Ask Rufus: How did Military Road get its name?

March 6, 2010 8:43:00 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Whenever something gets torn up, people tend to pay more attention. So it is with Military Road in Columbus. The street seems to be constantly torn up by the city''s drainage improvements. That has resulted in my being asked, why is it called Military Road. Those who are old Columbus residents ask if Andrew Jackson really marched down it on the way to the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. 


Military Road does have its origins with Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans. However, Jackson never traveled on it and its route was not even surveyed until 1817. The road was built in response to the lack of a direct route from Nashville to New Orleans. Jackson realized that problem as he was attempting to marshal his forces in late 1814 prior to the battle at New Orleans. 


In order to address the need for a connecting road, Congress on April 27, 1816, directed that a survey for a road from Nashville to New Orleans be made. On Sept. 30, 1817, Captain Hugh Young reported to Andrew Jackson on a proposed crossing point on the Tombigbee River. That location became the Town of Columbus, which was settled soon after the completion of the survey. The construction of the road was by the 1st and 8th Infantry Regiments and a detachment of artillery. In 1819 there was a work camp located on Howard''s Creek about six miles northeast of Columbus. Two soldiers died there and became the basis of Joseph Cobb''s "The Legend of Black Creek," an 1851 tale in the vein of Washington Irving''s headless horseman. 


The road was completed to the Tombigbee and the new settlement of Columbus by the spring of 1820. The Niles Weekly Register, a Baltimore newspaper, reported that the new road shortened the distance from Nashville to New Orleans by 300 miles. In an article datelined Florence, Ala., Aug. 29, 1820, the newspaper stated, "The Military Road is now open from this place to New Orleans, and is probably one of the finest roads in the union. It has been opened under the immediate direction of Gen. Jackson ..." 


Though Andrew Jackson did not march down the Military Road on his way to fight the British at New Orleans, he did have the road constructed to address problems in the movement of troops that occurred prior to the Battle of New Orleans. 


Rufus Ward is a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to him at [email protected]

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]