Monday, March 31, 2008

Florida's real "Underground" Railroad

The well-known Underground Railroad was not, of course, an actual railroad nor was it usually underground. This was the name given to the various routes by which escaped slaves made their way north to freedom during the decades leading up to the Civil War.
In Florida, however, the word "underground" in the term "Underground Railroad" was more than just a figure of speech.
19th century newspaper accounts of the caves in Jackson County indicate they were often used as hiding places for escaped slaves as they began their attempts to make their way north to Freedom. The large cluster of caves at today's Florida Caverns State Park was centered along the Chipola River in the center of one of the state's largest plantation districts.
In 1860, Jackson County was one of the three largest counties in the state and also reported one of Florida's largest slave populations. It was only natural that individuals attempting to escape bondage would make use of the vast network of caves along the Chipola River. Although most such attempts failed, a few succeeded and the caves of Jackson County are remembered today as Florida's real "Underground" Railroad.
You can read more about the history of the caves by visiting and looking for the Florida Caverns State Park heading.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Civil War Florida Top Ten (3/29/2008)

Here are this week's top ten best selling nonfiction books on the Civil War in Florida, according to the statistics at

  1. The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Cox) - Click here to buy.
  2. The Civil War on Pensacola Bay, 1861-1862 (Driscoll)
  3. America's Fortress: A History of Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida (Reid, Arsenault)
  4. Rose Cottage Chronicles: Civil War Letters of the Bryant-Stephens Families of North Florida (Blakey/Stephens/Lainhart)
  5. Florida’s Lighthouses in the Civil War (Hurley)
  6. Confederate Florida: The Road to Olustee (Nulty)
  7. Florida in the Civil War (Wynne/Taylor)
  8. The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee (Cox) - Click here to buy.
  9. Stephen Russell Mallory: A Biography of the Confederate Navy Secretary and United States Senator (Underwood)
  10. Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide (Taylor)

Dr. Ethelred Philips, A Florida Unionist

This stone at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna marks the final resting place of Dr. Ethelred Philips (1806-1870).
Dr. Philips was one of a number of prominent Unionists who lived in Marianna at the time of Civil War. He is one of the best remembered, thanks to a steady stream of letters he wrote to relatives in North Carolina.
When Union troops threatened the city on September 27, 1864, many men with known Unionist sympathies joined the Confederate forces preparing to defend Marianna. Philips considered himself too old (he was 58) to fight, but offered up his personal firearms for use by other defenders.
He was on the battlefield before the smoke cleared offering medical treatment for his wounded friends and neighbors of the Marianna Home Guard. Despite his pro-Union sympathies, Dr. Philips was always held in high regard by the citizens of Marianna.
You can read more about the Battle of Marianna by visiting

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Grave of Florida's Confederate Governor

This stone marks the grave of Gov. John Milton, the man most often credited with leading Florida during the Civil War. He is buried at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna. He was actually one of three men who served as Governor of Florida during the war.
Although he was elected to office in the fall of 1860, Milton did not actually take office until after the secession of Florida. Gov. Madison S. Perry guided Florida out of the Union and through the early months of the war before Milton assumed the governor's chair in October of 1861. Former Governor Perry then became the colonel of the 7th Florida Infantry.
A third man, Gov. A.K. Allison, served during the final days of Florida's existance as a Confederate state following the death of Gov. Milton in 1865.
Noted as an intense and brilliant man, Milton helped lead his state through four years of turbulent war with very little help from the Confederate government in Richmond. A man of obvious compassion, he often wrote letters to authorities in Richmond complaining about the treatment of Florida's citizens by Confederate officials and intervened at one point to secure the freedom of a number of women and children who had been placed in a "concentration camp" near Tallahassee because they were related to men who had deserted the Southern army. As Milton pointed out, many of them also had sons, brothers and fathers serving in the Confederate army.
Near the end of the war, Gov. Milton watched two of his sons - one of them only 15 years old - march out to defend Tallahassee at the Battle of Natural Bridge. The March 6, 1865, battle preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not conquered by Union troops during the war.
Like his capital city, Gov. Milton was never conquered. In his final address to the Florida Legislature, he said that "Death would be prefereable to reunion." A few days later, on April 1, 1865, he died from a single gunshot wound to the head at his Sylvania plantation near Marianna.
Although it is generally believed that he committed suicide, one of the governor's granddaughters later indicated that he was sitting and cleaning his gun when last seen alive. This raises at least the possibility that the fatal wound was the result of a tragic accident.
We will look at other aspects of Governor Milton's life as we approach Tuesday's 143rd anniversary of his death.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gunpowder components from Florida's Caves

An old legend in Jackson County holds that the caves of Florida Caverns State Park were once mined by Confederate soldiers. Caves are common sources for saltpeter, a necessary component of gunpowder, and similar caverns throughout the South were mined during the war.
The legends are based on a real Civil War event, but in truth the caves were never mined. In 1862 the Confederate military sent a scientist from Oglethorpe College in Macon, Georgia, to examine the caves. Records indicate that he rented a horse and buggy in Marianna and spent a day exploring the caves now preserved at Florida Caverns State Park. He determined that they were too wet to be mined for saltpeter, so mining operations never began. His explorations, however, were preserved as stories of lost Confederate mines in local legend.
Florida Caverns State Park might not have been a suitable location for manufacturing gunpowder, but it is one of the most strikingly beautiful places in Florida. To learn more, please visit our new Florida Caverns section at Just follow the link and you will see the heading on the main page.

Monday, March 24, 2008

John K. McLane - "Indian Fighter" and Confederate Soldier

This is the Gadsden County grave of John K. McLane, a member of the 10th Florida Infantry.
McLane was undoubtedly one of the most interesting soldiers of Florida who served in the Civil War.
In the spring of 1840, when he was 15 years old, McLane was working around the family farm near what is now Greensboro in Gadsden County (then called the Telogia settlement). He was at home with his mother and three sisters and his father had gone away for the day to take care of some business.
McLane later told how he heard the sounds of screams and war cries. The little log cabin and farm had come under attack by a small group of Creek warriors led by a chief named Pascofa. This chief had been engaged in a bloody personal war with local settlers and militia companies since 1837 when he led his followers down from Alabama following a militia attack in which a number of the women and children of his band were ruthlessly murdered.
The incident sparked a bloody feud between Pascofa and the whites that would continue for the next six years and would lead to many murders and outrages on both sides. When Pascofa's warriors attacked the McLane cabin, John K. McLane took up a rifle to try to defend the little farm while his mother and sisters (over his objections) attempted to escape in the direction of a little branch or creek. The woman and the girls were slaughtered (the two youngest ones were beaten to death with a pine knot), but McLane held out alone in an all day battle with the warriors. Firing from loopholes in the log cabin, he was able to drive back each of the attacks and managed to survive attempts to burn him out. The warriors finally drifted back into the swamps of Telogia Creek and disappeared.
McLane would later fight in the Army of Northern Virginia in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, but the event he always remembered as the toughest fight and saddest day of his life was the "McLane Massacre" on Telogia Creek in Gadsden County.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Easter!

I will be taking a break from posting for a few days to observe Good Friday and Easter.

I'll resume with new posts on Monday.

Until then, please have a happy, safe and blessed holiday.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Torreya State Park, Part Five

Concluding our look at Civil War sites at Torreya State Park in Gadsden County, Florida, this photograph shows one of the deep trenches that connected the emplacements of the Confederate artillery battery in the park.
As you can see here, the trenches were deep enough to provide shelter for soldiers moving back and forth between the pair emplacements. The segment of trench visible here leading off to the left of the trench was an observation platform/rifle pit to be occupied when the cannon of the battery were in action.
There were a total of six emplacements at Torreya, grouped in pairs of two. Each two were connected by a trench like this, forming three separate positions.
To read more about Torreya State Park, please visit

Woman trying to collect Civil War debt from Tampa

If you haven't read it yet, a woman named Joan Kennedy Biddle has filed a lawsuit against the City of Tampa trying to collect on a promissory note the city issued to her ancestor, a storekeeper there in 1861.

