Members of the Civil War Trust, a 55,000-member organization based in Washington, D.C., is encouraging local interest in the development of a park at the site of the former Blue Mountain Industries. Thousands of Confederate soldiers trained at the Blue Mountain rail depot and training camp, the group’s members say.
Historians and Civil War experts say the site, where industrialists later built the textile mills that became Blue Mountain Industries, was home during the war to a Confederate supply depot and training camp.
“There was a railroad there, and it was a camp of instruction,” said Willie R. Johnson, park historian at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Georgia.
Civil War author and historian Jeff Giambrone, of Clinton, Miss., had not heard of Blue Mountain, but at a reporter’s request he searched Union and Confederate records.
“There are hundreds of mentions of Blue Mountain,” he said after the search. Among his finds was an act of the Confederate Congress in 1862 allocating more than $1 million in bonds to further develop rail transportation between Blue Mountain and Rome, Ga.
The war ended before the railroad was extended.
Leading up to the Civil War’s beginning in the spring of 1861 and through the duration of the Civil War, the camp grew to extend from the railroad tracks near the site of the old textile mill all the way to slopes of Blue Mountain, southeast of where Kmart stands today north of downtown Anniston. The site included a hospital, a prison and a place for organizing regiments, according to Alexandria resident Mac Gillam.
“We want to assist local groups in trying to preserve Civil War sites,” said Henry Simpson, chairman of the trust, who spoke recently from his law office in Birmingham. He visited Blue Mountain last year to take part in discussions about the site, along with Paul Bryant Jr. of Tuscaloosa, who is a past chairman of the trust and has maintained an interest in Civil War sites since childhood. He spoke during a telephone interview.
Bryant said he could envision the Blue Mountain site as a pocket park, a small style of park that some cities are developing.
“There was a world of people and war material that came through there,” he said of Blue Mountain.
Last week, several local residents met again at the site. They are interested in developing either a park or a memorial and in sharing the history of Blue Mountain.
“I want to bring recognition to this,” said Gillam, as he stood outside the iron fence surrounding the old textile mill. “It has been said that the war would not have lasted as long as it did had it not been for Blue Mountain.”
A Confederate hub
According to Greg Starnes of Fort Payne, a member of the trust and a former Blue Mountain resident, Gillam is correct. Starnes said that in the autumn of 1864, when the Army of Tennessee, led by Gen. John Bell Hood, lost the battle of Atlanta, it headed toward Blue Mountain to re-supply. Afterward, the army headed north into Tennessee to fight the battles of Franklin and Nashville.
At the time the Alabama and Tennessee Rivers Railroad extended from Selma to Blue Mountain, the advocates said. The site offered rail transportation to the Confederate army for soldiers, food, ammunition and weapons. Also in Blue Mountain, a stage-coach road extended the line of transportation through Rome, Ga., and northward, which delivered supplies to troops stationed elsewhere, Gillam said. The road is now part of the Alexandria Road that runs near the site and also runs southward to join Cooper Avenue.
Starnes also said that the iron ore mined in Calhoun County during that time was shipped to Selma from the Blue Mountain rail depot. The ore was turned into plating that was used on the Merrimac, one of the first ironclad ships in the world to engage in battle, he said. All this happened long before the postwar founding of Anniston as an industrial town that made use of the same ore deposits.
A desire to preserve
Simpson said that one of the trust’s goals is to assist any local and state residents who want to preserve Civil War sites. He is interested in offering advice and references to locals on obtaining funding and other assistance.
Silver Lakes resident Don Gibbs, owner of the property at Blue Mountain, is a businessman who also owns Gibbs & Sons Machinery and Silver Lakes Developers. At one point in the past, he considered donating part of the property to the county for the Civil War site, he said.
Speaking to a reporter recently, Gibbs said he was unsure about his plans for the property at this time.
“As soon as we feel like the economy is back on its feet,” said Gibbs, “we intend to do some cleanup for ourselves before we attempt to sell the property. If my business makes enough money and can use a tax write-off, we would consider donating part of it.”
None of those attending last week’s gathering had exact ideas about what they want at the site. Throughout the past year, some of the interested parties have discussed erecting interpretive markers, recreating the Blue Mountain train depot, creating a walking trail and picnic area, and possibly building a museum to display some of the relics.
Starnes, one of the most enthusiastic participants, said he would like to see space for living-history demonstrations, such as Civil War reenactments, firing of Civil War weaponry, and tents to show how soldiers might have dressed and lived on the grounds. Those types of activities take place now at Janney Furnace in Ohatchee, another Civil War site in Calhoun County. One of those present at last week’s gathering, Calhoun County Commissioner Eli Henderson, was instrumental in restoring and developing the park at Janney Furnace.
Starnes believes the Blue Mountain site should be included on the state’s Civil War Trail Map, which can be viewed by clicking on “Trails and Itineraries” at www.alabama.travel.
“The site could bring in tourists that come to visit the Anniston Museum of Natural History, the Berman Museum and Janney Furnace,” he said.
Many Confederate leaders affiliated with Blue Mountain
Weeds, discarded lumber, several boarded-up buildings and at least one presentable building mark the site of former textile mill. Underfoot, though, are remnants of the depot and camp.
Gillam and Starnes shared documents and stories about the authenticity and significance of Blue Mountain during the Civil War.
“I have found a piece of the original, narrow-gauge railroad,” said Starnes, “a bullet, a grape shot — which is a piece of artillery — a wagon wheel, a spring from a wagon and a couple of horseshoes just by digging around in the soil on the outside of the iron fence.”
Gillam opened a folder and pointed to mentions of Blue Mountain in correspondence from Confederate leaders. The site was the headquarters for Brig. Gen. James Holt Clanton, Maj. Gen. Gideon Pillow and Brig. Gen. Benjamin Jefferson Hill. Also, at some point during the war, military leaders such as Lt. Gen. Joseph Wheeler and Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest visited Blue Mountain, according to Gillam.
Blue Mountain is mentioned 170 times in records of the war at the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County, Gillam said. He said he found the mentions in correspondence of such prominent figures as Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Union Maj. Gen William T. Sherman and one of Alabama’s war-time governors, Thomas H. Watts.
Stinson also noted that the body of a noted artillery officer from the Alexandria and Jacksonville area, Maj. John Pelham, was returned from Virginia for burial in 1863 by train to Blue Mountain.
However, at the war’s end in 1865, the entire military grounds were destroyed by Union soldiers, much of it blown up, according to Starnes, with its own ammunition that had been sitting in rail cars at the terminal.
Interested in the project? Contact Gillam at 256-225-4442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Starnes at email@example.com, or Henderson at 256-310-3910.
For information about the Civil War Trust, visit www.civilwar.org.