Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Union Soldiers of Florida, Part Four


This is part four of a continuing series on Floridians who served in the Union Army. To read the previous parts, please scroll down or check the Archive section.

The 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry began forming at Pensacola during the final months of 1863. One of the best accounts of the events surrounding the creation of the regiment can be found in a history written for the Milwaukee Journal.

The account was penned by Wade H. Richardson, an Alabama Unionist who fled through the lines to Pensacola. He joined Company A as a private:

Enrollment began the latter part of December, and on the 3d of January, 1864, I enlisted in Company A, whose quota of 100 men was not yet half filled. I was detailed to assist at headquarters in enlisting th emen as they came in. At that time there were several hundred men in hiding in southern Alabama and Florida, and squads of our recruits were passed through the lines to assist these men to our camp...As to the rank and file, they were a motley crew of as dare-devil fellows as can be collected at any seaport town, I guess. Among them were Spaniards, French creoles, half-breed Indians, Germans, a few Poles and a host of crackers and gophers - the western Floridians were derisively called gophers.

The term "gopher" refers to the former use of gopher tortoises as a popular food by rural residents of Northwest Florida. In fact, the region was a major exporter of gopher tortoises. Thousands were shipped from Vernon in Washignton County and so many were eaten and shipped away that they almost were eaten into extinction. They are now a protected species.

By the end of January 1864, General Asboth was able to report that 120 volunteers had enlisted in the new regiment and were then in his camps. Others were reported to be on their way and he moved a force to Point Washington (shown above) on Choctawhatchee Bay to help them make it through the lines.

A detachment of these, along with some men from the 7th Vermont, decided to capture a Confederate company that had moved into position at Cedar Bluff on the Choctawhatchee River. An apparently unauthorized raid was launched up the river on February 8, 1864, and Captain Gabriel Floyd's company from the 4th Florida Infantry was surrounded and captured that night without the firing of a shot.

Two Confederate lieutenants escaped, however, and notified a nearby cavalry company that pursued the raiders and freed the rest of Floyd's men. Eighteen men, including Captain James Galloway of the organizing Union regiment, were captured.

Despite such incidents, Asboth had enough men on hand by March to muster the new unit into the Union service as the 1st Florida Cavalry Regiment of U.S. Volunteers.

I will take a closer look at the history of the regiment in the next post.

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