Friday, January 30, 2009

Black History Month: Lincoln School of Marion, Alabama (1867-1970)

Lincoln Normal School (Lincoln School) here in Marion, Alabama, operated from 1867 until 1970, when it was closed due to school consolidation following court-ordered desegregation in Marion and Perry County.

The school was incorporated in 1867 as “The Lincoln School of Marion” by recently-freed African Americans in Marion and Perry County. The school later entered into an agreement (1868) with the American Missionary Association (A.M.A.), which was affiliated with the Congregational Church. The associated Lincoln Normal University for Teachers, a state venture by 1874, moved to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1887, and later became Alabama State University. The primary department of the school eventually went public and became state by about 1960.

Every successful institution has at least someone who came, led, and sacrificed everything – including their lives - for the benefit of the institution. That someone for the Lincoln School appears to have been Mary E. Phillips (later, Thompson), a Pennsylvanian, who came as Lincoln’s sixth principal in 1896, and who stayed and served under the most trying circumstances until her death in 1927. Phillips Memorial Auditorium was dedicated in her honor in 1939.

Mary Elizabeth Phillips Thompson (1855-1927), a member of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame at Judson College. (Credit: Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame)

Phillips Memorial Auditorium was dedicated in 1939 in honor of Mary E. Phillips (Thompson), who served Lincoln School from 1896 until her death in 1927. (Credit: The City of Marion, Alabama)

The Lincoln School, which was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, was noted for its high percentage of graduates over the years, and for the remarkable number of its alumni who went on to complete advanced degrees, including a goodly number of doctorates. Among its many graduates who have distinguished themselves in all walks of life, perhaps their most famous graduate is the late Coretta Scott King (1927-2006), wife of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the slain Civil Rights leader.

Coretta Scott (far left, front) as a new member of Lincoln School’s Little Chorus, 1942-1943. (Credit: Marion Chapter, Lincolnite Club, Inc.)

Coretta Scott, who was born and raised in Perry County some nine miles from Marion in North Perry, attended the one-room Crossroad School (a daily five-mile walk) before entering the Lincoln Normal School. She graduated in the Class of 1945 as the Valedictorian, and attended Antioch College in Ohio. Later, while studying voice at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, she met a young doctoral student in theology at Boston University, Martin Luther King. They were married at her family’s home outside of Marion in 1953.

The home of Obadiah and Bernice Scott near North Perry, some nine miles from Marion. (Credit: Terry Barkley, MMI Archives)

All that is left of the Cross Road School (1896-1969) at Mt. Nebo AME Zion Church where Coretta Scott attended. (Credit: Terry Barkley, MMI Archives)

Coretta Scott King, with family and friends, attending the funeral of her father, Obie Scott, at the Mt. Tabor AME Church in North Perry in 1998. Mayor Ed Daniel of Marion is presenting Mrs. King with a proclamation honoring her father for his prolonged service to Marion and Perry County. (Credit: The City of Marion, Alabama)

Coretta Scott sang in a jewel of Lincoln School, the Little Chorus, a musical group which toured many Northern states. Here is a playbill from Cincinnati, Ohio. (Credit: Marion Chapter, Lincolnite Club, Inc.)

The Lincoln School was closed in May, 1970 – after 103 years - when its high school students were consolidated in the newly-built and racially-integrated Francis Marion High School. The 100th Anniversary of Lincoln School had been celebrated on May 7, 1967.

One of the few buildings not demolished on the campus – Phillips Memorial Auditorium – is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Lincoln Memorial Museum opened in 2002 and is operated by the Lincolnite Club, Inc., which maintains both the auditorium and the museum.

The Lincolnite Club, Inc., also oversees the school’s national alumni chapters and the biennial reunions of students; the 17th Biennial Reunion was held in Marion in 2008.

State historical marker for the Lincoln School (behind a high security fence). (Credit: Terry Barkley, MMI Archives)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clio and My Aunt Bertha – A family in Civil War Marion/Perry County

No, this isn’t another blog about my family! It is, however, about a family that lived in Marion/Perry County during the Civil War.

Over the holidays, I was able to purchase for the MMI Archives from Ebay (through my friend, Nick Picerno, in Virginia) a small volume entitled Clio and My Aunt Bertha,by John T. Winterich. Privately printed in 1942 in New York City (Marchbanks Press), the little 25-page booklet is actually a reprint of an article which appeared in the October 31, 1942, issue of the Saturday Review of Literature.

Clio and My Aunt Bertha (1942) by John T. Winterich. (Credit: MMI Archives)

John T. Winterich, a bibliographer and bookman, relates the memoirs of his Aunt Bertha Winterich, who grew up on a small cotton plantation in Perry County, Alabama, near Marion, during the Civil War. Bertha’s memories include the plantation’s only slave, Uncle Steve, visits to her father from Confederate General Edward Cary Walthall and a Captain Kouraysh (spelling?), who distilled whiskey locally, and of soldiers secretly burying something on the family’s plantation.

