The Heroic Stewart Family

Before the Civil War, J. W. and Pauline Bridewell Stewart came to Florence, Alabama, from Louisville, Kentucky and built a beautiful two story Antebellum house, graced with soaring white columns where the Trowbridge’s restaurant is now located.

With all the able‑bodied men away fighting the Civil War, the Stewart women, Pauline Bridewell Stewart and her daughter Ophelia Stewart Smith, were left alone and undefended from the Northern aggressors but this did not dampen their own brand of heroism. When Colonel Florence Cornyn came to Florence, in 1863, with his band of “Destroying Angels,” they set several of the downtown buildings on fire, one of which was the Masonic lodge across from the Stewart home, on the corner of Court and Tombigbee Streets.

Pauline Stewart told the commanding Federal officer of Cornyn’s cavalry that her husband was a mason and she begged him to let her go in the burning building so she could save the jewels of the lodge which were used in the Masonic ceremonies.

The officer granted permission and Mrs. Stewart dashed into the flames. Masonic Meetings are never held on ground level floors and Mrs. Stewart knew she would have to fight the fire and smoke to rescue the jewels which were on the second floor. Her daughter, Ophelia Stewart Smith, watched in horror from Court Street, fearing that her mother would either be killed by a Yankee soldier or die in the fire. But finally, Mrs. Stewart emerged unscathed with the jewels. The jewels were carried to Montgomery and finally returned to Florence after the war and are the same jewels of the order which are used today.

Life must have been difficult for Mrs. Stewart. She had been forced to watch while Federal troops occupied her town and burned buildings at random and she’d lost many of her possessions to Yankee looters.

Worst of all, she had watched her beloved son, Charles Daniel Stewart, don a gray uniform and ride off with Company H of the 4th Alabama Infantry, carrying with him the stars and bars of the Confederacy. The men, who had enlisted, assembled at Wesleyan University and the Stewart boy was among them.

He was the first to ride out of Florence brandishing the flag which had been hand made by the women of the city. As color bearer, the boy led the Rebel army, vowing, “This flag will float wherever honor and danger shall demand it wave. If honor and victory are not inscribed upon its fold, this flag will never return to Florence.”

It was not long before he saw action.

Young Charles headed the Florence Battalion in the first battle of Bull Run or Manasas as southerners referred to it. This was the first major battle and everyone wanted to be involved in it because it was believed that it would be the first, last, and only battle of the war. The South merely wanted to defend southern land only and had no intention of engaging in aggression. The Northern objective was to capture the Capitol at Richmond and put an end to the secession. Most of the commanders had only had 45 days training and some had never led large companies of men. They paraded through the streets of Washington joined by Congressmen and other Washington celebrities and their families with packed picnic baskets, expecting to see a colorful show.

The Confederates were quickly pushed a mile south to Henry Hill. It was here that Thomas J. Jackson led his Virginians to the top of the hill and sat still facing the onslaught of Federal soldiers. Seeing this, General Bee, attempting to inspire his retreating troops yelled, “Look there boys, there’s General Jackson like a stone wall, rally around the Virginians boys.” The name stuck and the legend of Stonewall Jackson was born.

The battle raged on for hours and finally the Union soldiers began to retreat. Chaos ensued when the fleeing soldiers ran headlong into the spectators while being chased by the Confederates.

Never again would the public look upon war as a good show.

At the head of the Lauderdale Volunteers, Company H., 4th Alabama Infantry, Charles was in the direct line of cannon and rifle fire. He was soon seriously wounded but bravely kept his promise to keep the flag from touching the ground and struggled to hold it up until another soldier could relieve him of his duties. This flag was carried by seven different bearers during the course of the war, all of whom were killed carrying it. Yet the flag was never captured by Union forces.

After it was retired, the flag made its way back to Florence where Pauline Stewart wore it as a bustle to keep the federals from taking it.

That very flag, although worn by war and time, is now displayed in the Pope’s Tavern Museum in Florence. It was carried by a descendent of the Stewart family in the final parade of Confederate Veterans in 1938.

It was believed for many years that Charles Daniel Stewart’s body had been buried with the others who perished at Manassas but the boy languished for a month before he died on August 16, 1861, in the Stewart home.

