Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Battle of Marianna, Florida - Sept. 27, 1864


Brigadier General Alexander Asboth made his final advance on the Northwest Florida city of Marianna during the morning of September 27, 1864. As he approached Hopkins' Branch, a small swampy stream about three miles from town, the first shots of the Battle of Marianna rang out.

Having fallen back ahead of the Union advance all morning, Colonel A.B. Montgomery and his three companies of mounted Confederates probably were hoping to allow time for additional reinforcements to come up. As the Federals approached town, however, they knew that time had run out.

Arraying his men in a line of battle on the east side of the Hopkins' Branch swamp, Montgomery opened fire as the head of Asboth's column approached the opposite bank. The Federals returned fire and eventually swung into a line of battle and charged through the swamp, driving back the outnumbered Confederates. Montgomery began to withdraw to town, but Union participants later recalled that he continued to fight as he went.

As he neared the western edge of Marianna, Asboth sent part of his force around a small logging road that bypassed the town on the north, while he moved forward up the main road with his main column. This flanking movement would spell disaster for the Confederates arrayed to meet him.

Having finally broken off his skirmishing, Montgomery had fallen back to Ely Corner (today's intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets) at what was then the western end of town. There he formed his mounted men into a line of battle and rode forward slightly to observe the Federal approach. Behind this cavalry screen, the men and boys of Captain Jesse Norwood's Marianna Home Guard placed a barricade of wagons and debris across Lafayette Street about half way between today's Russ and Wynn Street intersections. Contrary to legend, they did not man this makeshift wall, but instead built it to delay a charge up the street by the Union cavalry. They then took up hidden positions behind trees, fences, shrubs and in buildings along both sides of the street.

Watching the flanking party move out on the west side of town, Montgomery spurred his horse back to Ely Corner and tried to order a withdrawal. His men balked and as he was trying to explain the danger, the head of the first Union battalion rounded the curve at Ely Corner. The colonel ordered his cavalry to fire and a volley ripped across the open space and stunned the Union troops. The Federal advance disintegrated and retreated in disorder, much to the chagrin of General Asboth who rode among them shouting, "For Shame! For Shame!"

The general then ordered a second battalion to charge and spurred his horse forward, leading them himself. The charge hit the Confederate line of battle before Montgomery and his men could reload their muzzle-loading weapons and the Southern horsemen began a rapid retreat up the street. The Federals followed, but were stalled by the unexpected presence of the home guard barricade. The men and boys of Norwood's command took advantage of the situation to unleash their ambush on Asboth and his men. According to eyewitnesses, every officer and man at the head of the Union column fell from their saddles. Asboth was severely wounded and numbers of his men were left dead or bleeding.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, it was not enough. A portion of the Federal cavalry continued to drive up the street, pushing Montgomery and his retreating cavalry into the center of town where they ran head on into the Union flanking force at Courthouse Square. They tried to fight their way through in hand to hand action, but the colonel was knocked from his horse and captured and other men killed or wounded. Now led by Captain Robert Chisolm of the Alabama State Militia, most of the mounted Southerners made it through to the Chipola River Bridge where they tore up the flooring and held off Union attacks throughout the afternoon.

Back in town, the rest of the Federal column, now led by Colonel L.L. Zulavsky, fought it out with the Marianna Home Guard. The Confederates south of the main street were driven down the hill and across Stage Creek where most were killed, wounded, captured or dispersed. Those on the north side of the street fell back slightly into the yard surrounding St. Luke's Episcopal Church where they held out for about 30 minutes until their ammunition began to run low. Surrounded on all sides, they finally surrendered, although several were wounded after they had dropped their arms to the ground.

A few refused to surrender and continued to fire from inside the church and two nearby homes. Colonel Zulavsky ordered the buildings fired to dislodge them and several men died in the flames. In the end, 10 Confederates and 8 Federals were either killed or mortally wounded, several dozen more were wounded and scores were taken prisoner. Men of both sides - veterans of some of the largest battles of the war - described it as one of the most intense fights for its size they ever saw.

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


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