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Crooked Creek Civil War Museum

Museum

Having a dream is easy. Making it come true is not always easy - or possible. But Fred Wise, 65, not only had a dream, he realized he could make it come true with lots of hard work, persistence and time. For the past 25 years, Wise has steadily worked on turning 40 acres of land good for nothing but holding the earth together, into a Civil War historic legacy. Crooked Creek Civil War Museum and Park is located on a battle site where Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and Union Colonel Abel Streight fought for several hours at crooked creek, then went on to engage in the Battles of Hog Mountain and Day's Gap in April, 1863. Historic markers along the Forrest-Streight route mark rural highways through Cullman County, and now at one such marker near West Point leads the county road to Crooked Creek. I didn't know this was an actual battle site when my wife, Brenda, and I bought the land in 1981 but learned about it after four years here, said Wise. The hillsides were all growed up, thick with weeds under the trees, and we didn't know that beneath the brush was proof a battle had happened here, said Wise. But once we started clearing off the hills, we found concave holes where soldiers had entrenched themselves for protection during battle and bullet holes in big rocks. He said the worst thing he did though was destroying a pile of rotted logs across the creek. At the time, when we first bought this place, I just thought the debris was jamming the creek. Little did I know those logs were probably a part of history, Wise said, shaking his head. I've regretted doing that ever since I found out what I destroyed. Wise had been a Civil War buff and collector before he bought the land, but once he realized the historic significance of his property, he laid plans to preserve the area. I knew I wanted a museum for my collection, and hoped to clear the land along the creekbank and the hillsides. Maybe even have hiking trails. Today the reality is a museum housed in the old Vinemont Stagecoach Inn, which he bought and moved years ago to preserve a piece of Cullman history. A winding narrow dirt road circles the hill above the creek and loops down through the narrow valley alongside the creekbank where he has historic markers and covered picnic tables. It's been a lot of work, and I couldn't have done it without the help of my sons. I worked on the place for a long time, then my funds dried up. But my son, Mike, wanted to help keep it going, so we finally got it finished and opened in April 2006. Mike Wise helps in all aspects of the museum and they have one employee. Keeping the grass cut, maintaining this place is still a lot of work. Wise said he's had visitors from foreign countries, New Zealand, Denmark, South Africa and every state in the USA except two. There are many people from other countries still very interested in the American Civil War. I love giving them a tour and pointing out where the soldiers fought. A couple weeks ago Wise said Guy Hunt and his family visited, and then recently a woman visited whose great-grandfather was captured in the battle at Crooked Creek. She said her great-grandfather was with the 1st Alabama Calvary in the Civil War and had passed along valued historic documents which she donated to the museum. Wise has a six-seat golf cart he uses to transport visitors around the hillside loop while he explains the historic territory. He is a good story-teller and makes the battle come alive as he explains the drama and bloodshed which occurred so long ago. You have to imagine what this place looked like back then, and from historic records I've studied, it says these hillsides were covered with thick pines and provided cover for advancing soldiers." A book for sale in the museum, The Lightning Mule Brigade -- Abel Streight's 1863 Raid into Alabama gives some insight into what happened at Crooked Creek with this personal account by a Sergeant from the 3rd Ohio Union Calvary: After sundown we came to Crooked Creek, the crossing of which was found tedious owing to the delay in doing so to allow the thirsty animals to drink. The enemy pressed us severely, and came near cutting off the Third Ohio, which was bringing up the rear. After crossing, Colonel Hathaway took the Seventy-third into position, where it dismounted, formed into line, advanced a short distance, anks, stopping them long enough for the Third Ohio to cross. And in another passage one of the Confederate soldiers writes about the Battle of Hog Mountain, two miles past Crooked Creek: The pine trees were very tall, and the darkness of their shade was intense, the mountain where the enemy was posted was steep, and as we charged again and again, under Forrest's own lead it was a grand spectacle. It seemed that the fires which blazed from their muskets were almost long enough to reach our faces. There was one advantage in being below them; they often fired above our heads in the darkness. Inside the museum, Wise knows the details of each and every item displayed, which includes a rare 1863 cooking pot, unit insignias, an authentic 1862 Allegheny Arsenal saddle as well as other Civil War saddles; a Confederate Lorenz-Jager .72 carbine modified by Indians and other weapons. Wise has unearthed bullets, a brass cannon ball, belt buckles and other artifacts on his property. "I sold some of my collection when funds got low, but when I opened the museum, I bought most of it back and some was available for display. I've had other Civil War collectors donate cherished items, just so they know it'll be preserved and shared with others at the museum," Wise said. At the entrance to his property stands an 1830s cabin originally from Somerville near Decatur. Wise numbered each board and reconstructed the homestead cabin and has plans to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast. He said, I even rented it out at one point, but decided it'd make a great Bed and Breakfast, since visitors from other states or even overseas could stay here instead of nearby motels. The history of this place, you can't put a price on it. I even discovered that Davy Crockett and the Tennessee Volunteers passed through here on their way to join Andrew Jackson in the fight against Creek Indians, said Wise. Even though funding is still a struggle for Wise, he continues to inspire others to learn and respect history. It's important to know about the past, to honor those who passed this way before. That's how I feel, Wise said. Wise is divorced, and has two sons, a step-daughter and three grandsons he enjoys spending time with. The Crooked Creek Civil War Museum is located at 516 County Road 1127, near West Point. Admission is $5 and includes a complete tour of the grounds and museum. For more information call 256-739-2741. By Carolyn Arrington The Cullman Times

Wheelchair Accessible

Crooked Creek Civil War Museum
516 CR 1127
Vinemont, AL 35179
256-739-2741
Hours of Operation
  • Open daily 9-5
Fees
  • Not provided