The original amount of the note was $299.58, but she and her attorney figure it should be worth about $22.7 million to them today. The note was to cover the cost of supplies needed by the city in June of 1861, as the Civil War was just getting started. (Note: In my opinion, $22.7 million would buy a lot of supplies!).

There are a few problems with all of this (beyond the fact of trying to collect $22.7 million dollars in taxpayer money on a $299.58 debt).

First, Tampa was disbanded as a city in 1869 because the citizens were too broke during the Reconstruction era to pay taxes. Soooo, the promissory note was issued by a governmental entity that no longer exists. The modern city was founded in 1889 using a new charter. The only thing it has in common with the 1861 town is location.

Second, the city was conquered by Union troops during the war, an act of war that overturned its Secessionist government.

And finally, the South wasn't successful in its secession effort. When the Union prevailed, the Confederacy ceased to exist. People who had loaned money to Confederate local governments were out of luck. In a few cases the U.S. Congress stepped in to reimburse communities for losses experienced during the war (primarily for churches and other public buildings destroyed by Union troops), but no public debts of the Confederacy were valid after 1865.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Torreya State Park, Part Four

We are continuing today with our short series on Torreya State Park in Gadsden County, Florida. For the last few days we have been looking at the Confederate artillery emplacements in the park.
Ths mound of earth in this photograph is what remains of the gunpowder magazine at the Confederate fortification. It is somewhat difficult to see here, but it is the mound that rises just to the left of the tree on the right side of the photo. The palmetto in the center of the photograph are growing on top of the magazine.
The magazine was positioned to the left rear of Gun Emplacement #1. There undoubtedly were smaller service magazines to the rear of the other pairs of emplacements (#3 & #4 and #5 & #6).
The primary magazine was located at this point, however, because it was the most protected site at the battery. The ridge that was cut down by the Confederates to build the battery was highest at this point and the higher bluff where the Gregory House sits today provided considerable shelter to the magazine from Union gunboats firing from downstream.
Tomorrow we will wrap up our series on Torreya State Park with a look at the connecting trenches and how they fit into the over all design of the battery. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Torreya State Park, Part Three

Continuing our short series on Civil War sites at Torreya State Park in Gadsden County, Florida, this photograph was taken from inside Gun Emplacement #1.
It provides a good idea of how the Confederates dug down into the top of the bluff to create their cannon positions. Gun Emplacement #1 is the southernmost of the positions and is connected to Emplacement #2 by a connecting trench. The cannon here were mounted on raised en barbette firing platforms.
Manned in 1863-1864 by Companies B and D of Bonaud's Battalion (28th Georgia Battalion, Heavy Artillery), the battery at Torreya consisted of six pieces of artillery. None of the guns (two 32-pounders, one 24-pounder and three 18-pounders) were rifled, but their elevated position would have allowed them to direct plunging fire on any Union vessels from short range.
The battery was never attacked, but its men were temporarily sent east in February of 1864 and fought at the Battle of Olustee, Florida.
Our series on Torreya State Park will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Civil War Florida Top Ten (3/15/2008)

Here are the Top Ten nonfiction books on the Civil War in Florida, based on today's sales statistics at

  1. Florida's Lighthouses in the Civil War (Hurley)
  2. The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Cox) - Click here to order.
  3. J. Patton Anderson, Confederate General: A Biography (Raab)
  4. Grander in Her Daughters: Florida's Women During the Civil War (Revels)
  5. Florida in the Civil War (Wynne & Taylor)
  6. Civil War Florida: The Road to Olustee (Nulty)
  7. The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (Cox) - Click here to order.
  8. The Civil War on Pensacola Bay, 1861-1862 (Driscoll)
  9. Stephen Russell Mallory: A Biography... (Underwood)
  10. Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide (Taylor)

All of these books are available for order at Enjoy your reading!

Torreya State Park, Part Two

This is part two of a short series on Torreya State Park in Gadsden County, Florida. To read part one, just scroll down the page until you see it.
In the early summer of 1863, Confederate troops constructed a fortification on Neal or Battery Bluff in the park. This bluff is located on the reverse slope of Rock Bluff, where the Gregory House stands today.
This placement of the earthworks was unique among the Civil War fortifications along the Apalachicola River because it turned the entire crest of the main bluff into a massive defense for the artillery emplacements. Union vessels coming up the river would have to fire over the top of the bluff and hope to hit the Confederate guns on the reverse slope, an unlikely proposition at best.
The fortifications at Battery Bluff consisted of six artillery emplacements. This photograph was taken from outside Emplacement #1, looking across the rampart (where the sign stands) into the emplacement beyond. The mounds of earth on each side of the sign are the defensive earthworks of the emplacement.
The battery consisted of three pairs of emplacements. Each pair was connected by a deep infantry trench and fortified observation platform/rifle pit. The emplacements reflected the latest military engineering of the time and were actually dug down into the top of the bluff (as opposed to being built up with earth on top of it). This provided better protection for the guns. The earth removed from the excavations was used to form ramparts around each emplacement.
We will look closer at the Torreya State Park artillery emplacements in the next part of our series. Until then, you can read more about the park and see additional photographs by visiting and looking for the Torreya State Park section.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Atlanta Storms

Our prayers go out to everyone caught in the Atlanta storms and apparent tornado tonight. It sounds at this point like most of the injuries are minor and hopefully it will stay that way. Much damage was done, though, and many people in downtown Atlanta have been forced from their hotels and homes.Please remember them in your prayers.

If you wish to help, donations in situations like this can always be made through the American Red Cross at

Natural Bridge named one of 10 Most Endangered Battlefields

Florida's historic Natural Bridge Battlefield, scene of the last significant Confederate victory of the Civil War, has been named to the Civil War Preservation Trust's new list of the 10 Most Endangered Battlefields.
You can click here to read their full report.
We can all hope that the designation will provide necessary encouragement for state and/or federal authorities to move quickly to save key portions of the battlefield while there is still time.
Natural Bridge Battlefield State Historic Park preserves the central area of the battlefield, but much of the scene of the fighting remains on private property.
To read more about the Battle of Natural Bridge, please visit or consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available through, or for order through most bookstores.
We also recently completed a series on the battle here at Civil War Florida. Just scroll down the page or consult the archive list for the posts.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Aerial View of the Battle of Marianna site

This aerial view was taken today of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna and shows the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the Battle of Marianna, Florida.
St. Luke's was the location to which Confederate forces fell back to make their final stand during the battle. When the battle was fought on September 27, 1864, the church yard was surrounded by a strong board fence. The original church stood on the same site as the modern structure and was actually similar to it in appearance (although the 1864 church was of frame construction and the present one is of masonry).
Union troops launched a bayonet charge against the Confederates from the area in the lower left corner of the photograph and pushed them into the burial ground behind the church. After a severe fight, most of the Southerners surrendered. A few continued firing on the Union troops from the windows of the church, however, and soldiers were sent forward to burn the church.
Eyewitness accounts indicate it was fired in the tower area near the front door. The bodies of four Confederates were later found in the burned structure.
You can read more on the Battle of Marianna at and please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, available from, or for order through most bookstores.

A Question from Winter Park

I received a question today from the Central Florida Veterans Memorial Park Foundation and hope that someone can chime in with an answer.

The foundation recently dedicated a new Veterans Park near the VA Center in Winter Park. Adjacent to their park, they have found an obelisk that once contained a brass plaque (the plaque is missing, but the obelisk is still there). They've been told it was once a Civil War marker, but have been unable to find anyone with any knowledge about it.

