Saturday, January 31, 2009

Grave of James Love, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry

This is the grave of James Love at Point Washington, Florida. A private in Company C, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, Love was a key figure in the Battle of Marianna.

Born in Georgia, he grew up on the plantation of Mrs. Susan Ming just east of Marianna. Ming operated a large farm and water-powered mill on Spring Creek (now Merritt's Mill Pond) near Blue Spring. She was neighbor to such prominent Jackson County planters as John Milton, Florida's Confederate governor.

As a youth, in fact, Love was a friend of William Henry Milton, a son of the governor. Milton later became the major of the 5th Florida Cavalry and served at both the Battle of Marianna and Battle of Natural Bridge.

On February 24, 1864, however, Love appeared in Pensacola and volunteered for service in the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, a Union regiment being formed of Southern Unionists and Confederate deserters at Fort Barrancas. According to the 19th century diary and autobiographical manuscript of Dr. Charles Hentz, whose brother Thaddeus was wounded at captured during the Battle of Marianna, James Love served as the guide for General Alexander Asboth during the raid on Marianna.

A battalion of troopers from the 1st Florida U.S., including Love's company, took part in the raid and fought at Marianna. Based on the Union movements prior to and during the battle, the Union general was clearly guided by someone familiar with the little known back roads and trails of Northwest Florida. Although Dr. Hentz was the only known writer to identify Love by name, several other witnesses described Asboth's guide as a "young man born and raised in the community."

Love deserted from the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry in the months after the Battle of Marianna, but rejoined his regiment once again and served with it until it was disbanded during the winter of 1865.

You can learn more about the Battle of Marianna at

The Old Federal Road - Gulf Breeze, Florida

This is a surviving section of Florida's historic Old Federal Road. Built during the 1820s, the road was the first cross-Florida "highway" and linked Pensacola with St. Augustine.

On September 18, 1864, Union troops moved east along this section of the old road on the opening day of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth's raid on Marianna. They followed the Federal Road east from Navy Cove at Gulf Breeze to the Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound in present-day Fort Walton Beach. From there the troops turned inland into Walton and Holmes Counties, finally striking Marianna on September 27, 1864.

Asboth described this part of his route as the "Jackson" trail or road in his official reports, a common mistake based on tradition that it was opened by Andrew Jackson when he marched across Northwest Florida in 1818. In reality, Jackson did not follow this route. The road was actually opened by U.S. troops during the 1820s after its construction was authorized by Congress.

Much of the old Federal Road has disappeared, but this section near Gulf Breeze looks almost the same today as it did when Asboth's force used it during the War Between the States.

This stretch of the road is preserved at the Naval Live Oaks section of Gulf Islands National Seashore. The nation's first managed forest, the Naval Live Oaks was set aside to provide oak timber for the construction of the U.S. Navy in 1823. Now a National Park area, it is accessible from U.S. Highway 98 between Gulf Breeze and Fort Walton Beach.

To learn more about Asboth's 1864 raid and its climactic action at the Battle of Marianna, please visit

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Home Site of General William Miller

This shady spot at Point Washington on Choctawhatchee Bay was the site of the post-war home of Brigadier General William Miller.

A graduate of West Point and veteran of the Mexican-American War, Miller was the original colonel of the 1st Florida Infantry. After serving in Florida in 1861, he led his regiment north to fight at Shiloh and Stones River. Severely wounded in the latter battle, he came back to Florida to recuperate and by 1864 was placed in command of the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves, a new regiment of state troops, with the rank of brigadier general.

In this capacity, Miller served as second-in-command to Major General Samuel Jones during the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865. The Confederate victory was the last significant Southern victory of the War Between the States and preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not taken by Union forces.

After the war, General Miller returned to civilian life and rebuilt his timber enterprises in West Florida. He lived many of his final years at Point Washington, a charming and quiet little community on Choctawhatchee Bay near present-day Seaside and Destin. He is buried in Pensacola.
General Miller's home no longer stands in Point Washington, but the site is marked. To learn more about the victory he helped to achieve at Battle of Natural Bridge, please visit

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Update on Fort Pickens Access

Construction is underway and if all goes well, Fort Pickens near Pensacola should be accessible by car again later this spring.

The road leading down Santa Rosa Island to the historic fort was heavily damaged during Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis in 2004 and 2005 and do to the environmental sensitivity of the island and normal slowness with which the wheels of government move on such things, it has taken more than three years to get the reconstruction of the road underway.

Work began in the fall, however, and the latest update is that road access to the fort should be available again by spring.

Several water taxis currently operate to carry people across the bay to the fort from Pensacola.

