Saturday, December 20, 2008

Last Chance for Books for Christmas

This weekend is your last chance to order either of my books on the Civil War in Florida for Christmas.

Both The Battle of Marianna, Florida and The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida are in stock at and can be delivered in time for Christmas.

If you are interested in purchasing either or both, please visit and just search for the title of the book that is of interest to you.

You will see specific instructions for ordering and the deadline to make sure the books arrive in time for the holiday.

If you are in Northwest Florida, both books are also in stock at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna. They are located across from the Battle of Marianna monument on the same block as the Gazebo Restaurant. The address is 4401 Lafayette Street.

Thank you all for your interest and friendship over this year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

San Marcos de Apalache - Part Five

This post is part of a continuing series on San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida.

While the shallow nature of the lower St. Marks River prevented St. Marks from ever developing as a major port for Confederate blockade running efforts, small ships did make their way in and out of the community throughout the Civil War.

Confederates attempted to protect these activities and defend the water approaches to Florida's capital by emplacing heavy artillery at Fort Ward (San Marcos) and by converting a small river steamer into the gunboat C.S.S. Spray. From its base at the fort, the Spray cruised the coastal waters and was an annoyance if not a direct threat to Union blockade vessels off shore. It mounted heavy guns and was manned by a contingent of sailors and marines from the C.S. Navy.

The existence of Fort Ward and the small gunboat attracted attention from the Union navy throughout the war. A boat party was sent up the river in 1863 in an effort to overrun the batteries under cover of darkness. Confederate pickets at Port Leon, an abandoned town site just downstream from the fort, spotted the boats and opened fire, however, forcing the sailors to abandon their attack plan and withdraw back down the river.

Although the reports of Confederate engineers reveal that Fort Ward was not a particularly strong fortification, its location up a shallow river that could not be navigated by the deep draft Union blockade ships. In addition, the open marshes between the fort and the mouth of the St. Marks allowed the gunners in the fort a wide open view of any movements on the lower river.

The fort was, however, vulnerable to land attack. Engineers noted that the rear of the batteries had not been enclosed and that it would be easy for an enemy force to bypass the works and then attack them from behind. This problem was resolved during the fall and winter of 1864 when an earthen wall was constructed across the rear or land face of the fort. Entrenchments were also prepared at nearby Newport, considered a likely crossing point for Union troops trying to get across the St. Marks River to attack Fort Ward from the rear.

In our next post, we will look at the fort's role in the 1865 Battle of Natural Bridge.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

San Marcos de Apalache - Part Four

Continuing our series on San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida, the United States maintained a garrison at the old Spanish fort in the years after the First Seminole War.

Florida was then still a Spanish colony, but Spain was powerless to expel the American force. Buried on the grounds of the old fortress are a number of U.S. soldiers, men who died while garrisoning what they called Fort St. Marks. Most were from the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantry Regiments and the 4th U.S. Artillery Battalion.

Following the cession of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821, Fort St. Marks remained an important miltary installation, but its importance diminished over time and the garrison was withdrawn during the 1820s. Men were sent back to the fort during a brief crisis with the Seminoles and again during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), but it never again took on the significance of its early years.

By the time of the Civil War, the fort had been long abandoned and partially dismantled. Stone from the old Spanish walls was used to build a Marine Hospital on the grounds and, reportedly, the St. Marks Lighthouse as well. The ruined walls, however, still stood.

Due to the deterioration of the fort, the outbreak of the war in 1861 found the harbor of St. Marks (key port for the city of Tallahassee) completely unprotected. Confederates initially built a battery far out in the marshes at the lighthouse, but soon realized this position was too exposed and evacuated it in favor of new defenses on the old San Marcos site.

Using the ruins of the massive stone walls of the old Spanish fort for support, Confederate engineers designed an earthwork battery on top of the old defenses. The Spanish moat was filled to create the center of the fort and the stone bastions on the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers were reinforced with earth and used as artillery positions. Named Fort Ward, after Col. George Ward of Florida, the fort was crudely built but nevertheless successfully protected the port of St. Marks for the duration of the war.

In the next post, we'll look at the two main attempts to capture the fort by Union forces and explore its history as an unconquered Southern citadel. Until then, you can read more about the history of the park by visiting

San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park is one of a number of parks on a list recommended for either permanent or temporary closure by the state of Florida due to budget issues. If you agree that this site should remain open to the public, please take a few minutes to write to Governor Charlie Crist at Also please contact your local state representatives and senators.

Friday, December 5, 2008

San Marcos de Apalache - Part Three

This post is a continuation of a series on San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida. Only about half an hour from Tallahassee, this park is on a list of facilities that might be closed due to state budget cuts.

The Spanish fort at San Marcos became a focus of the United States in 1817 when an alliance of Seminole and Creek warriors took to the warpath in retaliation for a U.S. attack on the Creek village of Fowltown near present-day Bainbridge, Georgia.

