August 2005

Museum Honors Reconstruction Era Trustee

"...He rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant colonel and kept a journal of his experiences on the battlefields of Shiloh, Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. He continued his journal even at the federal military prison at Johnson's Island, Ohio..."

museumby Sean Flynt

John Washington Inzer, a trustee of Howard College from 1871 to 1888, expected Alabama to secede from the Union. At the age of 26, the youngest member of the Alabama Secession Convention of 1861 had expected the division his entire adult life. But, as a "cooperationist," Inzer opposed secession except in concert with other Southern states. "I told the people of St. Clair while canvassing the county that I was in favor of cooperation," he informed the convention, "but said that if Alabama should secede, separate and alone, I would go with her and stand by her in every peril, even to the cannon's mouth, and now I repeat it. I am for Alabama under any and all circumstances."

Inzer kept his promises, voting to preserve the Union but ultimately signing the Ordinance of Secession and enlisting as a private in the 5th Alabama Battalion Infantry. He rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant colonel and kept a journal of his experiences on the battlefields of Shiloh, Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. He continued his journal even at the federal military prison at Johnson's Island, Ohio, from his capture in late 1863 through his release in the summer of 1865.

Inzer returned to Alabama after the war, served as a probate judge and state legislator, and joined the Howard College Board of Trustees in 1871 when the college was, in essence, a military academy led by fellow Confederate veteran James Murfee. Inzer served the college through troubled times and departed the board in 1888 after seeing the college through its relocation from Marion, Ala., to the East Lake community of Birmingham.

Inzer died at the age of 93 in 1928, but his family retained his Ashville home, a Greek Revival townhouse completed in 1852 and now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. When Inzer's last granddaughter died in 1987, the family deeded the property to the St. Clair Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans on the condition that the house be used as a museum honoring Inzer.

Edwin Camp, chairman of the John W. Inzer Museum's board of directors, said that although the nonprofit museum has been open to visitors since the 1990s, it is not yet complete. State and local grants supported the initial stages of a restoration expected to total $200,000, but Camp noted that the prospect of further grants has dwindled along with the state's financial health, leaving six rooms of the house awaiting restoration.

Samford's connection to Inzer and the museum that honors him might have been overlooked if Edwin Camp had not found a fellow history buff in his cousin Scott Camp, who serves Samford's University relations division as senior graphic designer. Seeking to help his cousin's preservation efforts, Scott Camp sought advice from University Library archivist Elizabeth Wells. Wells recalled conversations with St. Clair county historian Mattie Lou Teague Crow, editor of Inzer's journals, and recognized Inzer's connection to Samford. Since then, Wells and Scott Camp have been exploring the history of this relationship.

"People such as Judge Inzer are a part of Samford's history and heritage," Wells said. "Through their historical documents, artifacts and stories, we better understand our institution."

The John Washington Inzer Museum is located on U.S. Highway 231, one block south of Courthouse Square in Ashville, Ala. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, April through September, and by request anytime. For information, call Edwin Camp at (205) 655-3562 or Benjamin Hestley at (205) 338-2412.

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