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GOD & TEXAS: HERO - Emma Sansom

“I think God is on our side and we will win.” With these words, 15 year old Emma spurned an army of 1,700 enemy troops that surrounded her home.

Born in Georgia in 1847, Emma eventually settled in Upshur County, Texas. Widowed in 1887, Emma was left alone to raise seven children. Emma Sansom Johnson died in 1900 and was buried in Old Little Mound Cemetery near Gilmer, Texas. Emma’s life was rather unremarkable, except for the one historic event in 1863 that made her famous during the Civil War.

Hoping to stop the pursuing Confederate soldiers, 1,700 Union soldiers burned a bridge near Emma’s farm home in Alabama. The Union Colonel Abel Streight confronted young Emma and required her to declare her warfare allegiance. She boldly proclaimed that she stood with God and the South: “I think God is on our side and we will win.”

Streight rushed off after stealing much of the family’s food and belongings. Soon after, the Rebel army under General Nathan Bedford Forrest, arrived at Emma’s home. He asked Emma how to get across the river now that the bridge was burning. Emma jumped behind the General onto his horse to show him where the cows crossed the creek.

Now, a monument in her memory stands in downtown Gadsden, Alabama, and other buildings are named in her honor. A historical marker has been placed on the courthouse lawn in Gilmer, that honors Emma as the “Sunbonnet Heroine” of East Texas.

Emma chose to raise her family in Upshur County. The area around Gilmer was known for its Christian churches, schools, and businesses. The community enjoyed patriotism, religion, dancing, and good music. In 1846, the Gilmer Mirror newspaper printed this often-quoted poem of unknown origin:

God formed a little verdant spot, and filled it with His bounty;

Men came to dwell within its bounds, and named it “Upshur County.”

The Christian influence in the area was enormous. Kelsey Creek, and the surrounding community, were named after Rev./Dr. W.H. Kelsey. The town of Soules Chapel was named after a Methodist bishop named Soules who was the first to evangelize in the area.

The community of Stamps was named after W.O. Stamps who built a lumber mill and established a church. His son Virgil O. Stamps became a famous singer, composer, song writer, and founder of nationally successful singing schools. With J. R. Baxter, Virgil founded the Stamps-Baxter Music company in 1927.

Morgan H. Looney instituted The Looney School in 1861 in Gilmer. Part of the requirements for attending the school was that students had to attend Sunday School and Church every Sunday, no one being excused except for sickness. Swearing, gambling, dancing, drinking, and horse-racing were forbidden.

Emma knew that Upshur County was certainly not Heaven. But many of the citizens chose to honor the Lord with their wealth and with the first fruits of all they produced (Proverbs 3:9 ESV). And so should we!

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