Under orders from the War Department, Gen. Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida in March of 1818. Pushing down the Apalachicola River, he established a base called Fort Gadsden on the site of the abandoned British post (called "Negro Fort" by the Americans) that had been destroyed by a joint land and sea operation in 1816.

While Jackson's troops were engaged in building a new fort at the site, one of his men - a Georgia militiaman named Duncan McKrimmon - wandered beyond the picket lines to go fishing and was taken prisoner by warriors loyal to Josiah Francis, the Creek Prophet. They carried him away to Francis' town, located on the Wakulla River just above San Marcos de Apalache.

When the warriors prepared to execute McKrimmon under Creek law to avenge the death of several women during the Creek War of 1813-1814, a remarkable scene took place. Milly Francis, the young daughter of the Prophet, pleaded for his life. Moved by her pleas, the warriors relented and McKrimmon was spared and turned over to the Spanish commander at San Marcos. Milly became known as the "Creek Pocahontas" for her role in saving his life and later was one of the first women ever awarded a special medal of honor by the U.S. Congress. You can read more of her story by visiting:

No sooner had McKrimmon been turned over to the Spanish, however, than did Jackson's forces closed in on the Spanish fort. After swinging north around Tate's Hell swamp, he struck at major Seminole and Creek villages in the area of present-day Tallahassee and then turned south and marched on St. Marks.

At the same time, a flotilla of schooners led by the U.S.S. Thomas Shields arrived in the Spanish Hole at the mouth of the St. Marks River below the fort. In an attempt to decoy any chiefs in the area aboard, the commander of the warship hoisted the British flag from his mast. It was not long before a canoe came down from the fort bearing two prominent Creek leaders, the Prophet Francis and a second chief named Homathlemico. Both were decoyed aboard and taken prisoner.

One of the Prophet's daughters (Milly's older sister) approached the ships in a canoe the next day, but realized that something was wrong and made for the shore under a hail of musket and cannonfire from the Shields.

Jackson soon arrived with his main army and, after a demand for its surrender was refused, ordered his troops to storm the gates. The attack happened so fast that the Spanish defenders were unable to fire a single gun in their own defense. The U.S. flag was raised over the fort and the ensign of Spain came down for the last time.

The schooners moved upstream with supplies for the army and the two captured chiefs. Both Francis and Homathlemico were hanged without trial or ceremony on the grounds of the fort.

Leaving a garrison at San Marcos, now called Fort St. Marks, Jackson marched east to attack additional Seminole towns on the Suwannee. Upon his return he tried two British traders - Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Ambrister - captured during his movements. Both were accused of inciting the Seminoles and Creeks to war and both were executed, sparking a dramatic international incident between the United States and Great Britain.

Our series on San Marcos de Apalache will continue. Until the next post you can read more by visiting If you agree that this significant site should remain open to the public, please write Gov. Charlie Crist to express your opposition to plans to close the park. His email address is

Thursday, December 4, 2008

San Marcos de Apalache - Part Two

This is the second part of a series I'll be posting over the next couple of weeks on San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in Wakulla County, Florida. This park is one of 19 that is on a list that the state may close (permanently or temporarily) to cut the state's budget. If you are interested in voicing your opposition to this move, you can write to Gov. Charlie Crist at or your local state representative or senator.

When the Spanish reoccupied San Marcos de Apalache, they knew that their ability to hold the site through future years depended on how permanent they could make the works. Previous forts at the site had been built of logs and plaster and were not capable of standing up to either the elements or pirate attack. This time, however, the Spanish came with a different plan.

Mining natural stone from nearby quarries, they began to build a massive masonry fortifications. The new fort was designed to be triangular, with bastions on each corner. The point or apex of the triangle faced the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers, while the base of the triangle stretched across the peninsula, from one river to the other.

Although the fort was never completed, the Spanish did succeed in building a massive wall stretching from one river to the other. Bastions were completed on each river and the wall included magazines, quarters and other rooms. It provided a powerful defense against a land attack. Less permanent stockades were used to complete the triangular work.

The fort was turned over to the British following the conclusion of the French and Indian or Seven Years War in 1763. They occupied it with a small garrison for a time, but in 1783 it was returned to the Spanish due to their alliance with the United States in the American Revolution.

During the later part of the 18th century, San Marcos de Apalache became the focus of considerable intrigue. The notorious pirate and self-proclaimed "Director General of the State of Muskogee," William Augustus Bowles, sacked a trading post on the Wakulla River just north of the fort and eventually led a mixed force of Seminoles, whites and African Americans in a siege against San Marcos. The fort fell to Bowles force, but he and his men were forced to flee a short time later when the Spanish returned with a powerful naval squadron.

Our series on the history of San Marcos de Apalache will continue with a look at the fort's role in the First Seminole War and then we'll move on to how the old Spanish citadel became a powerful and unconquered Confederate fort. In the meantime, you can read more by visiting