A True Heroine
[from the Jacksonville Republican, 9 May 1863]
"An incident connected with the recent Yankee raid is worthy of record. When Gen. [Nathan
B.] Forrest arrived at Black Creek, 3 miles from Gadsden [AL], in hot pursuit of the Vandals [Col. Abel D. Streight's Raid, 11 April-3 May 1863, through northern AL], he found his progress checked by a swollen stream and a demolished
bridge, while a detachment of the enemy lingered behind to dispute his passage to the opposite side. Ignorant of
the ford, if indeed there were any, Gen. Forrest himself rode back in quest of the necessary information. At the
first house he made the inquiry whether there was any person who could pilot his command across the stream, to
which a young lady made reply -- no male person being present -- that she knew the ford, and that if she had a
horse she would accompany and direct him. 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 herioic 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!"
Mounted behind the General, she piloted him across the stream, exposed to the whistling bullets of the enemy; nor
did she retire from her post of danger until the last man had safely crossed, and the column seen in continuance
of its rapid pursuit, accompanied by her earnest prayers for success.
The name of this heroine is Miss [Emma] Sansom, who deserves to be long and gratefully remembered, not only by
Gen. Forrest and his gallant men but by every lover of the cause to which she rendered such gallant and timely
aid. The General wrote a note of thanks, and sent it back to the heroic girl."
Additional information can be found in John A. Wyeth, Life of General Nathan Bedford Forrest (New York, 1899),
or in other biographies of Forrest. There are no biographies of Emma Sansom that I am aware of, except for a juvenile
book called Emma Sansom : Ride to Glory by Richard Cooper (Raleigh, NC : Creative Productions, 1987). There are
also a few articles about her in the Confederate Veteran. She married a man named Christopher B. Johnson in Alabama
in October 1864 and lived in Gadsden for several years. Ultimately the family moved to Texas and settled near Gilmer,
Upshur County, where they reared five sons and two daughters. Christopher died in 1887, and Emma never remarried.
She died 9 August 1900 and is buried in Little Mound Cemetery, about 12 miles west of Gilmer, Upshur County, Texas.
She was honored with a poem by John Trotwood Moore, and with a monument in Gadsden, Alabama. Their family included:
1. Mattie Forrest Johnson [15 Aug 1866, Gadsden, AL--9 Oct 1871, Gadsden, AL]
2. Joseph Bivins Johnson [4 May 1868, Gadsden, AL--5 Aug 1948, Upshur Co., TX]
3. Thomas Cooper Johnson [11 Dec 1869, Gadsden, AL--26 May 1936, Upshur Co., TX]
4. Edward Van Smith Johnson [30 Dec 1872, Gadsden, AL--17 Nov 1953, Houston, TX]
5. Chester Lucy Johnson (Burgin) [26 Oct 1874, Gadsden, AL--9 April 1958, TX]
6. Benjamin Cain Johnson [18 Dec 1877, Upshur Co., TX--8 April 1967, Upshur Co., TX]
7. Mercer Meeks Johnson [17 March 1881, Upshur Co., TX--19 March 1961, Dallas, TX]
8. Jennie Maud Johnson (Pond) [3 Oct 1884, Upshur Co., TX--11 March 1951, Weatherford, TX]
[some information provided by great grandson, Larry Johnson]
A Confederate cavalry force under Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest captured Union Col. Abel D. Streight and his men
during a raiding party into north Alabama in the spring of 1863.
Confederate wizards of the saddle - free online book pdf - text
That capture would not have been possible without the heroic assistance of 16-year-old Emma Sansom,
who helped the Confederate force of less than 600 men capture Streight and his men near Cedar Bluff and bring an
end to their raid into Alabama which had started on April 19.
On the afternoon of May 2, Streight and 1,600 infantry, many mounted
on mules, crossed Black Creek (located three miles from Gadsden) ahead
of Forrest and destroyed the only local btidge, thus impeding the Confederate pursuit. Unable to use the bridge
to cross the swollen creek, Forrest rode to a nearby home to find someone knowledgeable about the local terrain
and came upon Sansom.
