“All we ask is to be left alone”

Posted on January 15, 2011 by


I’m picking-up from where I left off in my last post

Regarding some of those who opposed secession, and continued to do so… it didn’t necessarily mean that they were ready to go to war against their neighbors and friends, in defense of their position.

Instead, many preferred to be left alone. They simply didn’t buy into what they saw as the folly of secession.

In fact, what an assembly of Alabamians at Looney Tavern (near present-day Addison) said on July 4, 1861 (speculated date… may have been early 1862), sounds pretty much like that which Jefferson Davis said.

Davis is often quoted by Confederate celebrationists… “All we ask is to be left alone.”

…and the people assembled at Looney Tavery in Alabama declared pretty much the same thing…

…and yet, many Confederate celebrationists see these people as “traitors”. It’s peculiar enough that these celebrationists call other people, well beyond their “realized memory”, “traitors”, but it’s also peculiar to hear them say this… and yet be so quick to dismiss the title for supporters of the Confederacy.

Ah yes… that word…traitor

I wonder… what is it, exactly, that Southern Unionists were betraying? Is familial opposition to one cause over another considered… treason? Were the two sets of people… Southerners, all the same… so different? What about that which they are said to have experienced…

What I see are two sets of people with different visions for the future… both being patriotic in their own right… but, to each other… traitors. Yet, you know, come to think of it… it’s odd… the assembly of persons at Looney Tavern appear to have never called secessionists, traitors.

Perhaps it’s time to look back at what happened at Looney Tavern. At first, I thought that perhaps it best to wait until the 150th anniversary of the event, but, oh… why not…

In 1950, a booklet titled Fact and Fiction of the Free State of Winston was prepared and printed in a limited edition for distribution on the occasion of the celebration of the 100th birthday of Winston County. In the section focused on the events surrounding the Civil War, Christopher Sheats was a pivotal character…

In Winston, when the election was held on December 24, 1860, to elect delegates to the secession convention, “Chris” Sheats was the Jefferson-Jackson Democratic candidate who told the people that if he were elected he would “vote against secession, first, last, and all of the time.”

He was elected by a good majority and kept faith with his people. Mr. Sheats with 22 other delegates refused to sign the secession resolutions. When he returned to Winston County the latter part of January 1861, the weather was bad, as were the roads.

However, about June 1, 1861, a number of prominent citizens of Winston County met at Houston, the county seat, and held a consultation; at the conclusion of which it was decided to have a “mass meeting” at Looney’s Tavern on July 4, 1861, to discuss the situation, and to see what action should be taken.

But… what of Winston County’s politics?

Winston was settled by the followers of Andrew Jackson. It was Democratic from the beginning until 1861. During Jackson’s administration South Carolina passed the Nullification Act. Our people were with Jackson and against South Carolina, Calhoun, and Nullification.

The Democrats controlled the County from 1801 to 1861, with the exception of 12 years. There was never a day from the beginning of Washington’s administration until March 4, 1861, that the South did not have the President or Vice-President, and during Jackson’s first administration the South had both the President and Vice-President, Jackson and Calhoun. The people here then were proud of it, Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democrats.

It’s interesting to see that the author(s) of this booklet also saw fit to define where they stood in the wake of the splintering of the Democrats… and how the local slave situation played into affairs.

Winston had only 14 slave holders with 122 slaves in 1860. Less than 5 percent were slave owners.

The Southern Democrats bolted the regular Democratic nominee, Stephen A. Douglas, in 1860, because the platform and Douglas did not agree to permit the slave owners to carry their slaves into free territory where the people had voted it out. The bolters nominated a slave owner, or sympathizer, John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, and Lincoln was elected President. The people of Winston supported the regular Democratic nominee, Mr. Douglas.

So, back to that mass meeting at Looney Tavern on July 4, 1861…

This decision being agreed to, six men volunteered to ride six days to let the people know about it, to publicize the meeting that they might have a good turn-out. Hence, they rode for six days, six men in different directions and sections; all over Winston County, south Lawrence, northwest Blount, west Marshall, north Walker, northeast Fayette, east Marion, and southeast Franklin Counties.

The Looney’s Tavern mass meeting was held as planned and as advertised on July 4, 1861, at which more than 2500 people were present form the counties aforesaid.

