Historic Markers Across Alabama

Federal Troops Burn Guntersville During Civil War

Marker ID:  
Location: at the Visitor's Center on US 431/SR 79 Guntersville, AL
County: Marshall
Coordinates: N 34° 21.825    W 086° 17.458
  34.36375    -86.29096666
Style: Mounted **
Waymark: WMDN4F


January 15, 1865 was perhaps the darkest day in the history of Guntersville. At noon, Forty Federal marines from the gunboat U.S.S. General Grant were sent to burn the town. After the mission was completed, only seven buildings remained standing - the Marshall County Courthouse, the city jail, the Guntersville Hotel, a school house, the Masonic Hall and two residences. Miraculously, both residences still exist - the Gilbreath house on Blount Avenue and the Nickles house on Hill Avenue.

The mission to burn the town resulted from an incident at nearby Red Hill, a small community south of Guntersville. During a surprise early morning Federal raid by Colonel William J. Palmer's 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry on General Hylan Lyon's Kentucky Cavalry, one of Colonel Palmer's men was killed. The soldier was Sergeant Arthur P. Lyon (no relation to General Lyon), a favorite of the Federal Cavalry and recent recipient of the Medal of Honor.

This action caused immediate retaliation by the Federal troops, who burned several plantations as they advanced on Brown's Valley toward the Tennessee River. Among the plantations destroyed were those of Arthur Campbell Beard and Thomas Atkins Street. The plantation belonging to Dr. J.W. Fennell was spared by the Federals, who used the house to treat their wounded.

The Grant, which was positioned nearby then navigated up river to Guntersville where the marines were dispatched to burn the town. The gunboats log noted that it landed at Guntersville at noon, sent out a landing party, and burned the town. It also recorded that the weather was clear and pleasant and that by 3:50 p.m. the burning of Guntersville had been completed. The Grant then cast loose and headed down the Tennessee River.

Guntersville began to resurrect itself from the destruction of four years of war with the help of Louis Weiss Wyeth. In the summer of 1865 he traveled to Nashville, Louisville and Cincinnati to solicit food and aid for the starving citizens of Guntersville.

Effects of the Civil War lasted well into the twentieth century. As late as 1935 there were forty-three widows of Confederate veterans drawing pensions who were living in Marshall County. The last Confederate veteran to die in Marshall County was John L. Cox, who died in 1944.

End of Federal Troops Burn Guntersville During Civil War