To read more about Fort Pickens, please visit but watch over coming days for newly updated pages on the Civil War forts around Pensacola Bay. I'll post here to let you know as they come online.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Fascinating Incident off St. Marks in 1862

Despite is shallow water and narrow channel, St. Marks remained an active port for blockade runners throughout the War Between the States.

The activities of the blockade runners led to numerous confrontations with the U.S. Navy over the four years of the war. One of the most interesting episodes, however, took place on July 5, 1862, when the U.S.S. Mohawk captured the blockade runner George B. Sloat off St. Marks in Apalachee Bay (shown here).

The following is from the Philadelphia Inquirer of October 31, 1862:

On the 5th of July, off St. Marks, Florida, the Mohawk captured the sloop George B. Sloat, for attempting to run the blockade. There were as passengers on board the lady, three children, and two servants of Adjutant-General Holland of Florida. Mrs. Holland claimed the secession flag to be private property, and secured it on her person. As the Captain could not secure it without using violence to a lady, who was in a delicate situation, he had to let it go.

The eventual fate of the flag is not known.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Nice Exhibit at Old Capitol in Tallahassee

If you are in the Tallahassee area or plan to be visiting the capital city any time soon, you might enjoy checking out a nice exhibit on the lower or "basement" level of the Old Capitol.
The exhibit features artwork and photographs of Florida's historic coastal fortifications, many of which figured prominently in the Civil War.
Interestingly, Confederate troops were temporarily housed in the same room during the war. The Old Capitol (then without its famous dome) was an important headquarters during the War Between the States. Confederate troops often camped on the grounds or during bad weather were housed inside the building. Confederate Generals Samuel Jones and William Miller also maintained their headquarters here, as did Florida's Confederate governor, John Milton.
To learn more about the building, which was actually built by the Federal government before Florida became a state, please visit

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Fort at the St. Marks Lighthouse

During the early days of the war, Southern troops built a rectangular fort or battery at the St. Marks Lighthouse.

Named Fort Williams, it was built to defend the entrance to the St. Marks River against naval attack. A battery of artillery was put in place at the fort and scouts used the adjacent lighthouse as a watch tower to observe Union activity in the Gulf off the mouth of the river.

The fort was already completed by the time the U.S.S. Mohawk arrived off St. Marks in June of 1861 to enforce the blockade of the port as ordered by President Abraham Lincoln. The following account appeared in the Tallahassee Floridian on June 29, 1861. It is unique because it describes not only the arrival of the first blockade vessel at St. Marks, but also the response of the Confederate troops at Fort Williams:

On Sunday afternoon last the U.S. steamer Mohawk, Lieut. Strong commanding, arrived below St. Marks, and anchored within the bar - but early on Monday morning it was discovered that she had dropped some distance further down, and had anchored about six miles below Fort Williams. She probably drew too much water for the place where she at first anchored.

News having reached Tallahassee of her arrival, Capt. Gamble's company of volunteers proceeded to the Fort. Before their arrival, however, a boat from the steamer, with a flag of truce, approached the shore, and communicated with Capt. Maxwell, in command of the Fort, and informed him of the object of her mission, which is to enforce a strict blockade of the port.

The Mohawk is a steamer of 464 tons, carries six guns, with a crew of 110 men.

In his intercourse with those on shore, the officer is said to have been courteous and gentlemanly.

Orders have been issued forbidding all intercourse between the citizens and the steamer, except through the proper channel.

The fort at the lighthouse was occupied by Confederate troops until the summer of 1862, when it was abandoned in favor of a new fortification built into the ruins of the old Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache. It was then burned by sailors from the blockade vessels Tahoma and Somerset.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the St. Marks Lighthouse, please visit

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Did Women Fight at the Battle of Marianna?

One of the more interesting legends involving War Between the States activity in Florida is that at least a few women of Marianna joined the fighting when Union troops attacked that town on September 27, 1864.

A report that appeared in a Northern newspaper shortly after the battle indicated that every "man, woman and child" in the town was armed, but there has been little else to prove or disprove the claim.

I've now found an original source from the Confederate side that makes the same claim. It appeared in the Mobile, Alabama, Register and Advertiser on October 9, 1864, and provides some basic information on the Battle of Marianna, including the following note:

At Mariana the people fought him bravely, even the women taking a hand and firing at him from the windows of the house and a church.

The church was St. Luke's Episcopal Church, which was burned during the fighting. Two adjacent homes - the residence of Dr. R.A. Sanders and the boarding house of Mrs. Caroline Hunter - were also burned by Federal troops because shots were being fired at them from the windows.

