Tuesday, August 18, 2009

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


Leaving the Holmes County home of Bethel Mattox on the morning of September 27, 1864, Lt. Col. Andrew B. Spurling and his detachment of "undercover Yankees" continued to follow in the path of Asboth's main column and crossed Holmes Creek into Jackson County.

The trail was easy to follow. The soldiers of the main body had carved a swath of destruction through Jackson County as they advanced first to Campbellton and then on to Marianna. By noon, the little detachment reached the home of Captain Henry B. Grace, then located on the old road connecting the Marianna ford (near today's Tri-County Airport) with Campbellton. They arrived at about the same time that the men of the main Federal column were launching the primary attack of the Battle of Marianna.

One of the men for whom the town of Graceville was later named, Grace (seen above) was the captain of Company G, 6th Florida Infantry, but was away on the front lines. His wife, daughter and father-in-law, however, were home when Spurling and his men arrived. The undercover Federals were extremely well treated:

Here they fared sumptuously, men and horses, the captain's daughter and father-in-law vying in their attentions to their guests.

The soldier who wrote the account of the Spurling raid for the Bangor Whig and Courier identified the family by the name of "Grashus," but this appears to have resulted from an attempt to write the name "Grace's" as it was pronounced in the thick Southern dialect of the area. He also described how Spurling and his men took great delight in the ruse they were pulling over on their hosts, but their attempt to disguise themselves may not have been as successful as they thought.

An old legend in northwestern Jackson County holds that a group of Union soldiers in Confederate uniform passed through the area while the battle was underway in Marianna. The purpose of these men was a puzzle to the local residents, but because most of the local men were serving with Captain A.R. Godwin's militia company at the Battle of Marianna, no effort was made to oppose their passage.

During the hour or so they spent at the Grace home, the Federals made a surprising discovery:

While here one of our men was taken sick. He was then clothed in blue, a wagon was stolen, and placing him in it our lieutenant (i.e. Spurling) proclaimed him to be a Yankee prisoner, when he was informed that at the next house another sick Yankee might be captured, who had been left behind by our forces. Threatening vengeance on the blue devil when he should catch him, the lieutenant continued his journey, stopping to catch the blue devil aforesaid.

The sick man was so stunned by the appearance of men he recognized that he began to apologize to Spurling, almost disclosing the true identities of the "undercover Yankees." Quieted, he was taken along as the Federals continued their ride.

Thus far Spurling's activities had bordered on the comical, but things were about to take a tragic turn. I'll have more on that in the next post. Until then, if you would like to read more about the Battle of Marianna itself, you can do so by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.

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