Friday, May 30, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part 23

The earthworks of Fort Gadsden, seen here, remain in remarkably good condition today and obviously were still substantial at the time of the Civil War.
Following the evacuation of Apalachicola in March of 1862, the Confederates withdrew up the Apalachicola River to Ricco's Bluff. Southern engineers, however, soon began an examination of points along the river that might be better suited for defenses.
One of the points they considered was Fort Gadsden. At least one Confederate engineer recommended the construction of artillery emplacements at the site, but the bluff's reputation for sickness overruled the recommendation.
Even so, the Confederates did use the fort as an advanced post from 1863 until 1865. Small detachments of men, sometimes accompanied by a battery of field artillery, camped within the old Seminole War earthworks and erected what was described as a "guardhouse" here. Sickness remained an issue, however, and the men were constantly ill from fevers.
By 1865, only a small squad of men from the 5th Florida Cavalry were at Fort Gadsden when the Union Navy sent a boat party over from St. Andrew Bay to attack Ricco's Bluff. A portion of this force dropped down the Apalachicola to Fort Gadsden and captured the handful of men there, apparently without firing a shot. It is not clear if the fort was occupied by Confederates after that point.
In our next post, we will look at Fort Gadsden Historic Site as it appears today.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The First Memorial Day

As we pause to observe our nation's Memorial Day holiday, I thought you might enjoy reading more about the first Memorial Day.
I've posted a brief story on our sister blog, Explore Southern History, that tells the story of how this holiday originated from the efforts of a group of dedicated women in Columbus, Georgia.
I hope you will take a few minutes to read it and add any Memorial Day comments you would like to make. Click here for more.

Apalachicola River, Part 22

Two years after the destruction of the "Negro Fort" on the lower Apalachicola, the U.S. Army returned to the site.

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson selected Prospect Bluff, site of the destroyed fort, for a base of operations during the First Seminole War.

Invading Spanish Florida, he marched down the Apalachicola River to Prospect Bluff in March of 1818. Maj. James Gadsden, an engineer attached to Jackson's army, was ordered to design and build a new fort at the site. Pleased with Gadsden's efforts, Jackson named the new post Fort Gadsden in his honor.

Fort Gadsden was much smaller than the original British post. Gadsden incorporated the ruins of the British water battery into his design, using it as the river face of a new bastioned fort.

U.S. troops occupied Fort Gadsden for several years, but abandoned the post when Spain ceded Flroida to the United States in 1821. For the next 40 years, the site functioned as a riverboat landing. A town was projected on the site by early developers, but never came into existence. Troops did return from time to time during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), making use of the solid earthworks from Gadsden's fort.

In our next post, we will look at the Civil War history of the Fort Gadsden site.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part 21

When the little U.S. flotilla reached Apalachicola Bay, a boat party sent into the mouth of the river to secure fresh water was ambushed by gunmen from the "Negro Fort." Several men were killed and at least one was captured alive, only to be taken to the fort, covered with pine tar and set afire.
U.S. forces moved immediately to attack the fort. Col. Clinch and his battalion from the 4th U.S. Infantry surrounded the fort, assisted by a force of several hundred Creek warriors under the chief William McIntosh, who functioned as a major during the expedition.
On the morning of July 27, 1816, the U.S. Navy's Gunboats #149 and #154 moved upstream and to within range of the fort. The occupants of the fortress responded by hoisting both a British flag and a red or "bloody" ensign (a sign of no quarter) over the earthworks. As the gunboats moved within range, the fort's heavy artillery opened fire.
The little gunboats, each of which mounted only one cannon, responded with ranging shots and then, on their fifth round, a "hot shot" or heated cannonball fired by Gunboat #154 sailed over the walls of the fort and through the open door of one of the gunpowder magazines. The fort exploded in a tremendous blast.
Although there are varying estimates of casualties, Col. Clinch and the navy officers present reported that of the 320 men, women and children in the fort, 270 were killed instantly and most of the others were wounded. The sergeant major, Garcon, and the chief of the small contingent of Choctaw warriors in the fort were wounded but captured. Both were executed by McIntosh's warriors.
Most of the survivors of the blast were carried back to Camp Crawford, where Clinch sent out letters containing a list of names. Plantation owners who could prove "ownership" were invited to the post to claim the individuals and carry them back into slavery.
The attack on the "Negro Fort" became a major fixture in abolitionist writings for the next several decades. Slavery opponents including John Quincy Adams condemned the attack as a "slave catching expedition" by the U.S. military and the publicity surrounding the incident helped solidify the anti-slavery movement in New England. It was an important incident in the development of the national crisis that led to the outbreak of Civil War in 1861.
Our series will continue.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Twenty