Does anyone know anything about this marker/site? If so, please drop us a comment back last night so I can help them out.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Torreya State Park, Part One

Over the next few days I'll post a short series on some of the sites of Civil War interest at Torreya State Park.
Torreya is one of Florida's most beloved and scenic state parks. It preserves some of the few remaining Florida Torreya Trees in the world along with a number of other rare plants and animals. The park also has a rich Civil War history.
One of the focal points of the park is the historic Gregory House (seen here). The house was built in 1849 by Jason Gregory and originally stood across the Apalachicola River from the park at Ocheesee Landing in Calhoun County. During the antebellum era, the home was the centerpiece of one of the region's largest cotton plantations.
During the Civil War, the house was often visited by Confederate army and navy officers assigned to defend the Apalachicola River. The gunboat C.S.S. Chattahoochee passed the home on occasion and some of the wounded from her 1863 explosion were carried there in the aftermath of the accident until they could be taken on up river to hospital facilities.
When Torreya State Park was established during the 1930s, the home was donated to the park by the Neal Lumber Company. Carefully dismantled, it was floated across the river and reassembled atop Rock Bluff in an effort so meticulous that it took three years to complete. Even the original wooden pegs were preserved and used to reassemble the house.
The home today is furnished in the same way it would have been when the Gregory family lived there during the days leading up to and during the Civil War. The home is open for guided tours at 10 a.m. daily, Monday through Friday, and at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekends and state holidays. A small fee is charged.
Torreya State Park is located 15 miles south of Chattahoochee and 11 miles north of Bristol. Our series on Torreya will continue.

Grave of Capt. William T. Gregory - Gadsden County, Florida

This monument at the old Sycamore Cemetery in Gadsden County, Florida, marks the final resting place of Captain William T. Gregory of Company H, 5th Florida Infantry.
Captain Gregory was born in Florida in 1825 and was a member of the prominent Gregory family that owned large plantations in Gadsden, Liberty and Calhoun Counties. He was commissioned as an officer in the 5th Florida Infantry on March 10, 1862.
The 5th Florida was sent north to serve in the Army of Northern Virginia and Captain Gregory was wounded in the bloody Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg), Maryland on September 17, 1862.
After spending nearly one month in a military hospital, he was given a medical furlough to return home. He died at his residence on December 15, 1862.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Union Soldiers of Jackson County, Florida

Although it is a fact that often seems to be forgotten, Florida was a very divided state on the eve of the Civil War.
The shadow of Andrew Jackson still moved across the landscape of Florida at the time and many residents of the state held the same commitment to the Union as their late hero. One modern historian has presented compelling evidence that the majority of Floridians might have opposed secession, but were effectively silenced by the turbulence of the times.
Either way, once the issue was decided, most of Florida's men served in the Confederate armies. A significant minority of Floridians, however, retained or returned to their allegiance to the old Union. Hundreds of men volunteered for service in the 1st and 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalries, the Union navy and other Federal units.
Some of these never came home, but others did. Over time they blended back into their communities and went on with life, despite much bitterness in the region from their neighbors who had served the Confederacy.
One such individual was Sgt. S.J. Byrd. A Confederate soldier early in the war, he deserted from Company K, 11th Florida Infantry on September 1, 1863, from a camp on the Choctawhatchee River in Washington County. He made his way to Pensacola and, on December 6, 1863, enlisted in Company A, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry. He was promoted to corporal on April 4, 1864 and served with his company - on the Union side - during the Battle of Marianna. Promoted again, he remained with his unit until it was disbanded at Tallahassee on November 17, 1865.
He went back to live in Jackson County, where he died in 1899. He is one of several Union soldiers buried at Cowpen Pond Cemetery near the community of Dellwood.

Monument to Col. W.D. Chipley - Chipley, Florida

This monument in downtown Chipley was erected by that Northwest Florida community to commemorate the role played by Col. W.D. Chipley in the founding and early growth of the city.
Col. Chipley is perhaps best remembered in Florida as a businessman and railroad promoter who finally achieved the dream of connecting Pensacola with the Atlantic Ocean by rail. His railroad brought to life numerous communities - including Chipley, Bonifay, Defuniak Springs, Crestview, etc. - and may well have been the greatest single economic boost that North Florida ever received.
Less well known in Florida, however, was the fact that Col. Chipley was an accomplished and controversial Civil War officer. Although he was born in Georgia, he was living in Kentucky in 1861 where he was teaching at Transylvania University. He cast his lot with the South and became an officer in the famed "Orphan Brigade" from Kentucky (so named because Union troops quickly occupied Kentucky and the Confederate soldiers from the commonwealth became, literally, soldiers without a state).
Fighting with the 9th Kentucky Infantry, Chipley was wounded at Shiloh and Chickamauga before being captured at the Battle of Peachtree Creek (Atlanta) in 1864. He spent the rest of the war at a Union prison camp in Illinois.
After the war, Col. Chipley was one of the few former Confederate officers put on trial by the U.S. Government. He was accused of having ordered his men to murder captured Union prisoners during the war. He was defended by former Confederate vice president Alexande Stephens and was acquitted in a jury trial.
In later years, a letter was discovered among his wife's possessions that revealed the U.S. Government had tried to drop its case against Chipley (after making public accusations against him) due to lack of evidence. The colonel, however, refused to allow the charges to be dropped and demanded the trial to clear his name.
The monument is located in downtown Chipley, Florida adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce information center. For more information on Chipley and Washington County, please visit This section of the site is a work in progress, so check back often!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dr. M.A. Butler, forgotten hero of Greenwood, Florida

This toppled headstone in the old Baptist Cemetery in Greenwood, Florida, marks the resting place of Dr. M.A. Butler.
A medical doctor, Butler was at home in Greenwood when he heard the alarm being spread that the nearby city of Marianna was facing attack from an approaching force of Union cavalry.
Greenwood was the home of an academy and its male students had been organized into a corps of cadets. These boys, many of whom were only 14 or 15 years old, drilling regularly in cavalry tactics and dubbed themselves the "Greenwood Club Cavalry." When the alarm reached Greenwood that Marianna was in danger, the unit's commander and teacher, Captain Henry J. Robinson, formed his boys and prepared to ride out to join the fight.
Unwilling to watch the children of their community go off to fight alone, a number of the older men of the community mounted their horses and rode along with them. Dr. Butler was one of these individuals.
The Greenwood boys and their watchful escorts fought at the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864, and two of the men who rode along with the cadets were killed in the fighting. One of these was Dr. M.A. Butler. Only 23 years old at the time of his death, he fell among a group of Confederates who were trying to make a stand in the yard surrounding St. Luke's Episcopal Church. His body was brought back to Greenwood and buried here in the Baptist Cemetery.

General James McIntosh - A Florida native

This photograph is of Brigadier General James McQueen McIntosh. Born at Fort Brooke (Tampa) in 1828, McIntosh was a seasoned officer in the regular army when war broke out in 1861.
McIntosh attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in the Class of 1849.
He spent most of his military career on the western frontier and was at Fort Smith, Arkansas when that post was seized by state troops in 1861. He resigned his commission in May of 1861 and joined the Confederate Army. He served first as a captain of cavalry and fought at the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri, in the fall of 1861. A competent and brave officer, he served as colonel of the 1st Arkansas Rifles before receiving a commission as a regular brigadier general in the Provisional Army of the Conferate States.
He was shot down and killed during the initial Confederate attacks at the Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern), Arkansas on March 7, 1862.
If you are interested in learning more about McIntosh's role at the Battle of Pea Ridge and his death in combat there, please check out our sister blog Civil War Arkansas. We have a series underway on the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Civil War Florida Top Ten (3/8/08)

Here are this week's Top Ten bestselling nonfiction books on the Civil War in Florida, according to the statistics today at

  1. The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Cox) Click here to buy.
  2. J. Patton Anderson: A Biography (Raab)
  3. Florida's Lighthouses in the Civil War (Hurley)
  4. Florida in the Civil War (Wynne & Taylor)
  5. Confederate Florida: The Road to Olustee (Nulty)
  6. The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (Cox) Click here to buy.
  7. The Civil War on Pensacola Bay, 1861-1862 (Driscoll)
  8. Stephen Russell Mallory: A Biography... (Underwood)
  9. Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide (Taylor)
  10. A Woman Doctor's Civil War: Esther Hawk Hill's Diary (Schwartz)

All of these books are available at Thank you as always to everyone who has helped to make the Battle of Marianna and Battle of Natural Bridge successful.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida - Conclusion

With this posting we conclude our two week long series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. We've devoted extended attention to Natural Bridge because he battle preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi River and was the last significant Confederate victory of the Civil War.

