Prepared by Mildred Berryman Herring, R.N., Retired
Miss Annie Early Wheeler was one of Lawrence County, Alabama's grand ladies. Famous in her own right as a nurse in the Spanish American War and a Red Cross Nurse in World War I, in her older years she was known for her charity work. But, most important to her, she was the daughter of General Joseph Wheeler, a West Point Academy graduate, a famous Confederate States of America General and later a General in the United States Army.
Miss Annie had a special fondness for the employees of the Joe Wheeler Electric Company, which supplied Lawrence County with electricity, because the company was named for her famous father. My Daddy, Aaron Berryman, was an electrician with Joe Wheeler Electric and a friend of Miss Annie's. When daddy worked in the Wheeler Station area, he always stopped by her home (Pond Spring) to visit her a few minutes, and as all her friends, to check to see if she needed anything.
On one such occasion Daddy told her I was graduating from High School (1948) and had been accepted to study Nursing. Miss Annie asked my father to bring me for a day to talk about nursing. So, I had a four or five hour visit with this famous lady in June 1948. She spent the time showing me her home, special things, telling me about her family and her Nursing.
During my visit with Miss Annie, the home was family-oriented. She had her Father's Confederate uniform displayed in a glass case along with a large portrait of him in uniform in the foyer. I was surprised by his smallness (5' 3"). She talked of going with him to the Spanish American War as a Nurse. Her brother, Joseph, Jr. went also, he was an officer in his father's army unit.
During World War I, she went to Europe with the Red Cross. She had personally met Clara Barton, RN, during the Spanish American War and was with her again in World War I. Clara Barton organized the American Red Cross. This visit was so many years ago, and I did not have any details of any activities she may have done and told me of during those wars in my notes.
I was most impressed with the many family pictures Miss Annie showed me, especially the pictures of she and her sister Ella in the dresses they wore when they were presented to England's Queen Victoria in the late 1800's. As a country girl of 17, I was very impressed at meeting someone who had been presented to the Queen of England! Her sister Ella was living in Virginia at the time of my visit.
Her childhood bedroom had many pictures of her at varying young ages. This room had her antique furniture and her Nanny's bed. Her parent's bedroom had a beautiful high poster bed with steps to get on the bed, other matching bedroom furniture, and a baby bed- a small replica of the big bed; this baby bed really fascinated me!
I remember the formal living room and dining room as having nice antiques, a large dining table. Also many shelves with countless books in the dining room. In the family dining room Miss Annie had her brother's golf trophies. She spoke of his life in the military and that he enjoyed golf. He was already dead at the time of my visit.
The meals were still being prepared in the kitchen in a building a few feet from the back of the main house. A couple lived in these quarters and helped Miss Annie maintain the property. She showed me the building behind this kitchen that had been the pre-Civil War kitchen and slave quarters.
At the time of my visit, Miss Annie was using the upstairs southwest corner bedroom to sleep. She had moved the original antique furniture out and replaced it with regular 1940's bedroom furniture. She told me "that old stuff is not comfortable."
She had screened in a portion of the upstairs back porch; she had a regular bed in it, and slept on the porch during the summer months. (This was before air conditioning). She entered this area of the porch through her bedroom.
I was taken to the flower garden on the East Side of the house, which was now over-grown with weeds. She spoke of how grand and beautiful it was when she was a girl, of the many beautiful roses, of paths and settee's along the paths. Also of the parties held during her parents lifetime. Near this area was the Ice Cellar. She explained how the ice cellar was made and insulated so that large blocks of ice was placed in it in the winter and would last for family use all summer. (They filled large containers with water during the winter and when frozen were placed in the cellar.) This was a fascinating thing to me.
Miss Annie took me to the family cemetery behind the house. She told me of the family buried there and that she would be buried there also. General Joe Wheeler was not buried there, he and his son Joe, Jr. were buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, DC (section 2).
I visited Miss Annie again after I had been studying Nursing for about two years, this time for only a short visit, and we spoke only of Nursing. I never had the privilege of seeing her again before her death in 1955. Sometime in our lifes we have extraordinary experiences. This was a rare and honored occasion for me. I appreciated it now more than when it occurred. Imagine: a one-to-one visit with such a famous lady!