When Lt. Col. Nicolls left the British Post on the Apalachicola in the hands of his former black and Native American allies, he gave them the opportunity to build lives for themselves in Spanish Florida and the means to defend themselves.
Most of the Native Americans, with the exception of about two dozen Choctaw refugees, soon drifted on to other locations, but for the African Americans, the fort on the Apalachicola was a dream come true.
They began clearing fields upstream from the fort and built a village of rough houses within the outer trenches of the large fortification. The men maintained military discipline, serving under the Sergeant Major of their old regiment, an escaped slave named Garcon. They continued to fly the British flag over the works and considered themselves subject to their final orders from Col. Nicolls to defend the fort against all attacks.
The colony on the lower Apalachicola quickly became a beacon to slaves on the plantations of Georgia and the Carolinas and one after another, enslaved laborers and their families began slipping away and making their way down to the fort. U.S. officials began calling the post the "Negro Fort" in their correspondence, and made no secret of the fact that they felt the fort should be destroyed and the blacks there returned to their "owners."
Major General Andrew Jackson sent a messenger to Spanish Governor Zuniga in Pensacola, requesting that the Spanish take action against the fort. Zuniga replied that he would first have to seek orders from his superior, the Captain General of Cuba.
Meanwhile, Major General Edmund P. Gaines ordered a battalion of the 4th U.S. Infantry to the frontier from Charleston, South Carolina. Commanded by Lt. Col. Duncan Lamont Clinch, these men went first to Fort Mitchell, Alabama (near present-day Columbus), where the constructed large flatboats for a trip down the Chattahoochee River to its confluence with the Flint. Then, in May of 1816, they moved downstream and established the new outpost of Fort Gaines, Georgia.
By June they had reached the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers (today's Lake Seminole). Here, on a commanding bluff a short distance up the Flint, they built a new fort named Camp Crawford. Located just a few miles above the line dividing Georgia from Spanish Florida, the new installation could best be supplied by boats via the Gulf of Mexico and the Apalachicola River. This would mean, of course, passing under the guns of the "Negro Fort."
Permission was obtained from the Spanish to send supply boats up the river and a small flotilla soon left New Orleans and nearby Pass Christian, Mississippi, en route for the Apalachicola.
Our series will continue.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Nineteen

Continuing our series on Civil War sites along Florida's Apalachicola River, this is one of the most significant historic sites in the United States.
The dark, slightly wet area running through the center of the photograph is what remains of the moat of the British Post on the Apalachicola, also called the "Negro Fort."
The events that took place here became a common fixture in Abolitionist writings during the decades leading up to the Civil War and helped ignite the anti-slavery movement in the North.
British troops led by Bvt. Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls (often misspelled as "Nichols") and Bvt. Major George Woodbine built a fort on this site in 1814. The War of 1812 was still raging at that time and the British were shifting their focus to the Gulf Coast in anticipation of the invasion that ended at the Battle of New Orleans.
As part of their planned Southern campaign, British leaders ordered Nicolls to recruit a large force of Creek and Seminole warriors and to issue a proclamation offering freedom to any African American slave who could reach the British Post. The effort was successful and several thousand Creek, Seminole and black soldiers joined the British force. The fort on the lower Apalachicola was used as a training and supply base for these volunteers. They were given basic military training and provided with British arms and uniforms.
Although a few of the leaders of this organization were present at the Battle of New Orleans and others fought at the Battle of Fort Bowyer (Mobile Bay), the main force never saw action. The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812 before they could begin their anticipated invasion of Georgia.
Nicolls and his British troops abandoned the fort during the late spring of 1815, leaving it in the hands of his former allies along with a huge supply of small arms, ammunition and light and heavy artillery.
We will continue our look at this site when our series continues.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Eighteen

South of Ricco's Bluff, the Apalachicola River once flowed through a winding series of curves that were known to riverboat pilots as "the Narrows."