There are many sites today that can be visited to explore the history of this historic campaign. Here is a list of some of the most interesting:

  1. Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park - Located on Natural Bridge Road east of Woodville, Florida, the park preserves a key portion of the battlefield. There is not a museum on the grounds, but visitors can walk the battlefield and stroll along the scenic St. Marks Rivers. Monuments to the Confederate defenders and dead of both sides can be viewed, along with historic markers and interpretive signs. Time-worn segments of the Confederate earthworks can also be seen, along the with the Natural Bridge itself.
  2. Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad - This historic railroad bed was used by Confederates during the campaign to move troops to and from Tallahassee and St. Marks by train. It is now a state park facility and has been converted to a "rails to trails" project. A paved asphalt path follows the route of the old railroad all the way from Tallahassee to St. Marks and is popular with walkers and bikers. It can be accessed in both Tallahassee and St. Marks and at various points in between. There is a historic marker at the Tallahassee trailhead.
  3. San Marcos de Apalache - This state park and museum is located in St. Marks and contains the earthworks of Fort Ward as well as the ruins of earlier Spanish forts. The museum includes information on the Civil War and Natural Bridge Campaign and the old fort provides outstanding views of the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers and the vast marshes beyond.
  4. Newport - There is a small, but nice, park area on the east bank of the St. Marks River at Newport. Although there is no battle interpretation, it is a nice spot for a picnic and the dock at the boat ramp provides a good view of the St. Marks River.
  5. East River Bridge - The site of East River Bridge and the route of the Union troops from the St. Marks Lighthouse to the skirmish site there is now within the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge offers a visitor center and park personnel can answer questions about the war. The area around East River has changed dramatically over the years due to the creation of large pools decades ago.
  6. Port Leon - This old town site south of Fort Ward on the main channel was the intended landing point for Naval forces during the Natural Bridge Campaign, but they failed to make it far enough up the channel to complete the landing before learning that the army troops were already in retreat. Very, Very little remains of Port Leon and there are no surviving structures of the town, but the site is preserved by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and can be visited by a strenuous hike. You can obtain details and hiking maps at the Refuge Visitor Center.
  7. St. Marks Lighthouse - One of the most spectacular sites on the Gulf Coast, the historic St. Marks Lighthouse is now preserved and serves as a focal point of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The tower itself is not open to the public for climbing, but the grounds are popular with visitors and there is an observation platform that allows for a great view of the Lighthouse, the marshes and the Gulf of Mexico. The grounds are open daily during normal refuge hours and the drive out to the lighthouse provides an outstanding opportunity to experience not just the history of the area, but also the stunning natural setting preserved by the refuge.
  8. The Old Capitol- Located in the heart of the modern city of Tallahassee, Florida's Historic Old Capitol has been restored and is now a museum interpreting the state's political history. The Capitol served as Confederate military headquarters at the time of the Battle of Natural Bridge.
  9. Old Fort Park - Located a few blocks southeast of the Old Capitol is Old Fort Park, where the surviving earthworks of Fort Houstoun can be seen. The old fort was a rectangular earthen redoubt constructed during the winter of 1864-1865 as part of the defenses of Tallahassee. It was held during the Battle of Natural Bridge by Confederate militia in case the Union troops should break through at Natural Bridge and advance on Tallahassee, but the victory there prevented the fortifications from ever coming under attack.

This concludes our extended series. I hope you have enjoyed it. You can see additional photographs and read more at Just follow the link and then click the Battlefields heading and you will find the link to take you to the Natural Bridge pages. Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available through, or for order through most local bookstores.

Natural Bridge (27) - Post Battle Executions

Our next post will conclude our special series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. To read the entire series, please scroll down the page.
As Confederate troops swarmed south in the wake of Newton's column, they captured a number of Union stragglers and wounded soldiers. One entire detachment was captured with its lieutenant after they were left behind guarding a river crossing by the main body. Another group was captured at Newport on the morning of the 7th. Strickland and one of his men from the bridge burning party sent up the Aucilla River were captured by Confederates after they tried to set the bridge on fire, but were spotted.
Most of these prisoners, white and black, were treated according to the standard rules of war. General Jones made sure that they were given medical attention and not subjected to manual labor, etc., regardless of their race.
Four of the prisoners turned out to be Confederate deserters and the rules for them were different. Peter Pelt and Corporal Asa Fowler from Company E, 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry, were captured at Newport on the morning of March 7th. Both were recognized as deserters who had joined the Union ranks. Rails were placed upright in the ground, they were tied to them and then shot by firing squad on the same day. W.W. Strickland and John R. Brannon were captured at Aucilla Bridge. They were spared for ten days and tried before a court martial, but were shot by firing squad on March 17, 1865.
The other prisoners were taken to Tallahassee, where the wounded received treatment. Ultimately they were ordered to Camp Sumter stockade at Andersonville, Georgia, where they spent the rest of the war. All of these men, white and black, survived the war and eventually were released. A number of Union soldiers were reported as missing in action immediately following the battle, but they all eventually turned up. Most made their way to the Union post at Cedar Key and rejoined their regiments.
There have been rumors since 1865 that some of the captured African American Union soldiers were murdered on the battlefield by Confederate soldiers. Questions about this were raised by Union officers after the battle and they have been part of the folklore surrounding the battle for 143 years. A careful examination of Union lists of captured and missing in action soldiers reveals, however, that all Union soldiers from the campaign can be accounted for. The only ones killed after the battle were the four white soldiers from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry that proved to be Confederate deserters. The black soldiers captured during and after the Battle of Natural Bridge were treated well by order of General Jones as long as they were in the hands of troops after his command. Some were subjected to manual labor after they were sent to Andersonville, but this was at the order of prison authorities and not the Confederate officers in Florida.
Our series will conclude later tonight with a look at the Natural Bridge battlefield and points of interest from the campaign as they appear today. Until then, you can read more by visiting Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available from, and by order through most bookstores.

