Historic Structures

Joseph Wheeler Plantation, Wheeler Alabama

Date added: November 6, 2020 Categories: Alabama House Plantations & Farms

The General Joseph Wheeler Plantation, which is primarily significant for its associations with General Joseph Wheeler, retains much of its 19th Century plantation ambience and appearance and contains three structures representative of three generations of plantation life in 19th Century Alabama. The three main structures include: a one-story log house constructed around 1818 by the Hickman family which homesteaded the plantation; a two-story log and clapboard home constructed as the family's permanent residence during the 1820's; and a two and a half story frame home which was built by Wheeler during the latter portion of the 19th Century and served both as the center of his large and prosperous plantation and as his home until his death in 1906.

Joseph Wheeler symbolizes restoration of rule in the postbellum South and political reconciliation between that section and the North. A renowned cavalry officer in the Confederate Army, Wheeler became an Alabama planter after the Civil War, and beginning in 1884 he won eight successive elections to the U.S. House of Representatives. Like many other so-called Bourbon Democrats, he maintained a paternal attitude toward blacks, opposed civil rights legislation, and called upon southerners to forget the war and devote their energy to industrialization. Wheeler never became a powerful figure in Congress, but his intelligent speeches on a variety of subjects made him one of the best known men in Washington. In 1898, while still a member of the House, he resumed his military career. To erase the last vestiges of sectionalism and make the Spanish-American War a national effort, President William McKinley appointed Wheeler a major general of volunteers. He became the only corps commander in U.S. military history who had held a similar position in the Confederacy.

Joseph Wheeler was born September 10, 1836, in Augusta, Georgia. Educated at Cheshire in Connecticut, he was appointed to West Point by a New York congressman. He graduated in 1859 and served in the Cavalry in Kansas and New Mexico, where he earned the nickname, "Fightin' Joe". When Georgia left the Union in January 1861, Wheeler resigned his commission and served briefly as a lieutenant in Georgia's forces then secured an appointment as a colonel in the Confederate Army.

Placed in command of the 19th-Alabama Infantry, Wheeler trained his regiment expertly and led it through the bloody Battle of Shiloh in April, 1862. He served thereafter as cavalry chief for the Army of Tennessee and rose eventually to lieutenant general. Wheeler led his cavalrymen effectively on countless reconnaissance assignments and forays against Union supply lines. After Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee on April 26, 1865, Wheeler kept his men in the field and attempted unsuccessfully to reach Confederate President Jefferson Davis and prevent his capture. In May, Federal soldiers apprehended both Davis's presidential party and Wheeler's skeleton command.

After two months in a U.S. Army prison, Wheeler returned to war-torn Georgia to begin a new life. He found no suitable opportunity in his native Augusta, though, and in 1866 traveled to Courtland, Alabama and married Daniella Jones Sherrod, a young widow. After residing for four years in New Orleans, where Wheeler bought a partnership in a hardware and carriage firm, the couple returned to Daniella's father's plantation in Lawrence County, Alabama. Soon Wheeler became a successful planter, and in his spare time he studied law and passed the bar exam. By 1880, he had assumed a position as attorney for the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad Company.

In 1880 with the backing of northern Alabama's Democratic leadership, Wheeler was elected to Congress. The election, however, was contested by his opponent, William H. Lowe, an Independent running with the endorsement of Republicans and Greenbackers, and after 10 months in the National Capital, Wheeler was unseated.

When Lowe died before completing his term, Wheeler won a special election, returned to Washington in January of 1883. In 1884, he received little opposition in his bid for a seat in the 49th Congress and during the next 14 years he won re-election seven consecutive times. Wheeler overmade his opponents partly by accommodating the personal political needs of northern Alabama voters and partly by pursuing a middle course between Bourbonism and Populism. Wheeler was widely recognized for his sprightly manner and his ability to speak intelligently on a variety of subjects, and was one of the best known figures in Washington.

When hostilities with Spain seemed imminent early in 1898, he offered his services to the War Department. On April 25, 1898, Congress issued a declaration of war, and the following day President William McKinley summoned Wheeler to the White House. To heal sectional differences, make the war truly a national effort, and gain support for his administration, the President planned to extend military commissions to several ex-confederate officers. He gave the first and highest of these positions, major general of volunteers, to Wheeler. Subsequently, the War Department assigned him to command the cavalry in the impending expedition to Cuba. Wheeler served with distinction during the War and later was appointed head of the 4th Army Corps, gaining the distinction of being the only corps commander in U.S. history who had held a similar position in the Confederacy. In 1899, Wheeler saw duty briefly in the Philippines, and a year later he retired. He devoted most of the final five years of his life to travel and social activities and died in Brooklyn, New York, in 1906.

The plantation remained in the hands of the Wheeler family and was managed by his daughter, Miss Annie Wheeler until 1955. She served as a nurse in the Spanish- American War, the Philippine conflict, and the first World War. At her death, the plantation was maintained by heirs who kept it open to the public for tours.

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