Saturday, June 6, 2009

Union Soldiers of Florida, Part Eight

As they left Marianna on the morning of September 28, 1864, the Union soldiers turned southwest down the old Vernon road.

Crossing over Hickory Hill (today's Orange Hill) into Washington County, they struck the plantation of David Porter Everett there, clearing out his livestock and burning his barn to the ground. They ate their noon meal on the grounds of the old Orange Hill Academy.

From there, the column continued down the Vernon road into the drainage valley of Hard Labor Creek. They had no way of knowing it, but they were on the same road as a company of Confederate militia from Vernon that was on its way to Marianna in response to an urgent call for reinforcements received the previous night.

Led by Captain W.B. Jones, a former lieutenant in the 4th Florida Infantry, the Vernon Home Guard had mustered in response to the plea for help. Numbering only 30-50 men, the unit had mounted up on the morning of the 28th and started for Marianna. The had no idea they were moving along the same road as the advancing Union column.

The two forces ran head on into each other at a small bridge over Hard Labor Creek. Members of the Vernon Home Guard later recalled that they had just descended the slope to the bridge when suddenly members of the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry approached from the other side.

The Florida Union cavalrymen ordered the militia members to disperse, but according to tradition they were berated by Stephen Pierce, a member of Jones' company and formerly a soldier in Company H of the 4th Florida Infantry. He had been discharged for disability, but joined Jones' company as the men rode out on the morning of the 28th.

Exactly what happened next is not clear, but the Union troops suddenly unleashed a volley of fire on the men and boys of the Vernon Home Guard. Pierce was killed and another man wounded. Captain Jones ordered his men to retreat, but the Federal troops immediately charged, storming into the ranks of the Vernon men. Legend that Pierce was executed is not confirmed by eyewitness accounts of the skirmish.

A number of the men of the Vernon Home Guard were captured, but others managed to escape in a running fight that continued all the way to Vernon. The soldiers of the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry bore the brunt of the fight for the Union forces. It was the last skirmish of the Marianna raid and no Union soldiers were wounded.

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