He was buried in Florence Cemetery with only a small handmade grave marker that bears the initials C.S.A., Confederate States of America or Confederate States Army.

It wasn’t until 2001, nearly 140 years after Charles Daniel Stewart’s death, that the Daughters of the Confederacy combined efforts to procure a stone commemorating his heroism at the Battle of Manassas.

Charles’ younger brother, James William Stewart, also donned the gray, enlisting in Company F, 4th Alabama Cavalry, in December 1862, – only two months prior to his fourteenth birthday. Born February 15, 1849, he was, perhaps, the youngest member of General Philip D. Roddey’s Cavalry. His daughter, Mabel Haraway said, in a February 15, 1983, article for the Florence Time – Tri Cities Daily, “Father was often spoken of as the lad who went to war with a gun in one hand and a milk bottle in the other.”

Young Jim was assigned the task of delivering dispatches and mail through the units of the brigade since he was deemed too young to fight. Often, Jim would have to circumvent the occupying Yankees or swim the Tennessee River with the mail bag clenched between his teeth.

Roddey sent Jim with a dispatch for Nathan Bedford Forrest, with instructions to cross the river, where Kendale Gardens is now located, and to hide cattle from the Federals. While on this mission, he came upon a house where he thought he could spend the night, only to discover it was occupied by Yankee soldiers, who captured the boy and his horse.

Word was sent to his family and because he was so young and due to his father’s Masonic ties, he was released to his mother and sister. The Federal officer who brought him home told Mrs. Stewart, “You had better get that uniform off your son, Madam, and keep him at home or he will be arrested and sent to prison.”

Undaunted by his capture and near imprisonment, Jim returned to his post, as soon as the Yankees left Florence, and continued to deliver Roddey’s mail until the end of the war.

Jim married Cora Brown, October 14, 1885, and fathered ten children. He worked as a farmer at started the Shoals Transfer Company, which operated in North Alabama until 2003. He hauled with mules and wagons and was responsible for hauling gravel to the Florence when the city streets were paved.

In his later years, he went blind but continued his farming and transfer business. His son, Robert Lee Stewart said, “We would walk down the street and he would greet people by name. He couldn’t see them, but he would know their walk.”

He passed away at his home at 431 North Chestnut Street, in 1931, at the age of 83, and was one of the last surviving Confederate Veterans in this area.

Pauline Bridewell Stewart and, her daughter Ophelia Stewart Smith, remained in Florence and struggled as best they could, with Federal occupation troops.

Ophelia Stewart Smith was born April 22, 1835, and died March 29, 1906. During the Civil War, she served as a nurse at Pope’s Tavern. Twice, during the war, she traveled behind enemy lines to serve the Confederate cause and was awarded a badge for her faithful and efficient service. Her obituary in the Florence Herald, Friday, April 6, 1906, states:  “When the women of the impoverished south suffered for the necessities of life, she proved a successful blockade runner, even evading the oath of allegiance, the open sesame across the federal lines, by her readiness and wit.”

A letter written by Ophelia Stewart Smith survives and is on file at the Florence Lauderdale Public Library:

By request, I will try to give a few items of what occurred in and around Florence during the War Between the States. General Sherman came to Florence in October, 1863, and made headquarters at the residence of General S. D. Weakley on Court Street, and a part of his command on my mother’s place, Mrs. P.B. Stewart, Tuscaloosa Court Streets and was commanded by Captain A. P. Hall, Chief Scout of Sherman’s command, and I think they stayed about three weeks. And after the main command left, Captain Hall took his command that was camping on my Mother’s lot and went about 14 miles on Butler’s Creek, I suppose to steal fine horses that had been reported to him to have been hidden out. They did not know there were, in the country , and of the Southerners who wore the gray, until the Southerners fired on Hall’s command and Capt. Hall was mortally wounded. He was brought to town about 10 O’Clock the following morning, my Mother’s house pressed for his service and in a few minutes, Sherman’s medical board was by his side. Upon examination, his case was pronounced hopeless, and his command then left him. My mother and myself nursed him for about a month on up to the time of his death. WE had him nicely buried in our city cemetery, where his body remained until It was disinterred by order of the War Department at Washington D.C. and was again interred at the National Cemetery at Corinth, Mississippi.