Natural Bridge (26) - March 7, 1865

Our three posts today will conclude our series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. To read the all of the posts on this topic, please scroll down the page and check the archives.
The morning of March 7, 1865, found the Union troops safely back across East River. A detachment of sailors had come up to the East River Bridge when they learned the army was retreating and held the position to make sure the soldiers weren't cut off. Once Newton's men were across, the sailors burned the bridge to prevent its use by Confederates, and then rowed back to their ships.
The Navy's attempt to silence the batteries at Fort Ward and land 1,000 men at Port Leon to support the army movement had also ended in failure. The ships ran aground and experienced great difficulty in navigating the lower St. Marks River as they began their attempt to steam upstream and attack the fort. They were still one mile below the old Port Leon site when word arrived that the army was in retreat. The ships began to retreat as well.
General Newton and his surviving officers met with the Navy officers and concluded that further attacks were useless and the process of moving the soldiers back to their transports soon got underway.
The Confederates, meanwhile, were severely strung out from trying to pursue the retreating Union force. Some Southern troops had come back down to Newport to repair the bridge. Others came down the east bank of the St. Marks on the trail of the Union force, while still others remained on the battlefield at Natural Bridge.
At the scene of the fight, the process of burying the dead and caring for the wounded continued. The Confederate dead and wounded were removed from the field as soon as possible. Most of the Union wounded had been carried away by their own army, although the Confederates did find one wounded man among the numerous dead Federal soldiers on the battlefield. A group of severely wounded Union soldiers was also found after the battle at a house along the route of the Union retreat.
Legend holds that the Union dead were thrown into a water-filled sink on the battlefield (seen here) by the Confederate troops. Local residents, however, later removed at least a few floating bodies from the sink and buried them. Other Union soldiers were reported buried by their own men on the east side of the river.
When our series continues later today, we'll look into the fates of Union soldiers captured by the Confederates, allegations of post-battle murders and the executions of four men by Confederate firing squads. Until then, you can read more on the Battle of Natural Bridge by visiting

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Natural Bridge (25) - The Battle of Natural Bridge, Phase Three

Today is the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. This is part of our continuing series on the battle.

As they withdrew from their failed attack, the Union troops were able to look up the Natural Bridge Road and see roughly the same view that you see here. The Confederate line was positioned on the slight rise in the distance and the area from which the photograph was taken was covered in heavy tree cover.

The soldiers could hear the sounds of "rebel yells" approaching and knew that reinforcements were arriving to strengthen the Confederate lines. Realizing that he stood no chance of breaking through, General Newton decided to begin a withdrawal from the battlefield. To achieve this, he had his men construct three lines of breastworks, each a greater distance back from the Natural Bridge than the one before it. He hoped to use these positions to cover his retreat and inflict severe casualties on the Southern forces if they attempted to attack.

It was a well conceived plan. The yelling soldiers the Union troops had heard approaching were dismounted men from the 2nd Florida Cavalry (C.S). Around 350 strong, they had arrived by train and then marched overland to the battlefield, hearing the sounds of the fighting as they approached. Confident now of victory, General Jones ordered a probe into the thick woods around the Natural Bridge, followed by an advance of the 2nd Florida Cavalry.

The probe revealed that the Federals were indeed falling back. The bodies of Union soldiers littered the ground and blood left by wounded men could be seen in spots all across the landscape. Gaining enthusiasm, the Confederates pushed forward. After a brief exchange of fire, the Union troops broke and ran from their first line of defenses. Believing they had routed the enemy, the Confederates charged forward.

It was, however, a trap. As soon as they reached their second line, the Federals turned and fired. Joined by additional troops and artillery hidden behind the second line, they inflicted numerous casualties on the head of the charging Confederate line, stunting the attack. The Southern troops also ran low on ammunition at this stage of the battle and had to halt their advance to wait for more.

Taking advantage of the lull, General Newton pulled his men from the battlefield and began his retreat back to the Gulf. His men felled trees behind them to obstruct the roads and slow Confederate pursuit. The Battle of Natural Bridge was now over.

Although both sides claimed victory in the days and weeks following the battle, the facts are clear. The Union troops withdrew from the battlefield and retreated to the Gulf, their campaign ending in failure. The Confederate defenders at Natural Bridge had prevailed. Newton was not able to achieve his objectives of crossing the St. Marks River, capturing St. Marks or marching on to Tallahassee and Thomasville.

Casualties from the campaign also indicate a lopsided Confederate victory:

Union Losses, March 5-7, 1865

  • 34 killed or mortally wounded.
  • 77 wounded.
  • 40 captured or missing in action.

Confederate Losses, March 5-7, 1865

  • 6 killed or mortally wounded (plus 5 civilians killed).
  • 39 wounded.
  • 4 captured or missing in action.

Our series on the Battle of Natural Bridge will conclude tomorrow with postings on the Union retreat to the Gulf, the Confederate executions of several prisoners and some final thoughts. Until then, please visit for more. I hope you will also consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available through, or for order through most bookstores.

Natural Bridge (24) - The Battle of Natural Bridge, Phase Two

Today we are observing the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida by recounting the history of the battle. This is part of a continuing series.
Convinced that they had no choice but to push forward and try to break through the Confederate line at Natural Bridge, General Newton and his officers developed a plan of attack.
Col. B.R. Townsend of the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry was ordered to take Companies A, B and H from his regiment across the Natural Bridge and then veer to the left and attempt to storm the far right flank of the Confederate line. At the same time, Major Benjamin Lincoln would take Companies E, G and K and make a simultaneous attack against the Confederate center. Lt. Col. Uri B. Pearsall of the 99th U.S. Colored Infantry would follow behind with his men, prepared to move up and support either attack.
The Confederates could see the troops getting ready to attack and pulled back their skirmishers. When the columns of Union soldiers emerged from the heavy tree cover that then grew on the Natural Bridge, they moved into a murderous fire of musketry and artillery from all along the Confederate line.
Lincoln tried to move his men directly up the road against the center of the Confederate line, where the cadets from the West Florida Seminary were positioned in a salient that projected slightly in front of the main line. Despite repeated attempts, he never got close. The major was wounded and his men went down in large numbers from close range artillery and musket fire.
Townsend's attack against the right flank also failed. As he approached the Confederate line, some of the defenders began to break and pull back, but were rallied back by General Miller in person. Nature also came to the assistance of the Southern troops. The Union soldiers encountered a "slough" that they could not pass and were forced to withdraw. Despite three distinct charges, the Union assault failed.
Along the Confederate line, participants and eyewitnesses remembered the intensity of the battle for the rest of their lives. One eyewitness described how the air was literally filled with bullets and another wrote of seeing both General Jones and General Miller walking the line and encouraging the men. Jones, he said, personally helped aim the cannon.
The cadets of the West Florida Seminary (today's Florida State University) fought well. They were positioned in the Confederate center to support two pieces of artillery. Lincoln's attack was aimed at their position, but ended in bloody failure.
As the Union attack ended and Newton's battered force began to fall back from their attack positions, they heard the sounds of "rebel yells" rising from the distance. Even more Confederate reinforcements were arriving on the field.
Our postings about the Battle of Natural Bridge will continue throughout the day, so check back regularly. You can also learn more by visiting

Map of the Battle of Natural Bridge

This map of the battlefield at Natural Bridge was drawn by Lt. Col. W.D. Barnes of the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves on the day after the battle. The Confederates occupied the curving line at left and the Union troops were located across the St. Marks River at right. The dashes along the Confederate line show the position of the Southern cannon.

The numbers on the map indicate specific troop positions:

  1. 1st Florida Militia
  2. Cadets
  3. Love's Militia (Gadsden County)
  4. 1st Florida Infantry Reserves

Natural Bridge (23) - The Battle Continues...

Today is the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. This is part of a continuing series on the battle.

Following the first two Union attacks, the Confederate troops worked to consolidate their position overlooking the Natural Bridge. This photo shows an earthwork (the mound in the center of the picture) thrown up to protect one of the Confederate artillery positions.

Additional Southern troops continued to arrive at the battlefield through the morning. General Miller arrived with the troops from Newport, leaving behind only a few local volunteers in the trenches there. By late morning, the Confederates had the following on the field:
  • 1st Florida Infantry Reserves (7 Companies).
  • 1st Florida Militia (Units from Gadsden, Leon, Wakulla and Madison Counties).
  • 5th Florida Cavalry (3 companies).
  • Corps of Cadets, West Florida Seminary.
  • 6 pieces of artillery from the Milton and Kilcrease Light Artillery battalions and Gadsden County home guard.
  • 20 C.S. Navy personnel from the C.S.S. Spray (acting as infantry).
  • 25 men from Campbell's Siege Artillery (acting as infantry).
  • A small medical detachment stationed to the rear of the lines.

