Resort trains, heals soldiers

Published 3:46 pm Monday, March 22, 2010

Shelby Springs Resort was well known for its mineral springs. Prominent vacationers came from miles around to soak in the healing waters, but the start of the Civil War brought changes.

Shelby Springs became important during the Civil War because of its location.

The Alabama -Tennessee railroad had been completed in 1855. It ran directly through Shelby Springs, connecting it with Selma, which became the South’s manufacturing heavyweight during the war. Only a few miles away, the Shelby Iron Works was pumping out tons of iron for the Confederacy.

In the first few months of 1862, just after the start of the Civil War, Shelby Springs became an enlistment site for the 28th Alabama Infantry Regiment.

The former resort hotel and cottages now housed soldiers preparing for battle. The initial enlistment was approximately 1,100 serving under the command of Col. John Wesley Frazier. The unit trained at Shelby Springs until April 14.

The following year, the name was changed to Camp Winn. The camp focused on training soldiers and mobilizing them into battle.

Shelby Springs was then converted to a soldier’s hospital of about 350 beds.

Several nuns from the Sisters of Mercy convent, along with Father Francis Xavier LeRay, came to staff the hospital after they were forced to flee the school they set up in Vicksburg in 1859.

The facility was designated “Soldier’s Home, Shelby Springs, AL” by its medical director and was a home for disabled and invalid soldiers. Benjamin Thomas, appointed hospital surgeon by Lt. Gen. Polk, took charge of the hospital in March 1864.

Surviving hospital records tell of inadequate facilities where both provisions and personnel were in short supply.

The condition of the hospital was not poor at first, but as the war progressed, the shortage of necessities became common in South.

When General Wilson’s troops came through Shelby on a mission of destruction in March 1865, the hospital remained untouched. When the war ended, the sisters returned to Vicksburg and Father LeRay, who had also served as chaplain for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, went on to serve as Arch Bishop of New Orleans.

Catherine Cousins can be reached by e–mail at