In Her Own Words - Emma Sansom Johnson's Account Of Her Meeting With Nathan Bedford Forrest

James N.

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Feb 23, 2013
East Texas

Emma Sansom Johnson at age nineteen

Copied verbatim (including lack of paragraphs) from John Allan Wyeth's The Life Of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, pp. 194 - 197:

When the war came on there were three children - a brother and sister older than I. In August, 1861, my brother enlisted in the second company that left Gadsden, and joined the Nineteenth Alabama Infantry. My sister and I lived with our mother on the farm. We were at home on the morning of May 2, 1863, when about eight or nine o'clock a company of men wearing blue uniforms and riding mules and horses galloped past the house and went on towards the bridge. Pretty soon a great crowd of them came along, and some of them stopped at the gate and asked us to bring them some water. Sister and I each took a bucket of water, and gave it to them at the gate. One of them asked me where my father was. I told him he was dead. He asked me if I had any brothers. I told him I had "six." He asked where they were, and I said they were in the Confederate Army. "Do they think the south will whip?" "They do." "What do you think about it?" "I think God is on our side and we will win." "You do? Well, if you had seen us whip Colonel Roddey the other day and run him across the Tennessee River, you would have thought God was on the side of the best artillery." By this time some of them began to dismount, and we went into the house. They came in and began to search for fire-arms and men's saddles. They did not find anything but a side-saddle, and one of them cut the skirts off that. Just then someone from the road said, in a loud tone: "You men bring a chunk of fire with you, and get out of that house." The men got the fire in the kitchen and started out, and an officer put a guard around the house, saying: "This guard is for your protection." They all soon hurried down to the bridge, and in a few minutes we saw smoke rising and knew they were burning the bridge. As our fence extended up to the railing of the bridge, mother said: "Come with me and we will pull our rails away, so they will not be destroyed." As we got to the top of the hill we saw the rails were already piled on the bridge and were on fire, and the Yankees were in line on the other side guarding it. We turned back towards the house, and had not gone but a few steps before we saw a Yankee coming at full speed, and behind were some more men on horses. I heard them shout, "Halt and surrender!" The man stopped, threw up his hand, and handed over his gun. The officer to whom the soldier surrendered said: "Ladies, do not be alarmed, I am General Forrest; I and my men will protect you from harm." He inquired: "Where are the Yankees?" Mother said: "They have set the bridge on fire and are standing in line on the other side, and if you go down that hill they will kill the last one of you." By this time our men had come up, and some went out in the field, and both sides commenced shooting. We ran to the house, and I got there ahead of all. General Forrest dashed up to the gate and said to me: "Can you tell me where I can get across that creek?" I told him there was an unsafe bridge two miles farther down the stream, but that I knew of a trail about two hundred yards above the bridge on our farm, where our cows used to cross in low water, and I believed he could get his men over there, and that if he would have my saddle put on a horse I would show him the way. He said: "There is no time to saddle a horse; get up here behind me." As he said this he rode close to the bank on the side of the road, and I jumped up behind him. Just as we started off mother came up about out of breath and gasped out: "Emma, what do you mean?" General Forrest said: "She is going to show me a ford where I can get my men over in time to catch those Yankees before they get to Rome. Don't be uneasy; I will bring her back safe." We rode out into a field through which ran a branch or small ravine and along which there was a thick undergrowth that protected us for a while from being seen by the Yankees at the bridge or on the other side of the creek. This emptied into the creek just above the ford. When we got close to the creek, I said: "General Forrest, I think we had better get off the horse, as we are now where we may be seen." We both got down and crept through the bushes, and when we were right at the ford I happened to be in front. He stepped quickly between me and the Yankees, saying: "I am glad to have you for a pilot, but I am not going to make breastworks of you." The cannon and the other guns were firing fast by this time, as I pointed out to him where to go into the water and out on the other bank, and then we went back towards the house. He asked me my name, and asked me to give him a lock of my hair. The cannon-balls were screaming over us so loud that we were told to leave and hide in some place out of danger, which we did. Soon all the firing stopped, and I started back home. On the way I met General Forrest again, and he told me that he had written a note for me and left it on the bureau. He asked me again for a lock of my hair, and as we went into the house he said: "One of my bravest men has been killed, and he is laid out in the house. His name is Robert Turner. I want you to see that he is buried in some graveyard near here." He then told me goodbye and got on his horse, and he and his men rode away and left us all alone. My sister and I sat up all night watching over the dead soldier, who had lost his life fighting for our rights, in which we were overpowered but never conquered. General Forrest and his men endeared themselves to us forever.

In a footnote to Emma's account, author Weyth says, "The foregoing account is taken from the manuscript of Mrs. [Emma Sansom] Johnson, in possession of the author. Miss Emma Sansom married Mr. C. B. Johnson, of Company I, Tenth Alabama regiment, October 29, 1864. They moved to Texas in 1876, where her husband died in 1887, leaving her with seven children-five boys and two girls. If they inherit the courage of their mother the world should be better for their coming. The Legislature of Alabama in 1899 voted her, as a token of "admiration and gratitude," a gift of six hundred and forty acres of land, commemorative of her heroic action. The note of thanks written by General Forrest in lead-pencil on the stained leaf of an old pocket memorandum or account book was presented to the writer by Mrs. Johnson, and is doubly treasured by him as coming from such a woman and written by such a man. It is the only specimen of the general's war-time writing so far obtained."

He also comments, "Such is the simple story as given me in her own direct way by this noble woman. Her presence of mind and coolness, under circumstances which would have paralyzed the faculties of most women, enabled Forrest to overcome a very formidable obstacle in his pursuit of Streight and gained for him at least three hours in time, inestimable in value, since it enabled him to overtake and compel his surrender almost within sight of Rome."
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
I'd never read the account written by her, thank you! Only quibble would be what the editor wrote, about most women being paralyzed in the same situation. Not so sure - have always had a feeling the whole fainting belle ( and yes, I know Emma wasn't one, referring to how women were supposed to be delicate, fragile creatures ) thing was largely myth.

" Emma, what do you mean? " said her mother. That made me laugh. That's a mother whose daughter had scared the bejammers out of her before. Must have been a pip.