In 1863, deciding that the defenses at Ricco's Bluff were too far upstream and perhaps not placed well to provide a suitable defense, the Confederates set about building new fortifications and batteries at the Narrows.

The task was extremely difficult. The land around the Narrows was low and swampy. At high water, the swamps overflowed. At low water, the location was covered with a mosquito population so thick that clouds of them often darkened the sky.

Despite these hardships, the Confederates constructed two batteries at the Narrows. Known as Battery Gilmer and Battery Cobb, these installations were created by taking pre-built frames downstream and then filling them with earth. Two large mounds were created, atop which the artillery batteries were constructed.

In addition, the Confederates obstructed the river at the Narrows, by placing similar pre-built frames in the river and allowing the river itself to pile driftwood against them until finally a mass so thick was created that the soldiers could walk back and forth across the river on the tangle of driftwood.

The Confederate warship Chattahoochee came down to guard the work crews as they built the batteries. It was bittersweet duty for the officers and men on the ship, however. The same obstructions that would prevent Union ships from coming upstream also doomed the Chattahoochee to a career of service in the river.

The batteries at the Narrows never came under fire and the location proved so unhealthy that the Confederates soon abandoned it. In addition, it was quickly realized that the batteries could be bypassed using a series of smaller streams and sloughs. As a result the guns were removed and taken upriver to Alum Bluff.

The Apalachicola River has since been straightened and no longer flows by the battery site at the Narrows. The mounds still exist, but are far back in the river swamp and very difficult to reach today. Curiously, one of Florida's top archaeologists mistook them for a major Native American mound complex, despite the fact that no significant Native American artifacts have been found there. Another group of archaeologists, also thinking they were investigating a Native American mound complex, learned the truth when they found a few rusty nails and recognized the pattern of the earthworks atop the mounds as fortifications.

Our series will continue.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Seventeen

By January of 1865, the Confederates had abandoned their batteries at Ricco's Bluff. The guns were moved first to the "Narrows," a winding section of river downstream, but eventually were relocated to Alum Bluff and finally to Rock Bluff at today's Torreya State Park.

Despite the removal of the artillery, however, Southern troops maintained a small presence at the bluff. Cavalry detachments were kept here to keep watch on the lower river and round up deserters and escaped slaves trying to make their way through to the Union blockade ships at Apalachicola Bay.

By January of 1865, the force at the bluff consisted of around 30 or so men from Company E, 5th Florida Cavalry. Most of the men camped here at the Nixon plantation, but a few pickets were kept on the bluff itself to watch for Union warships.

A Union boat party came up Bear Creek from St. Andrews Bay and portaged over into the Chipola River that month. Rowing down into the Apalachicola, they came up at night and surrounded the camp at Ricco's Bluff. Most of the Confederates there were captured without the firing of a shot. A storehouse filled with corn was burned and the slaves working the plantation were liberated.

The prisoners were carried first to Key West then eventually onto New Orleans. The war soon ended, however, leading to their exchange.

