Sunday, July 20, 2008

Civil War in Panama City - Part Two

When Florida officially put itself on the road to war in January of 1861, the immediate impact on St. Andrew Bay and the modern Panama City area was minimal.
There were no fortifications or military facilities on the bay, so the area was not an immediate focus for military activity. Some of the local men joined Confederate companies from Washington County, but otherwise there was no real focus on the area during 1861.
For the most part, life continued as normal on the bay during the spring, summer and fall of 1861. The fisheries remained active, but the resort community quieted as few people from the inland counties risked the possibility of a Union raid into the bay. As the Union navy slowly began to increase its blockade efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, St. Andrew Bay also developed as a port for blockade runners. Small sloops and steamers would come into the bay and moor near the mouth of Bear Creek. From there, goods could be shipped by wagon up through the Econfina settlement to Marianna or by barge up Bear Creek to the short portage over into the Chipola and Apalachicola Rivers.
Our series on the Civil War in the Panama City area will continue.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Civil War in Panama City - Part One

During the decades before the Civil War, the bayfront community of St. Andrew developed along the low bluff at this site. The area can now be seen along Beach Drive just west of Harrison Avenue in Panama City.

Much as Panama City Beach is today, St. Andrew was an important resort area for the residents of the interior counties of Northwest Florida, Southwest Georgia and Southeast Alabama. People came down to the bay to fish, swim and enjoy cool Gulf breezes. Unlike the modern visitors of today that prefer the white sand beaches directly on the Gulf of Mexico, antebellum tourists preferred the bayfront setting because it was a much cooler environment.

Although there were permanent residents of the community, it was primarily geared around "part-time" residents that came down from the plantations and communities of the interior to escape the intense heat and humidity of summer in the Deep South.

In addition to the resort area, St. Andrew Bay was also known as a fine fishery during the years before the Civil War. Small fishing boats worked on the waters of the area bringing in catches that were smoked for delivery into the interior or shipment out to larger ports. The bay area was also the site of a large sawmill operation and functioned as a minor port for commerce coming down by barge and poleboat from the farms in the Econfina settlements.

The entire area was then part of Washington County, as modern Bay County was not created for many years after the Civil War.
Our series on the Civil War in the Panama City area will continue.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Civil War in Panama City, Florida

I'll be starting a new series tomorrow on the Civil War in and around Panama City, Florida.
Although the modern city had not been founded at the time of the war, the area of present-day Panama City was the scene of a number of significant incidents between Union and Confederate forces. There were skirmishes, raids, naval expeditions, a bombardment and a number of other activities in the area during the war, and the sparkling bays and inlets of the area provided the location for one of the largest saltworks in the Confederacy.
If you are interested in learning more about one of the least known areas of Civil War activity in the South, be sure to check back tomorrow for part one of the new series.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Nine

Concluding our look at the Battle of Olustee, Florida, the battlefield is now located in adjoining areas of Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park and the Osceola National Forest.
The park is open daily and features monuments, cannon, a walking trail along the battle lines, exhibits and a small museum. A film detailing the history of the battle is available in the museum.
The battlefield is the largest in Florida and one of the best preserved in the Deep South. Although Olustee does not have preserved earthworks or fortifications, because none were used during the battle, it is remarkably well preserved and can be seen today almost as it appeared at the time of the battle. It is a place for quiet reflection and consideration of the terrible cost exacted on this ground.
To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Nine

This is another view of the Union mass grave at Olustee, Florida.
As the Confederates collected the bodies from the battlefield, they buried them in a large trench here. The exact number of men buried in the grave is not clear, but more than 200 Federals lost their lives in the battle and aftermath.
After the war, the grave was marked with a wooden cross and surrounded by a picket fence. Over the years both the fence and cross rotted away, but a local cemetery grew up around the grave and helped preserve the memory of its location.
Although Union dead from numerous battlefields across the South were moved to national cemeteries during the decades after the war, the bodies at Olustee apparently were left in their mass resting place.
The modern monument was placed a few years ago to mark the grave and is a stone recreation of the original wooden cross. It is one of only four monuments on the battlefield.
The Confederate dead from the battle were taken to Lake City and other communities around the area.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. Until the next post you can read more by visiting

