Sunday, November 30, 2008

Attack on the St. Joseph Saltworks - 1862

This is a wartime sketch of the U.S. Navy attack on a salt-making facility on St. Joseph Bay in Northwest Florida.
Built using brick from the "lost city" of St. Joseph, once the largest city in Florida, the saltworks were located out on St. Joseph Peninsula just off Highway 30-A.
Capable of producing about 150 bushels of salt each day, they were massive in scale. The presence of the facility was not long in attracting the attention of the Union navy, which was under orders to impede the production of salt along the Gulf Coast.
At issue was the outcome of the war itself. The Confederacy used Gulf Coast salt to preserve beef and pork being used to feed its soldiers in the field. Without salt for curing, the meat would spoil and the soldiers would starve.
On September 8, 1862, the U.S.S Kingfisher moved in on the works as they were in full operation. The ship bombarded the establishment from offshore, sending the workers fleeing for safety, and then boat parties moved ashore to complete the destruction with sledge hammers and explosives.
The area is now the location of Old Saltworks Cabins, a vacation resort at Cape San Blas.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Special Holiday Sale on Books by Dale Cox

If you are interested in learning more about Florida history or would like to purchase any of my books as gifts this year, you might consider a special online sale underway for the next three days only.

Due to a coming announcement about a change in publishers, this will be the only time that sales prices will be available on the books for the rest of this year.

The sale is now over, but please click here for current pricing on my various books.

Here is a list of my current books in print:
  • The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida
  • The Battle of Marianna, Florida
  • Two Egg, Florida: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Legends and Unusual Facts
  • The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One
  • The Early History of Gadsden County
  • The Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

San Marcos de Apalache - Part One

The point of land formed by the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers is one of the most historic sites in America.
The Narvaez expedition, the first party of Spanish explorers to penetrate the interior of Florida, gave up their march near this point in 1528. They built crude boats and sailed away into mystery. Of the 300 men that began the expedition, only 4 survived. Most disappeared without a trace.
Hernando de Soto's soldiers also visited the vicinity in 1540, coming down to the mouth of the St. Marks from their winter camp at Tallahassee to signal supply ships in the Gulf of Mexico.
When Franciscan missionaries began their work to convert the powerful Apalachee nation to Christianity in the 17th century, the port of San Marcos (St. Marks) grew in importance as place where supplies could be landed and grain and other farm products shipped out to benefit other Spanish settlements.
To defend this gateway to their Apalachee missions, Spanish troops built the first fort of San Marcos de Apalache (St. Marks of Apalachee) here in 1679. Constructed of wood and located at the very point where the rivers meet, the fort was not particularly strong and to warn away potential enemies, the Spanish builders plastered the exterior of the fort to give it a a stone-like appearance.
The disguse didn't work. Just three years later a pirate ship sailed into the mouth of the St. Marks River, attacked and destroyed the fort.
San Marcos was replaced with another wooden fort and Spanish troops occupied the site until a coordinated series of attacks by British and Creek forces led to the evacuation of the Apalachee missions in 1704.
After about a decade of inactivity, the post was reactivated in 1718 and Captain Primo de Rivera began the construction of a massive stone fort on the site.
I will have more on the history of San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in the next post. Until then, you can read more by visiting and looking for the San Marcos de Apalache heading at the top of the page.
This state park is on the list of Florida facilities that may be closed due to budget issues. Please join me in opposing this move. You can voice your support for San Marcos de Apalache and Florida's other state parks by writing to Governor Charlie Crist at

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

San Marcos de Apalache - St. Marks, Florida

I mentioned in yesterday's post that San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks is on the list of Florida State Parks facing temporary or permanent closure due to state budget issues.
I thought it might be interesting to spend more time exploring this park and detailing why it is of such significance that it should be saved. So beginning tomorrow, I will start a series on this historic site and while its significance renders it beyond question that it should be saved and kept open to the public.
In the meantime, please visit the new San Marcos de Apalache pages at Just follow the link and you will see the heading at the top of the page.
Also, please take a few minutes to urge Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to save this and other state parks. You can email him at

Monday, November 24, 2008

Significant Florida Civil War Site May Be Closed - Please Speak UP!

