The area now known as Citronelle was first explored by the French in the 18th century. The land was found to possess healing herbs and mineral springs. The area was settled in 1811 and established as a jurisdiction in 1892. The name "Citronelle" is French and is derived from the citronella plant, which grows throughout the town. In the late 19th century, the town became a popular resort destination because of the climate, herbs, and healing waters. Many hotels were built to accommodate the surge of visitors.
On May 4, 1865, one of the last significant Confederate armies was surrendered by General Richard Taylor (general) under the "Surrender Oak". This was the third in a series of five major surrenders of the war. The two previous surrenders occurred at Appomattox Court House, Virginia between General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant; and the second and largest at Bennett Place near Durham, North Carolina between General William T. Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston.
A living history/reenactment of the surrender occurs each year in Citronelle. The historic "Surrender Oak" no longer stands as it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1902.
In 1955, oil was discovered in the area. Today Citronelle is known as the oil capital of Alabama.
Citronelle sits atop the Citronelle Dome, a salt dome that is still rising, as shown by the centrifugal drainage of streams away from the center. In 1955 oil was discovered in this geologic structure at a greater depth than had previously been considered as feasible, and so the Citronelle Dome was among the first of many "deep" oil fields.
"Citronelle Dome is a giant salt-cored anticline in the eastern Mississippi Interior Salt Basin of southwest Alabama. The dome forms an elliptical structural closure containing multiple opportunities for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and saline reservoir CO2 sequestration. Citronelle Oil Field, located on the crest of the dome, has produced more than 169 MMbbl (million barrels) of 42-46° American Petroleum Institute (API) gravity oil from the Lower Cretaceous Donovan Sand."