Friday, September 25, 2009

Asboth Steals a March - Sep. 25, 1864


By September 25, 1864, 145 years ago today, the Confederate headquarters in Marianna knew something was up west of the Choctawhatchee River.

Brigadier General Alexander Asboth had moved his Union column deep into Walton County, riding hard for five days without detection. That changed when he attacked a small Confederate cavalry camp at Eucheeanna on the 23rd. Some of the Southern horsemen escaped the onslaught and by the same night reached Marianna with news of the skirmish.

While they were able to tell Colonel Alexander Montgomery in Marianna that they had been attacked by a large force of mounted Federals, they provided him with very little other information. Such raids into Walton County were common and the county did not technically fall under Montgomery's command, although he cooperated with the Confederate post in Pollard, Alabama, to defend Northwest Florida.

The colonel's limited forces were arrayed in such a way that if the Federals tried to force their way across the Choctawhatchee and advance up the main road to Marianna, he would find out about it quickly. The primary road from Eucheeanna led across the river at Douglas' Ferry and then ran northwest to Marianna via Vernon, Holmes Valley and Orange Hill in Washington County. Montgomery had Jeter's Company E, 5th Florida Cavalry, stationed at Orange Hill where the Eucheeanna road connected with the road to Econfina and St. Andrew Bay. Any advance up the main road would run dead on into this unit. Also at Vernon was Captain W.B. Jones' company of home guard scouts. Both companies could be expected to fight and fall back ahead of any Union advance.

By the 25th of September, neither of these companies had reported any activity other than that the Federals had destroyed the flat at Douglas' Ferry and all of the other small boats in the area. This did not indicate any plan to cross the river on their part.

At some point on the 25th, Arthur Lewis reached Marianna from Walton County. Sometimes described as a "boy scout," he was actually an adult private in Company G, 5th Florida Cavalry. He had been sent a few days earlier to call in the detachment from Captain Robert Chisolm's cavalry company camped at Eucheeanna. He arrived in Walton County to find the countryside thick with Union soldiers. He lost his horse but made his way back across the Choctawhatchee by using pieces of wood as floats.

When he reached Marianna on the 25th, he provided essentially the same information as the soldiers from Chisolm's company who had come in two days earlier. There was a Union raid into Walton County, but no indication that the Federals were crossing the Choctawhatchee River.

What Montgomery did not know was that Asboth was expertly guided by James Love, a deserter from Jackson County who was now a member of the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry. Instead of leading the Federal column directly up the main road, Love took it on an out of the way route up to Cerrogordo in Holmes County. As Lewis was confirming the earlier reports of the Walton County raid, Asboth was actually crossing the Choctawhatchee at Cerrogordo in an all day operation. By the night of the 25th, however, his troops were on the east bank of the river.

The area where the Federals crossed was supposedly patrolled by Captain Sam Grantham's Holmes County Home Guards. Likely because of the heavy rain that was falling across the region at the time, however, Grantham was taken by surprise. His men did not know that Asboth was east of the Choctawhatchee and most were at their homes when the raiders pushed east the next morning. A vital source of early warning for the command at Marianna had failed and as a result, things would begin to go very badly for the Confederates of Northwest Florida. The Battle of Marianna was now just two days away.

To learn more about the raid on Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available for order at the upper right of this page or can be found at www.amazon.com. You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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