MG Edward Cary Walthall (1831-1898), C.S.A., gallant officer of the Army of Tennessee who distinguished himself – among other battles - at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in the battles around Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1863. (Credit: Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Aunt Bertha’s father (John Winterich’s grandfather) went off to war three times to serve the Confederacy, but each time he returned home due to ill health. Bertha mentions the shortage of coffee and other food stuffs, and how dietary shortages and other imbalances led to the deaths of two of her siblings, John and Marie, both babies.

By the end of the war, Aunt Bertha tells of a “parade” of battle-worn Confederate soldiers trooping past the Marion Female Seminary. A childhood friend, Frances Sellick, climbed up on one of the stone posts to watch the passing soldiers:

“It was a tatterdemalion company that passed, plodding along at ragged route step – one-armed men, one-legged men, men with matted hair on their heads and matted clothes on their backs, listless men, dazed men, battered human driftwood washed up beyond reach of the ebbing tides of disaster. Suddenly a ragged, bearded fellow broke ranks and rushed toward the stone post on which Frances Sellick was sitting. He reached up, grasped her in his arms, ran back into formation with her. Her screams echoed back down the road as the line wound on – echoed back, Aunt Bertha is sure, even after the bedraggled veteran had been able to convince Frances that he was her father.”

Were these troops returning from the war as a unit, or could at least some of them have been patients of the Breckinridge Military Hospital at Howard College (MMI) departing for home (especially, the amputees)?

Marion Female Seminary in Marion, Alabama, where Nicola Marschall taught. He is credited with designing the first Confederate flag and the first Confederate uniform. (Credit: Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Finally, Bertha relates how her father’s ill health forced him to sell the plantation to a Mrs. Day at the end of the war. He had also been swindled out of his cotton crop by an unscrupulous cotton broker in Selma. The family – which originally came from Georgia by way of Prussia (Germany) – then moved North to Hoboken, New Jersey, to join relatives!

Question? With only one slave (Uncle Steve), how were they able to harvest their cotton and get it to market? Use of slaves from other plantations? Family members and hired hands?

P.S. Clio, of course, is the Muse who sings of famous deeds and who restores the past to life. Aunt Bertha tells some whoppers herein, including the one about the hoopsnake which sticks its tail in its mouth and rolls like a bicycle tire toward its victim!

Monday, January 12, 2009

When the University of Alabama Came to Auburn’s Rescue!

In July, 1864, Union cavalry under Major General Lovell H. Rousseau raided into East Alabama destroying iron furnaces, mills, and railroad tracks of the West Point and Montgomery Railroad. One important rail stop was Chehaw Station near Auburn, Alabama.

Union MG Lovell H. Rousseau (1818- 1869). (Credit: The Library of Congress)

The alarm went out to assemble as many Confederate troops as possible to thwart the Federal raid. The Alabama Corps of Cadets (ACC) of the University of Alabama – known at the Katydids - were then on a fifteen-day furlough following their graduation exercises in Tuscaloosa (remember, that the ACC was commanded by COL James T. Murfee, later founder and first president of Marion Military Institute). Thus, the call went out to those cadets living in or passing through Montgomery to join the Confederate effort to stop Rousseau. Some 54 cadets in the Montgomery area answered the call. Although there were new British Enfield Rifles in the Confederate warehouses in Selma, time was of the essence, and the Katydid Cadets were given ancient re-bored and rifled smoothbore muskets of dubious operation. The Cadets joined Lockhart’s Battalion (mostly young boys) and some conscripts from Camp Watts. These 500 Confederates were quickly transported from Montgomery to Chehaw Station (Beasley’s tank) near Auburn on the West Point and Montgomery Railroad. Rousseau’s cavalry had already rampaged through Auburn.

A cadet officer in the Alabama Corps of Cadets (ACC) during the Civil War. (Credit: Hoole Special Collections Library, University of Alabama. Reprinted from The Young Lions: Confederate Cadets at War, 1997, by James Lee Conrad)

On July 18, 1864, at Beasley’s Farm, some six miles east of Chehaw Station, the two sides collided in a spirited fight following a foiled ambush attempt by Rousseau’s cavalry. Pouring from the train and fighting from behind a rail fence, the Confederates eventually took cover in a ravine. Depending upon which side’s report you read, either the South won the battle or the Federals did – each side claimed victory! However, Confederate casualties numbered about 80 including some 40 killed, compared with the far lighter losses of three killed and 8-10 wounded for the seasoned and heavily armed (Spencer carbines) Union cavalrymen. Two of the Katydid Cadets were wounded, the first casualties of the war for the Alabama Corps of Cadets (ACC) as a unit.