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Eight

This is the monument that marks the mass grave of Union soldiers at the Olustee battlefield. It is located in a small cemetery adjacent to the state park.
The bodies of more than 200 Federal soldiers were collected from the field after the battle. While all deaths in the war were tragic, word began to filter out almost immediately after the battle that not all of the Union dead at Olustee had been killed in battle. Eyewitnesses from both sides saw Confederate soldiers killing wounded African American Union soldiers after the battle.
How many soldiers died in post-battle murders is not known, but there is little doubt that at least some killings happened in the wake of the engagement. On the Union side, Henry Lang of the 48th New York described seeing post-battle attrocities. The most numerous reports, however, came from the Southern side.
William Penniman of the 4th Georgia Cavalry reported hearing an outbreak of firing on the field after the battle that sounded almost like a skirmish line engaging. When he enquired as to the cause, he was told by an officer that men were killing black soldiers. James Jordan of the 27th Georgia wrote to his wife that men killed some of the wounded African-Americans almost as soon as they were captured. Winston Stephens of the 2nd Florida Cavalry wrote home that if the family slaves could have seen the treatment of the black soldiers after the battle, they would have lost all ambition to leave servitude. He also described seeing a black man in the Southern ranks kill a captured Union black soldier for offering to shake hands with him.
Although there is considerable evidence that wounded soldiers were killed after the battle, the fact that hundreds of Union wounded, along with hundreds of prisoners, were forwarded to hospitals and prisons also confirms eyewitness accounts that Southern officers intervened and stopped the violence. In Tallahassee, eyewitnesses reported that wounded African Americans received the same treatment as wounded white soldiers.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. To read more before the next post, please visit

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Seven

When the Federals broke and withdrew from the field at Olustee, the Confederates began what could best be described as a half-hearted pursuit.
General Beauregard, later reviewing the results of the action, felt that the Confederate cavalry had been negligent in fulfilling its duties and that had the enemy been energetically pursued, Seymour's entire army might have been captured or destroyed.
General Finegan echoed this sentiments in his official report:
During the continuance of the battle, also after the enemy had given way, I sent repeated orders to Colonel Smith, commanding cavalry, to press the enemy on his flanks and to continue in the pursuit. But through some misapprehension these orders failed to be executed by him, and only two small companies on the left, and these but for a short distance, followed the enemy.
Smith was the commanding officer of the 2nd Florida Cavalry and had been placed in charge of all the Confederate cavalry prior to the battle.
Despite the obvious breakdown of the pursuit of the defeated enemy following the battle, the results achieved by the Confederates at Olustee can only be described as astounding. In a stand up fight in the open pine woods they had handed the Union its worst defeat of the war in a major battle. The 40% casualties suffered by Seymour's army at Olustee was unmatched during the Civil War.
In addition, as Finegan reported, the Confederates captured a rich haul of artillery and military supplies. This included "5 superior guns, 1 set of colors captured, and 1,600 stand of arms; also 130,000 rounds of cartridges (damaged by having been thrown into water)." Union reports indicated that six pieces of artillery were lost.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Six

This photograph shows the approximate position of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry during the Battle of Olustee, Florida.
The wall at left fronts the primary battlefield monument and the railroad can be seen at right.
After their advance was brought to a halt by an ammunition shortage, the Confederates held their line of battle despite heavy fire from Union regiments including the 54th.
While ammunition was being rushed forward from wagons to the rear, additional Confederate reinforcements in the form of Bonaud's battalion, the 1st Florida Battalion and the 27th Georgia pushed up to Colquitt's line of battle. Pushing them forward, he had them form a line in advance of his other troops until fresh ammunition could be brought forward and distributed to the rest of his men.
As soon as the men were resupplied, Colquitt ordered a general advance on the Union lines. The 6th and 32nd Georgia Regiments were moved around to strike against the right flank of the Federal line of battle, while the fresh men of the 27th Georgia struck hard at the Union center.
Although Seymour had entered the battle with about 500 more men than Finegan and Colquitt, the collapse of two of his regiments now meant that Colquitt now had more infantry on the field. Exhausted and discouraged, the Union line began to give way.
Seymour downplayed the severity of the defeat in his official report:
...The disparity in numbers was too great and the defense too obstinate to permit of decisive results. The struggle continued until dusk, and ended with cheers of defiance, and finding it hopeless, under existing circumstances, to advance farther, the troops were withdrawn in perfect order to Sanderson and then to the Saint Mary’s, Colonel Henry’s cavalry, supported by the Seventh Connecticut, serving as rear guard. From loss of horses alone, I was compelled to leave six guns on the field, and a small portion of the badly wounded were left in the power of the enemy from insufficient means to remove them.
The Confederates told a different story. According to General Finegan:
They contested the ground stubbornly, and the battle lasted for four and a half hours. At the end of this time, the enemy’s lines having been broken and reformed several times, and two fine Napoleon and three 10-pounder Parrott guns and one set of colors captured from them, they gave way entirely, and were closely pressed for 3 miles until night-fall.
Colquitt described the breaking of the Union lines in similar terms and Seymour's commander, General Gillmore, left no doubt that he believed his subordinate had been badly defeated at Olustee:
We now know since the close of the war that there was no “disparity in numbers,” and we knew at the time that the “results” were a “decisive” defeat upon the field of battle and the frustration – as well by loss of men as by loss of prestige – of a well and carefully digested plan of campaign. General Finegan, who was in command of the enemy’s forces, told two members of my staff (Capt. D.S. Leslie, One hundred and fourth U.S. Colored Troops, and Capt. Henry Seton, Fifty-fourth New York) that he had only about 5,000 men at the battle. General Seymour had 5,500 men. Our losses were 1,800 men in killed, wounded and missing, 39 horses, and 6 pieces of artillery. Indeed, our forces appear to have been surprised into fighting, or attempting to fight, an offensive battle, in which the component parts of the command were beaten in detail. The enemy did not fight behind intrenchments or any kind of defenses.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

