Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Apalachicolas - Confederate Floridians on the Western Frontier

One of the most unique documents of the Civil War is a treaty signed between the Apalachicola band of Creek Indians and the Confederate government.

Most of the warriors had been born on the Apalachicola and lower Chattahoochee Rivers in Jackson County, Florida. They lived on reservations there that had been established in 1823 under the terms of the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. In 1838, however, they were forcibly removed at gunpoint by U.S. troops led by Colonel Zachary Taylor, a future president of the United States. The removal of the Apalachicolas came despite an agreement they had signed with the government just five years earlier guaranteeing them "permanent" possession of their lands in Florida.

It was a sad chapter in American history. The Apalachicolas had remained at peace with the United States, despite the uprisings by other bands that led to the Creek War of 1836 and the Second Seminole War. Instead of trying to resolve their desputes with the whites with their rifles and knives, the Apalachicolas resorted to the courts and actually won a major case in Federal court sustaining their right to observe traditional Indian law.

When they arrived in the Creek Nation in what is now Oklahoma in early 1839, the Apalachicolas settled in a community south of present-day Muskogee. Their life in the west was extremely difficult at first. They suffered from shortages of everything and the U.S. Government failed to pay them promised money to compensate for the loss of their homes, mills, orchards and fields in Florida. Slowly, though, they built new lives. They did not, however, forget the loss of their traditional homes in Florida.

In 1861, as the War Between the States erupted, the Indian Nations of modern Oklahoma became a much disputed area. Some of the Cherokee, Creeks and Seminoles allied with the Union, while others - along with the Choctaw and Chickasaw - allied with the Confederacy. The Apalachicolas were part of the latter group. And they made clear in the treaty they signed with the Confederate government why they were forming an alliance against the Union:

...[They removed] from the country occupied by them in Florida to the Indian country west of Arkansas, leaving the  lands...and a large number of horses, mules, cattle, hogs, wagons, and other articles which they could not collect together and carry with them, and which the said emigrating agent persuaded them to leave in his charge, on the promise that the owners should be paid the value of all such property in money by the agent of the United States on their arrival in the country provided for them....


The Apalachicolas never received the promised money and on July 10, 1861, they declared war on the United States. For the next four years they fought in many of the battles in the Indian Nations and Arkansas and suffered the destruction of their homes and farms by U.S. troops.

To learn more about their time in Florida before they were forced to remove to the west, please visit www.twoeggfla.com/econchattimico or consider the book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years, available here.




Sunday, December 27, 2009

Florida Troops at the Battle of Chickamauga


The Florida Monument on the Chickamauga battlefield is, I think, one of the most beautiful of the scores of such memorials that dot the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.

Located just south of Chattanooga at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, Chickamauga is the site of one of the most overwhelming Confederate victories of the War Between the States. It was also the location where more than 34,000 men were reported killed, wounded or missing in action in two days of fierce fighting.

Florida was strongly represented at the Battle of Chattanooga. A future governor of the state, Francis P. Fleming, was present as an officer in the 1st Florida Cavalry (dismounted). Also present at Chickamauga, in addition to the 1st Cavalry, were the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th Florida Infantries. The Florida troops were heavily engaged against the Union troops on Snodgrass Hill and suffered 555 casualties in the battle.

To learn more about Chickamauga battlefield as it appears today, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/chickamauga.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Execution of Peter Pelt - March 7, 1865


The War Between the States in Florida was a time of great tragedy and many stories of that era have been handed down through the years.

One of the most tragic of these tales is the story of Peter Pelt, a young soldier from Jackson County. Pelt grew up as a neighbor of Governor John Milton in the plantation lands east of Marianna. His family worked a small 160 acre farm, overshadowed by the massive plantations around it, but despite the size of the operation, it was among the most prosperous small farms in the region, with a value of $1,600 in 1860.

Like most young men of his age, Pelt served in the Confederate army. In September of 1863, he enrolled in Company G, 2nd Florida Cavalry, then commanded by his former neighbor, Captain William H. Milton. In February of 1864, however, he deserted. The young man's reasons for doing so are not clear, but desertion was then rampant among Florida troops who were outraged over tightening conscription laws and overzealous activities by Confederate commissary agents who took so much livestock and food from local families that the wives and widows of soldiers were often left on the brink of starvation. In Pelt's case, his desertion also closely coincided with the receipt of news that two of his family members had been killed at Missionary Ridge.

Along with 21 other men from Jackson County, Pelt soon appeared on the records of Company E, 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry. It is a curious fact that the county provided almost 20% of the Union company's total strength. He served with his unit in several raids and engagements, most notably the Natural Bridge Expedition in March of 1865. After fighting at Newport on March 5, 1865, Pelt was among the troops left there to prevent Confederate troops from crossing Newport Bridge (site shown in photo above) and moving on the rear of the main column as it moved north to the Battle of Natural Bridge. He was captured on March 7, 1865, being part of a detail that was left behind as the Federal forces withdrew.

Recognized by his former comrades from the 2nd Florida Cavalry (C.S.), Pelt was given a hasty trial for desertion and his execution was ordered by Brigadier General William Miller. Dr. Charles Hentz, who had served as a surgeon at Natural Bridge, was an eyewitness to what happened next:

The poor creatures had just been led out for execution, as I arrived; they were halted close to me, as a hollow square for the execution was formed; some bandages, pinned around their eyes, were taken from my haversack; how dreadfully did I commisserate their awful condition. Pelt, whom I had known as a little boy...was trembling in every fiber; his face was the hue of ashes - his lips quiverying compulsively in prayer, his eyes closed and bandaged...At the words "Ready" "Aim" "Fire" the double volley was discharged and both men fell...Pelt uttered a fearful, bloodcurdling, bubbling wail, as a torent of blood gushed from his mouth, & struggled for several minutes dreadfully.

Stripped of his clothes and possession, Pelt and the other executed man (Corporal Asa Fowler) were tossed into a hastily dug pit and covered with dirt. He remains buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the Newport vicinity of Wakulla County.

To learn more about the Natural Bridge Expedition, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Florida troops at the Battle of Shiloh


Among the troops that took part in the massive bloodletting at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, on April 6-7, 1862, was the 1st Florida Infantry Battalion.

Often confused for the 1st Florida Infantry Regiment that served at Pensacola in 1861 and early 1862, this was actually a battalion of infantry organized in early 1862 under the command of Major T.A. McDonnell. The battalion remained an independent unit until late summer of 1862. Many of its men had earlier served in the 1st Florida Infantry Regiment and most went on to serve in other regiments, including yet another 1st Florida Infantry Regiment that was organized in August of 1862.

It is a bit confusion but basically there was a 1st Florida Regiment in 1861, followed by a 1st Florida Battalion in early 1862 followed by another 1st Florida Regiment in late summer of 1862.
At the Battle of Shiloh, the 1st Florida Battalion was part of Patton Anderson's 2nd Brigade of General Daniel Ruggles' 1st Division of General Braxton Bragg's Second Corps. As it pressed forward with the rest of Bragg's Corps, the 1st Florida came under heavy fire. Major McDonnell fell mortally wounded early in the fighting and Captain W.G. Poole assumed command.

In the fighting that followed, the battalion pushed forward into the Union camps at Shiloh, fell back and reformed, then reinforced pushed forward again. Ultimately the regiment advanced to within range of the heavy naval guns of the U.S. gunboats Tyler and Lexington, coming under heavy fire. By nightfall on the 6th, the battalion had fallen back to the captured Union camps. It retreated from there with the full Confederate army the next day.