A Katydid Cadet from the University of Alabama during the Civil War. (Credit as above)

At any rate, the Katydid Cadets reportedly moved on to the village of Auburn where they were technically still on furlough. The East Alabama Male College (1856), later Auburn University, was closed for the war and the buildings were being used as a Confederate hospital for some 400 Texas soldiers. Sound familiar? Sorry, no, the Katydid Cadets did not party down at the KA House on the Auburn campus, but it does appear that the Katydid Cadets were warmly received and that they did find “comfort” in Auburn.

East Alabama Male College (Old Main), Auburn, Alabama, in 1883. (Credit: Auburn University Libraries Special Collections and Archives)

A company of University of Alabama cadets in 1893 in front of Woods Hall, built by architect James T. Murfee after the Civil War. Murfee, who served as commandant of the Alabama Corps of Cadets during the Civil War, founded and served as the first president of Marion Military Institute. (Credit: Hoole Special Collections Library, University of Alabama. Reprinted from History of the University of Alabama, 1953, by James B. Sellers)

Monday, January 5, 2009

MG Hugh B. Mott ’40, Hero of Remagen Bridge

Major General Hugh B. Mott ’40, hero of Remagen Bridge in World War II and Adjutant General of the State of Tennessee, attended Marion Military Institute from 1939-1940 in the “Army Class” preparing for West Point.

MG Hugh B. Mott ’40 of the Tennessee National Guard.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1920, Hugh Mott graduated from East Nashville High School in 1939, where he served as a cadet captain in the ROTC. Following completion of his year at MMI in 1940, Mott did not attend West Point but, rather, worked as a civilian with the Army Corps of Engineers, and then enlisted in the Army during World War II. He was commissioned in June, 1943, through OCS at Artillery Officer Candidate School at Camp Davis, North Carolina. Mott then transferred to Engineer Branch, and completed Engineer Basic Officer School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, in March, 1944. Hugh Mott was assigned to the 9th Armored Division Engineer Battalion at Fort Polk, Louisiana, as a combat engineer.

MMI Cadet Corporal Hugh B. Mott of “C” Company, second year ROTC.

The “Army Class” at MMI, unidentified, in 1940. Cadet Mott should be in this photograph.

Mott and the 9th Armored Division were deployed to France in August, 1944, landing at Normandy in October. They participated in the liberation of France and saw action in the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans then began retreating across the Rhine River back into Germany with the Allies on their heels.

On March 7, 1945, the 9th Armored Division arrived at the town of Remagen, Germany - where the Ludendorff Bridge spanned the Rhine – and found the Germans still retreating across the bridge and preparing to blow it up. First Lieutenant Mott and two of his best men were ordered to diffuse the numerous explosives rigged to the bridge before the Germans could blow it. Under intense direct fire from snipers and machine guns, Mott and his men raced the length of the bridge, cutting wires and tossing detonators into the river, effectively neutralizing German attempts to destroy the bridge. When U. S. infantry arrived to secure the bridge, Mott and his men repaired a gaping hole in the bridge planking, thus allowing tanks to cross the bridge into Germany.

The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany, Rhineland-Palatinate.

American troops at the bridge following the fighting.

The East Towers of the Ludendorff Bridge today.

The West Towers of the Ludendorff Bridge today.

The Allied commanders estimated that saving the bridge shortened the war by about six months and probably prevented between 5,000 to 10,000 Allied casualties. Hugh Mott and his men were each awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), Mott being cited for his “unhesitating action and cool courage” in the face of direct enemy fire.

After Remagen, the 9th Armored Division moved on to Limberg, Frankfurt, and Leipzig, and then pushed into Czechoslovakia before V-E Day. Mott remained with the occupation forces until June, 1946, when he was separated from active service and entered the Reserves with the rank of captain.

Returning to Tennessee as a highly decorated and respected war hero, Hugh Mott won election to the Tennessee House of Representatives, serving from 1948 to 1951. Joining the Tennessee National Guard, he quickly rose through the ranks to major general and was named Adjutant General for the State of Tennessee in 1968, serving until 1971. He led the Guard in suppressing civil unrest in Nashville following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis in 1968. Mott retired from service with the Tennessee National Guard in 1975.

Mott as commander of the 30th Armored Division in Tennessee in 1968.

MG Hugh B. Mott ’40 died in June, 2005, at the age of 84, following 33 years of service to his country and state. “Mott Hall” at the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, is named in his honor, as is the massive new headquarters of the Tennessee National Guard in Nashville.

Three views of the headquarters of the Tennessee National Guard in Nashville, still under construction.

Note: The Hollywood movie, The Bridge at Remagen, was released in 1969. It depicts a fictionalized version of actual events.