Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mullet Key and Robert E. Lee

The potential of Tampa Bay to develop into an outstanding deep water port had been evident from the earliest days of Spanish exploration of Florida.

It is generally believed that Hernando de Soto landed here in 1539 (although some support a second theory that he landed more to the South) and the U.S. Army was quick to establish Fort Brooke on the bay shortly after Florida became an American possession in 1821. The city of Tampa eventually grew up around the fort.

Because of its location and potential for development, the U.S. Government looked carefully at the possibility of locating harbor defenses at the mouth of the bay to protect it from foreign attack. Turning to one of its best known officers and engineers, the U.S. Army sent Bvt. Colonel Robert E. Lee to inspect Tampa Bay in 1849.

Heading a team of three other engineers, Lee spend a number of days surveying the area around the entrance to Tampa Bay with an eye to its defense. He particularly concentrated on two offshore islands, Egmont Key and Mullet Key. The two small islands commanded the entrance to the harbor and at Lee's recommendation, they were reserved by the U.S. Government.

The fortifications recommended by Lee and the other engineers never became a reality, as events overshadowed planning and the nation soon broke apart and brother fought brother in the War Between the States.

In fact, it was not until 1898 that the government seriously recognized the wisdom of Lee's recommendations. The United States declared war on Spain that year and fear spread that the Spanish Navy might attack Tampa and other key harbors along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts.

Tampa was a particular thorn in the side of the Spanish as the port had become a major center for smuggling weapons and other supplies to the revolutionaries in Cuba. It also became a key embarkation point for U.S. troops destined for the invasion of Cuba, among them Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders.

To defend Tampa Bay against Spanish attack, engineers began the construction of major fortifications on Mullet and Egmont Key. The concrete batteries were unfinished when the war ended, but ultimately would protect Tampa Bay for more than two decades. The installation on Mullet Key, Fort De Soto, is now a historic site maintained by Pinellas County and is easily accessible by car from St. Petersburg. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortdesoto1.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Looking for Eyewitness Accounts of Olustee

I am in the process of researching the Battle of Olustee, Florida, and am looking for previously unpublished eyewitness accounts.

I'm particularly interested in finding accounts written by citizens of the area or letters sent home by soldiers of either side. If you have anything like this in your personal collection, I would love to hear from you.

I'm also looking for accounts written by soldiers wounded in the battle and sent to their families during the time they were hospitalized in locations across Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

In addition, I would like to obtain digital copies of photographs of soldiers who fought at Olustee, whether taken during the War Between the States or later in life.

If you have anything like this, please contact me by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com and clicking the "Contact Us" button at the top of the page. I am slowly writing a new history of the battle and would like to include a lot of material of this nature. I will gladly credit you for your assistance. Thanks in advance!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Confederate Veterans honored in Jackson County

The Theophilus West, M.D., Camp 1346 hosted a moving tribute to three Confederate veterans buried at Circle Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in Jackson County on Saturday. The event was attended by over 100 relatives of the men.

Those honored were:

  • William Henry Cox, Greenwood Club Cavalry, a school boy who fought in the Battle of Marianna at the age of fifteen. His father, Joseph B. Cox of the 1st Florida Reserves, fought in the same battle.

  • Sherrod (Sherwood?) Scott, Company A. 11th Florida Infantry. He was 31 when the war began and, like many soldiers of that day, spent a great deal of his time in the military sick and under the care of Confederate surgeons.

  • James Ray, Company C, 51st Georgia Infantry. He was 26 when he enlisted in the Confederate army, was captured at Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1863 and spent the rest of the war in prison at Rock Island.
Military headstones were unveiled for Scott and Cox during the ceremonies. It was the first time Scott's grave had been marked in more than 50 years.

In addition to the ceremonies and headstone unveilings, the West Camp members continued their expanding educational mission by inviting those in attendance to participate in artillery drills and learn more about how field cannon worked during the War Between the States. The firings of the 12-pounder reproduction howitzer culminated the day of activities.
One of the most active SCV camps in Florida, the West Camp has undertaken a massive project to restore and maintain the graves of soldiers across Jackson County. Camp members have donated literally thousands of hours so far and the project is receiving widespread acclaim. The group has also been actively locating and marking the graves of Confederate soldiers and also places flags on graves on key holidays.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Florida Monument at Vicksburg, Mississippi

Located a bit off the beaten path, the Florida Monument is often overlooked by visitors to Mississippi's outstanding Vicksburg National Military Park.