I find it interesting that I've now been able to find two accounts, one Northern and one Southern, that describe women taking part in the fighting at Marianna. It is definitely a topic that warrants additional research.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit my website on the battle at or consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Lost" Cemetery Rediscovered in Jackson County

Members of the Dr. Theophilus West Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) in Jackson County have been engaged in a really noteworthy effort to locate and clean up cemeteries in the county that contain the graves of Confederate veterans.

Today they rediscovered the historic Long Cemetery off Kelson Avenue in Marianna. This cemetery wasn't really "lost," but it was overgrown and long forgotten. It also contains the graves of a number of Confederate veterans and one member of Florida's 1838 Constitution Convention.

The camp hopes to begin work soon to clean up the historic cemetery, which is located in a heavily wooded area and open a trail down the ridge to it so it can be visited again.

Here is a list of the marked graves there:

Richard H. Long - Col. CSA. - (In memory of Richard H. Long b. 1 Oct 1791 d. 8 Dec 1865) (Note: Col. Long was a delegate to the 1838 Constitutional Convention in St. Joseph, a county judge of Jackson County and a speaker of the Florida House of Representatives during the antebellum era.)

Ann G. Long - wife of Richard H. Long. b. 22 Jul 1795 d. 9 Apr 1846
Meta L. McPherson - consort of William McPherson.Meta....L consort - To the Daughter ...... (illegible & broken)

William McPherson - Capt. CSA. d. 25 Jan 1867 near Marianna, FL age 23 years (The Lord....) (Note: William McPherson was the adjutant of the Confederate Post at Marianna in 1864 and was wounded at the Battle of Marianna).
Edmund B. Cobb - Sacred to the memory of - who died 25 Jan 1835 Age?
William F. H. Long - son of Richard H. and Ann G. Long. b. 11 Dec 1825 d. 15 Nov 1858 (Sacred to the memory of )
Henry Long - b. Wilkes Co GA 10 Dec 1815 d. Jackson Co FL ?9 Aug 1869(Sacred to the memory of )
Dr. Nicholas A. Long - CSA, Capt. Indian Wars (Note: Dr. Long fought at the Battle of Marianna).

A special thanks to Ashley Pollette of the West Camp, SCV, for the photo and information on the grave identities.

New Blog on Florida History

If, like me, you enjoy learning more about all eras of Florida history, you might find my newest blog to be of interest.

Located at, it will feature information on a broad variety of historic sites and events of interest to those who share an interest in our state's fascinating history.

I started posting earlier this week and the blog is starting to grow, so drop by and take a look!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fort Gadsden Historic Site - Sumatra, Florida

Fort Gadsden, located on the Apalachicola River just south of the modern communityof Sumatra, is better known for its role in the First Seminole War than as a Confederate outpost.

Built in 1818 by the army of Andrew Jackson, the old fort occupies the site of the British Post on the Apalachicola (called "Negro Fort" by U.S. authorities). The original fort was destroyed by a cannon shot from an American gunboat on July 27, 1816. The "hot shot" cannonball struck the gunpowder magazine killing 270 of the 320 men, women and children at the fort in one of the deadliest single shots in American history.

Jackson later picked the site on the lower Apalachicola River for a supply depot. It was from here that he launched his two major campaigns against the Seminoles in Spanish Florida.

Abandoned following the cession of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821, the fort served a minor role during the Second Seminole War but had been long abandoned when the Civil War erupted in 1861. Initially ignored by Confederate military planners, the fort was reoccupied in 1862 after the evacuation of the coastal defenses in the city of Apalachicola.

Infantry, artillery and eventually only a few pickets were stationed in the old earthwork through 1865 and the fort twice came under minor attack by the Union navy.

To learn more about the remarkable history of the site, please visit my new Fort Gadsden Historic Site pages at

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Civil War Ghost Town on the Suwannee River

One of North Florida's most significant antebellum communities was the town of Columbus on the Suwannee River. Home at one time to more than 500 people (a fairly large community for Florida in that era), the town was an important commercial center and riverboat port on the upper Suwannee.

From a community of 500 with sawmills and other industries, however, the community slowly faded away and is now a true Florida Ghost Town. Not a single building remains.

The old Columbus Cemetery, along with most of the main town site, is now preserved at Suwannee River State Park near Live Oak. The cemetery includes graves from the Civil War era and is located deep in the pine forest down one of the park's picturesque hiking trails.

Confederate troops were based at Columbus for much of the war and it was here that they constructed earthwork forts to guard the Suwannee River railroad bridge. Their presence also protected the community from raids by Union naval forces in the Gulf and organized units of Southern Unionists and Confederate deserters that operated along the Suwannee River during the second half of the war.

To learn more about Suwannee River State Park, please visit my new park pages at

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Fort at the Suwannee River Bridge

With the coming anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, I thought it might be interesting to mention a surviving site connected to that campaign that is largely unknown. The Fort at the Suwannee River Bridge.

