In honor of one of Alabama’s most enduring legendary figures, Gen. Joseph “Fightin’ Joe” Wheeler, the Friends of the General Joe Wheeler Home Foundation, in conjunction with the Alabama Historic Commission, the J. K. McBride Camp and the Winston Grey Camp/Sons of Confederate Veterans, will host the annual birthday celebration at Pond Spring, Wheeler’s home in Courtland, Alabama.
Pond Spring is located in Lawrence County near Hillsboro, three miles east of Courtland, on Alabama Highway 20 (US Alt. 72). The original plantation home and its predecessor, the Sherrod Home, are sheltered under ancient oaks and bordered by hundreds of original boxwoods planted by the family in the 1800s. Each year the "Friends of the Wheeler Home" sponsor a plant sale from cuttings and blubs taken from the grounds.
For Saturday’s special event, Pond Spring Site Director Bruce Lipscombe has partnered with a number of local organizations to create a full festive period environment in honor of what would have been the General’s 183rd birthday.
From 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., on Saturday, September 14, the gates to the beautifully kept and painstakingly restored and maintained home and its surrounding gardens will be opened to the public for this event. It includes the family cemetery and the original out buildings, some which predate the houses, and will celebrate not only the General’s birthday, but his life, which was full of adventure, intrigue, civic duty and sacrifice and his contributions to the state and the country.
Although his family was from Connecticut, Wheeler was born in Augusta, Georgia, on September 10, 1836. Wheeler attended school at West Point, then served his country as a Calvary Commander for the state of Tennessee during the Civil War and later as a general in the United States Army in the Spanish American War. He was one of two Confederate Generals to hold the same office in the United States Army. Later, Wheeler went on to Washington to serve as a United States Congressman.
Wheeler married a young Alabama widow by the name of Daniella Jones Sherrod. He and his men camped on the plantation during the Civil War, and later he married the blonde, blue-eyed woman from a wealthy Tennessee Valley plantation family. She had nine children, two from her previous marriage, and seven with Wheeler, six whom survived to adulthood. Two of their daughters, Lucy and Annie Wheeler lived at Pond Spring their whole lives.
Wheeler and his daughter, Annie, who never married and devoted her life to caring for others, left many personal belongings to the family, who turned the whole property over to the state in 1993.
The popular Confederate general, also a U.S. congressman, and a Spanish-American War general, lived a life of service to his country. Following the Civil War, Wheeler became a national symbol for reunification and reconciliation. His 1868 home is the center point of the 50-acre historic site owned and operated by the Alabama Historical Commission.
The General’s birthday is a time of celebration for the community and everyone who is interested in the lifestyle of a bygone era, its architecture, its authentic family antiques and furnishings, the grounds, which include a hauntingly beautiful family cemetery, and other buildings on the property, including some that predate the house itself. The collection contains around 10,000 objects, furnishings, clothing, and papers associated with the family. Everything in the collection is original to the family with the exception of three pieces.
This year there will be a car show brought to Pond Spring by the Hillsboro Volunteer Fire Department. Registration for the car show is $15 per vehicle entered and begins at 8:00 a.m. on site.
Another special addition to this year’s event is a musical exhibit and live entertainment provided by a nationally known Civil War band, Olde Towne Brass, playing authentic Civil War music on period instruments, dressed in genuine period attire. The musicians will be available to answer questions about their instruments and attire after the concert. They will be playing from 10 a.m.-12:00 noon.
“This will be one of the best events ever to be sponsored by General Joe Wheeler Foundation,” says Dr. Angelo Mancuso.
“We want to invite everyone to come out and celebrate Gen. Wheeler’s birthday, as well as his many contributions to the county, state and country,” Mancuso continued. “Everyone has such an affinity for this family and his home; we want to share this property and its history with as many people as possible.”
The event has drawn visitors from all over the country as well as it’s every day tours, which have drawn international visitors to Lawrence County because of its many aspects of our history. The grounds are interesting to horticulture buffs, the cemetery is a wonderful example of art and stonework, the cabin and outbuildings, as well as the main houses, are wonderfully preserved works of architectural interest. Students of period clothing and furnishings never tire of viewing the contents of the house.
