The 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment--an oxymoron?

It's hard to believe that the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment escorted General William Sherman in his march to Atlanta and beyond. An Alabama Cavalry for the Union? The words just don't seem to go together!

In my last blog post I mentioned the Alabama Cavalry Regiment consisted largely of men from Eastern Tennessee. That is not true. The folks from Alabama that formed the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment were from the northern mountain part of that state and they believed in the Union. They did not own slaves and saw no reason to support secession.

Like those in Eastern Tennessee, they were harassed and their families brutalized, driven from their homes into the Alabama hills, then into Union lines, and at last into the ranks of the U.S. Army.

Paraphrased from
 It is ironic that the Confederacy, created to preserve the principle of states’ rights over the primacy of the central government, instituted the first wartime draft in American history. Passed by the Confederate Congress in April 1862, it imposed manpower quotas on the individual states. Every able-bodied white male between the ages of 18 and 35 was subject to military service. Each state was required to produce a certain number of men for the Confederate armies. If a state’s quota wasn’t filled by volunteers, the men must be conscripted. In the hill counties of the Southern states, including north Alabama, volunteering fell far short of the numbers required. Frustrated at the refusal of these “tories” to see the light, Governor Frank Shorter of Alabama sent conscription parties, most composed of Home Guards, into the northern counties with leave and license to coerce their reluctant neighbors into the Confederate army. To refuse meant jail at the very least, and, quite possibly, death. To make matters worse, through much of the war north Alabama was occupied by the forces of both sides, and groups of bushwhackers, many of them deserters from both armies, sprang up to prey on the people. Farms were burned, livestock, goods and money looted, and murder was not uncommon. Little wonder, then, that these men, set upon in every conceivable way by their fellow citizens, chose to take up arms and return the favor.

The 1st Alabama Cavalry, U.S. Volunteers was the military result of the anti-secession feeling in the northern half of the state . The regiment was formed in October 1862 in Huntsville and Memphis, and mustered into Federal service that December in Corinth, Mississippi. Company officers were chosen from among the men and Captain George E. Spencer was later named Colonel and given overall command. The “1st” was one of six Union regiments from Alabama, but the only cavalry unit. Its ranks contained both whites and blacks. The other five were infantry and artillery units raised during the war. They were composed of ex-slaves, and officially called “African Descent” regiments.

During the war over 2,000 loyal Southerners served in the 1st Alabama: farmers, mechanics, traders and others, from 35 counties of Alabama and eight other Confederate states. They ranged in age from as young as 15 years to as old as 60. Some, young and old, lied about their ages in order to enlist. There were also men from the border states of Kentucky and Missouri, from seven northern states, and from eight foreign countries. The “1st” WAS diversity 130 years before it became “politically correct.”

By the time Sherman’s forces entered Atlanta in late 1864, the “1st’s” reputation was secure. One general called the Alabama troops “invaluable...equal in zeal to anything we discovered in Tennessee.” And Major General John Logan, commanding the 15th Army Corps in Sherman’s forces, praised the troopers as “the best scouts I ever saw, and (they) know the country well from here to Montgomery.” General Sherman, knowing the value of his Alabama troops as soldiers and symbols of the loyal South, chose them as his escort on the march from Atlanta to the sea.

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