A.B. Moore’s History of Alabama, Volume 1, page 543 says:

“Meetings and conventions were held in Fayette, Marion, Winston, and counties to the north in which a desire for neutrality was expressed.”

At the said mass meeting at Looney’s Tavern, July 4, 1861, Hon. “Chris” Sheats was the principal speaker. A committee on resolutions was appointed. When the committee reported it presented some resolutions which were overwhelmingly approved. The substance of the resolutions were as follows:

1st. We commend the Hon. Chas. C. Sheats and the other representatives who stood with him for their loyalty and fidelity to the people whom they represented in voting against secession, first, last, and all of the time.

2nd. We agree with Jackson that no state can legally get out of the union; but if we are mistaken in this, and a state can lawfully and legally secede or withdraw, being only a part of the Union, then a county, any county, being a part of the state, by the same process of reasoning, could cease to be a part of the state.

3rd. We think that our neighbors in the South made a mistake when they bolted, resulting in the election of Mr. Lincoln, and that they made a greater mistake when they attempted to secede and set up a new government. However, we do not desire to see our neighbors in the South mistreated, and, therefore, we are not going to take up arms against them; but on the other hand, we are not going to shoot at the flag of our fathers, “Old Glory,” the Flag of Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson. Therefore, we ask that the Confederacy on the one hand, and the Union on the other, leave us alone, unmolested, that we may work out our political and financial destiny here in the hills and mountains of northwest Alabama.

On reading the second resolution, Uncle “Dick” Payne, a Confederate sympathizer, one of the few present, sitting back in the audience made the following remark, “Oh, Oh, Winston secedes!” “The Free State of Winston!”

They just wanted to be left alone. That makes me think of a distant uncle of mine, => Chrisley Nicholson, who appears to have thought the same… in the hollows on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge in Virginia. Anyway…

The Confederacy and Alabama had no patience for resistance, and, not all of Winston County’s citizens siding with the “leave-alones” attitude led to more problems. On November 30, 1861, those more secessionist in spirit held a meeting of their own, in which they petitioned Alabama Gov. John Gill Shorter, asking him to suppress the Unionists spirit in the county. The online Encyclopedia of Alabama states that the Winston Confederates asked Shorter to…

…require all of the county’s residents to take the Confederate loyalty oath, and to require the county to provide 250 Confederate soldiers. Shorter responded by issuing writs of arrest for those in the county who were actively disloyal to the Confederacy, and also demanding that militia commanders who would not take the oath of office resign.

My… could this be an Alabama version of the => “despot’s heel”? Is it so different than that which is said to have happened with Maryland, but with the Confederacy being the oppressor?

As could be expected, the enforcement of conscription soon began… people were taken into custody, and according to the booklet from the 1950s:

When the Confederate Cavalry from other counties came into Winston County, arrested the single men over 18 years of age, as well as the married men, under the “Conscript Act,” carried them to jail in other counties and gave them only five days to make up their minds to go and fight for the Confederacy, or to be shot in the back, it did not take long for our people to change from an attitude of neutrality to one of indignation and hostility.

Again, from the Encyclopedia of Alabama:

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. 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. 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.

There’s more yet to the story, but I think that will do for now. The point is… these people wanted no part in it. The iron hand of the Confederacy descended on them and forced them to comply and be part. In turn, those with ideals to the contrary… they fled. Unable to survive… and, in some cases, being rightfully enraged by the oppression of the Confederate forces… many of these same people enlisted in the Union cause. They had had enough.

So, in that these people had had enough… and considering the parallels between their stories and those of the devout Confederates in opposition to the iron hand of the Union, were they really so different, one from the other? They were => all Southern alike… but does acknowledgment of the Southern Unionists side of the story compromise that of the Confederates? Acknowledgment may not be welcome… just because of the striking parallels, and because they begin to compromise the “perfection” of the Lost Cause narrative.

Winston County's Dual Destiny Monument, from Encyclopedia of Alabama... a monument that recognizes both sides of Winston County's story, despite the reality that it tore the county apart.

*Note: All bold emphasis above, is my own, used to highlight specific points.

** See => this link for Fact and Fiction of the Free State of Winston.