The exact strength of this force is not known, but it was clearly much larger than the 500 or so "old men and young boys" of local legend. Based on the known strengths of units on the field, there were probably in the range of 1,500 Confederates at Natural Bridge by midday.

The Union troops, meanwhile, were receiving no reinforcements. Newton had marched north from Newport with only the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Troops and his three pieces of artillery. The battalion from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry was left at Newport to prevent the Confederates from crossing over and striking his column from behind. There were no Southern troops left at Newport, just a few local citizens who were firing off shots and making as much noise as possible, but Newton had no way of knowing this. His total force on the field at Natural Bridge only numbered around 500 men.

Throughout the morning the two sides engaged in light skirmishing and sniping, but after the Union general realized he had no other options but to either force a passage or retreat, the intensity of the fighting quickly increased.

Our series will continue with additional postings this afternoon, so please check back throughout the day. In the meantime, you can read more by visiting

Natural Bridge (22) - The Battle of Natural Bridge, Phase One

Today our series continues with looks at the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida itself, fought on this date in 1865. I'll be adding new posts throughout the day, so check back for more.
This photo shows the modern road as it curves and crosses the Natural Bridge of the St. Marks River. The river descends into a natural sink at this point and flows underground for a short distance before rising to the surface again and continuing its passage to the Gulf of Mexico.
Throughout the predawn hours of March 6, 1865 (143 years ago today), both Union and Confederate forces raced to gain control of this spot. Confederate cavalry under Lt. Col. George W. Scott was moving rapidly up the west bank of the St. Marks River, while the Union force of Gen. John Newton was winding its way up an old road along the east bank. Scott and the Confederates won the race.
Reaching Natural Bridge during the early morning hours, Scott deployed skirmishes on the bridge itself and then put the rest of his small force (now numbering several companies from the 5th Florida Cavalry) in position on the low ridge that overlooks the crossing from the west. He was joined here shortly by the main body of the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves, commanded by Col. J.J. Daniel. These units had reached Tallahassee by rail the previous night, boarded another train for the trip to the Oil Still station between today's Woodville and St. Marks and then marched cross country through the night to reinforce Scott in time. They were accompanied by several pieces of artillery.
It was still dark when they exhausted men of the 1st Florida Reserves reached the battlefield and they had just stacked their weapons and fallen on the ground to rest for a few minutes when the sound of firing suddenly erupted on the east bank. Scott's skirmishers had engaged the head of the Union column as it approached the crossing from the opposite direction.
The Federals had no way of knowing that hundreds of Confederates were now waiting for them on the west bank, so they immediately pushed forward hoping to drive off the skirmishers and take control of the vital crossing. Scott was still forming his line on the ridge when the Union troops came storming across the Natural Bridge.
The initial Union charge was made by Companies B and G of the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry. Commanded by Major Benjamin Lincoln, the African American soldiers rushed forward across the bridge only to run head on into a wall of fire from the newly arrived Confederates on the west side. Charles Rockwell, a Navy officer accompanying the Federal artillery, described hearing the sudden booming of Confederate cannon followed by a volley of musketry from Lincoln's men. The Battle of Natural Bridge had begun.
Falling back in the face of the unexpected and heavy resistance, Major Lincoln reformed his men and charged a second time about twenty minutes later. Lt. Col. Scott reported that both of this charges took place between 4 and 5 a.m., "when it was yet quite dark." The Confederates again unleashed heavy cannon and musket fire on the Union soldiers, from a range of less than 75 yards.
Both sides sustained casualties in these initial attacks, both of which were repulsed. On the Confederate side, Private John Grubbs of Company B, 1st Florida Reserves, was shot through the heart and killed and Col. J.J. Daniel of the same regiment, at this point the senior officer on the field, was dashed against a tree by his horse and severely injured. On the Federal side, several men from the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry were wounded in the attacks, but the exact number is not known.
The predawn fighting let both sides know that a significant battle was building. After the second repulse, General Newton temporarily halted his attacks and sent out scouts to look for another way to get across the river and flank the Confederates out of their position. They found one crossing a short distance downstream from the Natural Bridge, but reported that it was already guarded by Confederate soldiers.
On the west bank, meanwhile, Major General Samuel Jones arrived on the field at about the time of the second charge. He ordered the Confederates to begin digging rifle pits and supervised the placement of cannon and additional troops as they arrived on the field.
Additional posts on the Battle of Natural Bridge will be coming throughout the day, so check back often. You can also read more at and in my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available from, or for order through most bookstores.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Natural Bridge (21) - The night of March 5, 1865

This is part 21 of a series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. To read the previous posts first, please scroll down the page.
Blocked from crossing at Newport by the Confederates, General Newton now considered his options. His guides informed him that there was another crossing five miles upstream at the Natural Bridge. With no other way to get across the St. Marks River (seen here at Newport), he decided to try for the second crossing. As afternoon turned into evening, the Union troops marched north up the east bank of the river, following an old and infrequently used road. The distance proved to be much more than five miles.
The Confederates had left a small detachment of cavalry on the east side of the St. Marks to watch for such a move and these men soon signaled the force on the west bank that the Union troops were on the move.
General Jones and General Miller were now both on the ground at Newport. They sent Lt. Col. Scott up the west side of the river to watch the Union movement and prevent them from using any of the crossings between Newport and the Natural Bridge. Scott soon reported that the Federals had halted at Tompkins' Mills, three miles north of Newport, to rest. Darkness had fallen and the men were undoubtedly exhausted.
Jones and Miller correctly deduced that the next target of the Federals would be Natural Bridge. General Jones then headed for the railroad to begin diverting troops coming south from Tallahassee to that point. Miller began preparations to move his men from Newport up the river to Natural Bridge when suddenly he learned that the officers and soldiers at Fort Ward in St. Marks had made plans to blow up the fort and abandon it if they came under attack by the Union Navy.
Union ships were then making their way up the lower St. Marks and could be seen far downstream across the marshes by the men in the fort. General Miller rushed to Fort Ward, assembled the garrison, and promptly informed them that the fort could and would be defended. Plans for evacuating the post were abandoned and the general headed back up to Newport.
When our series continues tomorrow, we will explore the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought on March 6, 1865 (143 years ago tomorrow). In the meantime, to read more, please visit Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available at, or for order through most bookstores.

Natural Bridge (20) - The Fight at Newport Bridge (3/5/1865)