Among the casualties sustained were Major T.A. McDonnell, killed; 1st Lieutenant L.M. Anderson, killed; 2nd Lieutenant E.C. Stevens, severely wounded; Captain T.S. Means, wounded; 1st Lieutenant J.T. Miller, wounded, and Lieutenant O.P. Hull mortally wounded.

To learn more about the Battle of Shiloh, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/shiloh1.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Capture of the Fashion - Apalachicola River, Florida


In one of the strangest incidents of the Civil War, a small Union boat raid into the Apalachicola River in May of 1863 led to the explosion and sinking of the most powerful Confederate warship in Florida.

The unusual chain of events began when a party of 41 officers and sailors left the U.S.S. Port Royal in small boats on May 23, 1863. Commanded by Acting Master Edgar Van Slyck, they had been ordered to capture the Fashion, a Gulf sloop reported to be hiding somewhere in the lower Apalachicola River. The vessel was taking on cotton for a planned attempt to run the blockade.

The Union sailors rowed an estimated 45 miles up the Apalachicola River, slipping past Confederate sentries at Fort Gadsden during the night, but did not find the Fashion. It was not until they were going back downstream that they spotted a barge of the type often used to move bales of cotton down the river. Turning up Brushy Creek, Van Slyck and his men found the sloop and captured it without resistance in a heavy rainstorm.

Taking the Fashion back down the river, the sailors fired a single round of cannister into Fort Gadsden, but did not elicit a response from the Southern troops there.

News of the successful raid generated near panic in the valley of the Apalachicola River and Lt. J.J. Guthrie, captain of the C.S.S. Chattahoochee, started his warship down the river in hopes of capturing the raiders before they could reach the bay. The ship was the most powerful Confederate warship in Florida, mounting 6 heavy guns and carrying a crew of more than 100 officers and men, many of whom had served aboard the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimac) during its immortal battle with the U.S.S. Monitor.

Guthrie reached Blountstown, but was unable to continue his pursuit of the raiders due to low water. After the river did not rise the next morning, he ordered the ship to return to its home port at Chattahoochee. Water was allowed to pour into an overheated boiler prompting an explosion that resulted in scalding steam killing many members of the crew. The Chattahoochee sank in a blinding rainstorm, destroyed by a Union raid that had not fired a single shot in her direction.

To learn more about the capture of the Fashion, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fashion.

Friday, December 11, 2009

An Inspection of Fort Ward - 1863

For most of the War Between the States, the earthwork battery at St. Marks was the primary defensive work for Florida's capital city of Tallahassee.

Built atop the stone ruins of the earlier Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache, the battery was named Fort Ward in honor of Major George T. Ward who had been killed in action at Williamsburg while serving with the 2nd Florida Infantry.

In the summer of 1864, as part of a Confederate effort to evaluate the defenses of North Florida, Major G.U. Mayo, the Assistant Inspector of Artillery for the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, was sent to inspect the batteries at St. Marks and on the Apalachicola River.

He reported his findings to Colonel A.J. Gonzales, Chief of Artillery, on July 12, 1864:

...The battery at Saint Mark's is at present in an inefficient state as a defense, being now in the hands of the engineers. When it shall have been completed its complement will consist of two 32-pounders smoothbores; two 32-pounders, rifled, and one 24-pounder. This last gun is not properly mounted, the front wheels of the chassis (center pintle) being adjusted with an iron flange over them which prevents the carriage from running into battery. This defect is apt to impair the sighting of the gun. I cannot discover the necessity for a full circle to this gun. A banquette should be affixed to the head of the chassis to facilitate loading. It has been requested of the headquarters at Tallahassee and approved....

...The magazine is in such a condition that nothing but confusion and delay could arise in the event of an attack, as no arrangment is apparent. It needs sodding. No planking is upon the floor, yet boxes of cartridges and powder are kept upon it and in the gallery, where the ground is proverbially damp. The carriages will be ruined unless protected from exposure...The barrack quarters are neatly kept. The roof needs repairing. The kitchens should be floored to enhance the neatness and approve the hygiene....

The earthworks of Fort Ward can still be seen today at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida. To learn more and see photographs, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanmarcos1.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Dade Pyramids - St. Augustine, Florida


Although historians devote considerable attention to the role the Mexican War played in the development of the generals of both sides during the Civil War, seldom is attention given to another conflict that actually provided better training for the conflict in many ways.

From 1835-1842, and actually for a bit longer, U.S. troops engaged in a deadly war with the Seminole Indians of Florida. It was the longest American war of the 19th century and by the time it was over, had deteriorated into brutal guerrilla warfare that was as different from the European style tactics officers of the time had been tought as day is from night. By the time the war dragged to an end, the Seminoles had taught the U.S. Army a lesson in irregular combat tactics that could have saved tens of thousands of lives during the Civil War if senior officers had learned it.

The war began with a military defeat so stunning, complete and deadly that it would not be repeated again until Custer lost his battle at the Little Bighorn. Marching from Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay to Fort King at present-day Ocala, Major Francis L. Dade and a column of U.S. soldiers were ambushed by several hundred warriors led by Micanopy, Jumper and Alligator. Although the soldiers had superior weapons, including artillery, they were wiped out by the determined Seminole force. Dade, his officers and at least 103 of his men lay dead. Only one of the two or three wounded survivors lived for more than a couple of weeks.

The bodies were later given a temporary burial on the battlefield by other soldiers, but eventually were moved to St. Augustine where they were reburied at what is now the St. Augustine National Cemetery. The vaults containing the graves also hold the remains of more than 1,000 other soldiers who died during the Second Seminole War. Capped with unique stone pyramids, known today as the Dade Pyramids, they are often overlooked by visitors to the nation's oldest city.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/dadepyramids.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Point Washington - Union Base on Choctawhatchee Bay

One of my favorite Florida places, Point Washington has largely escaped (at least so far) the sprawling development that has taken place along the state's famed Emerald Coast.

Located just north of U.S. 98 between Panama City Beach and Destin, Point Washington is a charming bayou community blessed with beautiful views, ancient oak trees shrouded with Spanish moss and an array of historic sites. Brigadier General William Miller, second-in-command of Confederate forces at the Battle of Natural Bridge, once called Point Washington home, as did a number of other Civil War veterans, both Union and Confederate. A small sign points out the location of Miller's home and a walk through the community's historic cemetery reveals the graves of a number of Civil War soldiers.


An important port in 1861, Point Washington served as a place where cotton, timber, sugar and other commerce coming down the Choctawhatchee River could be transferred to schooners, sloops and steamers for the trip on down the coast to Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans.


Union forces established a post there at about the mid-point of the war, both to serve as base for minor operations in the vicinity and to assist Confederate deserters and Unionists in making it through the lines. As a result, Point Washington was a major recruiting station for the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry when efforts began to organize that regiment during the winter of 1863-1864.


Troops from Point Washington staged a disastrous raid up the Choctawhatchee River in February of 1864. Although the Federals succeeded in capturing Captain Gabriel Floyd's company at Cedar Bluff near present-day Ebro, they were counterattacked by Confederates who freed Floyd's men and captured almost the entire raiding party.


The steamer Lizzie Davis, moving in support of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth's raid on Marianna, was ordered to Point Washington in September of 1864 after Asboth and his men turned inland. The command reunited with the steamer here at the end of the raid.


Point Washington became an important lumber mill town during the years after the war and today is home to the magnificent Eden Gardens State Park. To learn more about the gardens, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/edengardens.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Crew Member from the C.S.S. Chattahoochee


This is Lorenzo Coonrod, who served aboard the ill-fated warship C.S.S. Chattahoochee.