The historic earthworks of Fort Ward at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park played a critical role in defending Tallahassee and St. Marks during the War Between the States.
This fort was one of the objectives of Union troops during the Natural Bridge campaign of 1865 and soldiers and sailors from here helped win the battle that preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not captured by Federal troops.
Soon, however, this beautiful state park may lose a battle of a different kind. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has included San Marcos de Apalache on a list of state parks facing temporary or permanent closure due to budget constraints.
While I certainly agree that our government should tighten its belt and live within its mean, it seems preposterous to me to believe that closing a few small state parks could have much of an impact on the massive budget of the State of Florida. I'm sure most of us could identify enough savings in one day in Tallahassee to save our state parks for generations to come!
Please join with me and write to Gov. Crist at to urge him to save San Marcos de Apalache and Florida's other state parks and historic sites by identifying other ways to cut our state budget. Our ancestors served here to protect our state. We owe it to their memories to now preserve this and other historic sites so that one day our children and grandchildren will still be able to visit and learn about their heritage and the importance of the events that made this state the wonderful place that it is today.
Thank you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Breaking News: State Saves Natural Bridge Battlefield!!

There is breaking news today from Tallahassee. Governor Charlie Christ and the Cabinet have approved the purchase of nearly 55 acres of vital battlefield at Natural Bridge Historic State Park.

The Battle of Natural Bridge was one of the last significant Southern victories of the Civil War. Fought on March 6, 1865, the engagement resulted in the defeat of a Union effort to cross the St. Marks River and preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not captured during the war.

A small portion of the battlefield has long been preserved as a state park, but today's announcement means that key areas of the field long in private hands will now belong to the people of Florida. At a time of tightening budgets, this is a major victory for preservationists in Florida and means that the second largest surviving battlefield in Florida will now be preserved for future generations.

If you are interested in learning more about the Battle of Natural Bridge, please consider my book on the subject. It is available by clicking here.

Below is the official announcement from the Florida Forever program:

~Florida Forever acquisition preserves 54.74 acres adjacent to Natural Bridge
Historic State Park~

TALLAHASSEE— Governor Crist and Cabinet today approved the purchase of 54.74 acres of land adjacent to the Natural Bridge Historic State Park in Leon County. The acquired parcel is significant to the protection of a first magnitude spring and features a Civil War battlefield.

“This important purchase is a part of the Florida First Magnitude Springs project and one of the top projects on the Florida Forever priority list,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Deputy Secretary Bob Ballard. “This acquisition ensures that the geological, historical and cultural integrity of this property and the surrounding water resources are preserved for Floridians and visitors from all over the world to enjoy for years to come.”

This Florida Forever project focuses on land that provides increased protection for Florida’s First Magnitude Springs that discharge more than 100 cubic feet of water per second. Florida’s springs, scattered through northern and central Florida, draw from the Floridan aquifer system, which is the state’s primary source of drinking water. Springs, with clear, continuously flowing waters, are among the state’s most important natural resources and are famous attractions. This acquisition brings the Florida First Magnitude Springs project closer to completion, with 7,844 acres of the 14,081 acre project remaining.

The property contains many karst features such as sink holes, natural bridges, swallets, karst windows and submerged cave systems. By preserving the surrounding land, this project will preserve the area’s geological significance and protect Florida’s water resources from the effects of commercial, residential and agricultural runoff and other potential impacts.

The property is also the site of Florida’s second largest Civil War battle. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and cited as one of the top ten endangered Civil War sites in the United States by the Civil War Preservation Trust. In 1865, during the final week of the Civil War, the battle at natural bridge preserved Tallahassee as the only Confederate Capitol east of the Mississippi that did not surrender to Union forces. Today, important historical and cultural, resources can be found on the property dating from the Paleo-Indian period (10,000 B.C.) to the Civil War. The property will eventually be managed by DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks as part of the Natural Bridge Historic State Park.