This is part twenty of our series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida.
Realizing that the Federal troops were heading for the wooden bridge that crossed the St. Marks River at Newport, the Confederate troops at the front moved in that direction as well.
Smith's company of home guards from Gadsden County marched north from St. Marks and took up positions in the breastworks overlooking the bridge. As has been noted, these entrenchments had been prepared over the winter in anticipation of such an emergency. One member of the unit remembered that spring flowers were in full bloom as they prepared for battle.
Lt. Col. Scott also arrived on the scene with the men who had fought at East River Bridge earlier in the morning. These included a detachment from Company C, 5th Florida Cavalry, and the men of Rambo's Section from the Milton Light Artillery (less their 12 pounder that was now in the hands of the Union troops). Scott ordered the planking torn up from one end of the Newport Bridge and had his men set fire to the other end. This left the center of the span intact, but with each end dismantled there was no way for the Union troops to use it to get across the river.
The Confederates also set fire to several buildings on the east bank of the river, including the mill and workshops of Daniel Ladd, to prevent them from being used as shelter by the enemy.
Another 45 Confederates reached the scene shortly ahead of the Union troops. Twenty of these were men from the C.S.S. Spray who volunteered to serve as infantry during the emergency and the others were members of Campbell's Siege Artillery from Fort Ward who were doing the same.
Resting in the entrenchments with their muskets supported by the breastworks, the Southern troops could here the Union soldiers coming. Having seen the smoke from the burning bridge and structures, General Newton ordered Major Edmund Weeks to push forward with the dismounted men from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry and sieze the bridge before it could be destroyed. The Confederates could hear these men yelling "hideously" as they approached. Because most of Weeks' men were Southern deserters who had joined the Union army, they were probably sounding what otherwise would have been called the "Rebel Yell."
The Federals charged up to the foot of the bridge and the Confederates unleashed a shower of musketry on them from the opposite bank. A sharp skirmish broke out, with the Southern troops firing from their breastworks and the Union troops taking up positions behind whatever shelter they could find on the opposite bank to fire back. The bridge was effectively blocked, however, and there was no way for Newton and his men to use it to get across.
Hoping that he might be able to drive the Confederates out of their trenches and repair the bridge, the general brought up his artillery and moved it upstream from the bridge. Opening a sudden bombardment, he tried to enfilade the Confederate line. Most of the shells went high, however, and fell among the homes of the town of Newport instead of among the soldiers in the Southern entrenchments. A number of homes and other structures were damaged by artillery fire and, according to local reports, five African American slaves were killed when a shell struck the home where they had taken shelter.
The Confederate soldiers remained in their trenches, however, and Newton finally brought the bombardment to a close. There was a lull on the east bank while he considered his next move.
Our series on the Battle of Natural Bridge will continue. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Natural Bridge (19) - The Second Skirmish at East River (3/5/1865)

This is Part Nineteen of our extended series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. Today's posts will look at the events of March 5, 1865. To read previous posts, please scroll down the page.

As daylight broke on the morning of March 5, 1865 (143 years ago today), the small Confederate force at East River Bridge could look out across the marshes of today's St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and see the long line of Union troops approaching down the lighthouse road. The Federal force numbered just under 1,000 officers and men with two pieces of artillery. The Confederates numbered only 60 men with one piece of artillery. One of the Southerners later remembered that the "blue stream" of Union soldiers "seemed endless."

As the Union soldiers approached, the Confederates swarmed into their positions along the north bank of the East River. Lt. Drury Rambo, commanding the Confederate artillery piece prepared to open fire on the Federals at long range with explosive shells, but for unexplained reasons was suddenly overruled by Lt. Col. George W. Scott. Scott wanted the piece loaded with case shot for close in fighting. (Case shot consisted of numerous iron balls in a tin can that exploded when fired, creating a shotgun like effect).

Rambo and his men had to depress the barrel of their gun, withdraw the shell they had already loaded, and then reload the howitzer with case shot. By the time they completed this operation, the Federals were upon them.

Approaching the bridge, Major Benjamin Lincoln of the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry (seen here) led forward Companies G and H of his regiment as a skirmish line. Moving into a charge, they stormed up to the foot of the partially dismantled bridge and opened a furious fire on the outnumbered Confederates on the opposite bank. As the Federals began to move across the stringers of the partially dismantled bridge, Col. Scott ordered his men to fire and withdraw.

The order led to confusion, however, for Rambo's artillerymen fired their piece and took off across the marsh, leaving their cannon behind. They later claimed that Scott ordered them to fire and leave the piece, but the colonel reported that he ordered them to fire and save the howitzer. Whatever the order, the Confederate force on the north side of the East River evaporated in the face of the Union charge. It was one of the few real Southern disasters of the entire campaign.

The Federals stormed across the bridge and captured the Confederate howitzer, along with two members of the 5th Florida Cavalry. The fighting, however, had drawn the first blood of the Natural Bridge Campaign. The single shot by Rambo's howitzer had mangled two men from the 2nd U.S. Colored Infantry. A Union officer later remembered seeing amputated feet on the ground near where the surgeons worked trying to save their lives.

Now in possession of East River Bridge, General Newton tried to make up for lost time by pushing quickly up the road to Newport, hoping to arrive before the Confederates had time to dismantle or burn the bridge over the St. Marks River.

Meanwhile, Captain James M. Smith's company of militia (home guards) from Gadsden County had crossed the St. Marks River near Fort Ward and were on their way to join Col. Scott's men at East River when the fight took place. As they moved forward through the marsh, they suddenly saw men coming in their direction. They turned out to be retreating Confederates and as soon as the Gadsden County men learned the situation, they fell back to the river, crossed back over, and began a march up the west bank to Newport to oppose the expected Federal attempt to carry the bridge at that point.

Our series will continue later today with additional postings about the events of March 5, 1865. Until then, you can read more by visiting These posts are greatly abbreviated from my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available through, or for order through most bookstores. If you would like to read and learn more about the battle, please consider purchasing a copy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Natural Bridge (18) - The Night of March 4, 1865

This is Part Eighteen of our series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. To read previous posts, just scroll down the page.

As night fell on March 4, 1865, Newton decided to be satisfied with simply getting his men on shore. Because the ground immediately surrounding the St. Marks Lighthouse was not suitable for camping, he moved his force a few miles across the marshes to the nearest spot of elevated land. The site is within the limits of today's St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and this photo provides a good idea of the appearance of the land where the Union troops camped for the night.

The Confederates under Major Milton, meanwhile, pulled back to East River and once again took up positions on the north bank at the bridge. The Confederates took the additional precaution of pulling up the flooring from the bridge and stacking the boards on their side of the river. During the night, Milton was joined by Lt. Col. George W. Scott of the 5th Florida Cavalry with a single piece of artillery and a few additional cavalrymen.

The cannon was a 12-pounder howitzer from Dunham's Battery of the Milton Light Artillery. Commanded by Lt. Drury Rambo, the piece was positioned at the north end of the East River Bridge where it could open on any attempt by the Union troops to force the crossing. The position also provided the Confederate artillerymen with a clear view across hundreds of yards of open marsh across which Newton's troops would have to march the next morning. Temperatures in the area dropped on the night of March 4th and as they huddled around the fires, the Confederate soldiers could hear the Union sailors struggling to get their cannon and other supplies ashore.

In Tallahassee, meanwhile, Major General Samuel Jones and Brigadier General William Miller held a council of war at the state capitol building. Troops were now flooding to Tallahassee from all across North Florida. Governor Milton authorized the generals to call out the corps of cadets from the West Florida Seminary (today's Florida State University). These students, who ranged in age from around 12 to around 17, had been enrolled in the state's home guard during the summer of 1864. They officially represented Company L of the 1st Florida Militia, but most eyewitnesses simply called them the "cadets." Other local home guard units also turned out to fight and companies from both the 5th Florida Cavalry and 1st Florida Infantry Reserves also had begun arriving in the capital city.

As he assessed the situation, Jones ordered Miller to move down the railroad to the front the next morning, taking with him the cadets and a detachment of militia (home guards) from Gadsden County. Jones, as commanding general, would remain temporarily in Tallahassee to organize and forward additional troops as they came in.

Our series will continue tomorrow, but until then you can read more by visiting

Natural Bridge (17) - The Union Troops Land (3/4/1865)

This is part seventeen of our continuing series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. Throughout the day today we are looking at the events of March 4, 1865.

As his advance troops under Major Weeks were skirmishing with Major William H. Milton's detachment of Confederates, General Newton began to land the main body of his force at the St. Marks Lighthouse. The soldiers were brought ashore by small boat from their transports thanks to the backbreaking labor of Union sailors. The operation took much longer to complete than expected because ships ran aground, etc., but finally by late in the day of March 4, 1865 (143 years ago today), the main Union force was ashore at the lighthouse.

By the time all the soldiers were on dry land, however, it was too late in the day to begin offensive operations. Plus, the Navy still needed to bring supplies, ammunition and ambulances ashore. In addition, since Newton had brought no field artillery of his own, the sailors also had to lug ashore two boat howitzers loaned to the army for the campaign. The Navy also provided Newton with a detachment of sailors to man the guns.

