Friday, March 6, 2009

Battle of Natural Bridge Anniversary - Part One


Union and Confederate forces raced for the Natural Bridge of the St. Marks River through the pre-dawn darkness of March 6, 1865. The Confederates got there first.

Taking position on the high ground overlooking the bridge on the west side of the river, Lt. Col. George Washington Scott put his small force into a line of battle and sent forward skirmishers to take positions on the bridge itself. The site where the battle would be fought was an ideal defensive position. Heavy tree timber grew on the bridge itself, but to approach the Confederate lines, the Federals would have to advance across the narrow bridge and then charge across an old field. This meant they would be in concentrated formation as they advanced from the bridge and then have to cross open ground to reach Scott's men.

The only real concern for the colonel was the fact that he was seriously outnumbered. If the Union column reached the bridge in force before reinforcements came up, he would easily be thrown out of the way.

This fear was eliminated when 8 companies of the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves arrived on the battlefield shortly before dawn. General Samuel Jones had intercepted them at the Oil Still on the Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad and diverted them to the Natural Bridge instead of Newport. Accompanied by companies of home guards from the 1st Florida Reserves and two cannon, they marched through the pine forests to the Natural Bridge in pitch blackness, men often falling asleep as they marched.

The men were quickly formed off into a line of battle along the high ground overlooking the old field and the Natural Bridge and had barely stacked their weapons and fallen on the ground to rest when suddenly shots rang out on the bridge.

The head of the Federal column had arrived and engaged Scott's skirmishers on the bridge. As the Confederate pickets fell back to the Union line, Major Benjamin C. Lincoln led a battalion of Union troops forward in a charge to try to take the bridge and drive off any Confederates on the west bank. He ran headlong into the now formed Confederate battleline.

The Confederates opened on the African American soldiers of Lincoln's command with both musket and artillery fire, driving back three distinct charges. Unable to force his way across, Lincoln ordered his men to fall back into the tree cover of the Natural Bridge and wait for the rest of the column to come up. The Confederates, meanwhile, busily started digging trenches along the high ground in anticipation of a severe fight.

I will post more on the Battle of Natural Bridge, which took place 144 years ago today, as the day goes along. To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

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