Commissioned on January 1, 1863, at the C.S. Navy Yard at Saffold, Early County, Georgia, the Chattahoochee was the most powerful Confederate warship ever to sail on Florida waters. She took nearly 18 months to construct and was captained by Lieutenant Catesby ap R. Jones, who had assumed command of the famed ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimac) during her epic battle with the U.S.S. Monitor. A number of her other officers and crewmen had also served aboard the Virginia during that engagement.

To come up with the more than 100 men needed to crew the ship, Confederate authorities assembled both individuals with prior sailing experience as well as green recruits who had been conscripted into the Confederate army. According to his service and pension records, Coonrod was one of the latter.

Assigned to the crew of the Chattahoochee on October 28, 1862, as the warship was being completed at Saffold, he was part of its crew when it becan its maiden voyage down the Chattahoochee River to Florida in January of 1863. He was also aboard the ship when her boiler exploded at Blountstown on the Apalachicola River during a hurricane in May of 1863, but was extremely fortunate to have been neither killed nor injured.

Later assigned to the C.S. Navy at Savannah, Coonrod became seriously ill and spent much of the last year of the war suffering from sickness. He lived in Jackson County after the war and is one of three former crew members of the Chattahoochee known to be buried there.

To see a photo of the wreck of the Chattahoochee as it appears today, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/navymuseum.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pensacola's Battle-scarred Lighthouse


The historic Pensacola Lighthouse holds a unique place in the Civil War history of Florida.

Built during the final years leading up to the war, the lighthouse was first lit in 1859. The supervising U.S. Army engineer for the project was John Newton, who eventually rose to the rank of brevet major general during the war. Long associated with the Army of the Potamac, he fought on most of the key battlefields of the Civil War. At Gettysburg, it was Newton who assumed command of the famed "Iron Brigade" after General John Reynolds was killed at a critical moment of the battle. He later served with Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign and eventually commanded Union troops at the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida.

In 1861, the lighthouse was seized by Confederate troops who removed its lense to prevent the beacon from being used by the Union Navy as it began to assemble warships offshore. They also built a strong artillery battery near the base of the lighthouse, fortifying it with banked sand reinforced by heavy timbers.

In November of 1861, a massive bombardment erupted between the Union gunners at Fort Pickens and aboard U.S. warships offshore and Confederate gunners at Forts Barrancas and McRee and in the various "sand batteries" ringing Pensacola Bay. The Lighthouse Battery played a key role in this battle and was specifically targeted by Union cannon at Fort Pickens.

The Pensacola Lighthouse itself was struck at least six times by Union cannonballs and shells during the engagement, but was sufficiently strong to weather the attack. U.S. forces reoccupied the lighthouse when the Confederates withdrew in 1862 and returned it to serve. It remains in operation today.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ghost of Bellamy Bridge is Fascinating Florida Antebellum Legend


One of my favorite stories of antebellum Florida revolves around the ghost of a young woman that supposedly haunts Bellamy Bridge, an old iron frame structure that spans the Chipola River a few miles north of Marianna.

As the story goes, the ghost is that of Elizabeth Jane Bellamy, the young wife of Dr. Samuel Bellamy who was a prominent resident of early Florida. Dr. Bellamy was a key executive with the Union Bank, which financed the purchase and development of many early Florida plantations, and also was a delegate at the 1838 Constitutional Convention in St. Joseph (today's Port St. Joe) that led to Florida's admission to the Union as a state.

Elizabeth supposedly died on her wedding night when she somehow came into contact with an open fire and her gown burst into flames. Before her husband could save her, she rushed from the house in panic and was severely burned. After lingering for a few days in severe pain, the legend maintains, she died and was buried in a lonely grave near Bellamy Bridge. Over the years that followed, her ghost supposedly began to appear in the river swamps around her grave and the bridge.

It is a fascinating story, even if the facts don't exactly match with the legend. If you would like to read the real facts behind this unique legend of antebellum Florida, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamybridge. Be sure to check out the actual photo of the "ghost" and click the "True Story of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge" link at the bottom of the page to read the results of the historical investigation into the story.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Slave Cabins at Kingsley Plantation


Much has been written about the conditions in which slaves lived in Florida and the South, some of it true, some of it not. For many, a visit to such places as the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island would probably be enlightening.

Kingsley is one of the few places in Florida where visitors can learn about the daily lives of the African slaves who worked on a large plantation. The first thing you see as you enter the plantation grounds, in fact, is the long semi-circular line of slave cabins. Many are in ruins, but a restored example stands by the entrance road.

Historians and anthropologists believe that the semi-circular alignment of the slave houses on the Kingsley Plantation may reflect tradition brought over on the slave ships from Africa, as villages in some parts of the continent featured homes arranged in a large semi-circle.

The cabins themselves were made of tabby, a sort of poured concrete made using shells. This material was commonly used for construction of various types of buildings during the 18th and 19th centuries on the Georgia and Florida coasts.

Each cabin had two rooms, one for sleeping and one for other activities, and there was also a fireplace for cooking and heat.

While the cabins, of course, were nowhere near as fine as the main Kingsley House, they really were not that much different from the average Florida house of the time. In fact, they were quite a bit better constructed than some. Most Floridians of the antebellum era were small farmers or craftsmen who lived in one or two room houses, often with dirt floors. Not many average homes of the antebellum era remain in Florida, but some can still be seen in St. Augustine and Pensacola and at a few other locations around the state.

At Kingsley, there are exhibits and information panels that tell a great deal about all aspects of life on the plantation, including that of the slaves who lived and worked there. Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley ultimately freed 50 of the slaves who lived in the cabins at Kingsley Plantation and took them to Haiti where they formed a free settlement.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/kingsley.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kingsley Plantation - Fort George Island, Florida


Although most visitors speeding south to the beaches and amusement parks do not realize it, Florida is home to some of the most beautifully preserved plantation homes in the South. One of my favorites is the historic Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island between Jacksonville and Fernandina.

Established during the Second Spanish Era (1783-1821), the Kingsley Plantation holds a unique place in Florida history.

The Kingsley Plantation house, built by slaves in 1798, is the oldest surviving plantation home in Florida and has been beautifully preserved and restored. It is now maintained by the National Park Service as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, a national park area encompassing tens of thousands of acres both north and south of the mouth of the St. Johns River.

As is the case with many such homes, visitors to the Kingsley Plantation approach not the front but the back of the house. This was because rivers were actually more important routes of transportation than roads during the antebellum era. Plantation homes were often built facing rivers because that was the way that both people and commerce traveled to and from the farm.

The Kingsley Plantation takes its name from Zephaniah Kingsley, a planter who first arrived in Florida in 1803. The colony was then under Spanish control, but numerous Americans crossed the border and took up farming and other occupations in the coastal region between St. Augustine and the St. Mary's River (the border between Florida and Georgia). Kingsley purchased the home and farm on Fort George Island in 1814.

He set up there with his free black wife, Anna. He had purchased her as a slave in Cuba in 1806, but fell in love with her and legally freed both Anna and their children in 1811. Kingsley's thinking was unique for its time. He believed that blacks and whites were equal, but also believed in the legality of slavery. He felt, however, that free blacks should have the same rights and opportunities as whites. Anna Kingsley, in fact, was as successful in business as her husband and owned both plantations and slaves of her own.

In 1821 Florida was transferred from Spain to the United States and it was not long before the Territorial Council began to enact laws aimed at restricting the activities of both slaves and free blacks. Zephaniah Kingsley railed against such actions, even writing a major treatise on the equality of whites and blacks and the human rights of free blacks.

He and Anna finally became so frustrated with the situation that they freed 50 of their slaves and moved with them to Haiti, where they established a colony in the free black republic.

Kingsley Plantation today provides visitors an outstanding opportunity to learn more about the Kingsley family and to explore the buildings, grounds and even slave cabins of the farm. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/kingsley.

Monday, September 28, 2009

In Memory of Clinton T. Cox, 1925-2009


Clinton T. Cox passed away in his sleep on September 27, 2009.

He was the best friend, the best example, the best adviser and the best father any man ever had or ever will.

He was a member of the "greatest generation" and a veteran of the United States Navy. Although he was a veteran of World War II, Korea and the Cuban Missile Crisis, his greatest battle was against cancer. In the end he was victorious, as we all know that Heaven sings tonight with the voice of a new saint.

May I someday be able to live up to the example that he set.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Battle of Marianna, Florida - Sept. 27, 1864


Brigadier General Alexander Asboth made his final advance on the Northwest Florida city of Marianna during the morning of September 27, 1864. As he approached Hopkins' Branch, a small swampy stream about three miles from town, the first shots of the Battle of Marianna rang out.

Having fallen back ahead of the Union advance all morning, Colonel A.B. Montgomery and his three companies of mounted Confederates probably were hoping to allow time for additional reinforcements to come up. As the Federals approached town, however, they knew that time had run out.

Arraying his men in a line of battle on the east side of the Hopkins' Branch swamp, Montgomery opened fire as the head of Asboth's column approached the opposite bank. The Federals returned fire and eventually swung into a line of battle and charged through the swamp, driving back the outnumbered Confederates. Montgomery began to withdraw to town, but Union participants later recalled that he continued to fight as he went.

As he neared the western edge of Marianna, Asboth sent part of his force around a small logging road that bypassed the town on the north, while he moved forward up the main road with his main column. This flanking movement would spell disaster for the Confederates arrayed to meet him.

Having finally broken off his skirmishing, Montgomery had fallen back to Ely Corner (today's intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets) at what was then the western end of town. There he formed his mounted men into a line of battle and rode forward slightly to observe the Federal approach. Behind this cavalry screen, the men and boys of Captain Jesse Norwood's Marianna Home Guard placed a barricade of wagons and debris across Lafayette Street about half way between today's Russ and Wynn Street intersections. Contrary to legend, they did not man this makeshift wall, but instead built it to delay a charge up the street by the Union cavalry. They then took up hidden positions behind trees, fences, shrubs and in buildings along both sides of the street.

Watching the flanking party move out on the west side of town, Montgomery spurred his horse back to Ely Corner and tried to order a withdrawal. His men balked and as he was trying to explain the danger, the head of the first Union battalion rounded the curve at Ely Corner. The colonel ordered his cavalry to fire and a volley ripped across the open space and stunned the Union troops. The Federal advance disintegrated and retreated in disorder, much to the chagrin of General Asboth who rode among them shouting, "For Shame! For Shame!"

The general then ordered a second battalion to charge and spurred his horse forward, leading them himself. The charge hit the Confederate line of battle before Montgomery and his men could reload their muzzle-loading weapons and the Southern horsemen began a rapid retreat up the street. The Federals followed, but were stalled by the unexpected presence of the home guard barricade. The men and boys of Norwood's command took advantage of the situation to unleash their ambush on Asboth and his men. According to eyewitnesses, every officer and man at the head of the Union column fell from their saddles. Asboth was severely wounded and numbers of his men were left dead or bleeding.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, it was not enough. A portion of the Federal cavalry continued to drive up the street, pushing Montgomery and his retreating cavalry into the center of town where they ran head on into the Union flanking force at Courthouse Square. They tried to fight their way through in hand to hand action, but the colonel was knocked from his horse and captured and other men killed or wounded. Now led by Captain Robert Chisolm of the Alabama State Militia, most of the mounted Southerners made it through to the Chipola River Bridge where they tore up the flooring and held off Union attacks throughout the afternoon.

Back in town, the rest of the Federal column, now led by Colonel L.L. Zulavsky, fought it out with the Marianna Home Guard. The Confederates south of the main street were driven down the hill and across Stage Creek where most were killed, wounded, captured or dispersed. Those on the north side of the street fell back slightly into the yard surrounding St. Luke's Episcopal Church where they held out for about 30 minutes until their ammunition began to run low. Surrounded on all sides, they finally surrendered, although several were wounded after they had dropped their arms to the ground.

A few refused to surrender and continued to fire from inside the church and two nearby homes. Colonel Zulavsky ordered the buildings fired to dislodge them and several men died in the flames. In the end, 10 Confederates and 8 Federals were either killed or mortally wounded, several dozen more were wounded and scores were taken prisoner. Men of both sides - veterans of some of the largest battles of the war - described it as one of the most intense fights for its size they ever saw.

To learn more, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida available for order on the upper right of this page or at www.amazon.com. You can also learn more about the battle at www.battleofmarianna.com.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Battle of Campbellton - Sept. 26, 1864


Having crossed the Choctawhatchee River without opposition on the 25th, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth picked up the pace of his raid and moved through eastern Holmes County via forced march. By mid-morning of September 26, 1864, 145 years ago today, he had crossed Holmes Creek and entered the northwest corner of Jackson County.

The 700 Federal troops from the 2nd Maine Cavalry, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, 82nd U.S. Colored Troops and 86th U.S.C.T. moved into Jackson County about half way between the modern cities of Graceville and Chipley. Neither existed at that time. As the bluecoats appeared among the farms and plantations of the area, the news of their arrival spread like lightning across the area.

When Governor John Milton had issued his orders forming the Florida Home Guard in July, every male citizen of the state over the age of 15 and not already in the military had been required to join local defense units. They were specifically told that at the first sign of any threat, they should assemble at their muster grounds and resist until reinforcements could arrive.

Northwest Jackson County was patrolled by Captain Alexander Godwin's Campbellton Home Guard Cavalry. As the men of this unit learned that Federal troops were advancing into the county, they quickly assembled at their muster ground on the town square in Campbellton, a small town near the Alabama state line northwest of Marianna. They were joined there by a few "walking wounded" Confederate soldiers home on leave. As soon as he had most of his company together, Godwin moved out on the road leading to the Holmes Creek crossing to try to find out what was happening.

Also per his standing orders, the captain sent a courier down the 20 mile road to Marianna to alert Colonel Alexander Montgomery and the officers there that Union troops were on the move. He then pushed up near the head of the advancing Federal column.

Exactly what happened as the Union troops approached Campbellton is not known to this day. General Asboth simply reported that "rebel troops" were constantly hovering around his column and had "frequent skirmishes" with his vanguard. It is known that at least two men under Godwin's command were captured on the afternoon of the 26th in brushes with Federal soldiers. No surviving account by any of Godwin's men, however, has been found.

Local tradition holds that the captain and his citizen soldiers rode out and fought the Federals, despite the enormous odds against them. Since the men of the company were under standing orders from the state to do exactly that if they received reports of a raid into their area, that is probably exactly what they did.

Since Godwin's company was a mounted unit, the men probably fought in the partisan style of their ancestors who had served under men like Marion during the AMerican Revolution, hovering around the head of the advancing Union column, moving up and firing when the opportunity presented itself and then falling back out of danger to reload and wait for another opportunity. This is the type fighting that Asboth seems to have been describing in his brief description of the battle.

The skirmishing did slow the advance of the column, but Godwin did not have enough men to stop it. His movements did provide a great deal of information on the size and strength of the Federal force and he soon knew that Jackson County was in serious trouble.

By nightfall on the 26th, the Federals had reached Campbellton. Exhausted from a long day in the saddle, they camped there for the night before moving on to the county seat and the Battle of Marianna the next morning.

I'll post more on the activities of the 26th later today, so check back tonight to read more. If you would like to learn more about the raid on Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available through www.amazon.com. You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Asboth Steals a March - Sep. 25, 1864


By September 25, 1864, 145 years ago today, the Confederate headquarters in Marianna knew something was up west of the Choctawhatchee River.

Brigadier General Alexander Asboth had moved his Union column deep into Walton County, riding hard for five days without detection. That changed when he attacked a small Confederate cavalry camp at Eucheeanna on the 23rd. Some of the Southern horsemen escaped the onslaught and by the same night reached Marianna with news of the skirmish.

While they were able to tell Colonel Alexander Montgomery in Marianna that they had been attacked by a large force of mounted Federals, they provided him with very little other information. Such raids into Walton County were common and the county did not technically fall under Montgomery's command, although he cooperated with the Confederate post in Pollard, Alabama, to defend Northwest Florida.

The colonel's limited forces were arrayed in such a way that if the Federals tried to force their way across the Choctawhatchee and advance up the main road to Marianna, he would find out about it quickly. The primary road from Eucheeanna led across the river at Douglas' Ferry and then ran northwest to Marianna via Vernon, Holmes Valley and Orange Hill in Washington County. Montgomery had Jeter's Company E, 5th Florida Cavalry, stationed at Orange Hill where the Eucheeanna road connected with the road to Econfina and St. Andrew Bay. Any advance up the main road would run dead on into this unit. Also at Vernon was Captain W.B. Jones' company of home guard scouts. Both companies could be expected to fight and fall back ahead of any Union advance.

By the 25th of September, neither of these companies had reported any activity other than that the Federals had destroyed the flat at Douglas' Ferry and all of the other small boats in the area. This did not indicate any plan to cross the river on their part.

At some point on the 25th, Arthur Lewis reached Marianna from Walton County. Sometimes described as a "boy scout," he was actually an adult private in Company G, 5th Florida Cavalry. He had been sent a few days earlier to call in the detachment from Captain Robert Chisolm's cavalry company camped at Eucheeanna. He arrived in Walton County to find the countryside thick with Union soldiers. He lost his horse but made his way back across the Choctawhatchee by using pieces of wood as floats.

When he reached Marianna on the 25th, he provided essentially the same information as the soldiers from Chisolm's company who had come in two days earlier. There was a Union raid into Walton County, but no indication that the Federals were crossing the Choctawhatchee River.

What Montgomery did not know was that Asboth was expertly guided by James Love, a deserter from Jackson County who was now a member of the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry. Instead of leading the Federal column directly up the main road, Love took it on an out of the way route up to Cerrogordo in Holmes County. As Lewis was confirming the earlier reports of the Walton County raid, Asboth was actually crossing the Choctawhatchee at Cerrogordo in an all day operation. By the night of the 25th, however, his troops were on the east bank of the river.

The area where the Federals crossed was supposedly patrolled by Captain Sam Grantham's Holmes County Home Guards. Likely because of the heavy rain that was falling across the region at the time, however, Grantham was taken by surprise. His men did not know that Asboth was east of the Choctawhatchee and most were at their homes when the raiders pushed east the next morning. A vital source of early warning for the command at Marianna had failed and as a result, things would begin to go very badly for the Confederates of Northwest Florida. The Battle of Marianna was now just two days away.

To learn more about the raid on Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available for order at the upper right of this page or can be found at www.amazon.com. You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Raid at Ponce de Leon Springs - Sept. 24, 1864


On September 24, 1864 (145 years ago today), Union troops led by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth pushed north from the community of Eucheeanna in Walton County and passed Ponce de Leon Springs. The troops were three days away from their confrontation with Southern forces at the Battle of Marianna, Florida.

A Northwest Florida landmark in the southwest corner of Holmes County, the springs were already popular with visitors by the time of the War Between the States. The Brownell family operated a small log hotel there. Said to have been built in the "dogtrot" style then popular with an open central hallway that divided two rooms, the hotel was popular with travelers and those who came to "take the waters" of the springs in hopes that they might hold curative powers to fight various illnesses.

To the Federals heading north up the Geneva Road, however, the hotel was a military target. It was destroyed by the raiders, who also confiscated any livestock and food they could find in the area and destroyed what they could not carry away. The did not tarry long at Ponce de Leon Springs, but continued their movement up the west side of the Choctawhatchee River to Cerrogordo, then the county seat of Holmes County, where they would begin crossing the river on the morning of the 25th.

As they passed through, however, the Union troops experienced the first casualty of the raid. Private Joseph Williams, one of the 79 soldiers from the 82nd and 86th U.S. Colored Troops participating in the expedition, was mortally wounded in an accidental shooting. This was what today would be called a "friendly fire" incident. According to the muster rolls of his regiment, he was left behind in the hands of a local family at Big Sandy Creek, which flows near Ponce de Leon Springs.

The springs today are the focal point of a beautiful Florida State Park located in the town of Ponce de Leon. They are easily accessible from both Interstate 10 and U.S. 90. Especially popular for swimming during the hot summer months, they are quite beautiful year round. Please click here to learn more about the springs and to learn more about the Marianna raid, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Anniversary of the Skirmish at Eucheeanna


Today marks the 145th anniversary of the skirmish at Eucheeanna, Florida.
An important preliminary to the Battle of Marianna, which would take place four days later, the encounter developed on the morning of September 23, 1864, when Union forces led by Brigader General Alexander Asboth turned south from the site of today's Defuniak Springs and struck a Confederate camp at Eucheeanna.

The community was then the county seat of Walton County and, despite its small size, was one of the most important communities in the interior of the Florida panhandle that was still under Southern control. An important road junction, Eucheeanna was the site of the county's courthouse and jail, a few businesses and a scattering of homes.

The community took its name from the Yuchi or Euchee Indians who were found living in Walton County when the first settlers arrived there. Many of the local residents were of proud Scott heritage and they were among the first Floridians to turn out in large numbers as volunteers for the Confederate forces. In later times, Walton County became the first county in Florida to erect a monument in honor of its Southern heroes.

On the morning of September 23, 1864, the community was the site of a small Confederate camp. Detachments from Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry, and Captain Robert Chisolm's mounted company from the Alabama State Militia (the "Woodville Scouts") were camped at Eucheeanna to enforce the conscription or military draft. Several Northwest Florida ranchers, including William Cawthon and Allen Hart, had come in to negotiate the sale of beef with Confederate commissary agents.

Because heavy rain from a tropical system had been falling across the area, the Confederates at Eucheeanna and elsewhere in the region were in their camps trying to stay dry instead of watching for any movement by Federal forces. As a result, General Asboth was able to leave Pensacola Bay on September 18th and lead a mounted force of 700 men into the interior without detection.

At sunrise on the morning of the 23rd, he ordered Lieutenant Colonel Andrew B. Spurling (shown above) to lead the 2nd Maine Cavalry forward against the small Southern force at Eucheeanna. Spurling took the Confederate camps with a sudden mounted charge. The attack, in fact, came so quickly that the Confederates were able to do little to resist it. A few shots were fired in the skirmish, but so far as is known there were no injuries on either side.

Spurling did succeed in taking a handful of prisoners of war, including Lieutenant Francis Gordon of the 15th Confederate Cavalry. At least 11 others, however, escaped by fleeing north on the road to Geneva, Alabama.

Establishing his field headquarters at the home of a local merchant and sent foraging squads out into the surrounding area to confiscate livestock and supplies and to destroy what could not be carried away. Most of the local men, regardless of age or Unionist sympathies, were brought into the village and temporarily confined in its little log jail. At least sixteen African American men freed from slavery on local farms volunteered to join the Union army and were sent down, along with the Confederate prisoners, to the Quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis which was then at Four Mile Landing on Choctawhatchee Bay supporting the raid.

The Federal force remained in Eucheeanna for the entire day of the 23rd and camped there that night. The devestation they caused resulted in Walton County experiencing one of the greatest economic losses between 1860 and 1870 of any county in Florida. This despite the fact that the county's delegates had opposed secession and many of its residents were well-known Unionists when the war erupted. September 23rd changed many attitudes in Eucheeanna and the surrounding area.

To learn more about the skirmish at Eucheeanna and the Battle of Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is now available at http://www.amazon.com/. You can also read more online at http://www.battleofmarianna.com/

Friday, September 11, 2009

Heritage Trees at Camp Milton Historic Preserve


A unique feature of the walking paths at Camp Milton Historic Preserve in Jacksonville is the large number of trees growing there that came from battlefields and other Civil War related sites across the nation.

The trees are all young and many came from the key battlefields in Virginia, Tennessee and Mississippi. There is an oak growing from a tree associated with Stonewall Jackson and many others of interest. All feature information panels that detail the origin of the trees and their significance.

Walking along the paved walkways of the park is a bit like walking through the history of the Civil War. Each planted tree recalls a different event from the war and helps make even a short walk quite memorable.

The Camp Milton Historic Preserve is a very nice example of what is possible when a local preservation effort gains momentum. The site was destined to become a sludge field for the growing Jacksonville metropolitan area, but preservationists were able to spark enough interest that instead it is now Florida's newest Civil War park. Beautifully designed to create a setting that attracts not only those interested in history, but also those interested in the environment and outdoor recreation, the preserve serves a diverse group of visitors.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/campmilton.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Camp Milton Historic Preserve - Jacksonville, Florida


Following the Battle of Olustee in 1864, Confederate forces pursued the retreating Federals back to the outskirts of Jacksonville.

By the time General P.G.T. Beauregard arrived on the scene from South Carolina to take personal command, the Union army had been allowed time to reorganize and take up defensive positions in fortifications around Jacksonville. Disappointed by what he considered a failure of Confederate forces to aggressively follow up on their victory at Olustee, Beauregard designed the most impressive field fortifications ever constructed in Florida to prevent another advance by the Union troops.

Blocking the main road and the railroad leading west from Jacksonville, Beauregard's line was three miles long and consisted of breastworks, stockades, fortified artillery batteries and protective ditches. The batteries were so well-constructed that Union officers later described them as resembling masonry fortifications.

Time and development have obliterated all but a few hundred yards of this extensive line, but what remains has been preserved at the outstanding Camp Milton Historic Preserve in Jacksonville. Located just off Interstate 10 and U.S. 90, the preserve is a fascinating historic park that features a boardwalk leading to the preserved earthworks, interpretive panels, paved trails, a 19th century Florida house, an interpretive barn, a reconstructed Civil War bridge over McGirt's Creek and other points of interest.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/campmilton.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Battle of St. Johns Bluff - Jacksonville, Florida


One of the least known yet most significant battles in Florida took place during the first days of October 1862 at St. Johns Bluff, the key to the city of Jacksonville.

Union troops or the Federal navy had already occupied virtually other key port in the state, leaving only Jacksonville. Confederate engineers had done their best to protect the vital city by constructing batteries and massive earthwork fortifications at St. Johns Bluff on the south side of the St. Johns River and Yellow Bluff on the north side. While the Southern troops never had time to arm the works at Yellow Bluff, the fort at St. Johns Bluff was finished and was bristling with cannon and defenses when the Union fleet appeared off the mouth of the river.

Three Union warships moved up and opened fire on the St. Johns Bluff batteries on October 1, 1862, and the Confederates in the fort responded with determined cannon fire of their own. A spirited artillery exchange continued for some time before the gunboats withdrew. The attack was a test of the Southern defenses and quickly convinced Federal officers that the fort could only be taken by a combined land and sea attack. Troops were landed, but the difficult terrain surrounding the mouth of the St. Johns proved to be an additional natural defense and it took them until October 3rd to get into position to join the attack.

When the Union gunboats moved forward again, however, there was no response from the cannon of the fort. A boat party went ashore and found, to the surprise of the entire Federal force, that St. Johns Bluff had been abandoned. The gateway to Jacksonville was open and the city fell to Union troops just two days later. Confederate General Joseph Finegan called the retreat by the garrison at St. Johns Bluff "a gross military blunder."

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stjohnsbattle.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park - Jacksonville, Florida


As the Union army and navy tightened its grip on Florida's coastline in 1862, considerable Confederate attention was devoted to strengthening the defenses of the port of Jacksonville.

Southern engineers designed forts at key positions on both St. Johns and Yellow Bluffs, twin positions on the north and south sides of the St. Johns River that commanded the channel between Jacksonville and the mouth of the river. The position at St. Johns Bluff was actually finished and armed, but the Yellow Bluff Fort was still being completed when the Union attack on Jacksonville was finally launched in October of 1862.

According to Federal reports, the earthworks of Yellow Bluff Fort were designed to mount seven heavy cannon. Since the position commanded one of the key anchorages in the St. Johns, it would have been difficult for the Union navy to approach. At the time of the attack, however, it was armed only with 8 field guns.

After nearby St. Johns Bluff fell with barely a fight, the Captain Joseph L. Dunham and the Confederates holding Yellow Bluff Fort realized that resistance was futile. They evacuated the battery before the Union navy could attack. The site was occupied by Federal troops off and on for the duration of the war and was the location of an important signal tower.

Yellow Bluff Fort is now a small state park. Although it has been part of Florida's state park system since the 1950s, little has been done to develop the site. There is a monument placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a couple of picnic tables and an interesting collection of corroded old cannon, but the earthworks of the fort are heavily overgrown and there is no real interpretation at the site.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/yellowblufffort.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Col. Spurling's Bizarre West Florida Raid - Conclusion


Pushing on in the path of the main body of Asboth's troops, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Spurling and his small detachment of "undercover Yankees" followed the Vernon road and crossed into Washington County at Orange Hill.

In that vicinity they stopped at the house of an elderly woman who was living alone. Believing them to be Confederate soldiers, she gave them a horse that had somehow escaped detection by the main body as it passed. She also prayed a blessing on them as they rode on.

Not long after, they came up on the rear of the long Union column on its way back to Choctawhatchee Bay from the Battle of Marianna. Their appearance at first created alarm in the ranks as the Federal soldiers had been told Confederate cavalry was on their trail. Spurling, however, approached by "displaying a dirty pair of drawers, by way of a flag of truce." Relieved to see their lost comrades, the men of the Union column gave "three hearty cheers" to celebrate their return.

During his "jaunt through Rebeldom," Spurling had captured a total of 15 men, several wagons and a number of horses and mules. He also rescued a Union soldier who had been left behind by the main body near Campbellton due to illness.

The fate of the prisoners is one of the darkest aspects of the 1864 raid. They do not appear on Union prisoner of war lists and never returned home. The participant in the raid who wrote the account a short time later for his hometown Maine newspaper specifically mentioned that only one captured Southerner, a minister, was taken along with them. The only logical conclusion that can be reached regarding the rest is that they were executed to avoid them from alerting Confederate forces as to the identity and location of the colonel's detachment. Union members of the 2nd Maine Cavalry were silent on Spurling's activities other than to mention he had been detached, as was General Asboth in his official report of the raid.

To learn more about the main Marianna raid and the Battle of Marianna, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Col. Spurling's Bizarre West Florida Raid - Part Four


After enjoying their meal at Captain Grace's home and rescuing their sick comrade, Lt. Col. Andrew Spurling and his detachment of "undercover Yankees" continued their ride through northwestern Jackson County on the afternoon of September 27, 1864.

The main body of Asboth's force was heavily engaged in the Battle of Marianna that afternoon and things began to take a more serious turn for Spurling and his men as well. As they approached Campbellton, they "overtook a train of three army wagons, ladon with salt" that had bypassed the rear of the Union column then attacking Marianna.

Three citizen-soldiers, all militiamen from Dale County, Alabama, were taken prisoner. Their fates appear to have been grim. None of the three ever showed up on Union prisoner of war lists nor did any of them ever return home to their families in Alabama. The only logical assumption, as unsettling as it may be, is that Spurling had them murdered. He and his men knew they would face execution if caught roaming behind Confederate lines wearing Southern uniforms and they obviously knew that taking prisoners along with them would increase the odds that their true identities would be discovered. It appears he decided not to take that chance and killed three men from Dale County who had surrendered to him without resistance.

Turning south on the old Campbellton Road leading to Marianna, the Federal detachment camped somewhere that night and then continued on the next morning, still in disguise, towards Marianna. As they approached the city, they found the "rebels thick, and on the qui vive for the Yankees." Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, the "undercover Yankees" took to the woods but four times still barely escaped capture by larger Confederate patrols then swarming the areas west of the city.

They finally did succeed in passing Marianna and hit the Vernon Road heading southwest into Washington County, following the trail of the main body that had withdrawn from Marianna early that morning. Somewhere in the area of today's Kynesville, a small community southwest of Marianna in Jackson County, they encountered two men, a Confederate soldier and a minister. Despite the fact that he was wearing a Confederate uniform, Spurling dismounted and took aim at the men with his carbine. The Southern soldier immediately surrendered, but the minister dropped to his knees and begged for mercy. Northern accounts indicate that the minister's life was spared, but are ominously silent as to the fate of the Confederate soldier. As was the case with the three Dale County militiamen captured in Campbellton, he never showed up in Union prisoner of war records.

I will continue with the story of Spurling's bizarre little raid in the next post. Until then, you can read more on the Battle of Marianna itself by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Col. Spurling's Bizarre West Florida Raid - Part Three


Leaving the Holmes County home of Bethel Mattox on the morning of September 27, 1864, Lt. Col. Andrew B. Spurling and his detachment of "undercover Yankees" continued to follow in the path of Asboth's main column and crossed Holmes Creek into Jackson County.

The trail was easy to follow. The soldiers of the main body had carved a swath of destruction through Jackson County as they advanced first to Campbellton and then on to Marianna. By noon, the little detachment reached the home of Captain Henry B. Grace, then located on the old road connecting the Marianna ford (near today's Tri-County Airport) with Campbellton. They arrived at about the same time that the men of the main Federal column were launching the primary attack of the Battle of Marianna.

One of the men for whom the town of Graceville was later named, Grace (seen above) was the captain of Company G, 6th Florida Infantry, but was away on the front lines. His wife, daughter and father-in-law, however, were home when Spurling and his men arrived. The undercover Federals were extremely well treated:

Here they fared sumptuously, men and horses, the captain's daughter and father-in-law vying in their attentions to their guests.

The soldier who wrote the account of the Spurling raid for the Bangor Whig and Courier identified the family by the name of "Grashus," but this appears to have resulted from an attempt to write the name "Grace's" as it was pronounced in the thick Southern dialect of the area. He also described how Spurling and his men took great delight in the ruse they were pulling over on their hosts, but their attempt to disguise themselves may not have been as successful as they thought.

An old legend in northwestern Jackson County holds that a group of Union soldiers in Confederate uniform passed through the area while the battle was underway in Marianna. The purpose of these men was a puzzle to the local residents, but because most of the local men were serving with Captain A.R. Godwin's militia company at the Battle of Marianna, no effort was made to oppose their passage.

During the hour or so they spent at the Grace home, the Federals made a surprising discovery:

While here one of our men was taken sick. He was then clothed in blue, a wagon was stolen, and placing him in it our lieutenant (i.e. Spurling) proclaimed him to be a Yankee prisoner, when he was informed that at the next house another sick Yankee might be captured, who had been left behind by our forces. Threatening vengeance on the blue devil when he should catch him, the lieutenant continued his journey, stopping to catch the blue devil aforesaid.

The sick man was so stunned by the appearance of men he recognized that he began to apologize to Spurling, almost disclosing the true identities of the "undercover Yankees." Quieted, he was taken along as the Federals continued their ride.

Thus far Spurling's activities had bordered on the comical, but things were about to take a tragic turn. I'll have more on that in the next post. Until then, if you would like to read more about the Battle of Marianna itself, you can do so by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Col.Spurling's Bizarre North Florida Raid - Part Two


Spurling and his little detachment of "undercover Yankees" arrived in Geneva on September 24, 1864.

The people of the South Alabama city had heard of the Union presence down the Choctawhatchee River in Walton County and were alarmed. The colonel used this natural fear to improve the effectiveness of his disguise by telling the people of the town that he had been sent to scout and observe the movements of Asboth's column. He stationed his men in ambush on the southern outskirts of town to keep up the ruse. It worked like a charm:

The ladies of Geneva were much pleased with Lieut. Clark (i.e. Spurling); his welfare and success were prime objects of solicitude with them, they evidently took kindly to him, and he was solicited by one of these fair beings to bring her some trophy off a dead yank, which he promised to do on his return. He made engagements for hunting with male friends, when he should be at liberty from the more congenial pleasure of hunting the Yankees.

Spurling and his men remained in Geneva until the morning of September 26th, apparently expecting Asboth to come that far north. When the main column failed to appear, they turned back south across the state line in an effort to catch up with their comrades.

Retracing their route to Cerrogordo in Holmes County, they learned that the Union troops had crossed the river there the previous day. Still in disguise, Spurling's men were warned of the size of Asboth's column. Local citizens told them that 1,000 Federal soldiers were just ahead of them.

Expressing their "fearlessness" of "any number of Yankees," the undercover Federals crossed the Choctawhatchee and continued in the path of the main body. At nightfall on the 26th, they reached the home of Bethel Mattox, a farmer who lived in eastern Holmes County. He told Spurling that the Union troops had taken all of his horses and weapons except for one favorite rifle that he had managed to hide. Sergeant Butler of Company D, 2nd Maine, suggested that the weapon had better be produced as it would be needed if the enemy reappeared during the night.

Believing his guests were Confederate soldiers, Mattox did so, swearing that it would "fetch a Yank at a hundred yards at every pop." Spurling and his men took the rifle with them when they left the next morning, but left Mattox unharmed and with his family.

This series of posts will continue. If you would like to read more about the main Marianna raid, be sure to visit www.battleofmarianna.com.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Col. Spurling's Bizarre West Florida Raid - Part One


One of the strangest events to take place in Florida during the War Between the States was a raid carried out in September of 1864 by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew B. Spurling of the 2nd Maine Cavalry.

Spurling left Pensacola Bay with the command of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth on September 18, 1864, and led Asboth's attack on a small Confederate camp at Eucheeanna in Walton County on the morning of the 23rd. General Asboth had hoped to capture all of the Confederates at Eucheeanna to prevent them from spreading word of his advance on Marianna, but to his dismay a party of 11 escaped up the road leading to Ponce de Leon and Cerrogordo in Holmes County and eventually on to Geneva just across the line in South Alabama.

