When I was in first grade at Episcopal Day School in Gadsden, we had a project to learn about any famous person we wanted, and to tell a bit about that person in class. I chose Emma Sansom, because so often we passed the monument to her on Walnut Street and I wanted to learn more about her. I think in first grade the best I could do was that ‘Miss Emma Sansom helped General Forrest cross the creek’!
Can you imagine.
Earlier this week we were in Gadsden and took these pics.
Here’s more about Emma Sansom:
In 1863, Union Colonel Streight dashed across Alabama on his way to Georgia, General Forrest on his heels much of the way. When Forrest came close to Gadsden, he needed a way across the Black Creek as it was up and the bridge was destroyed.
Forrest went to the first house he came to and asked if there was anyone who could show him a way across. No men being home, 16 year-old Emma Sansom spoke up and said that she knew the way and would accompany him if she had a horse.
This report is from The Jacksonville Republican, May 1863:
There being no time for ceremony, Gen. Forrest proposed that she should get up behind him to which, with no maiden coyness, but actuated only by the heroic impulse to serve her country, she at once consented. Her mother, however, overhearing the suggestion, and sensitively alive to her daughter’s safety and honor, interposed the objection. “Sir, my child cannot thus accompany a stranger.” “Madam,” respectfully urged the far-famed chieftain, “my name is Forrest, and I will be responsible for this young lady’s safety.” “Oh,” rejoined the good woman, “if you are Gen. Forrest she can go with you!”
This account is from Bennett H. Young’s, Confederate Wizards of the Saddle:
Without waiting for the assistance of her escort, she unloosed her hold from his waist and sprang to the earth.
The soldier, throwing his bridle rein over a sapling, followed the child, who was now creeping on her hands and knees along the ground over the leaves and through the ticket. The enemy saw the two forms crouching on the soil and began to fire at the moving figures in the bushes. Fearing that she might be struck, the soldier said, “You can be my guide; but you can’t be my breastwork,” and, rising, he placed himself in front of the heroic child, who was fearlessly helping him in his effort to pursue her country’s foes. Standing up in full view of the Federals, she pointed where he must enter and where emerge from the water. Her mission was ended. The secret of the lost ford was revealed. Streight’s doom was sealed. The child had saved Forrest in his savage ride, ten miles and three hours’ time, and now he felt sure that Rome was safe and that Streight and his men would soon be captives in his hands. As they emerged into an open space, the rain of bullets increased; and the girl, not familiar with the sound of shot and shell, stood out in full view and untying her calico sunbonnet, waved it defiantly at the men in blue across the creek. The firing in an instant ceased…
. . . Riding with quickening speed, he galloped back to the house. . . . [He] gave orders to instantly engage the foe. He sent aids to direct the artillery to the newly-found ford, and while they were moving with all haste into position, he drew from his pocket a sheet of unruled paper and wrote on it: Headquarters in Saddle, May 2d, 1863.
My highest regards to Miss Ema Sansom [sic] for her gallant conduct while my forse [sic] was skirmishing with the Federals across “Black Creek” near Gadisden, Allabama [sic].
N.B. Forrest, Brig. Gen. Com’d’g N. Ala.
The following day, Forrest caught up with Streight, and they battled; Forrest demanded Streight to surrender but he refused, demanding to be shown that his men were outnumbered. Although Forrest only had about 400 men and Streight had around 1500, Forrest ordered his men and artillery to move in and out of sight continuously along a ridge, fooling Streight into thinking he was indeed outnumbered. Streight surrendered at noon.
This quote of General Forrest from Edward Longacre’s article in Civil War Times Illustrated (June 1969):
“…When Streight saw they were barely four hundred, he did rear! demanded to have his arms back and that we should fight it out. I just laughed at him and patted him on the shoulder, and said: “ah, Colonel, all is fair in love and war you know.”
In my pic above, you can see that one of Emma Sansom’s fingers is missing; it’s sitting in the mayor’s office (it was returned by a prankster who broke it off!).
There is a marker in honor of Emma Sansom is in Social Circle, Georgia, in thanks to her for helping Forrest capture Streight, who was headed to Rome, GA.
The Alabama State Legislature at one time was discussing the possibility of putting Emma Sansom on the official Great Seal.