When he unveiled his plan for the Olustee campaign, Union General Truman A. Seymour noted that one of his primary objectives was to push rapidly west and seize control of the railroad bridge over the Suwannee River.

This bridge was a critical strategic goal as it provided the only link between East Florida and West Florida and was by far the quickest route by which Confederate reinforcements could reach the eastern part of the state. Located just northwest of present-day Live Oak, the bridge crossed the Suwannee River at what was then the town of Columbus.

Now a complete ghost town, Columbus was at one time a community of around 500 people. All that remains today are a few artifacts and an old cemetery at Suwannee River State Park.

In anticipation of a Federal move to capture the bridge - although they expected such an expedition would likely come up the river from the Gulf - Confederate forces constructed to substantial earthwork forts on the east bank of the Suwannee. One stood on each side of the railroad approach to the bridge.

One of these forts survives in remarkably good condition and is now preserved as part of Suwannee River State Park. For a closer look at the fort and its role in the Olustee campaign, please visit

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Florida's Historic Old Capitol

One of Florida's most significant yet often overlooked Civil War landmarks can be found in the heart of Tallahassee.

The state's Old Capitol, which stands on the hilltop at the west end of Apalachee Parkway in the city, is rich in Civil War history. It was here that secession was announced to the people of Florida and that for the next four years Governor John Milton and the state legislature did their best to manage the state through the difficult years of the war.

In addition, the Old Capitol served as a military headquarters. It was here that Major General Samuel Jones and Brigadier General William Miller based their operations during the final months of the war.

The two generals formed their plans for the Natural Bridge campaign here during the early days of March 1865. They convened staff meetings in the building after learning that Union troops were coming ashore to the south at the St. Marks Lighthouse and alarm guns on the grounds were fired to alert the local home guard or militia companies to turn out.

The Battle of Natural Bridge, fought south of Tallahassee on March 6, 1865, preserved the city's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not conquered by Union troops during the actual combat phases of the war. As a consequence, the Old Capitol was also the only unconquered Confederate capitol building east of the Mississippi.

To learn more about the beautiful and historic old building, please the new Old Capitol pages at

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tallahassee's Old Fort

Not far from the Capitol Complex in Tallahassee can be found a remnant of the city's little known Confederate defenses.

A rectangular earthen redoubt in Old Fort Park is virtually all that remains of the fortifications constructed during the winter of 1864-1865 to defend Florida's capital. The fort was originally one of a series of such works and was positioned so that artillery placed here could sweep the approaches to the capitol building. The area is now the scene of heavy residential, governmental and commercial development, but in 1865 it was open ground sweeping up to the edge of town.

Brigadier General William Miller, then commanding reserve forces in the state, authorized the construction of Tallahassee's defenses following the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864. Union troops from Pensacola had penetrated deeply into Northwest Florida and attacked Marianna almost without prior detection. Miller and other authorities in Tallahassee realized that such a raid could easily target the capital of Florida and there was little they could do to stop it.

To better defend against such a possibility, the Confederates launched an ambitious effort to fortify Tallahassee and strengthen the coastal defenses to the South at Newport and St. Marks. A series of redoubts and battery positions were built on hilltops ringing the perimeter of the city, with particular emphasis on its southern approaches. Rifle pits and trenches were then dug to connect these defenses.

The earthwork fort that survives in Old Fort Park was originally known as Fort Houstoun (correct spelling) because it was located on a hilltop on the Houstoun plantation. The area is now a quiet residential community.

To learn more, please visit the new Old Fort Park page I've added to my website at

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Olustee Battle Festival and Reenactment is One Month Away

Florida's most outstanding Civil War event is just one month away. The annual Olustee Battle Festival and Reenactment is scheduled for February 13-15 in Lake City and at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park.

If you have never attended this reenactment and festival, it is outstanding. There are plenty of hotel accommodations in the area (Lake City, Alachua, Gainesville, Live Oak, etc.) and the location is an easy drive from Jacksonville.

The festival gets under way on February 13th and 14th in downtown Lake City with the large scale reenactment set for the battlefield on Sunday the 15th. For more information, schedules, etc., please click here.

The Battle of Olustee or Ocean Pond, fought on February 20, 1864, was the largest Florida battle of the Civil War. 5,500 Federals and 5,000 Confederates clashed in the open pine woods without the benefit of fortifications or trenches. It was a huge "stand up" fight with the armies in clear view of each other.

The nature of the fighting resulted in an extremely bloody battle. The Confederates were able to continually overlap the Union lines by moving men into position faster than their enemy. By the time the smoke cleared, the Federals had lost over 200 killed, 1,152 wounded and 506 missing (mostly captured). The Confederate army lost 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing. Many of the wounded of both sides died in the weeks after the battle.

To learn more about the Battle of Olustee, please visit our Olustee pages at

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Possum Monument - Wausau, Florida

Ok, this unique memorial is not really Civil War related, but it is one of my favorite purely Southern points of interest in Florida. This is Wausau, Florida's famed Possum Monument.

Unveiled in 1982, the Northwest Florida monument pays tribute to the lowly possum, mostly thought of today as road kill. In an earlier time, however, the possum (or opossum as they call it in the North) was an important food. The years after the War Between the States and up through the great depression were hard times in much of the South.

Washington County, for example, was one of the four counties targeted by Asboth's Raid on Marianna during September of 1864. Union troops passed through the county on September 28th and 29th of that year, inflicting heavy damage on the local farms and infrastructure. According to census data, Washington, Jackson, Holmes and Washington Counties suffered more economic damage during the war than any other counties in Florida.

Massive disruption of farming and food supplies in the region sent people into the woods looking for food and the possum was plentiful. It became a favorite dish, usually served with sweet potatoes, in the hard times of the next eight decades.

In memory of the role the little marsupial played in helping many families survive difficult years, the people of Wausau erected the Possum Monument and host an annual Possum Festival and Fun Day. It stands by U.S. Highway 77 in downtown Wausau. The town is located in Northwest Florida between Interstate 10 at Chipley and Panama City.

Most people do not realize it, but the first Saturday in August is officially Possum Day in the State of Florida, by declaration of the Florida Legislature.

If you would like see more photos and read more about the Possum Monument, please visit

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More on the Seizure of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee

Here is another excerpt on the January 6, 1861, capture of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee from my recent book, The Early History of Gadsden County:

- Excerpt -
There has long been confusion by historians over the identity of the officer ordered by Governor Perry to seize the arsenal. Published versions of official U.S. reports identify him as “Colonel Dunn,” while several 20th century writers gave his name as either “Dunn” or “Duryea.” It is easy to understand how the name “Gunn” might have been transcribed as “Gunn” during typesetting, but the source of the name “Duryea” is a mystery.

Since there was neither a “Colonel Dunn” nor a “Colonel Duryea” in Florida at that time, efforts to track down the commander of the operation have proved frustrating. A careful examination of sources from the time, however, leaves no doubt that the officer in question was Colonel William J. Gunn, a Quincy resident and the commander of the 7th Regiment. Dr. Charles Hentz, a Quincy physician, confirmed this in his diary when he wrote:

On Saturday night, Jan. 5 – Col. W.J. Gunn returned from Tallahassee with sealed orders, which when opened were found to contain commands from Gov. Perry to seize the Arsenal at Chattahoochee. Whereupon the drum was beat soon after supper, & the Young Guard with Gunn, Lieut. Col. Porter Scott Col. Stockton, Gillis (advocate), Robt. Booth (Surgeon), went off, in hacks, carriages &c, & took possession of the Arsenal for the State of Florida.

A well known Gadsden County military unit, the “Young Guards” eventually became Company G of the 1st Florida Infantry. The sight of their distinctly non-military departure from Quincy in carriages and hacks on the night of January 5, 1861, must have been fascinating.

The men reached Chattahoochee on the morning of the 6th and at 7 a.m. approached the gates of the arsenal. The post was then held by only Ordnance Sergeant Edwin Powell and three soldiers and Gunn and his men were able to march through the gates without firing a shot. Unsure of what to do, Sergeant Powell refused to turn over the keys to the magazines and armory and requested permission to telegraph superiors. Gunn agreed and the sergeant soon dispatched a brief message to Captain Maynadier in Washington from the Chattahoochee telegraph office:

The arsenal has been taken possession of by the State this morning, 7 o’clock. My forces too weak to defend it. I have refused keys of magazine and armory. Answer, with instructions.

Dunn did not try to force the issue, but gave Powell time to wait for a reply from Washington. No reply came. Powell then tried to mail a letter to Washington requesting instructions and enclosing a copy of the governor’s orders to seize the facility, but was told that the mail would not be delivered. Colonel Gunn then telegraphed Tallahassee for further instructions and was ordered by Governor Perry to compel the delivery of the armory and magazine keys. When told of these orders by Gunn, Powell delivered a moving address to the militiamen that had assembled in the arsenal compound:

Officers and soldiers: Five minutes ago I was the commander of this arsenal, but in consequence of the weakness of my command, I am obliged to surrender – an act which I have hitherto never had to do in my whole military career. If I had a force equal to or even half the strength of your own, you would never have entered that gate until you walked over my dead body. You see that I have but three men. These are laborers, and cannot contend against you. I now consider myself a prisoner of war. Take my sword.

Powell handed his sword to Captain Jones of the Young Guards, but in the chivalrous spirit of those pre-war days, Jones returned it to him with a flourish. “Dear sir,” he is said to have remarked, “take your sword; you are too brave a man to disarm.” The assembled militiamen then gave “three cheers for the gallant Powell.”

Contrary to his apparent expectation, Powell and his three men were allowed to leave Chattahoochee. They went first to Quincy, where he dispatched another telegraph to Captain Maynadier explaining his situation:

I beg leave to state that I telegraphed this morning from Chattahoochee, and finding that I could get no answer, I came to this place and thought probably I might get an answer from you by writing from here. I informed you that the Florida troops had taken possession of the arsenal, and my force being so weak I was unable to offer any resistance. I mailed a copy of the governor’s order, &c., this morning at Chattahoochee, but finding that it would not be forwarded on account of the excitement – they have taken all the public property in spite of all I could do – I refused giving up the keys, but the governor telegraphed to the commanding officer to insist on the delivery of the same, and I was compelled to give them up. I would be pleased to receive advice as to what disposition I shall make of myself and men.

Powell and his men continued on to St. Augustine, arriving just in time for the military facilities there to be seized by state troops as well.
Information on the seizure riveted the readers of Southern newspapers and as the news spread, so did exaggerated claims of the amount of material seized. The Savannah and Macon newspapers soon reported, for example, that the arsenal had contained “500,000 rounds of musket cartridges, 300,000 rifle cartridges, and 50,000 lbs. of gunpowder.” This was a significant exaggeration of the actual amount, reported by Captain Maynadier as 173,476 musket cartridges and around 5,000 pounds of gunpowder. Never the less, the larger figure has been inaccurately used by many modern historians.
The Federal government made no immediate reaction to the seizure of the arsenal, largely because it was followed by similar acts in Pensacola, St. Augustine and Fernandina. Militia troops and volunteers flooded to Chattahoochee in the event of an effort to reclaim the facility by U.S. troops, but no attack came and the soldiers were soon sent home.
Florida seceded from the Union on January 10, 1861, four days after the taking of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee.
- End of Excerpt -

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Anniversary of the Seizure of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee

Today marks the 148th anniversary of the 1861 seizure by state troops of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee, Florida. It was the first significant incident of the Civil War in Florida.

The seizure of the arsenal was one of the Civil War incidents I covered in depth in my recent book, The Early History of Gadsden County. Over the next few days I will post the arsenal seizure story from Chapter 18 of the book here at Civil War Florida.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the entire book, it can be ordered by clicking here.

-Excerpt One -

Capture of the U.S. Arsenal

The surrender of Pascofa in 1843 brought peace to Gadsden County, but as had so often been the case in the early history of the area, it was not to last. Less than two decades passed before the people of the county once again found themselves facing the prospect of war. The enemy this time was not war parties of Creeks and Seminoles, but rather the military might of the United States of America.

Decades of bitter dispute between North and South had produced explosive tension that by 1860 needed only a spark to ignite. The spark proved to be the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States. Although Lincoln expressed no desire to interfere with domestic institutions (such as slavery), the bitter political dispute had gone too far. South Carolina seceded from the Union and other states – including Florida – planned conventions to follow suit.
The political move to secession was accompanied by military preparations, in the anticipation that the Northern states might fight to hold the Southern states in the Union. In late 1859, the Florida Legislature approved a reorganization of the state’s militia. The new law placed the militia west of the Suwannee River, including Gadsden County’s units, in the First Division. Each division was divided into brigades, with Gadsden County’s companies becoming part of the Second Brigade, and each brigade was then filled by regiments assembled by state senate district.
On March 7, 1860, Governor Madison S. Perry called for a statewide election to fill the officer corps of the newly organized militia. The governor’s proclamation required the men of Gadsden County to vote for a major general of the First Division, brigadier general of the Second Brigade and a colonel, lieutenant colonel and major for the 7th Regiment, which was to be raised in Gadsden and Liberty Counties. Each company was also instructed to elect a captain, 1st lieutenant and 2nd lieutenant.
William Gunn of Quincy was elected as colonel of the 7th Regiment. Although he and his men could not have known it at the time, the Gadsden County unit would take the first action of the War Between the States in Florida.
As it became obvious that Florida would secede from the Union, the state’s senators and congressman in Washington began an obvious effort to learn as much as they could about the armament and supplies on hand at Federal military posts in the state. On January 2, 1861, Senators David L. Yulee and Stephen R. Mallory wrote to the Secretary of War from the Senate Chamber in the U.S. Capitol, requesting that they be provided with the number of troops and “amount of arms, heavy and small, and ammunition, fixed and loose, and the various forts and arsenals at that state.”
There was then only one arsenal in Florida, the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee. Acting Secretary of War J. Holt went so far as to request that the Ordnance Office provide him with the information requested by Florida’s senators, although he apparently had no intention of giving it to them. The information was provided on January 3rd by Captain William Maynadier:
…There is only one arsenal in the State of Florida, and that is one of deposit only. It is called Apalachicola Arsenal, and is situated near the town of Chattahoochee, at the junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers. The arms, ammunition, &c., now at that post, are one 6-pounder iron gun and carriage, with 326 shot and canisters for the same, 57 flintlock muskets, 5,122 pounds of powder, 173,476 cartridges for small-arms, and a small quantity of different kinds of accouterments.

