Pond Spring, Joe Wheeler’s Civil War Estate

February 9, 2015

Wheeler House photographed by Marjorie Kaufman

The Wheeler House at Pond Spring, built in the 1870’s (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

The Civil War left more than 300,000 Southern widows.  In 1864, Confederate General Joe Wheeler, a West Point graduate originally from Georgia, married Daniella Sherrod, one of the richest widows in Alabama and moved into the Sherrod estate known as Pond Spring in Hillsboro, AL, about 20 miles west of Decatur. Originally developed in the early 1800’s by the John Hickman family, Pond Spring at one time was home to more than 300 slaves. Today it is a historic museum run by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Dogtrot log house built in 1818 at Pond Spring (Photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Dogtrot log house built in 1818 at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

The 50-acre site includes the original log house built around 1818 pictured left, which was alter used as a slave cabin, a circa 1830 Federal-style house, the 1870s Wheeler house pictured above, eight farm-related outbuildings, two family cemeteries, an African-American cemetery and a small Indian mound.

Following the Civil War, Joe Wheeler served in Congress for nearly ten years, rising to become Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.  During his time in Washington, Wheeler’s fame during the Civil War  “made him something of a symbol of the reunion of the North and South in that period,” according to his biography on the Arlington Cemetery site.  

Joe Wheeler uniforms from the Civil War and the Spanish American War (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Joe Wheeler uniforms from the Civil War and the Spanish American War (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

The 5’2″ Wheeler continued his military exploits at the turn of the century as a General in the Spanish American War, serving in Cuba as Commander of a cavalry division which included Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.  The excellent Ken Burns series The Roosevelts, Episode 1 includes a wonderful photograph of the diminutive Wheeler standing alongside Roosevelt in Cuba. Wheeler is  described as a somewhat confused elderly former Confederate who roused his troops at the Battle of Las Guasimas against the Spaniards by shouting “kill the Northerners.”

Left, Joe Wheeler’s Confederate and US uniforms, guns and swords exhibited at Pond Spring. A mold of his foot for shoe making can be seen in the middle right shelf.

Wheeler proceeded to serve in the Philippine-American War in 1899,  commanding the First Brigade in Arthur MacArthur’s Second Division. He  moved to New York City, where he died in 1906 and was buried at Arlington Cemetery. His son, Colonel Joseph Wheeler, Jr, was later buried alongside him.  Wheeler is one of only two Confederate Generals buried at Arlington. Belying his small physical stature,  Wheeler’s memorial stands out as the tallest one at Arlington. A similar memorial marks the grave of his wife Daniella at Pond Spring.

Antique doll and crib at Pond Spring. (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Antique doll and crib at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

One of the Wheeler daughters, known as Miss Annie, lived at Pond Spring until her death in 1955. She served as a Red Cross Nurse in three wars and was a major benefactor to Decatur area causes.  Right, one of Annie’s dolls lies in a doll crib next to an antique Wheeler baby crib in an  upstairs bedroom.

Below, original lighting fixtures grace Pond Spring’s center hallway.

Original lighting fixtures at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Original lighting fixtures at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Pond Spring was donated to the State of Alabama in 1993 by Wheeler’s descendants. Amidst beautiful antiques from the 1800s, family portraits, military books and elegant china are remnants of Annie Wheeler’s household, including packaged sundries and medicine from the 1930’s pictured below.

1930's household items at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

1930’s household items at Pond Spring (photo by Marjorie Kaufman)

Above images taken by Marjorie Kaufman as part of a Tillman Crane photography workshop entitled Alabama Revisited, January 2015.

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