Captain Hall, at the time of his enlistment, resided at Quincy, Illinois, and was a member of the 7th Illinois Regiment, commanded by Colonel Rowett.

Before the death of Captain Hall, Dr. McVay of Florence, visited him several times and on his last visit, he took Captain Hall’s fine boots and sold them to Mrs. Sample of this city. They bought them for her soldier brother who wore the gray and for them, she gave $10.00.

I must say we had trying times through the war, and no one but God knew what others and myself endured.

In 1862, we had General Buell’s cavalry here for about a month. I will here add, the 7th Illinois Regiment about the first of May 1864, patrolled the Tennessee River from Decatur to Eastport with headquarters at Florence and as well as I can remember on or about the 7th or 8th of May 1864, a portion of Roddy’s command crossed the Tennessee River near Bainbridge Ferry and captured a few Yankees. After this, I think the 7th Illinois Regiment was forced to leave Florence and were reported to have gone to Pulaski, Tennessee.

At one time, I cannot recall the date, the 9th Ohio Cavalry was reported to be moving in the direction of Florence and some of our Southern boys (I think some of Roddey’s command) crossed the Tennessee River near Coffee’s Island just below Florence and some of our boys were reported killed.

In the spring of 1863, Carrine’s (Cornyn’s) Cavalry came to Florence and burnt a block of houses in the city together with the Masonic Hall. When it was reported that the Masonic Hall was on fire, my mother, at once, went to the Hall to save the Jewels of the Order. My father was a Mason and this being reported to one of the  Yankee officers, she was permitted to go and get the jewels of the Lodge, which she succeeded in doing while the building was in flames- -and Oh! what a trying time it was on me thinking anytime that my mother would burn to death or be killed by some Yankee.

After General Roddey’s command had left the city and no other command was here, the Tories gave us more trouble than the regular army and had several skirmishes with Roddey.

In our hospital, here in 1862, the sick soldiers were brought from Forts Henry and Donelson after their fall and, as well as I can remember, there were 700 of them and out of this number 32 died and were buried in the Florence Cemetery along with two others that were killed in a skirmish about 4 miles from the city by General Rowett’s command in 1865.

By this time, the Tories had become so dangerous we were compelled to call on the Federals for protection, and a command was sent from Pulaski, Tennessee to protect us. This was in May, 1865, and the command remained in the city until September of the same year. During their stay, they arrested two of the Tory gang and brought them to Florence and I am sorry to say they were or town boys and had been with the Tory gang who killed and burned alive some of our best citizens. I recall the name of one in particular, Mr. Wilson, who lived at the place now known as St. Florian. They burnt him to death with the leaves of his Bible, one at a time, to make him tell where his money was. And another citizen whom they thought they had killed at the same time and in the same house with Mr. Wilson, played he was dead and as soon as the Tories left, he came to town and reported what the Tories had done. The two town boys were to have been hanged in the city, but at the request of their mothers, they were shot and not hanged as at first ordered. This settled the Tory gang.

After the war, Ophelia Stewart married Colonel Thomas S. Cutler Smith, a native of Georgia and a Civil War veteran. He had enlisted as a private in Co. B, 9th Regiment, Georgia Infantry, on June 12, 1861, but was discharged due to disability at Richmond, Virginia, on November 8, 1861. He reenlisted as a private in Co. I, 35th Regiment, Georgia Infantry, on March 20, 1862, but was again discharged, shortly after the battle of Antietam, due to disability, from the General Hospital #4, at Richmond, Virginia, November 18, 1862.

During the war, the 35th was involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the war and came away with an unblemished record.

His captain, W. T. Irvine, gave him a satisfactory record as a soldier, asserting that “he was courageous in battle, patient on long, weary marches, and always at the post of duty. At the battle of Cedar Mountain, he attracted attention for soldierly conduct, and once, in particular, after a long, weary march at the second battle of Manassas, he was the only member of the company when the regiment was halted.”

Before coming to Florence in the 1880s, Smith worked in Washington as a United States claim and patent attorney. In Florence, he worked as a lawyer, prosecuting pension and war claims.

