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Gladys LuAllen knows well the history of her great-grandfather “Tobe” Blankenship and his mountain family.
DAILY Photo by Emily Saunders
Gladys LuAllen knows well the history of her great-grandfather “Tobe” Blankenship and his mountain family.

Valley Past & Present
Divided Loyalties
In different uniforms, brothers met at Shiloh

By Clyde Stancil
DAILY Staff Writer

cstancil@decaturdaily.com · 340-2443

A questionnaire attached to Jesse "Tobe" Blankenship's 1877 request for a Civil War pension asked why he, a Lawrence County man, fought for the Union.

"My father was threatened to be hung by a Southern officer — do not know his name," he answered.

A mountain man with eight sons, Hudson Blankenship was neutral on the Civil War. At the time, it was the equivalent of declaring himself a Unionist.

His refusal to become an informant for the Confederate Army nearly cost him his life. The threat inflamed teenaged Tobe Blankenship, said Moulton's Gladys Blankenship LuAllen, Tobe Blankenship's great-granddaughter.

"It made granddaddy Tobe so mad he joined the Northern army," LuAllen said of her great-grandfather, who died in 1928 when she was a year old.

He joined the federal First Alabama Cavalry. The officer's threat apparently didn't affect Tobe Blankenship's seven brothers, who joined the Confederate Army.

One of the brothers, Joshua Blankenship, fought against Tobe Blankenship at Shiloh, Tenn.

His brothers fought for the Confederacy, but Jesse “Tobe” Blankenship was the only one of eight Bankhead forest mountain brothers who fought for the Union.
Courtesy Photo
His brothers fought for the Confederacy, but Jesse “Tobe” Blankenship was the only one of eight Bankhead forest mountain brothers who fought for the Union.
"They saw each other and knew each other, so Joshua would shoot in the opposite direction from where Tobe was, and Tobe would shoot in the opposite direction to where Josh was," LuAllen said.

Siding with the Union was not unusual for Lawrence County men. Archives show 42 men with Lawrence County affiliation served in the First Alabama Cavalry. They included Leroy McCulloch, John H. Masterson, William Green Thrasher, Obadiah Stover and William Carroll Parker, the progenitor of Lawrence County's Parkertown community.

Confederate soldier Joshua Blankenship came face-to-face with his Union Army brother, Tobe, at Shiloh.
Courtesy Photo
Confederate soldier Joshua Blankenship came face-to-face with his Union Army brother, Tobe, at Shiloh.
Although the number is not as large as the 2,523 Confederate soldiers the Archives lists with Lawrence County affiliations, an anti-secessionist meeting drew 2,500 area Tories and Unionists to Christopher Sheets' July 1861 meeting at Looney's Tavern in Winston County. Sheets was jailed for voting against secession, but escaped.

The Bankhead is in Lawrence and Winston counties, and during the Civil War it was a safe haven for Tories, Southern men who violently opposed secession.

Instead of joining federal regiments, Tories took to the caves and shelters of the mountainous forest. From their hideouts, they staged guerrilla attacks on Confederate troops, much like the Viet Cong would do to U.S. troops 100 years later in Vietnam.

So severe were their attacks that secessionist David Hubbard sent a plea for help to newly elected Gov. Thomas Hill Watts.

The Dec. 19, 1863, letter said that Tories "are robbing and stealing day and night, and the murders, burglaries and robberies receiving but little attention."

Hubbard asked Watts for an active state police force and said it was the only way to stop the Tories.

Secession unpopular

Paul Haynes Horton is a Georgia historian with Alabama roots. He said in his thesis, "Lawrence County in the 19th Century: A Study in the Other South," that secession was not a popular issue in Lawrence County.

"There were many more who outright opposed secession in Lawrence County, contrary to what most people think today," Horton said. "What is important for people to know is that both (Lawrence County delegates to the Secession Convention) thought the process coerced."

In February 1861, Huntsville resident Jeremiah Clemens reported to Montgomery that in the Tennessee Valley, "There is still some soreness (about the decision to secede), but with the exception of Lawrence County there is no disposition to indulge in violent manifestations of resistance."

So unpopular was the idea that Lawrence County delegates to the state's Secession Conference, David P. Lewis and James S. Clark, signed the state's secession ordinance under immense pressure. Lewis helped write a minority report that explained why secession should have been put to a popular vote, Horton said.

Both Lewis and Clark eventually fled to the safety of Union lines.

Pro-Union area

Most people who opposed secession either fled to the forest, or joined federal forces. Unconditional Unionists who did not flee, many of them slave owners, declared themselves neutral. Later, they were among the 72 Lawrence County families who would actively support the Union during Federal occupation in April 1862. That position apparently was not taken to appease occupying forces. In 1860, one year before the Civil War, Lawrence County was solidly pro-Union.

Of the 1,477 people who voted in the 1860 presidential election, 1,101 voted for Unionist candidates.

At the time, less than one-third of the county's households owned slaves. Mechanics and laborers, who switched to farming in the 10 years before the Civil War, and rented land, barely broke even and eventually sold their slaves to larger farmers.

The medium-to-large farmers prospered during that time, further dividing the classes.

Bankhead Tories

Most of Lawrence County's militant Tories were Bankhead residents who owned small tracts of land, if any. They were less likely than Confederates to own land or slaves, and were often young and single, or had small families.

Horton said the majority of Lawrence County men who previously opposed secession willingly joined the Confederacy to preserve a slave society. They held the belief that a slave society promised self-sufficiency or upward mobility. Tory guerrilla ranks and Confederate desertions, however, grew as the war progressed, largely because the Confederate government could not provide for its soldiers or its citizens.

Many disillusioned mountain residents began to see the Civil War as "a rich man's war, and a poor man's fight," Horton said.

By 1864, both sides were trying to negotiate for peace, and the war ended in 1865.

All of Hudson Blankenship's sons made it home safely.

"When they came back from the war, two of them were so mad at him (Tobe) that they moved out of Lawrence County and went to Colbert County and never did come back here to live," LuAllen said.

Special section inside

This is the second of a four-day special section on the history of Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties.

TODAY: 1850-1900, Rebellion to reconstruction

Tuesday: 1900-1950, Farm to factory

Wednesday: 1950-2006, Smokestacks to rockets

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