Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Skirmishing in the Marshes - March 4, 1865

As the Union sailors at East River Bridge waited for Major Weeks to bring up reinforcements from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry, they failed to detect the approach of a small detachment of Confederates from the 5th Florida Cavalry led by Major William H. Milton.

Moving up through the tree cover on the north side of the river, Milton formed his men in a line along the river bank and then sent forward scouts to unveil the situation. As the Union sailors saw these men in the predawn fog and darkness, they opened fire, but were stunned when Milton's full force responded with a volley that rippled like lightning along the bank of the river.

Marching north on foot along the old road that led from the lighthouse to the bridge, Major Weeks and his men heard the firing. Spreading his men out into the marsh on each side of the road, Weeks rushed them forward to the sound of the firing. Pushing through the thick grass and reeds, they joined the sailors on the south back and engaged Milton's force. The Federals actually outnumbered the Confederates by more than 2 to 1 at this stage of the fight, but the intensity of the fight being put up by Milton convinced Weeks that he was severely outnumbered.

A courier was sent back to check on the status of the landing of the main Union force, but when he reported back that there was no sign of additional troops being landed, Weeks became convinced he could not hold his position and began to fall back across the marsh to the lighthouse. Milton followed, skirmishing with the Federals as they went, and soon was able to observe the Union ships offshore. Realizing that a major landing was about to take place, he pulled his men back to the East River Bridge, tore up the flooring and sent more urgent calls for reinforcements.

The Federal landing went slowly and it was not until late afternoon that Newton finally got his full force ashore at the lighthouse. Even then he still needed supplies, ammunition and cannon to be brought ashore from the ships, so he gave up on advancing that day and only pushed far enough inland to reach some dry ground where his men could camp for the night.

The Confederates observed the entire operation from across the marsh.

I'll continue to look at some of the other incidents of the Natural Bridge expedition in the next post, as we mark the 144th anniversary of the 1865 event. To learn more before the next post, please visit

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