He was active in building the Florence court house and made several unsuccessful races for congress.

Ophelia Stewart Smith was also instrumental in procuring the Confederate Memorial Monument, which stands in front of the Florence court house. The white Italian marble statue was dedicated April 26, 1903, with hundreds of people present, a band playing Dixie, and Veterans letting out Rebel Yells.

The funds for the monument had been raised since the end of the Civil War, however, the money, nearly $1000.00, was lost in the depression that ensued during the Reconstruction era. In 1896, Ophelia Stewart Smith, who served as president of the Ladies’ Memorial Association, renewed efforts to erect the monument, and by 1901, sufficient fund were raised.

The statue was made in Italy. The soldier, it depicts, is a private who has dropped his knapsack to the ground, resting one foot upon it. His gun is lowered as if to convey the war is over. The inscription reads, “Glory stands beside our grief. The manner of their death was the crowning glory of their lives.”

An article, featuring Mr. and Mrs. Cutler Smith, appeared in the Confederate Veteran, July, 1904, No. 7, which detailed Mrs. Smith’s dedication and struggle, as president of the Memorial association, to raise the money for the Confederate monument.

The account of the unveiling ceremony, in Confederate Veteran, described her as “radiant as if there had been an audible summons to ‘come up higher’ to a devout Christian. The writer never witnessed more unalloyed bliss in a human face.”

Colonel Thomas F. Cutler Smith’s obituary appeared, under the heading, “The Grim Reaper Cuts Down An Old Citizen,” in the Florence Herald, Friday October 27, 1905. He died from “consumption” Sunday, October 22, 1905, around noon, at his home on Court Street, at the age of 69. The Florence Times printed the obituary, on October 27, as well.

Ophelia Stewart Smith survived her husband for a year before she passed away, after suffering a stroke, on Thursday night, March 29, 1906. She had endured two previous strokes that left her partially paralyzed, two years before. She was 71. Her obituary, which appeared in the Florence Herald, Friday, April 6, 1906, told of her funeral which was held at the Methodist church, of which she was a long time member. “The funeral procession included Confederate Veterans and was quite a lengthy one. She was a devoted mother, faithful wife, and a good friend, and after a long and useful life, is at rest.”

6 responses

  1. Pauline Bridewell Stewart lived a block down from the Masonic lodge on the corner of Tuscaloosa and Court on lot #13. They purchased the property in 1857, from Robert M. Patton. See Book 16 in the probate office. Billy Sledge sent me what is believed to be a picture of the house. The property is on the N ½ Corner of Court and Tuscaloosa. I’m not sure that it really stood where Trobridges is located but just north of it.

  2. I have a real problem with the above quote, “In our hospital, here in 1862, the sick soldiers were brought from Forts Henry and Donelson after their fall and, as well as I can remember, there were 700 of them…” I discussed this with Bill but he fully supported it. As soon as Fort Henry fell, Union Gunboats were sent down the River chasing what southern boats were there. They were up river from the forts making it impossible for them to have loaded any wounded soldiers. There were a large number of soldiers with the measels that were sent from Henry to Florence. This was around that time. All of the wounded at Henry were taken to Donaldson. When that for fell, they were shipped to Nashville. The fact of the sick men in Florence during that time can be found in the O.R. Great information to read though.

    1. Heath Mathews would be the person to ask about Donelson. He’s a military historian who lives in Franklin. If you like, I can send you his email address. Thanks for the comment!

      1. That would be great to be able to communicate with Heath Mathews. I would love to have his e-mail address. I’m always afraid how what I say at times may come across in a way I did not mean it to. I have a passion for the Civil War in our area, and I am always trying to get a clearer picture of what happened. So when I share things or ask things I never want to be taken as coming across in a bad way. I have great respect for your work and what you do for our local history. Thanks again.

  3. Thanks for telling this story. I found it searching for some of the stories dad told me about our family. In particular the story of “Granny” (Cora Stewart) rushing into a burning building to save the Confederate flag. Dad was born in 1931 the same year his grandfather, JW, died. He remembers “Granny” as a woman tough as nails and a will of steel. He also remembers that she hated it when he played with his toy guns.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: