Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Battle of Campbellton - Sept. 26, 1864


Having crossed the Choctawhatchee River without opposition on the 25th, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth picked up the pace of his raid and moved through eastern Holmes County via forced march. By mid-morning of September 26, 1864, 145 years ago today, he had crossed Holmes Creek and entered the northwest corner of Jackson County.

The 700 Federal troops from the 2nd Maine Cavalry, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, 82nd U.S. Colored Troops and 86th U.S.C.T. moved into Jackson County about half way between the modern cities of Graceville and Chipley. Neither existed at that time. As the bluecoats appeared among the farms and plantations of the area, the news of their arrival spread like lightning across the area.

When Governor John Milton had issued his orders forming the Florida Home Guard in July, every male citizen of the state over the age of 15 and not already in the military had been required to join local defense units. They were specifically told that at the first sign of any threat, they should assemble at their muster grounds and resist until reinforcements could arrive.

Northwest Jackson County was patrolled by Captain Alexander Godwin's Campbellton Home Guard Cavalry. As the men of this unit learned that Federal troops were advancing into the county, they quickly assembled at their muster ground on the town square in Campbellton, a small town near the Alabama state line northwest of Marianna. They were joined there by a few "walking wounded" Confederate soldiers home on leave. As soon as he had most of his company together, Godwin moved out on the road leading to the Holmes Creek crossing to try to find out what was happening.

Also per his standing orders, the captain sent a courier down the 20 mile road to Marianna to alert Colonel Alexander Montgomery and the officers there that Union troops were on the move. He then pushed up near the head of the advancing Federal column.

Exactly what happened as the Union troops approached Campbellton is not known to this day. General Asboth simply reported that "rebel troops" were constantly hovering around his column and had "frequent skirmishes" with his vanguard. It is known that at least two men under Godwin's command were captured on the afternoon of the 26th in brushes with Federal soldiers. No surviving account by any of Godwin's men, however, has been found.

Local tradition holds that the captain and his citizen soldiers rode out and fought the Federals, despite the enormous odds against them. Since the men of the company were under standing orders from the state to do exactly that if they received reports of a raid into their area, that is probably exactly what they did.

Since Godwin's company was a mounted unit, the men probably fought in the partisan style of their ancestors who had served under men like Marion during the AMerican Revolution, hovering around the head of the advancing Union column, moving up and firing when the opportunity presented itself and then falling back out of danger to reload and wait for another opportunity. This is the type fighting that Asboth seems to have been describing in his brief description of the battle.

The skirmishing did slow the advance of the column, but Godwin did not have enough men to stop it. His movements did provide a great deal of information on the size and strength of the Federal force and he soon knew that Jackson County was in serious trouble.

By nightfall on the 26th, the Federals had reached Campbellton. Exhausted from a long day in the saddle, they camped there for the night before moving on to the county seat and the Battle of Marianna the next morning.

I'll post more on the activities of the 26th later today, so check back tonight to read more. If you would like to learn more about the raid on Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available through www.amazon.com. You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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