This was taken from 'History Stories of Alabama', Alabama State Textbook. Originally printed 1924, Reprinted 1952. This was a textbook used in schools to educate on the history of Alabama. It is reprinted here exactly as it appears within the pages of the textbook.
The Girl who showed General Forrest the "Lost Ford"
One day in 1863 three women stood outside a little house on a farm near Gadsden, Alabama; they were shading their eyes with their hands as they gazed down the road at the cloud of dust coming toward them. These women were Emma Sansom, her mother, and her older sister.
"It's the Yankees!" the three women cried.
Sure enough, it was the "Yankees" with the cruel Streight at their head. The Federal troops were on their way to capture the city of Rome, Georgia, the depot of supplies for the Southern Army.
For days Streight and his troops had been going about taking everything they wanted and burning what they did not want.
General Forrest has been trying to catch them, but other Federal troops had been trying to cause General Forrest to fight them, in order to keep him from driving Streight from that part of the state. But General Forrest was too smart for that; he refused to be tempted by the bait offered, and kept on in a hot chase of Streight's men.
It was not an unusual thing for the Sansom family to see Blue Coats riding by their farm house. It was a very common thing for them to hear the Rebel yell and to divide their little supply of provisions with the hungry Boys in Gray.
The three women lived alone now; for their only protector, a son of Mrs. Sansom, was away fighting in the Confederate Army. Mrs. Sansom and her daughters worked the farm themselves and attended to the livestock they owned.
On this May morning the tramp of the feet of horses in the distance had brought the Sansom family into the front yard.
There they stood watching anxiously until the Federal soldiers stopped at their gate.
"We want some water," called the soldiers.
Emma and her sister hurried to the well and soon returned with a bucket of water.
"Where is your father?" asked one of the soldiers.
"He is dead," said Emma simply.
"Have you any brothers?" said the soldier.
"Yes, I have six," said Emma without glancing at the astonished face of her sister.
"Where are they now?" asked the soldier.
"They are all fighting in the Confederate Army."
"Do you think the South is going to win?"
"I think God is on our side, and we will win," answered the girl, looking straight into the soldier's eyes.
While Emma and the soldier were talking together, some of the men entered the house. Finding little they wanted to carry away, they amused themselves by cutting the skirts off of the only saddle the women owned. The officer saw what the men were doing, however, and stopped them at once.
"You men bring a chunk of fire and get out of that house," ordered the officer, who wished to be kind to these brave women.
A guard was placed around the house by the officer, who assured the women they would not be harmed. Presently the Federals rode away towards the bridge. A few minutes later Mrs. Sansom cried, "The bridge! See, they are burning the bridge!"
With that she called her daughters and said, "We must move our fence rails back from the bridge or we'll lose them. Come with me!"
Alas! she found their rails piled high in the middle of the burning bridge; she could not save them. With sad faces they turned to go back to the house.
"Halt and surrender!" rang out, as the women saw a Federal soldier riding at top speed toward his own men at the bridge.
Just behind the flying horsemen came a group of men in gray. There was nothing for one horseman to do but throw up his hands and surrender to the Confederates. The three women opened their eyes in wonder, for now help was at hand.
Turning to Mrs. Sansom and her daughters, the Confederate officer said gently, "Ladies, do not be afraid. I am General Forrest. My men will see that you are not harmed."
Then he asked, "Where are the Yankees?"
"They are standing in line on the other side of Black Creek Bridge. See, they have set the bridge on fire. Don't go down that hill, General, for they will kill the last one of you," said Mrs. Sansom.
The Confederate General now dashed forward and both sides began firing across the stream. General Forrest soon saw that it was useless to continue to fire with the stream between the armies. He rode back Mrs. Sansom's house.
"Can you tell me where I can get across that creek," asked the general.
"There is an old bridge two miles down the creek, but it is unsafe," Emma Sansom replied.
Suddenly she thought of the "lost ford."
"There is an old ford about two hundred yards above the bridge on our farm" she cried. "Our cows cross there when the water is low and I believe you can get your men across. If you will have a horse saddled for me I will show you the way."
"There is no time for that," said the general. "Get up behind me," and General Forrest wheeled his horse about and pulled the young girl up to a seat behind him.
"Emma! Emma! What do you mean?" cried her mother.
The girl laughed back at her mother, and the general said, "She is going with me to show the ford in the creek. My men must cross the creek at once. I'll bring her back safely."
General Forrest and the girl were hidden from the enemy by a thicket. But soon they came to a spot where they were in full view.
"General, I think we should get off the horse now," said the girl. "They can see us here."
They got down and crept through the bushes until they reached Black Creek, Emma leading the way. Stepping in front of the brave girl the general said: "I am proud to have you for a guide, little lady; but I am not going to make breastworks of you."
By that time the shots from the enemy's guns were falling like hail all around them.
"That is the way to go," shouted the brave girl; "that is the lost ford."
Then Emma Sansom hid in the bushes until the firing stopped, and General Forrest rode back to lead his men across the ford.
As Emma went back to the house alone, she met General Forrest coming down to the ford with his men. The general stopped and asked her for a lock of her hair, which she gave him.
Some time after that Emma received a note from General Forrest. It was a word of thanks and praise from a brave general to a little woman who loved her country and knew no fear. She took good care of this note and kept it until she was an old woman. A number of years later she sent it to Dr. John Wyeth, who was writing a history of General Forrest's life.
Mrs. Emma Sansom Johnson moved away from Alabama after her marriage and lived in Texas. But Alabama people did not forget her bravery. Thirty-six years after the girl's brave deed, the Alabama legislature gave six hundred and forty acres of land to Emma Sansom. A monument has been built in her honor near the banks of the Coosa river at Gadsden, and her picture has been placed in the State Capitol with those of other men and women who served Alabama.
Things to think about
What is the meaning of the word raider?
Which part of the story do you like best? Why?
Did you think Emma Sansom would have made a good solider if she would have worn a uniform? Why?
Tell two stories that prove her bravery.
Why do you think the Federal officer ordered his men not to harm the Sansom house?
What is a ford? How is the ford "lost"?
What did General Forrest mean when he said that he was not "going to make breastworks" of Emma Sansom?
How did the State of Alabama honor this brave woman?
Something to do
Trace Streight's raid from Tuscumbia to Gadsden and notice the direction of Rome, Georgia.
Find out if the raiders passed through your town.
Ask if any one who lives near you was with Forrest.
If so, get him to tell you of his experiences.
Do you know any one who knew Emma Sansom? If so, ask them to tell you about her.
Put an account of Emma Sansom in your chapter "Alabama a Confederate State."