As mentioned in the latest edition of the WEBB Paranormal Newsletter, on March 14, 1865, the U.S. Civil War was nearly over when a battle took place in Newton, Alabama. Newton is part of the American South known as the Wiregrass region, encompassing parts of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, so named due to the texture of the grass. Despite the serene, picturesque, sun-drenched landscape, the Wiregrass region was the site of much violence and death during the Civil War.

In terms of sheer numbers, the battle may seem like a minor incident in the greater scheme of things, since only a handful of casualties and fatalities took place. That is not to suggest that injuries and deaths are insignificant; every soldier who lays down his life for his country deserves the same reverence and respect. So, why is the Battle of Newton so notorious? Why does it still send chills down the spines of historians?

There are several factors that contribute to the battle’s notoriety. One important component is the ominous recent history of Newton surrounding the death of one William “Bill” Sketoe as described in more detail in the blog post here.

One reason the battle is so controversial is the fact that it could have been easily avoided, were it not for the aggression, arrogance and poor judgment of Joseph Sanders, who led the 1st Florida Cavalry and the bushwhackers in an effort to recruit new members in the Newton area. Newton is located in Dale County, which is heavily forested, with the thick trees and grass providing natural shelter, protection and plenty of places for enemies of the Home Guard to hide. These enemies (perceived or real) included rebels, bushwhackers, deserters, and others.

However, instead of leading his 20-odd men on a recruiting mission, Sanders decided to take a more aggressive approach by attacking Dale County by setting its county courthouse ablaze. Word of Sanders’ sinister plan spread to Corporal Jesse Carmichael. Carmichael fought valiantly at the infamous Battle of Antietam, losing a hand amidst the violence.

Carmichael, with many sources of military information and reliable informants, vowed to protect Dale County. The Home Guard staged an attack against Sanders, the bushwhackers and Florida Cavalry, thus resulting in three deaths and five serious injuries sustained by the Floridians.

In what many considered a miscarriage of justice that would soon follow, Sanders escaped with his life, and a subsequent investigation followed in Pensacola, Florida, regarding his activities leading the troops. Sanders was held responsible for the deaths of 12 of his original 20 men. Sanders provided an explanation deemed satisfactory by the committee who investigated him; failing to disclose the truth about the ambush at Newton and the resultant deaths of his men. Sanders was allowed to resign and returned home. The people decided to exact their own form of brutal justice where they felt that the military tribunal had failed. Sanders was lynched at his home and killed.

The Battle of Newton and its subsequent deaths, the threat of arson against the courthouse, and the mob violence that resulted in the brutal death of Sanders all strengthened the idea that something was very, very wrong in Newton. Perhaps it all led back to the death of Bill Sketoe.