PHENX CITY, Ala. (WRBL)—What is now Phenix City was once two separate areas: the town of Girard, and the town of Phenix City.
Girard is the same city which the Civil War Battle of Girard, also known as the Battle of Columbus, was named after. About the time Columbus, Georgia was established in 1828, people who sought freer lifestyles, such as traders, achieved them by crossing the Chattahoochee River, according to Phenix City’s webpage devoted to the history of the town.
“Thus, Phenix City’s reputation as a wild and untamed place appears even in early references,” the website states.
The town was named after Stephen Girard, who was the richest man in the United States when he died in 1831 of injuries sustained in a carriage accident, according to Girard College’s website. Girard was a Frenchman who gained citizenship in Philadelphia in 1778. He was a philanthropist, as well as banker and a slave dealer, according to Phenix City’s website.
Since he owned a large portion of land in the area, Girard became the town’s namesake, the Phenix City website says.
After the death of Girard, the town named after him continued to play a prominent role in the politics of the region. From 1832 to 1839, the town of Girard was Russel county’s seat of government with it being made a city officially in 1833, said longtime Citizen of East Alabama journalist Mark Clark.
When the Civil War ended after the surrender at Appomattox courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865, the Battle of Girard happened days later on April 16, 1865.
“It’s important to remember that word of Lee’s surrender had not yet reached west Georgia,” said Rebecca Bush, curator of history and exhibition manager at The Columbus Museum. Bush explained that Union General James Wilson ordered his troops to destroy property which could be used by the Confederates, although they did not harm homes or Grist Mills, which she said mostly supplied food.
Eagle and Phenix Mills in Columbus, which some credit with inspiring Phenix City’s name, was burned on April 17, 1865, according to a historical marker on the building which was rebuilt a year later. At the time, it made materials for Confederate uniforms.
Decades later, Girard and Phenix City were separate entities, with Phenix City having gained its current name in 1987, after being known as both Brownville and Lively before that. That changed in 1923, when the two cities were combined into one by the governor at the time, William W. Brandon.
Clark told WRBL that, after signing the bills, Brandon said, “Gentlemen, Phenix City and Girard are now one municipality. I think this is the greatest day in the history of your town.”
The municipality Brandon spoke of is Phenix City as we know it today. The areas known as Brownville, Lively and Sodom were encompassed in what was known as Phenix city during the 26 years before the merger.