We usually think of historic military stories in terms of what men have done. Today, with women becoming such an increasingly visible and vital part of our political, social and military scene, we should take a look at some of the female forerunners of our historical timeline.
We have one such internationally recognized female champion who lived right here in Lawrence County, Miss Annie Wheeler.
In honor of Military Appreciation Month, The Moulton Advertiser would like to share some facts that you might not know about the lady who grew up at Pond Spring, near Courtland. “I know the men sometimes take the spotlight during this month, but our local-gal Annie could certainly give them a run for their money,” says Alabama Historical Commission Marketing and Public Relations Manager, Andi Martin. The new director of Pond Spring, Bruce Lipscombe, has compiled these interesting facts about the life of one of Lawrence County’s most famous resident.
According to the vast storehouse of records left intact in the house, Annie Early Wheeler was born on July 31, 1868 and passed from this life on April 10, 1955, at the age of 86. Miss Annie never married, but dedicated her life to service and to her family.
Annie Early Wheeler was the second of General Joe Wheeler’s children, and was named for her maternal great-grandfather, Peter Early (June 20, 1773 – August 15, 1817) who served as Governor of Georgia 1813 – 1815. His granddaughter, Daniella, was Gen. Wheeler’s wife. “After Early’s death, Daniella used her grandfather’s bed, made circa 1830’s, for the rest of her life. It is on exhibit along with many other family pieces at Pond Spring,” said Lipscombe.
In 1898, Joe Wheeler was appointed Major General of volunteer units to Cuba in the Spanish-American War by President William McKinley as a living symbol of reunification of North and South. “This is a very important point,” Lipscombe stressed. “He was the embodiment of the consolidation of the country after the war ended, and is a symbol of that era when the country began to heal. We are still healing,” Lipscombe pointed out.
When her father and brother contracted Yellow Fever, Annie Wheeler against the advice of family and friends, made her way unescorted to her father’s camp in the Cuban war zone to nurse her beloved family members (men folk) back to health.
It was not a common thing for ladies to travel unescorted for such distances. “Because of that, Miss Annie’s trip to Cuba was an extraordinary thing for her to undertake. She was also exposed to Yellow Fever, which could potentially affect her health for the rest of her life,” Lipscombe explained.
Upon landing in Cuba on her life-saving mission to her father’s camp in 1898, she was met by Clara Barton (December 25, 1821 – April 12, 1912) famed Civil War nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. On the dock Miss Barton tried in vain to force Annie to return to Florida to safety. Politely defying Miss Barton, 30 year-old Annie, a true and independent Southern Magnolia, struck out into a war zone in an unfamiliar country to treat her seriously ill father and brother.
“Joe, Jr. was Gen. Wheeler’s namesake who eventually rose to the rank of Col. in the artillery division. The younger Wheeler was considered a mathematical genius. Later in life he was a mathematics professor at West Point,” said Lipscombe. “People might not realize how much math goes into planning an attack. He would have had to have taken the wind speed, trajectory and many other variables into consideration when planning and preparing for battles.”
After Annie Wheeler’s father and brother were well into recovery from Yellow Fever, she was entreated by Clara Barton to take charge of a new hospital in Santiago, Cuba. “It was there that sick and wounded soldiers bestowed the title of “The Angel of Santiago” on Miss Annie for the care she provided,” Lipscombe pointed out. “At the close of the Spanish-America War, Annie Wheeler sailed back to Long Island, New York on a hospital ship, the Olivette, where she served as the Chaplain on several occasions. She also read prayers over dead soldiers as they were consigned to a burial at sea.”
Lipscombe went on to recount the story of Miss Annie’s presentation at the Court of St. James in London, England. “She and her sister, Carrie, were presented to the Alexandria, Princess of Wales. They would have been greeted by Queen Victoria, except that she was ill that day,” said Lipscombe. Either way, it was a great honor.
Annie Wheeler often accompanied her father, General Joe Wheeler, to places across the globe. One of them was during the Philippine-American War, where she again served in a hospital. Returning to her previous volunteerism, Annie served in England and France as a Red Cross volunteer.
Annie Wheeler remarked that during WWI she could still smell the mustard gas on the soldiers when they arrived at the hospital; it was so close to the front trenches in France. “Despite facing daily the results of trench warfare she earned the nickname “Miss Sunshine” from the soldiers she cared for,” Lipscombe smiled.
Annie Wheeler, raised in the Alabama countryside between Hillsboro and Courtland, once admitted that she was more at home on a horse than in a house. One of her beloved horses was named Beatrice. Annie honored her steed with a headstone on which is inscribed, “Beatrice, she was measured and not found wanting.” According to Lipscombe, the horse is buried on the Wheeler property.
Today you will see the Wheeler name throughout the Tennessee Valley, in a wildlife refuge on the Tennessee River, on the electrical co-op that serves several counties, on roads, churches and of course, the dam. Though the United States Government took 3000 acres of the family’s land for the Tennessee River Authority, Annie Wheeler agreed to settle if the government named the dam after her father, General Joe Wheeler.
So respected and beloved in her community was this diminutive dynamo that during Annie Wheeler’s funeral in April 1955, tenant farmers lined the path to the family cemetery and sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as she was carried her to her final resting place.
Her life was lived in service to her fellowman. Well done, Miss Annie, well done.
Sew History – If you like history and sewing, the staff at Pond Spring needs YOU. Costumed volunteer tour guides help bring history to life. Creativity and talent come together to bring history to vivid life in reproduction garments. Interested parties should contact Bruce Lipscombe, Site Director, Pond Spring the General Joe Wheeler Home at 256.637.8513.