According to an account published in the Jacksonville Republican one week later, Sansom volunteered
to guide Forrest to a nearby ford. With Sansom's guidance, Forrest located the ford, crossed it, and caught up
with the Union forces. While escorting the general, Sansom reportedly faced enemy fire that ceased after the Union
soldiers discovered that they had been firing upon a teenage girl.
By aiding the Confederate general, Sansom risked possible retribution for herself and her family
from the Union soldiers had they escaped capture and became an enduring heroine of the Confederacy for generations.
of Col. Abel D. Streight, August 22, 1864
Encylopedia of Alabama - Emma Sansom http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1360
The Yankees claim false victory at Day's Gap
Alabama Confederate Heroine, Emma Sansom
During Col. A. D. Streight's cavalry raid across north Alabama (April 19-May 3, 1863), he was pursued by a Confederate
force half the size of his Union company. Led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederates had several advantages.
They were riding horses; the Union troops were riding mules (except for a small contingent of cavalry composed
of north Alabama Unionists who were showing Streight the way). Horses were faster and quieter. Stories from the
north Alabama hills tell that one could hear the braying of Streight's mules for miles. For this reason, Southerners
called Streight's Federals the "Jackass Cavalry." During the raid, a sixteen-year-old Alabama girl became
one of the most well-known heroines of the Confederacy. In 1914, when French horse-armies were being slaughtered
by German machine guns in World War I and the cavalry was instantly made obsolete, Bennett H. Young, a Confederate
cavalry officer, published a book about several Confederate engagements, including the story of Streight's Alabama
Raid and Emma Sansom. He wrote, of course, with a Southern bias and in a romantic style typical of the 19th century.
The following is from pages 472-478 of Bennett H. Young, Confederate Wizards of the Saddle, 1914; reprint, Kennesaw,
Ga.: Continental Book Co., 1958.
By the afternoon of May 2d, the pressure of Streight and his men by Forrest was at its fiercest tension. Guided
by his two companies of Alabama refugee horsemen, Streight had been told if he could only cross Black Creek and
burn the bridge, that he might hope for a few hours' respite, and if he could not feed his weary men and wearier
beasts, he could at least let them sleep enough to restore a part of their wasted energy, and from a few hours'
repose get new strength for the struggles and trials that yet faced them in this perilous campaign upon which they
had so courageously come....
Sitting in their cottage, mayhap talking of the soldier brother, there fell upon the ears of these defenseless
home-keepers strange sounds: the galloping of horses, the clanging of swords, frequent shots, sharp, quick commands.
They wondered what all this clamor could mean, and rushing to the porch, they saw companies of men clad in blue,
all riding in hot haste toward the bridge over the creek. They were beating and spurring their brutes [mules],
who seemed weary under their human burdens, and in their dumb way resenting the cruel and harsh measures used to
drive them to greater and more strenuous effort. The passers-by jeered the women, asked them how they liked the
"Yanks," and told them they had come to thrash the rebels and run Bragg [Gen. Braxton Bragg] and his
men out of the country. They said "Old Forrest" was behind them, but they had licked him once and would
do it again.
The well in the yard tempted them to slake their thirst, and dismounting, they crowded about the bucket and pulled
from its depths draughts to freshen their bodies and allay the fever that burned in their tired throats. They asked
if they had any brothers in the army; and not to be outdone, the women said they had six, and all gone to fight
the Yankees. Two cannon went rumbling by. The men on their horses were belaboring them with great hickory wythes,
and were driving at a mad pace to get over the wooden bridge. Some of the blue-coated men came in and searched
the house for guns, pistols, and opened and pried through the drawers of the wooden bureau, and looked in the closets
and presses and under the beds; but they found nothing but a side saddle; and one, more malignant than the others,
drew his knife from a sheath dangling by his side, and slashed and cut its skirts into small pieces and threw them
upon the floor at the feet of the helpless women.