Our series will continue.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Sixteen

This open field was once part of the Nixon Plantation, a large farming operation at Ricco's Bluff in Liberty County, Florida.
The plantation site had been occupied for a number of decades by the time of the Civil War. Early maps of the Forbes Purchase show that cowpens were located here prior to the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821.
A significant settlement grew in the area during the early 1820s and by the time of the war, Ricco's Bluff was an important farming community and riverboat landing.
Following their evacuation of Apalachicola in early 1862, the Confederates withdrew up the river to Ricco's Bluff. Here they constructed earthwork batteries overlooking the river and emplaced the heavy artillery they had brought with them from Apalachicola. The Ricco's Bluff batteries were the first in a series of Confederate installations constructed to defend the river.
The main Confederate troop encampment, however, was back away from the river in the fields of the Nixon plantation. The primary reason for this was to protect the men from the mosquito-infested swamps that surrounded the actual bluff. Malaria was then a greatly feared disease in the swamps of Florida and would claim many lives before the end of the war.
Our series on Civil War sites along the Apalachicola River will continue.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Fifteen

This is a view of some of the surviving Confederate earthworks at Alum Bluff on the Apalachicola River.
Most of the artillery battery site here has eroded away due to the natural expansion of the massive bluff, but a few traces of earthwork fortifications can still be seen.
The battery never came under attack and was abandoned in 1863 in favor of the Rock Bluff site a short distance upriver at Torreya State Park.
The site today is preserved as part of the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. This beautiful tract of property is owned by The Nature Conservancy and is open to the public during the daylight hours. The preserve protects a pristine environment of unique steephead ravines and the spectacular bluff overlooking the river. Local tradition holds that this was the site of the Garden of Eden and that the extremely rare Florida Torreya tree that grows here was the gopher wood from which Noah built the ark.
A hiking trail - appropriately named the "Garden of Eden Trail" - can be accessed from a parking area just off State Highway 12 on the northern edge of Bristol. It is a long walk out to the bluff. The total hike is a little over three miles round trip, much of it up and down steep ravines that are extremely rare for Florida. If you are in physical condition to make the hike, though, it provides you with a chance to experience a truly beautiful part of the Sunshine State and perhaps the finest view in Florida.
To learn more about the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, please visit The site is in the process of being updated, so all areas will not be active for another few days.
Our series will continue.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Fourteen

This photograph shows one of the most spectacular views in all of Florida. Taken from the top of Alum Bluff, it shows the Apalachicola River as it winds its way past what is believed to be the largest exposed section of the earth's crust in the entire state.
Towering above the river, Alum Bluff was a major landmark and key strategic point for much of Florida's early history. The bluff is shown on the earliest known maps of the river and Andrew Jackson paused here during his 1818 invasion of Florida during the First Seminole War.
Confederate engineers quickly took note of the bluff during the surveys of the Apalachicola River in 1862-1863 and recommended it as the site for artillery emplacements. During the years 1862-1863, earthwork batteries were constructed on the bluff and a major Confederate camp was established here. At one point more than 600 men occupied Alum Bluff and as many as seven pieces of heavy artillery aimed out over the river.
I will have more on Alum Bluff as our series continues tomorrow.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Thirteen

This beautiful old oak tree at Ocheesee Landing was one of two that originally stood in front of the Gregory House.
The home overlooked the Apalachicola River at this site until it was relocated across the river to Torreya State Park during the 1930s.
The Gregory family and home were a major landmark at Ocheesee during the Civil War. Members of the family served in the Confederate army and the family often hosted Southern officers from both the Army and Navy as they moved up and down the Apalachicola River.
The war, however, resulted in disaster for the family and its vast holdings. The economic losses inflicted on the Gregory plantation by four years of war followed by the liberation of the family's enslaved laborers resulted in the collapse of the farming operation. Today the cotton fields of Jason Gregory are now planted in slash pine and not even a single building remains at the site to serve as a reminder of what once was one of the largest plantations along Florida's Apalachicola River.
The house itself, however, can be visited at Torreya State Park and is furnished with many items that once belonged to the Gregory family. To learn more, please visit
Our series will continue.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Twelve

