Tuesday, March 3, 2009

St. Marks Lighthouse - Union Landing Point

The first Union troops of the Natural Bridge expedition came ashore at the St. Marks Lighthouse, seen here, in stormy weather on the night of March 3, 1865. Commanded by Major Edmund Weeks, they were dismounted members of the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry.

The plan had originally called for the entire Union force to land earlier that day, but a sudden lifting of fog that had shrouded the coast forced the Federal ships to steam across the horizon to avoid detection of the Confederate pickets on shore. By the time they came back that evening, the weather had turned stormy and the pilot was unable to guide the ships over the bar at the mouth of the St. Marks River.

Unwilling to let another day pass, pushing his plans further behind schedule, General John Newton coordinated with naval officers to move a small force ashore to seize the vital East River Bridge as well as the planned landing point at the St. Marks Lighthouse. The bridge was an important link on the road connecting the lighthouse with the inland town of Newport.

A small boat party of sailors rowed up the East River for the bridge, while other boats struggled against the wind and waves to get Major Weeks and his men ashore at the lighthouse. The first party reached the bridge with little problem, scattering but not capturing a party of Confederate pickets camped at the bridge. The larger force under Major Weeks, however, experienced extreme difficulty due to the weather and darkness and it was well after midnight before the men waded ashore into the marsh near the lighthouse.

Although the Federals had no way of knowing it, their plans were already in serious trouble. The pickets scattered from East River Bridge had notified Major William H. Milton of the 5th Florida Cavalry that something was afoot. He had immediately sent a messenger by train to Tallahassee to call for reinforcements and Generals Samuel Jones and William Miller already knew of the threat by the time Weeks got his men ashore at the lighthouse.

I'll post more on the Natural Bridge expedition tomorrow. Until then, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

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