No history of Alabama would
be complete without the story of Emma Sansom, the heroine of the
Confederacy.Emma's parent's Micajah and Levina Vann Sansom migrated
to Gadsden from Georgia in 1852. The family included twelve children
and the Sansoms farmed their land and established a respected
Emma was described as a beautiful youngster, tall and graceful, with clean cut features, large, deep blue eyes, dark red or auburn hair and of unusually fair complexion. Confederate soldiers who passed through Gadsden were always welcome in the home of these patriotic Southerners.
The morning of May 2nd was filled with bright sunlight, and the heavy spring rains had left Black Creek a raging stream. The Sansom household consisted of the widowed mother, a daughter Jennie, about 24 and Emma, 15. A son, Rufus, 22, had enlisted in the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment in August 1861 and was home recuperating from wounds received in battle.
Emma had just returned from shopping, and was still holding onto the horses' rein when she and her family heard the sounds of horses and men approaching the farm. They immediately gathered outside to investigate and moments later, hundreds of blue-clad soldiers arrived. Emma tells in her own words her first encounter with Union troops.
We were home on the morning of May 2, 1863, when a company of men wearing blue uniforms and riding mules and horses galloped past the house and went on towards the bridge. Pretty soon a great crowd of them came along and some of them stopped at the gate and asked for some water. One of them asked me where my father was and I told him he was dead.
'Do you have any brothers?' asked
the Yankee soldier.
'I have, sir', I said.
'Where are they?'
'In the Confederate army,' I told him.
'Do you think the South will whip us?'
'What do you think?'
"I think we will win because God is on our side,' I said.
'I think God is on the side with the best artillery,' said the soldier.
The women did not panic despite the gravity of the situation and Emma stubbornly held onto her horse's rein until a soldier snatched it away. The soldiers searched the house for guns and saddles and Rufus was taken prisoner. The main body crossed the wooden bridge and put the torch to the structure, feeling confident that Forrest's pursuit would be stopped for several hours. Forrest arrived at the creek and found his way blocked by the fiery blaze and gunfire from the other side.
Forrest was in full pursuit of the Federals when he came galloping into view of the frightened Sansom women, who were now standing on the Sansom's front porch grieving for Rufus. Emma, recognizing him as a Confederate officer, told him that the bridge had been destroyed. In reply to his question, she responded that there was not another bridge any closer than two miles. She told him that there was a ford nearby where she had seen cows cross in low water and she believed that his men may be able to cross. She said she could get his men over there and she would put a saddle on her horse. He said: "There is no time to saddle a horse; get up here behind me." Emma's mother was assured by Forrest that he would bring her back safely.
They rode into a field with a small branch running through it protected by a thick undergrowth. The branch emptied into the creek just above the ford. They were under fire by this time and Emma pointed out the crossing and they went back towards the house.
Forrest asked her name and
for a lock of her hair. The noise of the battle was so loud that
they left and hid in a safe place. After the firing stopped, Emma
started back home and met General Forrest again. He asked again
for a lock of her hair and told her that one of his braves men
had been killed and is laid out in the house. His name was Robert
Turner and Forrest asked that he be buried in a near-by graveyard.
He told her that he had left a her a note of thanks:
Hed Quaters in Sadle
May 2 1863
My highest regardes to miss Emma Sansom for hir Gallant conduct while my posse was skirmishing with the Federals across Black Creek near Gadsden Allabama.
N. B. Forrest
Brig Genl Comding N. Ala
Ironically, there were seven biographies published about Forrest, all containing page after page about Emma and every one of them misspelled her name. It came out in print as Sanson.