Yulee and Mallory tried again to obtain the information on January 7th, but the Secretary of War informed them on the 8th that the “interests of the service forbid that the information which you ask should at this moment be made public.”
Although the senators did not know it, the matter was no longer an issue by the time of their second request. Anticipating that the U.S. government might try to reinforce or remove the arms and ammunition, Governor Madison S. Perry took the first action of the war in Florida by ordering Colonel Gunn and the 7th Regiment from Gadsden County to seize the arsenal:

Sir: Reposing special confidence in your patriotism, discretion, and integrity, I hereby authorize and empower you to raise a company of picked men and proceed to the Apalachicola River and seize and possess the arsenal, arms, ammunition, stores, buildings, and other property now in the possession of the General Government, and retain the same subject to my orders. You are requested to act with secrecy and discretion. You are further authorized to call out the Seventh Regiment Florida Militia for all aid in its power to render that you may deem necessary to retain occupation of said arsenal.

- End of Excerpt -

I will post more from this chapter in the next post.

Monday, January 5, 2009

U.S.S. Isonomia - Blockader of the Florida Coast

This is a wartime photograph from the U.S. Navy collection of the U.S.S. Isonomia, one of the vessels assigned to the blockade of the Florida Coast.
Built in 1864 in New York as a civilian vessel, the ship was purchased by the U.S. Navy upon her completion. A 593-ton sidewheel vessel, the was armed with heavy artillery and commissioned as a Union warship in August of 1864. After operating for a brief time off the coast of North Carolina, she was attached to the command of Admiral C.K. Stribling in Key West.

By January of 1865, the Isonomia had steamed up the Gulf and was assigned to the blockade of the section of coast between St. Marks and Cedar Key.

In March of 1865, she was part of the large Union flotilla that assembled off the mouth of St. Marks River during the Natural Bridge Campaign. She did not fire a shot during the fighting, but many of her sailors comprised part of a landing force of nearly 1,000 men that the Navy expected to put ashore at Port Leon on the lower St. Marks River to assist the Union army command of General John Newton. The vessels, however, failed to get into position for the landing before Newton had been defeated at Natural Bridge and the sailors were never put ashore.

The Isonomia remained off St. Marks until early April when she was ordered to the Bahamas. In May of 1865 she made one of the last blockade runner captures of the war.

Decommissioned the following month, she was sold and became the civilian vessel City of Providence. Sold by her owners to foreign interests in 1867, she left the United States for good and her eventual fate is unknown.

If you are interested in learning more about the Natural Bridge Campaign, please visit

Sunday, January 4, 2009

San Marcos de Apalache - Conclusion

When the Union forces retreated from the Battle of Natural Bridge, they in essence admitted that Tallahassee and St. Marks would remain in Confederate hands until the end of the war. The end, of course, was approaching fast.

When the fighting ended two months later, St. Marks held the unique status of being one of the last coastal ports still in Confederate hands. Fort Ward at San Marcos was the last unconquered Confederate coastal fort in a large area of the South and the only one in Florida.

The fort was handed over to Union officers following the end of the war, along with the gunboat C.S.S. Spray, a large supply of supplies and artillery, small arms and other military hardware.

The end of the Civil War marked the end of the military importance of San Marcos de Apalache. The fort was never again occupied by military forces and passed into the pages of history. By the 1960s it was completely overgrown and the large mound covering the Confederate magazine was mistaken even by professional archaeologists for an Indian mound.

During the 1970s, however, the historical importance of San Marcos de Apalache was recognized and the site was cleared of underbrush and developed as a historical state park. A museum on the grounds interprets the hundreds of years of military history at the site.

The site is now threatened from a different cause. After three decades of operation and dramatic increases in the state budget (Florida has doubled its budget in just the last ten years), the state of Florida no longer things the site important enough to keep open as a state park. San Marcos de Apalache is on the list of sites facing temporary or permanent closure due to budget overruns.