Florida troops did not hold sections of the lines at Vicksburg, but were part of the Army of Relief organized by General Joseph E. Johnston in a futile effort to break the siege of the vital city. The 1st and 3rd Florida Infantry Regiments (consolidated), commanded by Colonel W.S. Dilworth, and the 4th Florida Infantry, commanded by Colonel Edward Badger served in Stovall's Brigade of Breckenridge's Division.

In addition, the following Confederate generals from Florida took part in the Vicksburg Campaign...

Brigadier General Francis L. Shoup commanded a section of the Confederate lines ringing the city. Although he had been born and raised in Indiana, Shoup left his home state for St. Augustine, Florida, when it became apparent that war was approaching. He was commissioned as a lieutenant by the governor but due to his background and intelligence, quickly rose through the ranks. He served with great courage at Shiloh and was recognized for his service there with a promotion to brigadier general in 1862.

Major General W.W. Loring, affectionately called "Old Blizzards" by his men, commanded fortifications on the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg prior to the main siege. With only 3 cannon and 1,500 men, he drove a Union attempt to advance on Vicksburg via the Yazoo. Cut off from the city itself, he joined his men with General Joe Johnston's Army of Relief. He had served three years in the Florida Legislature before the war.

Major General Martin L. Smith, the chief engineer of the Cedar Keys & Fernandina Railroad from 1856 to 1861, was the man who designed most of the massive fortifications that defended Vicksburg. He twice drove back Union forces attacking the city and commanded a division during the final siege.

The Florida Monument at Vicksburg was erected by Florida's United Daughters of the Confederacy at a cost of $5,000. It stands on South Confederate Avenue on property that the National Military Park deeded back to the City of Vicksburg. The best way to find it is to exit from Interstate 20 at Exit 1A and turn north on Washington Street. The first right will be Frontage Road. Take Frontage Road to South Confederate Avenue and turn left. The monument is on the left near the intersection of South Confederate and Mulva Hill Street.

To learn more about the Battle of Vicksburg, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vicksburg1.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Annual Open House of West Gadsden Historical Society set for July 4th

If you are looking for a nice historical event to do in North Florida tomorrow, please consider the West Gadsden Historical Society's Open House in Greensboro (just west of Tallahassee off I-10).

Here is a copy of their press release:

On July 4, the West Gadsden Historical Society will host its 5th Annual Open House at its headquarters, the historic James A. Dezell House, located at the corner of E. 8th Street & Bristol Hwy. (State Rd. 12). Activities will be at 8:00 a.m. and continue until 3:00 p.m. Throughout the day the Society members will have a bake sale as well as hot boiled peanuts and soft drinks. In addition, note cards featuring various local scenes, t-shirts, the Society’s cookbook, as well as local history books by Dale Cox and Kay Davis Lay will be for sale. Dale’s book is The Early History of Gadsden County and Kay’s book, Something Gold, is a compilation of numerous interviews regarding the shade tobacco era in Gadsden County .

Various exhibits will include several local crafts persons who will have their wares on display and for sale. Buddy Pitts will show his collection of photographs from days of long ago in and around Greensboro . Kenneth Edwards will have a display featuring the McLane Family Massacre which took place April 23, 1840 only a few miles southwest of Greensboro . Kenneth, great-great-great grandson of the sole survivor John Kenzie McLane, will be showing historic family documents, photographs, relics, and other items of interest. Many descendants of John K. McLane live in Gadsden and the surrounding counties.

The annual quilt show will feature quilts made by the Peace Makers Quilters of the First Baptist Church in Greensboro . The group has generously donated a beautiful handmade full/queen size quilt which will be given to a lucky person. Tickets are $3.00 each and may be purchased at the following locations: Twin City News and Dr. Melzer’s office in Chattahoochee; Ivy Shop, A Touch of Tiffany, Mane Attraction, Padgett’s Jewelers, Flossie’s Cut & Curl, and Premier Bank in Quincy . The drawing will be held at 8:00 p.m. at the Greensboro Fireworks Celebration. You do not have to be present to win.

Coastal Seafood Restaurant in Panacea will be returning to sell delicious seafood lunches. Come join us on July 4 at our Open House and enjoy some down home time together with your friends and neighbors. Your support will be greatly appreciated.