Thursday, August 13, 2009

Col. Spurling's Bizarre West Florida Raid - Part One


One of the strangest events to take place in Florida during the War Between the States was a raid carried out in September of 1864 by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew B. Spurling of the 2nd Maine Cavalry.

Spurling left Pensacola Bay with the command of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth on September 18, 1864, and led Asboth's attack on a small Confederate camp at Eucheeanna in Walton County on the morning of the 23rd. General Asboth had hoped to capture all of the Confederates at Eucheeanna to prevent them from spreading word of his advance on Marianna, but to his dismay a party of 11 escaped up the road leading to Ponce de Leon and Cerrogordo in Holmes County and eventually on to Geneva just across the line in South Alabama.

Asboth made a quick decision to try to capture these men and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Spurling to undertake the task.

A fairly bizarre individual, Spurling was a native of Maine and had been a sea captain, California gold miner and bear hunter before the war. According to an account of him written shortly after the war, he often liked to amuse his fellow officers by placing a lit candle on the head of his young African American servant and then shooting out the wick with his revolver. He also liked to impersonate Southern accents and more than once went on scouting expeditions behind Confederate lines wearing a Southern uniform.

When Asboth ordered him to undertake the effort to capture the Confederate horsemen who had escaped from Eucheeanna, Spurling decided to put his imitate a Southern officer to use. Apparently taking the uniform of 2nd Lieutenant Francis Gordon of Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry, who had been captured at Eucheeanna, Spurling disguised himself as a Confederate officer.

He then formed a small detachment of picked men from the 2nd Maine Cavalry and similarly dressed them in Confederate uniforms. According to Neal J. Dow, a member of the unit, the men knew what would happen if they were captured:

It was thoroughly understood that all engaging in it put themselves outside the protection of the ordinary rules of war and subjected themselves to the penalty of death if captured.

According to Dow, each soldier in the detachment was armed with two Remington six-shooters and a fully-loaded Spencer repeating carbine. "It was fully understood," he wrote, "that in the case of discovery there was to be no surrender."

While Asboth and the main body completed their work of destruction around Eucheeanna and then continued their advance to the Battle of Marianna, Spurling and his detachment of fewer than 20 men turned north on the Geneva road through Holmes County. Another participant described their progress in an October 8, 1864, letter to the Bangor, Maine, Whig and Courier:

After a rapid travel of twenty-four hours, they arrived at Geneva, but failed in getting any trace of the escaped ones. The citizens of Geneva welcomed the colonel with open arms and furnished him and his men with everything needful to their comfort, including arms and ammunition. He announced himself as Lieut. Clark, Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry regiment, and stated that he had been stationed at Milton, Fla., but was ordered to scout from that pint by the way of Euchesana (sic.) to Geneva, to ascertain the movements and intentions of the Yankees.

Geneva, then as now, was an important community located at the confluence of the Pea and Choctawhatchee Rivers just north of the Alabama state line.

I will continue with details of Spurling's bizarre little raid in the next post. Until then you can read more about the Marianna raid itself at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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