My Silver Fox and I found ourselves with a free day to explore and learn recently, so we set our sights for Lawrence County (the source of his Pearson roots) and the beautifully restored home of General Joe Wheeler near Courtland, AL. My own paternal grandfather was named Joe Wheeler Collier. We live on the Wheeler Lake portion of the Tennessee River, within a few miles of Joe Wheeler State Park. My father was even the principal of Wheeler Elementary School when I was born. We had to cross Wheeler Dam to reach our destination (12280 AL Hwy 20, Hillsboro, AL 35643). It was past time to find out what we could about this heroic man and his remarkable family.
Thanks to the enthusiasm and thorough knowledge of Site Director, Kara Long, the tour she gave us of the home and the many, many facts and stories she shared just whetted our appetites to continue reading and to anticipating a return visit. This well-preserved building is filled with family furniture, artifacts, clothing, books and portraits. Visitors are not allowed to take photographs inside, but you will want to see it in person anyway. So much significant history happened on those grounds and in those rooms.
According to the website, the home is open Wednesday – Saturday from 9:00-4:00 and on Sundays from 1:00-5:00. It is closed on Monday, Tuesday and for state holidays. Tours begin on the wide front porch every hour on the hour, except noon when Kara says she “takes time to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
According to our capable narrator, Fightin’ Joe was in more than 300 Civil War battles, was wounded 3 times, and had 16 horses shot out from under him!!! His diminutive size may have been a contributing factor to his survival. He was only 5′ 5″ tall and never weighed more than 125 pounds. He married Daniella Sherrod in 1866 — AFTER the Civil War — and they moved initially to New Orleans. But her father owned a lot of land in Alabama and built Pond Spring as an incentive to lure the couple to Alabama. They accepted his offer and eventually had seven children in that location. Their daughter Annie was the last family member to live in the home and was responsible for bequeathing the buildings and all of their contents to the State of Alabama for historical preservation.
Since you have come to know me as the Queen of Questions, you won’t be surprised that I asked our guide if the current controversy about the Confederate flag had had any ill effects on this site. She very ably explained that it had not. The Confederate flag never flew over this home or in front of it. Joe Wheeler represented Alabama in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1882-1898. And in fact, at the age of 61, when General Joe heard about the sinking of the Maine in 1898, he was the first person to offer his services to President McKinley in case of a war between the U.S. and Spain. He was commissioned a major general of volunteers in the U.S. Army and went on to become a much-heralded star in the Spanish-American War. By 1900, he was back in Washington, thinking he’d go back to Congress, but instead President McKinley appointed him a brigadier general in the Regular Army and gave him a command post in Chicago. General Joe Wheeler is the only former Confederate general who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Many historians feel that his efforts to promote reconciliation between the North and the South may have been his greatest legacy. I enjoyed learning that Joe Wheeler was not just a Southern hero, but much more, he was an American hero.
This very tall monument is located in the family cemetery on the Pond Spring property and adorns the grave of Daniella Wheeler. An identical monument is on General Wheeler’s grave at Arlington and is the tallest marker there. AFTER it was erected, the Arlington Committee quickly enacted a policy specifying future heights and widths of monuments. They were afraid the competition would get out of hand. A smart move on their part.
In my next post, I will share with you about three special events coming soon at Pond Spring. I hope you will make your plans to visit. For school groups, by the way, this field trip is a real bargain — only $2.00 per student and the teacher and bus driver are free. What a deal!