As an editorial aside, it strikes me as very odd that the state can double its budget and yet no longer have the money necessary to keep its significant historic sites open to the public. The budget cuts proposed this year are significant, but still leave the state with far more money than it had just 10 years ago when it had no problem operating its various state parks and historic sites.

If you agree with me that San Marcos de Apalache is an important historic site that should remain open to the people of Florida, please call or write your local state representative and senator. You can also write Governor Charlie Crist at or by mail at:

Office of Governor Charlie Crist
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

As always, you can learn more about San Marcos de Apalache any time by visiting

Saturday, January 3, 2009

San Marcos de Apalache - Part Seven

As the Federal ships returned to the coast on the evening of March 3, 1864, they found themselves tossed by a sudden storm that whipped up the waters off the mouth of the St. Marks River.

Weather conditions delayed the planned landing of the main force until the afternoon of March 4th and it was not until the morning of the 5th that General Newton finally turned his force inland. The Confederates by this time were well aware of his presence and reinforcements were swarming to the area from across North Florida. Newton succeeded in taking the East River Bridge between the St. Marks Lighthouse and Newport, but Confederate resistance stiffened at the latter place and he was unable to seize the Newport Bridge. Left with no choice, he turned north up the St. Marks River to the Natural Bridge where he hoped to cross the next morning.
The Union navy, meanwhile, began its planned advance up the St. Marks River but quickly encountered far more problems than expected. The shallow channel and twisting nature of the river created massive difficulties for the Union warships. Instead of steaming up, bombarding Fort Ward and landing hundreds of sailors at Port Leon to support Newton's land movements, they spent the 5th and 6th of March running aground and picking their way up the lower river.

By the time the Battle of Natural Bridge ended with the Federal forces in full retreat on the evening of March 6, 1865, the Union navy had still not moved within artillery range of the Confederate fort at San Marcos. Following a consultation with the army officers, the attack was cancelled and the vessels dropped back down the river. Fort Ward had held without firing a shot.

The only critical moment had come early in the fighting at Newport when Brig. Gen. William Miller received a report that the garrison of the fort had laid explosives and were planning to blow up their position. According to his reconstructed report, he rode quickly to Fort Ward, assembled the garrison and informed them that the fort was vital to Confederate defensive efforts and would be held to the last extremity.

Following the general's address, the gunners of Fort Wood stood by their pieces and watched the Union warships slowly work their way up the river, then turn back to the Gulf before ever testing the metal of the defenders.

Our series on San Marcos de Apalache in St. Marks, Florida, will conclude with the next post. Until then you can read more by visiting

Friday, January 2, 2009

San Marcos de Apalache - Part Six

In late February of 1865, a Confederate attack on the Union post at Fort Myers in South Florida convinced Gen. John Newton in Key West that Southern troops might have left the northern part of the state unprotected. After discussing the situation with Admiral C.K. Stribling of the Union Navy, he loaded his forces aboard transports and began a voyage up the west coast of Florida.

Taking on additional troops at Cedar Key, Newton arrived off the mouth of the St. Marks River where he was joined by a large flotilla of Union blockade ships. Concealed from shore by a heavy fog bank that had settled along the coast, the general convened a council of war and planned for an attack on the port of St. Marks.

As expressed in Newton's reports, his plan was to come ashore with an infantry force at St. Marks Lighthouse and march inland to Newport in Wakulla County. There he expected to seize the bridge over the St. Marks River while the Union navy pushed up the river, landed 1,000 sailors at Port Leon to support the land movement and then engaged and silenced the batteries at Fort Ward (San Marcos de Apalache).

Although he later denied that his intent was to seize Florida's capital city of Tallahassee, officers in his command and Northern newspaper writers covering the campaign wrote that Newton planned to move quickly on Tallahassee and then advance to Thomasville, Georgia, where he believed thousands of Union prisoners of war could be liberated. He had no way of knowing that the temporary prison at Thomasville had been evacuated when Sherman's March to the Sea reached Savannah and the prisoners returned to Andersonville.

Either way, a clear objective of the campaign was the capture of the Confederate batteries at Fort Ward and the occupation of the Southern port of St. Marks.

The troops were in the final stages of preparing for their landing when the heavy fog blanketing the coastline suddenly lifted on the morning of March 3, 1865. Hoping to avoid detection by Confederate pickets stationed along the coast, the Union ships raised anchor and sailed out beyond the horizon. At nightfall they began their return to the mouth of the St. Marks, anticipating that the invasion would begin that same evening.

Our series on San Marcos de Apalache will continue.