Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Skirmish on the Upper Chipola - 1863
While the story of the Battle of Marianna is pretty well known, few people are aware of a second engagement that took place in Jackson County during the summer of 1863. The fight developed in the swamps of Forks of the Creek between Campbellton and Malone.
This area of swamps and wetlands along the Alabama line is formed by Cowarts and Marshalls Creeks as they flow south into Jackson County to a confluence or “forks” that marks the head of the Chipola River. In 1863 this was an almost impenetrable area that had become the hiding place of a large band of Confederate deserters and Southern Unionists. Made up of men from both Alabama and Florida, the group taunted authorities on both sides of the state line and occasionally ventured forth to raid for food, supplies and valuables.
Pleas for help went up to Governor John Gill Shorter of Alabama from residents living along the Alabama side of the line and, noting that the hiding place of the raiders was reported to be in “the swamps of the Chipola River and its tributaries,” he ordered Captain W.T. Armstrong of the 6th Alabama Cavalry to proceed to the area. Armstrong was ordered to assist 2nd Lieutenant G. Newman of General James Clanton’s staff in arresting the men and was authorized such force from his own company and the mounted militia company of Captain Robert J. Chisolm as he felt necessary to conduct the operation.
Armstrong and Newman launched their campaign in late July of 1863 and penetrated deep into the swamps of the Forks of the Creek area. They succeeded in capturing 6 or 7 of the refugees, but were unable to locate the main body of the raider band. Likely this was because the raiders were busy laying a trap for the Alabama troops.
The Confederate officers detached a small body of men to escort the prisoners back to Alabama for safe-keeping, but instead the soldiers of this detachment walked into an ambush laid for them by the raiders. Fighting broke out and one of the Alabama soldiers was wounded, but the heavily wooded nature of the terrain prevented additional casualties. All of the prisoners, however, were released.
The exact location of the skirmish is not know, but it took place somewhere between the confluence of Cowarts and Marshalls Creeks and the Alabama state line. The danger of additional ambushes prompted Armstrong and Newman to withdraw into Alabama and Governor Shorter soon appealed to General Howell Cobb in Quincy for help in rounding up the raiders. Cobb appealed to his commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard in Charleston, for men as well as for permission to set an example by hanging a few of the raiders. “If authority can be had to hang a few of these traitors,” he wrote, “we will soon hear no more complaints of the kind.”
Cobb also promised to investigate allegations by Governor Shorter that soldiers from Companies C and F, 11th Florida Infantry, were not only communicating with the deserters, but were also providing them with arms and ammunition. The two units were then camped at Campbellton and, in support of Shorter’s allegations, records reveal that 22 men from the companies deserted in July and August of 1863.
The raider band was never rooted out of the swamps and, with several other similar organized groups, continued to harass the residents and authorities in Northwest Florida and South Alabama until the end of the war.