Captain White’s Winston County Mail Guard
Written and submitted by Robin Sterling.
Captain White’s Winston County Mail Guard
One of the little known organizations operating in the Winston County area during the Civil War was known as Captain Thomas J. White’s Mail Guard. White was born in 1834 in Talbot County, Georgia son of Zachariah White. Zachariah White was a Brigadier General in the Georgia Militia during the Indian Wars. The White family moved to Winston County in the years leading up to the Civil War. After Alabama seceded from the Union, Zachariah White gave fiery speeches in support of the Union across Winston and Walker counties. He ran for the office of Senator in 1861 on the Union ticket from Winston County.
Thomas J. White was living in Fayette County but in the fall of 1861 he moved to Winston County to live near his father after his wife died. The Unionists organized a home guard and eventually became engaged in guarding the mail service route between Courtland and Tuscaloosa, part of which ran along the Byler Road through Winston County. Thomas J. White was elected its captain.
The Unionists of Winston County encouraged young men of fighting age to join the home guard because those men engaged in guarding the mail route from bandits and deserters were exempt from the Confederate draft. The mail route soon became a favored means by which the unionists communicated with layouts and funneled information on the Confederates and potential Union army recruits back to Federal authorities. Although the home guard was organized to avoid Confederate service, in 1863 Major Pickett sent word for White’s company to report to General Roddy’s command in the Tennessee Valley. Pickett threatened to send the entire company to Virginia if they did not comply. When they reported for duty to Pickett and Roddy, at that point the members of the former Unionist home guard ironically became enrolled as Confederates. Some continued in their usual service, while others, like White, soon deserted the army. White was a layout for the rest of the year, but sometime in 1864 he was arrested. The trial date was postponed as the place for his trial was moved from Moulton to Tuscaloosa and then to Montevallo until finally White escaped and remained at home for the rest of the war.
Zachariah White died in December 1866. Throughout the war, his property was plundered by the local Confederates, but during Wilson’s Raid in March of 1865, many of his most valuable possessions were carried off by the Union soldiers. Among the several horses they took was a prized stallion worth $1000 in gold. In the 1870s, administrators for his estate petitioned the United States Government for recovery of the items taken by the Federal soldiers and calculated they were worth $2587. The only two heirs named were his son, Thomas J. White, and a grandson by the name of Willie White. Willie White’s father was the son of Henry White, another son of Zachariah. Henry died in 1860. The Claims Commission took into consideration the White family’s Unionist sentiment, but called into question Thomas J. White’s loyalty because when his home guard company was pressed into service of the Confederacy, they believed he must have taken an oath to support the Rebel government. With this in mind, in 1880 the Commission issued a warrant in the amount of $515 to the grandson, Willie White, but allowed nothing for Thomas J. White.
The Mail Guard was frequently mentioned among the surviving Winston County Confederates applying for Alabama pensions, and in the early days several of the old veterans received pensions based on their reported service. However, when the pension rolls were reviewed in 1913, the State Archives and the War Department could locate no muster rolls or any other record establishing its existence. Because of the lack of official records, many Winston County men were dropped from the rolls and denied any further pension from the State of Alabama. Others applied for pensions claiming service in other outfits and some were approved.
Many men associated with the Mail Guard were buried in Winston County underneath Confederate monuments. Some may have been Unionist at heart, while others were true Confederates. It was said Thomas J. White was buried in his Confederate uniform when he died in 1912. That fact stands in contrast with his actions during the war, testimony to the Southern Claims Commission, and his father’s strong Unionist convictions.
Some Winston County men who identified themselves as members of the Mail Guard included:
Baughn, Frederick Hicks (Cap), 24 Dec 1833 – 25 Feb 1916; buried Dodd Memorial Cemetery; CSA monument was inscribed “Co A 19th AL CAV”
Cagle, Ephriam, 24 Sep 1842 – 23 Sep 1911; buried Enon Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery; CSA monument was inscribed “PVT 10 AL CAV”
Cagle, John F., 6 Jan 1818 – 26 Mar 1886 or 1887; buried New Prospect Church Cemetery
Cumens, Patrick, “Pack” Cumens was buried in Boar Tush Cemetery; no dates were recorded; 1867 Winston County Voter Registration List reported he was born 24 Sep 1832; the last pension application on file was 1911
Elliott, Dabner “Dave” Wansley, 12 Dec 1824 – 10 Apr 1906; buried Liberty Grove Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery; CSA monument in the Elliott Family Cemetery was inscribed “5 Reg’t AL CAV”
Ingle, Andrew Jackson, reportedly a member of the Mail Guard for a few months and encouraged his young neighbors to join to avoid the Confederate draft. He also used the mail route to convey information about local Confederates and Winston County men who wanted to join the Union Army back to Federal authorities. 1820 – 18 Sep 1896; buried Fairview No. 1 Baptist Church Cemetery
Norris, Joseph Zachariah, born Jun 1848 (1900 Census) and died 11 Aug 1913 (Death Certificate Index); also reported he served in the 56th Alabama Partisan Rangers, another Winston County area outfit. His Alabama Death Certificate reported Joseph Norris was son of Reuben Norris and died of nephritis and cysitis in Winston County on 11 Aug 1913 (Vol. 37; Cert. No. 444). He was 87 years, 4 months and 26 days old. The certificate recorded he was buried in the Norris Cemetery, apparently in an unmarked grave.
Reavis, Francis Marion, 3 May 1833 – 17 Apr 1908; buried New Hope Church Cemetery
Sutherland, Elijah, 27 Mar 1827 – 29 Mar 1909; buried Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery; CSA monument was inscribed “4 Roddey’s CAV”
Ward, J.M., signed an affidavit declaring he served in the Mail Guard along with Cumens in support of Patrick Cumens’ pension application
Wilson, G.D., signed an affidavit declaring he served in the Mail Guard along with Sutherland in support of Elijah Sutherland’s pension application
White, Thomas J., frequently mentioned as captain of the Mail Guard. His recorded service was in Company I of Boyle’s Regiment of the 56th Alabama Partisan Rangers. 1834 – 1912; buried New Prospect Cemetery.
Sources: Microfilmed Alabama Confederate Pension Applications for soldiers from Winston County; Southern Claims Commission files for Andrew J. Ingle and Zachariah White.