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Why Huntsville is responsible for Alabama being the ‘Yellowhammer State’

Alabama is nicknamed the Yellowhammer State. But why?

Well, there’s the yellowhammer bird, which is our state bird. If you ask an ornithologist, the bird is actually a “Northern Flicker.” It’s known as a yellowhammer because the Northern Flicker has yellow undersides of its wings and because I guess it hammers (it’s a type of woodpecker).

So, why does Alabama have a nickname based on a woodpecker that has a name that sounds like an angry New York Uber driver? We do have these woodpeckers throughout the state, but the theory doesn’t add up.

The truth of why Alabama is the Yellowhammer State goes back to Huntsville during the Civil War. Fresh Confederate soldiers from Huntsville were sent to Kentucky to meet up with General Forrest’s weary troops, likely at some point in the winter of early 1862. The Huntsville soldiers wore brand new uniforms with bright yellow cloth on the trim. In stark contrast, General Forrest’s troops had tattered and stained uniforms after months of skirmishes with the Yanks.

Upon the arrival of the yellow-clad Huntsvillians, one of Gen. Forrest’s bird-loving soldiers jokingly yelled out to the Huntsville men “Yellowhammer, Yellowhammer, flicker, flicker!” This provoked a “roar of laughter” among the troops according to late 1800s newspaper stories.

The name stuck. The Huntsville company became known as the “Yellowhammer Company.” It didn’t take long for word to spread. Eventually, every Alabamian Confederate soldier, whether from Huntsville, Henagar, or Hog Jaw, was referred to unofficially as a “Yellowhammer.” Alabamian Civil War veterans took pride in the moniker and wore bits of yellow to veteran events in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We even adopted the Northern Flicker (ahem, I mean Yellowhammer) as our state bird in 1927.

Today, you can get a beer at the Yellowhammer Brewery, read some Yellowhammer news, buy a Yellowhammer-built home, sip a Yellowhammer at Gallettes, and scream “Rammer Jammer Yellowhammer!” when the Tide win.

All thanks to a bird joke about Huntsvillians’ fancy uniforms 160+ years ago.

Bart Siniard is a personal injury attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Siniard, Timberlake & League, P.C. Bart frequently contributes stories to 256Today about north Alabama history due to his love of the subject matter.

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