Who is Joe Wheeler?
By Mandi Phillips
There’s not a year that goes by that this question isn’t asked several times at Joe Wheeler EMC. Who is this man with the name that spans all over North Alabama on everything from your electric co-op to a dam. It’s no coincidence that it is such a popular name.
Joseph Wheeler was born on September 10, 1836 in Augusta, Georgia. At the age of 17, he was admitted to West Point where he graduated in 1859. When he was only 26, Wheeler became one of the youngest Confederate generals, and he quickly rose through the ranks from the title of Brigadier to Major General during the year of 1863. There are actually debates that exist over whether Wheeler officially became a Lieutenant General or not, but he served the military with the responsibilities of such a title later on in the war.
During his military career, Wheeler participated in more than 500 skirmishes, and he commanded in 127 battles. Records are evidence of just how dangerous fighting in this time period was. Records show that 36 officers were wounded by his side, and 16 horses were shot from underneath him. All these events earned Wheeler the well-deserved nickname of “Fightin’ Joe.”
After the Civil War, Wheeler studied law and passed the Alabama Law Exam. He went on to become an attorney for the Tuscumbia, Courtland, and Decatur Railroad, which was later named Southern Railway.
Following that path, Wheeler decided to run for Congress. He was first elected to Congress in 1880 and served out his initial two year service before becoming defeated in the next election. However, he ran again two years later and became victorious. He continued to serve Congress until 1898 when he took leave because of the Spanish-American war.
President McKinley ordered Wheeler to serve as Major General of Volunteers in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, for the United States Army.
Wheeler eventually died in 1906 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, becoming only one of the very few Confederate soldiers buried there.
His home is still in North Alabama today. It’s called Pond Spring, and is located near Courtland. The home has been preserved for tourists to come and visit.
As a man of great influence during the Civil War and beyond, General Joseph Wheeler’s name lives on in many North Alabama attractions and industries such as the Wheeler Dam, Joe Wheeler State Park, Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, and of course, Joe Wheeler EMC. We are proud co carry the name of such a brave and prominent man in our area’s history, and we hope you enjoyed getting to know the man behind the name.