This year begins a three-year celebration of the upcoming Alabama Bicentennial in 2019. For three years, we will celebrate Alabama Places (2017), Alabama People (2018), and Alabama Stories (2019). To help celebrate, Dr. John Kvach (History Professor at UAH) has written several blog posts about several different locations on our North Alabama Geocaching Passport. The passport can be found at http://www.northalabama.org/content/uploads/general_content/2015AMLAGeocachingPassport.pdf. Happy reading and hunting for those geocaches!
Thanks to movies like Gone With the Wind many modern Americans have romantic notions that the Old South consisted only of moonlight, magnolias, and Mint Juleps. What they don’t realize is that the Antebellum South and later the Confederacy had a great number of factories, mines, and furnaces that could supply finished goods to a new nation. Political independence and a Union naval blockade made homemade goods all the more important to the South after 1861.
As demand for iron and steel increased during the Civil War, southern entrepreneurs built small iron furnaces that could produce cannon, cannon balls, and other military supplies. The Cornwall Furnace in Cedar Bluff is lasting proof that southerners worked hard to produce their own goods and materials despite the ever-tightening grip of the Union army.
James Noble, Sr. of Rome, Georgia, saw an opportunity to help the Confederacy and make a personal profit when he built the Cornwall Furnace in 1862. With the help of the Confederate government and his brother Samuel, James Noble constructed the stone furnace, dug a half-mile canal to the Chattooga River, and harvested the necessary iron ore and wood to begin making pig iron for their foundry in Rome.
This small blast furnace became part of a larger southern war movement that attempted to supply military and civilian needs. This growing network of furnaces and foundries emerged and successfully supplied the South with shot and shell. Despite popular myths that the Confederacy didn’t have enough supplies to win the War, little evidence suggests that southern troops ever went without bullets and cannon balls to fight the enemy.
Where you stand today is what is left of the Cornwall Furnace after Union troops raided it in 1864 and after a series of postwar explosions and fires. The ruins you see today represent an Industrial South that is often forgotten. As you walk around the park think about the smell of burning wood and the heat from the open furnace. Imagine loading heavy ingots of pig iron on to canal boats destine for Rome and wondering when Union troops would finally stumble upon you.