Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Union Soldiers of Florida, Part Three

This is part three of a continuing series on Union soldiers from Florida. To read the previous parts, please scroll down the page or check the archive section.

By the end of 1863, there were large numbers of Unionists and Confederate deserters hiding in the swamps of the Choctawhatchee, Chipola and Apalachicola Rivers in Northwest Florida. Some of these men were organized into what local citizens called "raider gangs." Led by men such as Jim Ward, they emerged from their hiding places to raid and still on both sides of the Florida line. Others, however, did not resort to such illegal activities and merely hid out until they could make their way through the Union lines at Choctawhatchee Bay and Pensacola.

Many, particularly those who crossed into Union lines for ideological reasons, took their families with them and a large refugee camp called "Shanty Town" grew up near Fort Barrancas on Pensacola Bay.

The presence of these men and their families was not particularly threatening to Confederate authorities in Florida until a delegation of them went to visit the newly arrived commander of Union forces in Pensacola, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, during closing months of 1863. Asboth (pictured above) was a former Hungarian freedom fighter who had been brought to the United States aboard an American warship after the Hungarian Revolt collapsed in 1848. A resident of New York prior to the war, he was the surveyor who laid out Central Park in that city. He commanded a division at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, where he was severely wounded.

The general was handicapped by a lack of cavalry and listened with interest to the delegation of refugees. They told of how they were committed to the Union and how their families were suffering as a result of their decision not to fight for the Confederacy. They offered to enlist in the Union army.

Asboth sought and received permission to form the men into a new regiment of Union cavalry. This unit, the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, would play a critical role in operations in Northwest Florida and South Alabama for the next two years.

I will take a closer look at the formation of the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry in the next post.

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