New Book: The History of Jackson County, Florida (Volume One)

I'm pleased to announce that the first volume of my new three volume set, The History of Jackson County, Florida, will be released for online sales on Monday, July 7th.

If you would like to go ahead and place an order, you can do so by visiting:
The cost is $24.95 plus $5 shipping and handling. Proceeds from the book will be donated to the Chipola Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, to help fund historic markers in Jackson County.
Volume One of the series covers the years from 1674 to 1860 and includes details on Jackson County's Spanish missions, Native American reservations, early settlements, Florida's oldest Baptist Church (Campbellton), the Marianna vs. Webbville fight, the county's role in the American Revolution, the Calhoun County War of 1860, the story of Jackson County's "Rip Van Winkle," Bellamy Bridge and much more.
The book will be available at Chipola River Book & Tea in downtown Marianna in about two weeks, but internet orders will begin shipping next week. If you have already placed an order for the book, your copy will arrive in the next two weeks.
I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Five

As the Confederate lines pushed forward, the outcome of the battle quickly seemed in doubt for the Federals. Gen. Seymour quickly pushed forward Barton's brigade and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry to try to stem the oncoming Southern advance.
A fierce firefight opened in the open pine woods. The engagement was unique for the final years of the Civil War in that it was a stand up battle with both sides blazing away at each other at short range and without trenches or fortifications of any kind. The armies had fought this way early in the war, but by 1864 both had come to realize that advances in weaponry had outdated open field tactics. This was clearly demonstrated by the massive casualties sustained by the Confederates at Gettysburg.
Olustee, however, developed so quickly that neither side was able to prepare their positions or make use of rifle pits and breastworks. As a result, it was extremely bloody.
General Colquitt provided a good description of the main fight at Olustee in his post-battle report:
After our line had advanced about one-quarter of a mile the engagement became general and the ground was stubbornly contested. With two batteries of artillery immediately in our front and a long line of infantry strongly supported, the enemy stood their ground for some time, until the Sixth Florida Battalion, on the right flank, and all the troops in front pressing steadily forward, compelled them to fall back and leave five pieces of artillery in our possession. At this time, our ammunition beginning to fail, I ordered the commanding officers to halt their regiments and hold their respective positions until a fresh supply could be brought up from the ordnance wagons , which, after much delay, had arrived upon the field.
When the Confederates ran short on ammunition, their fire slackened and prompted hope in the Federal lines that they might be giving way. Gen. Seymour described the situation from the Union perspective:
An unremitting fire was maintained upon the enemy’s infantry, with the very best effect. Barton’s brigade, close at hand, was now formed on the ground occupied by the Seventh New Hampshire, and the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts had replaced the Eighth U.S. Colored Troops and a rapid fire was opened, the influence of which was soon visible. The left of the enemy’s line was forced backward, and in the hope of still effecting my original intention, the First North Carolina was brought up to the right of Barton’s brigade by Lieutenant-Colonel Reed in the most brilliant manner. The entire force was now hotly engaged save the cavalry. Colonel Henry watched the flanks and prevents on the left a movement of the enemy’s cavalry that threatened trouble.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee, Florida will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting