Thursday, March 5, 2009
The Advance to Newport - March 5, 1865
By the morning of March 5, 1865, the Federal troops were ready to advance. General Newton commanded a force of just under 1,000 soldiers from the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Infantries and the 2nd Florida U.S. cavalry (dismounted). In addition, the U.S. Navy provided the force with 2 boat howitzers and a party of sailors to fire them.
Turning up the narrow road through the marsh, the Federals marched on East River Bridge. Lieutenant Colonel George Washington Scott had come up with a few reinforcements and a single piece of artillery during the night, taking over the command from Major Milton. The Confederates could see the long blue column as it advanced through the marshes.
The skirmish was not handled very well by Col. Scott. One of his artillerymen later wrote that they could have shelled the approaching Federals from long range as they approached over open ground, but that Scott ordered them to remove the shell from their gun and reload it with a short range anti-personnel load. This allowed the advancing Union troops to reach the far edge of the bridge before the cannon was fired.
The Confederates got off only a single shot before Union soldiers came storming across the bridge. The cannon was captured and the Southern troops broke and ran.
The floor of the bridge was replaced and the Federals continued their advance north toward the St. Marks River at Newport with Col. Scott and his men falling back ahead of them. A company of Gadsden County Home Guards had arrived at St. Marks by rail and started a march across the marsh to East River as this fight unfolded. When they saw the Confederate troops retreating, they fell back to the river and turned north to Newport.
Realizing that Scott's men were falling back and probably planned to destroy the bridge at Newport, General Newton ordered Major Weeks to push forward with the dismounted men of the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry and try to seize the span before it was too late.
I'll post on the fighting at Newport later today, so be sure to check back. Until the next post, you can read more on the Natural Bridge expedition at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.