Denmark, where he stayed three years. In 1872, in the dark days, Mr. Sheets was elected to Congress from the state at large and served a term. In 1874 he was again a candidate, but the white people won the election. After that he was “taken care of” in one office or another until Cleveland’s election when he dropped out of public sight very largely, but was made a United States commissioner. Sheets was a good stump speaker, particularly pleasing to the ignorant. He lived until a few years ago, with strong friends and bitter enemies.—Birmingham Ledger.

In yet another article, the following…

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

… and this is also interesting…

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.

… and lastly, this…

Mountain Eagle, May 7, 1902:

Christopher Columbus Sheets has been put on the pension list, and now draws a salary of $30.00 per month. Senator Pettus, in making the argument, said: “The beneficiary is a very old man, and was late a recruiting officer of the U.S. army in the civil war.” This is news to us, and we regard it as an injustice to the brave federal soldiers who are now receiving only about $10.00 per month. – Moulton Advertiser.

My wife’s ancestors being from Marion County (some being identified as Unionists, while others served… possibly conscripted… in the 5th Alabama Cavalry, CS), I was curious to check on the delegates from that county… and as to how they voted. The findings didn’t disappoint… one, Winston Dilmus Stidham (1810-1895), voted against secession, and appears to have experienced division within his own family. The other, Langdon Cheevies Allen (1833-1902), is a little more difficult to figure out… but in the end, he did (as you can see) embrace the Confederacy, serving as a major in the 5th Alabama Cavalry.

So, while certainly a part of Dixie… don’t be mislead to believe the commitment to the Confederacy in the “heart of Dixie” was absolute.

As a dual post, this same post can also be found at Cenantua’s Blog.

18 Responses to “Alabama seceded 150 years ago today, BUT… there were Unionists”

  1. Good stuff to know about my home town :0)

  2. Beverly Wood Burke Says:

    My great-great-greatgrandfather was Robert Guttery (founding father of the Primitive Baptist Church of Walker County, AL). His son, Robert Malone Guttery, was in the 28th Alabama Infantry, Company E, CSA (joined in Jasper,AL). Robert Malone Guttery is buried in Boshell Cemetary in Walker County, AL. If you want any other information, please contact me. Beverly Wood Burke, Cullman, AL, 256-736-5998, I am a Columbus/Fort Benning, GA native.



  4. Valeria Lee Says:

    I was wondering if there was a way for you to find names of specific Alabama Unionists? I have a great-great grandfather who fought in the civil war. It was believed that he fought on the side of the confederacy, but we are now finding clues that point in the direction of him being a Unionist. It is believed that he was part of Hester’s Company but find no proof of the company even exsisting. His name was James Preston Byford born 1845 in Lawrence County, Alabama. But according to an 1860 census he was residing in Marion County, Alabama with his parents and sibilings. I would appreciate any information.

    • I conducted a cursory search, but could not find James Preston Byford. I did see a Perry Byford and Quiller J. Byford; both served in Co. A, 1st Alabama Cavalry (Union). Perry survived and Quiller died. Any relation?

      • Valeria Says:

        To be honest, I’m not sure if they are related. I haven’t come across either name in my research but they could be distant relatives. Do you have any other suggestions as to where I might find proof that James Preston Byford was even in the Civil War? I only have the 1906 article written about him and it isn’t the original.

        • There are only three James Byfords listed in the Civil War, and they all served the Union, in either Missouri or Tennessee units.

          Quiller J. Byford leaves a good indicator, I think, that he was a cousin. Since James P. Byford’s grandfather was “Quilla Byford” (which is often a shortened version of “Aquilla”), Quiller sounds as if some Byford kin remained in Alabama, and that Quiller may be named for a grandfather. I’m guessing that Quiller and Perry were brothers. But, am I correct in guessing that JP Byford was in Arkansas, not Alabama, at the time of the war, and still living with his parents?

        • I did find a Hester’s Company in a Mississippi cavalry company from SW Mississippi. If the Byford family lived in SE Arkansas, it’s certainly possible that he served with them. Problem is, there seems to be no military record.

    • Kenneth Isbell Says:

      One of my ancestors, Captain Elijah Isbell, of Sand Mountain in Marshall County, was an officer in the First Alabama Cavalry (USA). A brother of my greta-great grandmother was murdered by the Alabama Home Garden while he was on leave from the same regiment, First Alabama Cavalry USA

  5. Faith Stover Says:

    Thanks for posting this information. I am very proud to say that Winston Stidham was my great-great-great grandfather.

  6. Allen Berry Says:

    Thanks for posting this. I grew up in Winfield, AL and learned from an early age that we were more Unionists than supporter of the confederacy.

    My father was a friend of Wesley S. Thompson, a historian and author of a few historical novels (now out of print) on the topic of Marion County in the Civil War. I possess one entitled “So Turns the Tide” and one of the others (I’m uncertain how many there were) was entitled “Tories of the Hills.” One of his novels was the basis for the now defunct Looney’s Tavern musical.

    I appreciate your posting this. It’s good info.

    • Thanks much for taking the time to comment, Allen. I also appreciate telling about that personal connection. My wife’s mother’s side is from Marion, and I find the Civil War history of that place of great interest. Always enjoy hearing how some in the South are fine in remembering that not all the South, especially kin, sided with the Confederacy. It’s an important thing to know that our past was more complex, and colorful.

  7. sam sparks Says:

    Just came across your blog. Great job! My gg grandfather, Thomas J. Sparks of Walker County, joined the 1st Alabama Cavalry (US Volunteers) in Sept 1863 at age 18. When his enlistment was up with the 1st ALA, he joined the 9th Illinois US Cavalry and served until the War’s end. Both Thomas and his father Samuel were staunch Unionists as were many in their part of the County. Thomas did however have four uncles (2 of his father’s brothers and 2 of his mother’s brothers) who served in the Confederate Army.

  8. I live in Fayette, Al. and have heard there was a small prison (actually just a lock-up) in northern Fayette County, just south of the town of Winfield in Marion County, where Unionists of the region were held. If anyone has any information on this subject I would be most interested to hear it. Thanks.

  9. My third great grand dad was Henry C Sanford, Alabama State Senator, mentioned in your piece. Thanks for the info…very interesting read. People were so adamant about protecting their beliefs. BTW, Henry was a self-described radical Republican.

    Also, Henry was a descendent of William the Conqueror (as I am), and John Plantagenet, King of England. I have the lineage if you are interetsed…just email me.

  10. Lloyd N. Jackson Says:

    I don’t think it was General McDowell arrested by General Thomas but William McDowell who was a wealthy cotton merchant from Mobile. He was one of the twelve prominent citizens of Huntsville imprisoned by Gen. O.M. Mitchell in April of 1862.

  11. Found this looking for information about those living in North Alabama who opposed slavery. My Great Great Great Great Grandfather, Dabney Rains, moved from Georgia to Cherokee County, Alabama in 1837 and then to Marshall County in 1857 where he died in 1860. He is buried in the Martling Cemetery. His tombstone, made of sandstone, bears the following inscription, “Dabney Rains was born 1790 and departed this life March 18, 1860. He abhord the wicked slavry (sic) and loved murcy (sic).” I’m proud of the courageous stance taken by this man and look forward to learning more about this subject. Thanks for your article!

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