Cullman is a city in Cullman County, State of Alabama. Cullman is located along Interstate 65, about north of Birmingham, and about south of Huntsville. According to the 2011 census, it has a population of 14,799. Cullman is the county seat of Cullman County, Alabama.
In the time before European settlement, the area that today includes Cullman was originally in the territory of the Cherokee Nation. The region was traversed by a trail known as the Black Warrior's Path, which led from the Tennessee River near the present location of Florence, Alabama, to a point on the Black Warrior River south of Cullman. This trail figured significantly in Cherokee history, and it featured prominently in the American Indian Wars prior to the establishment of the state of Alabama and the relocation of several American Indian tribes, including the Creek tribe westward along the Trail of Tears. During the Creek Indian War in 1813, General Andrew Jackson of the U.S. Army dispatched a contingent of troops down the trail, one of which included the famous frontiersman Davy Crockett..
During the American Civil War, the future location of Cullman was the site of the minor Battle of Day's Gap. On 30 April 1863, Union forces under the command of Colonel Abel Streight won a victory over forces under Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. This battle was part of a campaign and chase known collectively as Streight's Raid. Although Streight got the upper hand in this battle, Forrest would have the last laugh. In one of the more humorous moments of the war, Streight sought a truce and negotiations with Forrest in present-day Cherokee County near present-day Gaylesville. Although Streight's force was larger than Forrest's, while the two were negotiating, Forrest had his troops march repeatedly in a circuitous route past the site of the talks. Thinking himself to be badly outnumbered, Streight surrendered to Forrest on the spot.
Five German families moved to the area in March 1873; in 1874, the town was incorporated and named after Colonel Cullmann. Over the next twenty years, Cullmann encouraged around 10,000 Germans to immigrate to the United States, with many settling in the Cullman area. Cullmann drew on his military engineering training in laying out and planning the town. During this period, Cullman underwent considerable growth. German continued to be widely spoken, and Cullmann himself was the publisher of a German-language newspaper. When Cullmann died in 1895, at the age of 72, his funeral was marked by the attendance of Governor William C. Oates. The site Cullmann selected for his headquarters is now his gravesite.
For many years Cullman was a college town, with Saint Bernard College serving as the home of several hundred students. In the mid-1970s, St. Bernard briefly merged with Sacred Heart College (a two-year Benedictine women’s college), to become Southern Benedictine College. That college closed in 1979, and it now operates as Saint Bernard Preparatory School. The former site of Sacred Heart College is now the Sacred Heart Monastery, which serves as a retreat center operated by the Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery.
During the twentieth century, Cullman developed a more diverse economy, including several manufacturing and distribution facilities. However, its economy remains primarily based on agriculture and providing services to the agricultural workforce. Cullman County has the highest agricultural production in the state, and is one of the sixty largest agricultural-production counties in dollar terms in the United States.
Cullman gained national attention in early 2008, when a special election was held to fill a vacancy in the Alabama House of Representatives. Although Cullman is known throughout the region as a former sundown town, the district that included Cullman elected James C. Fields, an African-American, in that special election.
Cullman's German heritage was repressed during World War I and World War II, as the United States was fighting Germany. This was reversed in the 1970s, with renewed interest in the city's history and heritage. Today, Cullman holds an annual Oktoberfest. An honorary "Bürgermeister" is elected for each Oktoberfest. For many years the Oktoberfest did not include alcohol because Cullman was dry, but, starting in 2011, the Oktoberfest can offer beer.
On April 27, 2011, a powerful tornado from the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak struck downtown Cullman. Rated an EF4, it destroyed many buildings in downtown and in a residential area on the east side of Cullman. There were no deaths in the city limits, although there were 2 reported for the county. The twister moved northeast towards Arab and Guntersville, killing six or more all told.