The plan called for the general and his land force to penetrate inland via the road leading from the St. Marks Lighthouse to Newport on the St. Marks River. At the same time, the warships would push up the river from the bay, silence the batteries at Fort Ward and put a large force of sailors ashore at old Port Leon, a former townsite just downstream from the fort. The two forces would then cooperate to strike the railroad between St. Marks and Tallahassee and begin their march north to the prison camp at Thomasville.

Unfortunately for General Newton, however, his plans were already running 48 hours behind schedule. The Confederates had known of his presence for nearly 24 hours now and even as the Union sailors struggled in the darkness to bring artillery and supplies ashore, Confederate troops were streaming into Tallahassee from all directions.

Our series will continue, but in the meantime you can read more by visiting

Natural Bridge (16) - First Skirmish at East River Bridge

This is Part 16 of our series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. To read previous posts first, just scroll down the page.

Before daylight on the morning of March 4, 1865 (143 years ago today), the 45 or so Confederate soldiers from the 5th Florida Cavalry spread out on the north bank of the East River. Once his men were in position, Major William H. Milton sent a few scouts forward to unmask the situation at the bridge itself. When the Union sailors holding the bridge saw these men, they opened fire on them but were shocked when Milton's hidden force unleased a full volley in response. Although neither side could see each other in the darkness and vegetation, they opened a brisk fire at each other from opposite sides of the river.

Major Edmund Weeks was marching his 60 dismounted troopers from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry from the lighthouse to East River Bridge when he heard the shooting begin. Spreading his men out onto both sides of the infrequently used road, he pushed forward to reinforce the Union sailors at the bridge.

Although he was outnumbered, Milton was in an aggressive mood and put up such an intense fight that the Union officers soon concluded that it was they who were outnumbered. Apparently using the horse captured from the Confederates the previous night, Major Weeks sent a man back to the lighthouse to see if the main body of the Union force had started landing yet. When he reported that no reinforcements were yet ashore, Weeks ordered his men to pull back from the bridge to the lighthouse, while the Union sailors rowed their boat back to the flotilla.

As the Federals fell back, Milton and his small band of Confederates pursued them, skirmishing with them as withdrew across the marsh to the St. Marks Lighthouse. Across the marshes he could clearly see the Union ships moving into position to begin landing the main body of Newton's command. Sending additional couriers to provide additional information to the commanders in Tallahassee, he watched the landing begin from the cover of the marshes.

Our series will continue this afternoon with additional postings about the events of March 4, 1865. If you would like to read more before then, please visit Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available through, or for order through most bookstores.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Natural Bridge, Part Fifteen (Night of March 3-4, 1865)

This post continues our series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. To read previous posts, please scroll down the page.

As soon as dark fell on the evening of March 3, 1865 (143 years ago tonight), the Union flotilla moved back in from the Gulf and approached the mouth of the St. Marks River. By now, however, a heavy storm was blowing along the coast. The pilot of the lead vessel, who was familiar with the channel, was unable to find his way across the bar off the river's mouth. The plan to have the main body ashore and ready to march by daylight the next morning had to be pushed back yet another 24 hours.

Despite the weather, General Newton decided to take a risk and send troops ashore to seize the East River Bridge and St. Marks Lighthouse. A boat party of sailors, commanded by Acting Ensign John F. Whitman of the schooner O.H. Lee rowed through the storm and pulled their way into the mouth of the East River.

They quickly rowed upstream the short distance to the East River Bridge, by which the road connecting the inland community of Newport with the St. Marks Lighthouse crossed the river. A party of Confederate pickets were stationed at the bridge, but they were huddled around their fire due to the severity of the weather.

Whitman and his men rushed the Confederate camp, but the pickets all got away (although one horse was captured). No casualties were reported by either side. The Union sailors now took up positions to guard the bridge.

A second boat expedition, meanwhile, was sent under Major Edmund Weeks of the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry to land at the lighthouse and then move up to support Whitman's men at the bridge. The dark stormy night made for difficult navigation off Lighthouse Point and it was well after midnight before they finally reached shore. No resistance was encountered.
The Confederate pickets who had been flushed from their camp at East River, meanwhile, retreated rapidly up the Newport Road and alerted Major William H. Milton of the 5th Florida Cavalry. A son of Governor John Milton and a seasoned officer, Milton was commanding a small detachment of cavalry stationed at Newport. Upon learning of the attack, he immediately dispatched a courier the short distance down stream to St. Marks with orders to commandeer a train and alert headquarters in Tallahassee of the incursion.

Milton did not know whether he was facing a minor raid or a major landing, but he immediately mounted up his men and set out to find out. They road through the night and arrived in the woods near East River Bridge well before dawn. Leaving a few men to the rear to hold the horses, the major spread his men out along both sides of the road and waited for daylight so he could assess the situation.

Milton's courier, meanwhile, roared into Tallahassee on his commandeered train at around 9 p.m. Trains did not usually arrive in Tallahassee at that hour and the arrival of the locomotive alerted citizens throughout the community, who rushed to the train station to hear the news. After reviewing the information sent by Major Milton, the Confederate commanders in Tallahassee (Major General Samuel Jones and Brigadier General William Miller) consulted with Governor John Milton. Alarm guns were sounded and the local home guard was ordered to assemble, ready for action, first thing the next morning. Telegrams also went up and down the line as far as Lake City to the east and Marianna to the west, alerting various companies to prepare to reinforce the capital city.

Our series will continue tomorrow with a look at the events of March 4, 1865. In the meantime, you can read more by going to

Natural Bridge, Part Fourteen (March 3, 1865)

This post continues our series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. To read the previous posts first, simply scroll down the page.

The morning of March 3, 1865 (143 years ago today) was supposed to signal the beginning in earnest of the Federal invasion of Middle Florida. Instead, things began to fall apart almost immediately.

The sun rose over Apalachee Bay that morning to reveal that the fog that had been shielding the Union ships off the mouth of the St. Marks River from view had suddenly lifted and was gone. The day dawn bright and clear, with excellent visibility. Knowing that they had to act quickly and hope they had not already been spotted by Confederate pickets on shore, the Union ships weighed anchor and sailed off across the horizon and out of view.

This caused a major delay in General Newton's plans. He had expected his landing parties to seize the St. Marks Lighthouse and East River Bridge that morning, to clear the way for the landing of his main force. Instead, he was forced to pull away from the coast instead of going into action. The necessary action placed an immediate 24 hour delay in his plans. This was critical because the longer they remained off the coast of St. Marks, the greater the risk of their being discovered.

Meanwhile, the demolition party that had landed the previous day on the Aucilla River continued to wind its way north through the swamps of Florida's "Big Bend" Region. North Florida had been experiencing heavy rains that winter and the creeks, rivers and swamps were all flooded. This would cause great difficulty and delays for Strickland and his men as they tried to reach the railroad bridge east of Tallahassee.

The other landing party, supposedly on its way to destroy the Ochlockonee River bridge west of Tallahassee, was also wading around in the flooded swamps. Whether they got lost or simply gave up is not known, but they never reached their intended target.

Confederate forces in the area, meanwhile, remained in the dark as to the presence of a large Union force just off St. Marks. Pickets along the coast had not seen the ships before they were able to sail out of view on the morning of March 3rd. Although General Newton later repeated a rumor that one of his men had deserted and alerted the Confederates to his presence, there is absolutely nothing in Confederate records of the Battle of Natural Bridge that confirms this. In fact, the Confederates would be quite surprised when the Federal troops finally did actually make it to shore.

Our series will continue. In the meantime, you can read more by clicking here. Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available through,, or for order through most local bookstores.