Originally established in 1999, the 10-year, $3 billion Florida Forever program is the largest land-buying initiative in the nation, conserving environmentally sensitive land, restoring water resources and preserving important cultural and historical sites. More than two million acres throughout the state have been placed in public ownership under Florida Forever and its predecessor program, Preservation 2000 (P2000). For more information on the Florida Forever program, visit

To view maps that outline the subject parcel in this purchase, visit the following links:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Confederate Cannon in place after 143 years

This site is not in Florida, but is closely associated with the state.
On the bluff at Fort Gaines, Georgia, a well-preserved Confederate artillery emplacement overlooks the Chattahoochee River. The site is unique because of the original cannon is still in place there more than 143 years after the end fo the War Between the States. It is the only such piece still on its original site along the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers.
The Confederate defenses at Fort Gaines were part of a series of such installations built between 1862 and 1865 to protect the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers from Union attack. Fortified points included the "Narrows" on the lower river, Ricco's Bluff, Alum Bluff and Rock Bluff (all in Florida), as well as Fort Gaines and Columbus (in Georgia).
The third of three forts built in the city, the Fort Gaines batteries consisted of two artillery emplacements high on the bluff and a third on the riverbank below. One of the upper emplacements is very well preserved and a second can still be seen as a dip in the surface of the ground.
None of the batteries were ever attacked by Federal forces. Ricco's Bluff was raided by the Union Navy in 1865, but the artillery had already been removed by that point and only a detachment of Confederate cavalry was stationed at the site.
To learn more about Fort Gaines, a fascinating and historic town on the Chattahoochee River with strong ties to the history of North Florida, please visit

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Civil War Riverboat Pilot

This is an old image of Captain John Jenkins of Apalachicola, Florida.
Jenkins was a prominent riverboat captain on the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers at the beginning of the War Between the States. He had only recently acquired a new shallow draft boat, the Jackson for use in navigating the Chipola River during high water and the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee during times of low water.
Jenkins became a valuable asset to Confederate war efforts in the region. He commanded civilian steamboats that had been converted for use as supply vessels and transports on the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers throughout the war. He was involved in ferrying troops and supplies up and down the rivers and his knowledge of the river and expertise with steamboats proved quite beneficial to Confederate army and navy officers assigned to defend the river.
After the war, he returned to civilian life as a riverboat captain.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Forgotten Dead of the Battle of Olustee?

This burial trench at New Park Cemetery in Fort Gaines, Georgia, contains the graves of 9 unknown Confederate soldiers.
The soldiers were most likely wounded men from the Battle of Olustee that died from their injuries while being treated at hospitals in Fort Gaines.
The magnitude of the battle overwhelmed hospital facilities in Florida, so wounded men were carried west to Tallahassee and Quincy by rail and then placed on steamboats at Chattahoochee for transportation upstream to towns in Alabama and Georgia.
Fort Gaines, once called the "Queen City of the Chattahoochee," was one such community. Public buildings there were converted to use as hospitals and the people of the town did their best to care for the wounded soldiers. Most, in fact, did recover at least well enough to eventually go home, but nine did not and were buried in a trench at New Park Cemetery in Fort Gaines.
Their names are lost to history.
If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Olustee, please visit our Olustee pages at

Blue Spring - Jackson County, Florida

This is a rare photograph of Blue Spring near Marianna as it appeared during the late 1800s.
Some sections of the photograph have been painted over (the people at the bottom in particular), but other parts such as the tree and spring itself still appear as they did when the image was taken.
The spring was located on the Sylvania plantation of Florida Governor John Milton during the Civil War. Milton's home stood a little over one mile east of the spring, but he often visited the beautiful natural feature and one diarist of the time mentioned that he enjoyed fishing here.
A camp was established here for Confederate troops assigned to the defense of Jackson County. The spring provided an abundant supply of fresh water for the soldiers and the old Robinson home and other structures on the adjacent hill provided shelter and storage facilities for the units stationed here.
The camp was occupied by Captain Robert Chisolm's Cavalry Company from the Alabama Militia on September 27, 1864, when Marianna was attacked by Union troops. The soldiers fought in the Battle of Marianna and were praised by Governor Milton for their heroic role in defending the Chipola River bridge there. At his request, they were added to the 5th Florida Cavalry as Company I.
In later years, the spring became a popular swimming hole and today is a recreation area maintained by Jackson County.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

New Blog: History of Gadsden County, Florida

In association with the release of my new book, The Early History of Gadsden County, I've started a new blog (web log) on the history of Gadsden County, Florida.
This page will focus on the history, historic sites, folklore, culture and people of Gadsen County.
I've started it by excerpting a chapter from the new book on the McLane Massacre, a Second Seminole War attack that took place in Gadsden County in 1840.
Over coming weeks, I'll post articles on a variety of topics related to Gadsden County and Florida history.
Feel free to visit and, as always, feel free to post your comments, thoughts and questions.