Lipscombe appreciates the many visitors from across the nation as well as international visitors who are enthralled by the story of Fightin’ Joe Wheeler, “Not only do our visitors value the site itself, but our community has come together to support the event which is greatly anticipated each year as a way of promoting the South’s most colorful general and his family."
“The event provides fun, food and fantastic festivities, for the whole family, in addition to providing younger visitors with a scavenger hunt designed just for them,” Lipscombe added.
Tribute to Wheeler’s legacy is evident in the many places that bear his name, including bridges, the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge in Morgan County, the Joe Wheeler Electric Coop, and many other streets throughout the South.
According to Mancuso, there will also be a membership drive for the Gen. Joe Wheeler Foundation which has made many contributions financial and physical contributions toward maintaining the historic property. “Board members and dedicated volunteers supply work, wealth and wisdom,” said Lipscombe.
Donations benefit the preservation of Pond Spring’s grounds and buildings.
Past fundraising efforts have helped to restore the exceptional grounds and to preserve its historic significance to both Lawrence County and Alabama.
According to Lipscombe, a special featured element for the day includes a sign dedication for new interpretive panels, made possible by a grant from Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area.
This living history museum is interactive with all visitors during the year, but the celebration offers those who might have already seen the house and grounds further opportunities to take a trip back in time with other special events on this commutative day.
Patrons will also be treated to a Dulcimer concert by the Sweet Tones, birthday cake from a Wheeler family recipe (sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy), watermelon (sponsored by Lawrence County Historic Society), flag exhibit presentation, and ongoing house tours, camp reenactment, food, drinks (sponsored by Pepsi), and continuous blacksmith exhibition.
The Civil War Camp, blacksmithing demonstration, Dulcimer concert, flag exhibit, and a Watermelon Trail offer a glimpse into the past to those who study history, or to young people who might be learning about this phase of our county’s history for the first time.
Membership fund drive for foundation offers donations for membership on different levels with unique gifts for each level. These gifts include cockades, mugs, an antique tobacco tin, and other interesting conversation pieces. The authentic replicas of the cockades are remarkable examples of the ones once worn on ladies dresses.
“These cockade pins were a familiar site back in the era, worn on hats, lapels, and other attire, and are sharp looking,” said Mancuso. “This is the first time they have been presented here and are wonderful additions to any Civil War collection.”
An antique tin cigar box will be awarded to the first person to donate $100 to the Foundation. The tin dates to the mid 1800s and is well-preserved with a painting of Wheeler as its centerpiece, surrounded by depictions of important events in his life.
Books on Wheeler’s autobiography will also be for sale at the event.
Picnic tables are located throughout the gardens and are available to guests for family gatherings, picnicking and photo opportunities.
“This is a wonderful event for the family, to enjoy a historic property, its unique features such as the reclaimed boxwoods, historic buildings, and tours of the house and grounds. We want everyone to enjoy and love it as much as we do,” said Mancuso. “The grounds offer picnic tables for families to come out and enjoy the property, just the way the Wheeler’s intended so long ago.”
What You Need to Know; The Hillsboro Volunteer Fire Department Car Show, Registration for the car show is $15 per vehicle entered and begins at 8:00 am on site.
Ongoing demonstrations of cannon fire will occur throughout the event courtesy of the Winston Grays Camp, who sponsor the battery’s presence at the event.
Entrance to the grounds to view the reenactment, the concert, cake (while it lasts), and Pepsi products are free. Admission to the Wheeler House is $8 adults, $5 seniors/college students/military, $3 children 6-18, and free for children under 6. Tours of the lavish Victorian-era home will be offered from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Pond Spring is located in Lawrence County in Hillsboro, three miles east of Courtland, on Alabama Highway 20 (US Alt. 72).
Regular Hours of Operation: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, (closed one hour for lunch, 12-1:00 p.m.) and on Saturday, 9 a.m.-4:00 p.m., (closed one hour for lunch from 12-1:00 p.m.). Closed on all state holidays.
The Alabama Historical Commission protects, preserves, and interprets Alabama’s historic places and is the State Historic Preservation Office. To learn more about Pond Spring, or the Alabama Historical Commission, please visit www.ahc.alabama.gov.