I know lately I seem to be obsessing on my paternal lineage, so I’ve decided to share quite a story from my Mom’s side of the tree.
My ggggrandfather Wiley Thornton Poe was apparently an odd sort. Stories have passed down that he was a bit of a loner who didn’t like to be at home for any length of time. Wiley was born in 1841 in Cahawba Valley, Alabama (near present day Birmingham). His parentage is kinda mysterious since his real father is unknown and apparently his mother arrived in Alabama from Tennessee with her brother sometime in the early 1800’s. She soon had a house full of kids by nobody knows how many men (there’s a story there somewhere…).
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Wiley joined the Cahaba Rangers (Confederate) and later transfered to the sharp shooters in 1862. He was known as brave, reckless, and a heck of a fighter. During this time in Alabama, there were pockets of Unionists, or those loyal to the Union and not in favor of secession. Mostly Unionists were poor farmers or mountain men who did not own slaves or large tracts of land. As a result, they couldn’t get behind the Southern cause fully. Some were conscripted into the Confederate Army by home guards. Others hid out waiting on the Union Army to arrive (such as in the Free State of Winston – Winston County that is).
In March 1864, after being captured by the Union Army, Wiley changed sides and joined the First Alabama Calvalry – fighting against the South. It is known that two of his brothers – Jesse and Robert – also joined the First Alabama. This apparently caused a rift in the Poe family as other members of the Poe family fought for the Confederacy.
Wiley and both of his brothers survived the war and returned home, but life for them was not glorious in Reconstruction era Alabama. Stories of pursecution by former Confederate soldiers and home guard made coming home very dangerous. Unfortunately, time caught up with Wiley in February of 1882.
The story that was passed down through my family is that Wiley attended a dance on Shades Crest Mountain, near where Lover’s Leap is located. Apparently he got into a fight with some other men at the dance and was murdered by them. His body was found near Brock’s Gap. The nature of his death is not clear, but it seems he might have been thrown off a cliff to his death. The newspaper at the time – The Birmingham Iron Age – reported his death as a suicide.
Wiley was buried at Union Hill Cemetery in what is now the Shades Valley area of Homewood. Perhaps one of the most ironic twists to this story is the location of his burial. I went to high school at the old Shades Valley High. Each day the bus route would take us past Union Hill Cemetery. Something about the cemetery always made me sad since it wasn’t tended very well at the time. Although I knew the story about Wiley, I didn’t know his name, nor his burial place at the time. Day in and day out, as the bus passed the cemetery, I had no idea that the grave of my ggggrandfather was only about 15 feet off the road.