Asboth made a quick decision to try to capture these men and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Spurling to undertake the task.

A fairly bizarre individual, Spurling was a native of Maine and had been a sea captain, California gold miner and bear hunter before the war. According to an account of him written shortly after the war, he often liked to amuse his fellow officers by placing a lit candle on the head of his young African American servant and then shooting out the wick with his revolver. He also liked to impersonate Southern accents and more than once went on scouting expeditions behind Confederate lines wearing a Southern uniform.

When Asboth ordered him to undertake the effort to capture the Confederate horsemen who had escaped from Eucheeanna, Spurling decided to put his imitate a Southern officer to use. Apparently taking the uniform of 2nd Lieutenant Francis Gordon of Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry, who had been captured at Eucheeanna, Spurling disguised himself as a Confederate officer.

He then formed a small detachment of picked men from the 2nd Maine Cavalry and similarly dressed them in Confederate uniforms. According to Neal J. Dow, a member of the unit, the men knew what would happen if they were captured:

It was thoroughly understood that all engaging in it put themselves outside the protection of the ordinary rules of war and subjected themselves to the penalty of death if captured.

According to Dow, each soldier in the detachment was armed with two Remington six-shooters and a fully-loaded Spencer repeating carbine. "It was fully understood," he wrote, "that in the case of discovery there was to be no surrender."

While Asboth and the main body completed their work of destruction around Eucheeanna and then continued their advance to the Battle of Marianna, Spurling and his detachment of fewer than 20 men turned north on the Geneva road through Holmes County. Another participant described their progress in an October 8, 1864, letter to the Bangor, Maine, Whig and Courier:

After a rapid travel of twenty-four hours, they arrived at Geneva, but failed in getting any trace of the escaped ones. The citizens of Geneva welcomed the colonel with open arms and furnished him and his men with everything needful to their comfort, including arms and ammunition. He announced himself as Lieut. Clark, Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry regiment, and stated that he had been stationed at Milton, Fla., but was ordered to scout from that pint by the way of Euchesana (sic.) to Geneva, to ascertain the movements and intentions of the Yankees.

Geneva, then as now, was an important community located at the confluence of the Pea and Choctawhatchee Rivers just north of the Alabama state line.

I will continue with details of Spurling's bizarre little raid in the next post. Until then you can read more about the Marianna raid itself at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New Design Launched for Battle of Marianna site


A major redesign has been launched at the top site exploring the history of the Battle of Marianna, Florida. It can be accessed by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.

One of the most intense Civil War battles in Florida, the fight at Marianna developed on September 27, 1864, when the city was attacked by Union troops under the command of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth. Confederate forces led by Colonel Alexander B. Montgomery resisted, resulting in a fierce battle that was called the "most severe fight of the war" for its size by participants who had taken part in such actions as Shiloh and Chickamauga.

Commanding a force of troops from the 2nd Maine Cavalry, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, 82nd U.S. Colored Infantry and 86th U.S. Colored Infantry, Asboth stormed the town at high noon on September 27th, culminating the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Union soldiers during the entire War Between the States.

After driving back an outnumbered force of mounted men from the 1st Florida Reserves, Campbellton Cavalry, Greenwood Club Cavalry and Chisolm's Alabama Militia, the Union troops rode headlong into an ambush prepared for them by the Marianna Home Guard. Firing from the cover of trees, fences, shrubs and buildings along both sides of the main street, the home guards mowed down "every officer and man" at the head of the Union column. Asboth himself was wounded in two places and the 2nd Maine Cavalry suffered its greatest losses of the war.

The battle deteriorated into two fights, one for control of the vital bridge over the Chipola River, and the second for command of the town itself. Although cornered and surrounded on the grounds of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, the men and boys of the Marianna Home Guard refused to surrender and waged a fierce battle at close range with attacking Union forces. It was not until they ran low on ammunition that they finally agreed to lay down their arms, only to be fired on by outraged Union soldiers.

A possible massacre was prevented when one of the Federal officers pointed a pistol at the head of one of his own men and threatened to shoot any man who dared shoot a prisoner. Captain George Maynard later received a Congressional Medal of Honor in part for his actions at the Battle of Marianna.

The new site features numerous photographs of the battlefield as well as detailed accounts of events leading up to, during and following the battle. There are casualty lists, orders of battle and even a walking tour of the battlefield as it appears today.

To learn more, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Reenactments Planned for Battle of Marianna Anniversary


The anniversary of the Battle of Marianna, a deadly fight that took place in the streets of the Northwest Florida city on September 27, 1864, usually passes quietly, but this year will be different.

The Theophilus West, M.D., Camp 1346 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is joining with the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department, Main Street Marianna, the William Henry Milton Chapter 1039 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Loreta Velazquez Chapter 14 of the Order of the Confederate Rose to plan three days of activities to observe this year
's Marianna Day weekend.

Marianna Day was once observed by cities across Florida but the tradition slowly faded away. Activities observing the anniversary of the Battle of Marianna were once covered as important news by the Miami Herald and other major Florida newspapers, but such events are generally ignored by the media of today.

The major events planned for this year's observance will begin on Friday, September 25th and will consist of two battle reenactments on Saturday, September 26th. The first, planned for 10 a.m. following a parade through downtown Marianna, will take place on the original battle site and will consist of a partial reenactment of the battle itself. The second, scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Citizens Lodge Park on Caverns Road, will be a general reenactment of a battle from the War Between the States.

To learn more, please click here to visit the West Camp's website. You can also learn more about the battle itself by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mullet Key and Robert E. Lee


The potential of Tampa Bay to develop into an outstanding deep water port had been evident from the earliest days of Spanish exploration of Florida.

It is generally believed that Hernando de Soto landed here in 1539 (although some support a second theory that he landed more to the South) and the U.S. Army was quick to establish Fort Brooke on the bay shortly after Florida became an American possession in 1821. The city of Tampa eventually grew up around the fort.

Because of its location and potential for development, the U.S. Government looked carefully at the possibility of locating harbor defenses at the mouth of the bay to protect it from foreign attack. Turning to one of its best known officers and engineers, the U.S. Army sent Bvt. Colonel Robert E. Lee to inspect Tampa Bay in 1849.

Heading a team of three other engineers, Lee spend a number of days surveying the area around the entrance to Tampa Bay with an eye to its defense. He particularly concentrated on two offshore islands, Egmont Key and Mullet Key. The two small islands commanded the entrance to the harbor and at Lee's recommendation, they were reserved by the U.S. Government.

The fortifications recommended by Lee and the other engineers never became a reality, as events overshadowed planning and the nation soon broke apart and brother fought brother in the War Between the States.

In fact, it was not until 1898 that the government seriously recognized the wisdom of Lee's recommendations. The United States declared war on Spain that year and fear spread that the Spanish Navy might attack Tampa and other key harbors along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts.

Tampa was a particular thorn in the side of the Spanish as the port had become a major center for smuggling weapons and other supplies to the revolutionaries in Cuba. It also became a key embarkation point for U.S. troops destined for the invasion of Cuba, among them Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders.

To defend Tampa Bay against Spanish attack, engineers began the construction of major fortifications on Mullet and Egmont Key. The concrete batteries were unfinished when the war ended, but ultimately would protect Tampa Bay for more than two decades. The installation on Mullet Key, Fort De Soto, is now a historic site maintained by Pinellas County and is easily accessible by car from St. Petersburg. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortdesoto1.