Fort Matanzas - St. Augustine, Florida

This is a photograph of Fort Matanzas, St. Augustine's "other fort."

Built by the Spanish to guard against an enemy attack by way of the St. Augustine's southern approaches, the old fort fired its guns in anger only once. Artillery here opened fire on forces commanded by British General James Oglethorpe when he tried to explore the mouth of the Matanzas River.

The fort actually takes its name from a violence episode that took place near here in 1565, long before the outpost was built. Determined to root out French intruders from the Spanish colony, the Spanish cornered a force of shipwrecked French near Matanzas Inlet and put them to the sword after accepting their surrender. The word "matanzas" literally means "murders" or "slaughters."

Improperly engineered and quickly constructed, Fort Matanzas began to "pull apart at the seams" even before the end of the 18th century. The tower part of the structure weighed too much for its supports and massive cracks developoed in the walls of the fort. By the time Florida was transfered from Spain to the U.S. in 1821, the fort was considered worthless and was never occupied by the United States Army.

Pickets were occasionally stationed here during the Civil War, but the fort was never officially occupied by either side and was in a ruined state by that time.

The unique stone structure has been restored by the National Park Service and is now preserved as the centerpiece of Fort Matanzas National Monument. The park is located on Highway A1A south of St. Augustine. For more information on Fort Matanzas, please visit and look for the "Fort Matanzas" link.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fort Marion - St. Augustine, Florida (Part Five)

This is the last of a series of historic photographs of the Castillo de San Marcos (once called Fort Marion) in St. Augustine, Florida.
Taken during the final years of the Civil War when Union troops occupied the fort, it shows the stairs leading up to the gun deck. Originally a ramp used to pull artillery up to the top of the fort, it had been converted into a staircase years before.
A couple of things about this picture are of special interest. Notice the soldiers standing at the top of the stairs and the tents behind them. Also, if you look under the arch of the stairs you can see a stack of cannon. These were some of the original Spanish guns of the fort. Obsolete by the time of the Civil War, they were still part of the inventory of the post.
Fort Marion remained a U.S. Army post for most of the 19th century, but is now preserved by the National Park Service and is open to the public daily as the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. If you are interested in learning more about the Castillo and other historic sites in St. Augustine, please visit

Fort Marion - St. Augustine, Florida (Part Four)

This is another Civil War era photograph of the Castillo de San Marcos (then called Fort Marion) in St. Augustine. It is taken from the collections of the Library of Congress.
This photograph shows the interior of the fort and was taken looking south across the courtyard or parade ground to the interior of the sally port or gate.
Visible are piles of cannonballs and a battery of field artillery housed in the old fort by Union forces. Notice also the tents on top of the walls. Soldiers camped there to catch fresh air and stay out of the damp interior rooms of the old stone fort.
The old castillo was an active military post for more than 200 years. The U.S. Army continued to occupy it after the Civil War and it was not until around the turn of the century that it was finally considered surplus and abandoned.
The oldest masonry fortification in the continental United States, the fort became a national monument during the early 20th century and its original Spanish name - Castillo de San Marcos - was resorted.
To learn more about the old fort, please visit

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fort Marion - St. Augustine, Florida (Part Three)

Continuing our look at some historic photos of Fort Marion, now Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, in St. Augustine, this is a Civil War era photograph of the fort.
When this picture was taken, the old Spanish fort was in the hands of the Union army. Confederates had held the stone fort from early 1861 until the spring of 1862, when they evacuated it. Union troops then reoccupied the fort and held it for the rest of the war.
As you can see, Union soiders are visible here on the top of the walls. In the distance, through the sally port (gate) of the fort, stacks of cannonballs and additional soldiers can be seen.
Originally built during the late 1600s by the Spanish and named the Castillo de San Marcos, the stone fort was attacked numerous times over the centuries but never fell. The U.S. government renamed it Fort Marion following the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821. By the time of the Civil War, it was nearly 200 years old but was still described by Union naval officers as one of the strongest forts on the Southern coastline.
I'll post additional historic photos of the old fort over coming days. If you would like to read more about the history of the fort and see modern pictures, please visit