Continuing our look at Civil War sites along Florida's Apalachicola River, this is another view of the river from Ocheesee Bluff in Calhoun County, Florida.
This photograph was taken looking upstream from Ocheesee. The bluffline in the distance is Rock Bluff at Torreya State Park, where the Confederates established a battery of six pieces of artillery during the war.
Just as it had been during the First Seminole War, the river bend at Ocheesee and Rock Bluffs was quickly recognized as a vital defensive points. Union warships coming up the river would have to slow to negotiate the turns, making the location an ideal point for Confederate defenses. Legend holds that, in addition to the batteries on the east bluffs, a chain was also stretched across the river here at times.
Since Ocheesee was a settlement at the time of the war and the center of the Jason Gregory plantation, it was often visited by Confederate officers from both the army and navy.
Our series will continue.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Eleven

Continuing our series on Civil War sites along Florida's Apalachicola River, this view shows the river as it winds the bend at Ocheesee Bluff. The historic bluff faces the river on the right side of the photograph.

This was an important site throughout much of Florida's early history. The trading post of John Mealy stood here at the time of the American Revolution. He provided horses, supplies and warriors from the adjacent Lower Creek village of Ocheesee to the British army during the Revolution.

In 1817, this was the site of an important battle of the First Seminole War. A convoy of U.S. Army supply boats were making their way upriver to Fort Scott (in Decatur County, Georgia), when they were attacked from both sides of the river at this point by Native American and African American Creek and Seminole warriors. The battle lasted for a number of days for a sudden cold spell brought the fighting to an end.

During the 1820s and 1830s, an important community developed here. Ocheesee was the county seat of Fayette County, now remembered as one of Florida's "lost counties." Established during the 1830s, the county was abolished after only a couple of years.

By the time of the Civil War, however, Ocheesee remained an important settlement and riverboat landing.

More discussion of the site's Civil War history is coming in the next post.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Ten

Continuing our series on Civil War sites along Florida's historic Apalachicola River, this is the beautiful old Gregory House at Torreya State Park.
This beautifully restored home originally stood across the river from the park at Ocheesee Landing in Calhoun County. It was the home of Jason Gregory, the owner of a massive cotton plantation that spread across thousands of acres.
Then, as now, the home faced out over the river, but because Ocheesee Bluff was much lower than Rock Bluff, where the house stands today, it originally stood atop tall brick piers that allowed flood water to flow under the house during the annual spring floods. Eyewitness accounts from the 1850s describe how members of the Gregory family used to row boats out to the house during the floods, the living areas still dry thanks to the tall piers on which it stood.
The home was an important landmark during the Civil War. Confederate navy and army officers often visited with the Gregory family. Following the explosion of the C.S.S. Chattahoochee at Blountstown in 1863, victims of the accident were brought temporarily to the Gregory house for treatment until they could be carried to medical facilities upstream.
The Civil War and end of slave labor spelled the end of the Gregory plantation and it fell on hard times after the war. The house was donated to Torreya State park by the Neal Lumber Company during the 1930s. Carefully taken apart, it was moved by barge across the river and restored on its present site.
The home is now open to the public for guided tours and is one of the few remaining antebellum plantation structures along the Apalachicola River. To read more about Torreya, please visit
Our series will continue.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Nine

This is part nine of a continuing series on Civil War sites along Florida's Apalachicola River. To read the previous posts, please visit the Archives area.
These are some of the earthworks of the Confederate artillery battery at Torreya State Park. In addition to its other features, the park preserves the remains of the six cannon emplacement constructed by Southern troops to defend the Apalachicola.
The battery at Torreya was the northernmost of a series of fortifications constructed to defend the river from Union attack. It is also the best preserved and easiest to visit. The installation never came under fire, but Bonaud's Artillery Battalion from the battery was sent east by rail during the Federal invasion of 1864 and took part in the Southern victory at the Battle of Olustee.
To read more about the battery at Torreya and see additional photographs, please look back through the archives to see a series I did on the site a few months back. To learn more about the park itself, please visit