The line grew thinner. In double and single file some stragglers were all that was left of the men in blue, and
then the rear guard came, and over the creek the women saw the cannon on the banks, the horses unhitched, and the
little Federal Army dismounted, scattered out among the trees and bushes and standing with guns in their hands,
waiting for somebody else to come. They saw the men tear the rail fence down, pile the rails on the bridge, and
then one started into house; and, seizing a piece of blazing coal from the chimney place, ran in haste to the bridge
and set fire to the brush and rails, and the flames spring high into the air. They looked down the road and wished
that some men in gray would come and drive away these rude soldiers who had disturbed the peace of their home,
ungallantly destroying their property, and cutting into fragments their saddle which had come as a gift from the
dead father whose grave was out in the woods near the garden gate. As they looked down the road, they saw one single
blue-uniformed man riding at highest speed, rushing along the highway as if mad, waving his hands and beating his
tired mount with his sword. Just behind him, at full speed, came other men, shooting at the fleeing Federals. In
front of the humble home, the single horseman suddenly stopped and threw up his hands, and cried, "I surrender.
I surrender." Then up to his side rode with rapid stride a soldier in gray. He had some stars on his collar
and a wreath about them, and he said to the women, "I am a Confederate general. I am trying to capture and
kill the Yankee soldiers across the creek yonder."
Standing on the front porch of the house, these women watched these startling and surprising proceedings. The leader
who was pursuing this single soldier in blue sat on his panting steed at the gate. The young girls knew that the
gray uniform meant friends, rescue, kindness, chivalry. They walked to the fence and outside the gate touched the
bridle of their deliverer's steed and patted his foam-covered neck, and looked up into the face of the stern soldier,
without fear or dread.
With tones as tender as those of a woman, the officer who had captured the Federal vidette said, "Do not be
alarmed. I am General Forrest, and I will protect you." Other men in gray came riding in great haste and speedily
dismounting left their horses and scattered out into the forest on either side of the road. The youngest girl told
the Confederate general that the Yankees were amongst the trees on the other side of the creek, and they would
kill him if he went down toward the bridge. She did not realize how little the man in gray feared the shooting.
Now the flames from the burning rails and bridge timbers began to hiss and the crackling wood told that the bridge
was going into smoke and ashes and no human power could save it from ruin and destruction.
The leader said, "I must get across. I must catch these raiders. Can we ford the creek, or are there any other
bridges near?" "There is no bridge you can cross," the younger girl replied, "but you and your
men can get across down there in the woods. If you will saddle me a horse I'll go and show you where it is: I have
seen the cows wade there and I am sure you, too, can cross it." "Little girl," the general exclaimed,
"There's no time for saddling horses. Get up behind me"; and, seeing a low bank, he pointed her there.
She sprang with the agility of an athlete upon the bank, and then with a quick leap seated herself behind the grim
horseman, catching onto his waist with her hands. The solider pushed his spurs into the flanks of the doubly burdened
horse and started in a gallop through the woods, by the father's grave, along the path indicated by his youthful
The mother cried out in alarm, and with ill-concealed fear bade her child dismount. General Forrest quietly said,
"Don't be alarmed; I'll take good care of her and bring her safely back. She's only going to show me the ford
where I can cross the creek and catch the Yankees over yonder before they can get to Rome." There was something
in the look of the warrior that stilled fear for her child, and with eager gaze, half-way consenting, she watched
them as they galloped across the corn field. They were soon lost to sight in the timbered ravine through which
the soldier man and the maiden so firmly seated behind him now passed out of view. Following the branch a short
distance, General Forrest found that it entered Black Creek three-fourths of a mile above the bridge. Through the
trees and underbrush, as she saw the muddy waters of the stream, she warned her companion that they were where
they could be seen by the enemy. 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. They recognized the child's heroic defiance. Maybe they recalled
the face of a sister or sweetheart away across the Ohio River in Indiana or Ohio. They were brave, gallant men,
the fierceness of no battle could remove the chivalrous emotions of manly warriors. Moved with admiration and chivalrous
appreciation of courage, they withdrew their guns from their shoulders and broke into hurrahs for the girlish heroine
who was as brave as they, and whose heart, like theirs, rose in the tumult of battle higher than any fear.
Forrest turned back toward his horse, which was ravenously eating the leaves and twigs from the bush where he had
been tied. The bullets began whistling about the retreating forms. She heard the thuds and zipping of the balls;
and, with childish curiosity, asked the big soldier what these sounds meant. "These are bullets, my little
girl," he said, "and you must get in front of me. One might hit you and kill you." . . . 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.