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Ask Rufus: Fortress Columbus

 

Rufus Ward

 

A week ago I underwent major heart surgery at Baptist Hospital in Columbus. While the surgery could not have gone any better and the doctors, nurses and staff could not have been any more caring, I am an outdoors person who could only look out of a window while spending four days in the Critical Care Unit.  

 

As I looked out I could not help but recall Adair Cox. Mr Adair, as I called him, was a civil engineer and friend of my parents. During the early 1960s he was heavily involved in the survey and engineering of what would be first Lowndes General Hospital and eventually Baptist. He knew my interest in history and was always good to call me if he came across something he thought I might find interesting. 

 

As I lay in the CCU, I recalled once walking over what became the site of the hospital with Mr. Adair. He was showing me a Confederate Civil War entrenchment he had discovered. Most of the entrenchment is now lost to neighborhood, hospital and school development. Portions of the entrenchments may yet survive in the shallow ditches between the hospital and Heritage. 

 

Few people realize the extent of the fortifications that once surrounded Columbus.The construction of fortifications commenced in June, 1862 and on August 14, 1863 it was completed. Columbus was then completely encircled by either entrenchments or rivers. Major concentrations of Confederate troops were stationed one and a half miles north of town on both the Aberdeen Road and the Military Road. 

 

Historian Gary Lancaster (I consider him the authority on Columbus'' Civil War history) has found in the "Official Records" of the Civil War a fascinating document. On October 1, 1863, Union Major General S A Hurlbut forwarded to the U S XVI Corps  the report of a "scout" sent down the M & O Railroad. The scout had "visited" Columbus and described the situation there. 

 

"At Columbus, Miss., are also two batteries, Rice''s and Thrall''s, with 120 men ... 

 

Columbus has been fortified with 20-odd miles of earth-works and ... It would take about 50,000 men to occupy these fortifications-a small number could not do any good. Engineer Low, who fortified the place, said ''it was thought it may be of use to General Bragg in the future.'' The town is situated on the east side of Tombigbee River. The river is bridged with a very long bridge.  Near the bridge is a small stockade, which can hardly keep 20 men in - a dash of 100 cavalrymen, can take it.  The river can be forded at Main Street, but this ford is fortified with ditches and earth-works. But there is a ford 3 miles below the town, which is not well fortified, and they could not stop the crossing of cavalry as well as in town. But the best place to cross the Tombigbee River is between Cotton Gin and Aberdeen, Miss.  In Columbus can be found several millions of Government goods, as Maj. W. J. Anderson has (at the  arsenal building) one of the largest army clothing factories in the Confederacy, and plenty of every other article usually found in the quartermasters department. 

 

All the above-mentioned places are under the command of Brig. Gen. Dan. Ruggles who will not fight, but run.  If our cavalry makes a raid on the Memphis and Ohio Railroad, and passes through Columbus, they should get hold of a man by name of Griesem, in William Cady''s livery stable; also a ... man named Guss, at Cady''s Hotel. The above named men are well acquainted with the roads and fords in the States of Mississippi and Alabama, as they have been stage and I wagon drivers most of their lives. Close to Columbus lives a gentleman by the name of George Field, who is and has been thoroughly loyal to the old Union, and would do most anything to break up the rebellion; he could give information about the Confederates'' movements.   Mr. Young, in that neighborhood, has 150,000 bushels of corn ..." 

 

Even laying in a hospital bed in Columbus, one still can not escape being encircled by our area''s rich history. 

 

Rufus Ward is a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to him at rufushistory@aol.com. 

 

 

 

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment mississippian commented at 3/20/2011 3:24:00 PM:

It's to bad that persons like Carl Hogan and others have destroyed evidence of the Civil War era. The hills along Holly Hills road played a vital role in the War of Northern aggression. Rufus, you are doing an awesome job portraying the history of Columbus. I can't wait till next Sunday.

 

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