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Eight

Continuing our look at Civil War sites along Florida's Apalachicola River, this is Aspalaga Bluff in western Gadsden County.
Recently added to Torreya State Park and now preserved, the bluff is one of the most important historic sites along the river. During prehistoric times a complex of Native American mounds stood here. When white settlers made their way into the Apalachicola Valley, they picked Aspalaga as a site for an important river landing and settlement.
The landing stood at the foot of the bluff (at about the point where the river makes its bend to the right), while the settlement itself was on top of the steep bluff. By the time of the Civil War, this was an important ferry crossing and steamboat landing. Confederate troops camped here from time to time and steamboats stopped here to take on wood or drop off supplies. Although a small log fort had stood here during the Second Seminole War, there is no indication that the Confederates ever fortified the bluff during the Civil War. Most of their efforts were focused at several locations downstream.
Aspalaga Landing is now open to the public, but access to the bluff itself is restricted without prior permission from the park rangers at Torreya State Park.
Our series will continue.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part Seven

This is part seven of a continuing series on Civil War sites along Florida's Apalachicola River. To read the previous posts, please scroll down the page or look at the Archives area.
This is the memorial to the Confederate sailors killed when the boiler of the C.S.S. Chattahoochee exploded near Blountstown, Florida, on May 27, 1863.
The monument stands just off the shoulder of the street about one block south of the main entrance to the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee.
The warship was on its way down the Apalachicola River to counter a raid by the Union navy when it stopped for the night due to shallow water at the Blountstown sand bar. The next morning, as the Chattahoochee was preparing to resume its voyage, human error led to a boiler explosion that killed or severely scalded many of the sailors aboard the ship.
The dead from the explosion were carried by steamboat up to Chattahoochee, where they were buried not far from what was then the arsenal complex. The location of the cemetery was lost over time, but was accidentally discovered several decades ago during a construction project. The monument seen here was placed to mark the site and memorialize the men who died in the terrible accident.
The warship itself was raised by work crews and taken upriver to Columbus, Georgia, where she was refitted and was again ready for action by the end of the war. She was scuttled by her own crew in 1865 when Columbus fell to Union troops to prevent her capture. A portion of the wreck of the Chattahoochee has been salvaged and can be seen today at the Port Columbus National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus.
Our series will continue.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book Sale ends Tomorrow at Noon

Just a quick reminder that the special sale on the books The Battle of Marianna, Florida, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida and Two Egg, Florida: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Legends and Unusual Facts will end tomorrow at noon.

I received a number of requests that I extend the offer through the weekend, so it is still available. You can purchase any or all of the books at the best price that will be available this year.

Just visit and you will find ordering information.

Apalachicola River, Part Six

This is part six of a continuing series on Civil War sites along Florida's Apalachicola River.

Continuing a look at the surviving structures of the historic Apalachicola Arsenal in Chattahoochee, this photograph shows one of the few surviving portions of the original brick wall that surrounded the complex.

Nine feet high and 30 inches thick, the wall surrounded the 4 square acre main compound of the arsenal and was built into the walls of the post buildings. The surviving section seen here projects from the original office structure, which adjoins the arsenal guardhouse and officers' quarters. The three buildings, along with one of the external magazines, are the only remaining intact structures from the compound.

Confederate troops remained based here throughout the war and in 1864, even as he was continuing his March to the Sea and through the Carolinas, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman noted in a letter to General U.S. Grant that the arsenal was a place of "importance" and should be taken by an expedition up from the Gulf. He believed its capture would open the door for an invasion of South Georgia.

Sherman's recommendation apparently revolved over subsequent months into the ill-fated Union attack that ended at the Battle of Natural Bridge near Tallahassee on March 6, 1865. A section of Confederate field artillery was stationed at the arsenal when that expedition began and arrived on the field in time to participate in the battle.

When the war ended, the arsenal reverted to the control of the U.S. military. It was reported to be in poor condition by that point and never again served much of a military role, although detachments of troops were based there. It was soon turned over to the State of Florida for use as a prison, a role that it served for a number of years. It eventually became the central core of today's Florida State Hospital.

Many of the original buildings were still intact as late as 1958, but were demolished during the 1960s. The surviving four structures, however, are no preserved as important parts of the hospital campus.

Our series will continue.