Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Apalachicolas - Confederate Floridians on the Western Frontier

One of the most unique documents of the Civil War is a treaty signed between the Apalachicola band of Creek Indians and the Confederate government.

Most of the warriors had been born on the Apalachicola and lower Chattahoochee Rivers in Jackson County, Florida. They lived on reservations there that had been established in 1823 under the terms of the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. In 1838, however, they were forcibly removed at gunpoint by U.S. troops led by Colonel Zachary Taylor, a future president of the United States. The removal of the Apalachicolas came despite an agreement they had signed with the government just five years earlier guaranteeing them "permanent" possession of their lands in Florida.

It was a sad chapter in American history. The Apalachicolas had remained at peace with the United States, despite the uprisings by other bands that led to the Creek War of 1836 and the Second Seminole War. Instead of trying to resolve their desputes with the whites with their rifles and knives, the Apalachicolas resorted to the courts and actually won a major case in Federal court sustaining their right to observe traditional Indian law.

When they arrived in the Creek Nation in what is now Oklahoma in early 1839, the Apalachicolas settled in a community south of present-day Muskogee. Their life in the west was extremely difficult at first. They suffered from shortages of everything and the U.S. Government failed to pay them promised money to compensate for the loss of their homes, mills, orchards and fields in Florida. Slowly, though, they built new lives. They did not, however, forget the loss of their traditional homes in Florida.

In 1861, as the War Between the States erupted, the Indian Nations of modern Oklahoma became a much disputed area. Some of the Cherokee, Creeks and Seminoles allied with the Union, while others - along with the Choctaw and Chickasaw - allied with the Confederacy. The Apalachicolas were part of the latter group. And they made clear in the treaty they signed with the Confederate government why they were forming an alliance against the Union:

...[They removed] from the country occupied by them in Florida to the Indian country west of Arkansas, leaving the  lands...and a large number of horses, mules, cattle, hogs, wagons, and other articles which they could not collect together and carry with them, and which the said emigrating agent persuaded them to leave in his charge, on the promise that the owners should be paid the value of all such property in money by the agent of the United States on their arrival in the country provided for them....

The Apalachicolas never received the promised money and on July 10, 1861, they declared war on the United States. For the next four years they fought in many of the battles in the Indian Nations and Arkansas and suffered the destruction of their homes and farms by U.S. troops.

To learn more about their time in Florida before they were forced to remove to the west, please visit or consider the book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years, available here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Florida Troops at the Battle of Chickamauga

The Florida Monument on the Chickamauga battlefield is, I think, one of the most beautiful of the scores of such memorials that dot the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.

Located just south of Chattanooga at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, Chickamauga is the site of one of the most overwhelming Confederate victories of the War Between the States. It was also the location where more than 34,000 men were reported killed, wounded or missing in action in two days of fierce fighting.

Florida was strongly represented at the Battle of Chattanooga. A future governor of the state, Francis P. Fleming, was present as an officer in the 1st Florida Cavalry (dismounted). Also present at Chickamauga, in addition to the 1st Cavalry, were the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th Florida Infantries. The Florida troops were heavily engaged against the Union troops on Snodgrass Hill and suffered 555 casualties in the battle.

To learn more about Chickamauga battlefield as it appears today, please visit

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Execution of Peter Pelt - March 7, 1865

The War Between the States in Florida was a time of great tragedy and many stories of that era have been handed down through the years.

One of the most tragic of these tales is the story of Peter Pelt, a young soldier from Jackson County. Pelt grew up as a neighbor of Governor John Milton in the plantation lands east of Marianna. His family worked a small 160 acre farm, overshadowed by the massive plantations around it, but despite the size of the operation, it was among the most prosperous small farms in the region, with a value of $1,600 in 1860.

Like most young men of his age, Pelt served in the Confederate army. In September of 1863, he enrolled in Company G, 2nd Florida Cavalry, then commanded by his former neighbor, Captain William H. Milton. In February of 1864, however, he deserted. The young man's reasons for doing so are not clear, but desertion was then rampant among Florida troops who were outraged over tightening conscription laws and overzealous activities by Confederate commissary agents who took so much livestock and food from local families that the wives and widows of soldiers were often left on the brink of starvation. In Pelt's case, his desertion also closely coincided with the receipt of news that two of his family members had been killed at Missionary Ridge.

Along with 21 other men from Jackson County, Pelt soon appeared on the records of Company E, 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry. It is a curious fact that the county provided almost 20% of the Union company's total strength. He served with his unit in several raids and engagements, most notably the Natural Bridge Expedition in March of 1865. After fighting at Newport on March 5, 1865, Pelt was among the troops left there to prevent Confederate troops from crossing Newport Bridge (site shown in photo above) and moving on the rear of the main column as it moved north to the Battle of Natural Bridge. He was captured on March 7, 1865, being part of a detail that was left behind as the Federal forces withdrew.

Recognized by his former comrades from the 2nd Florida Cavalry (C.S.), Pelt was given a hasty trial for desertion and his execution was ordered by Brigadier General William Miller. Dr. Charles Hentz, who had served as a surgeon at Natural Bridge, was an eyewitness to what happened next:

The poor creatures had just been led out for execution, as I arrived; they were halted close to me, as a hollow square for the execution was formed; some bandages, pinned around their eyes, were taken from my haversack; how dreadfully did I commisserate their awful condition. Pelt, whom I had known as a little boy...was trembling in every fiber; his face was the hue of ashes - his lips quiverying compulsively in prayer, his eyes closed and bandaged...At the words "Ready" "Aim" "Fire" the double volley was discharged and both men fell...Pelt uttered a fearful, bloodcurdling, bubbling wail, as a torent of blood gushed from his mouth, & struggled for several minutes dreadfully.

Stripped of his clothes and possession, Pelt and the other executed man (Corporal Asa Fowler) were tossed into a hastily dug pit and covered with dirt. He remains buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the Newport vicinity of Wakulla County.

To learn more about the Natural Bridge Expedition, please visit

Monday, December 21, 2009

Florida troops at the Battle of Shiloh

Among the troops that took part in the massive bloodletting at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, on April 6-7, 1862, was the 1st Florida Infantry Battalion.

Often confused for the 1st Florida Infantry Regiment that served at Pensacola in 1861 and early 1862, this was actually a battalion of infantry organized in early 1862 under the command of Major T.A. McDonnell. The battalion remained an independent unit until late summer of 1862. Many of its men had earlier served in the 1st Florida Infantry Regiment and most went on to serve in other regiments, including yet another 1st Florida Infantry Regiment that was organized in August of 1862.

It is a bit confusion but basically there was a 1st Florida Regiment in 1861, followed by a 1st Florida Battalion in early 1862 followed by another 1st Florida Regiment in late summer of 1862.
At the Battle of Shiloh, the 1st Florida Battalion was part of Patton Anderson's 2nd Brigade of General Daniel Ruggles' 1st Division of General Braxton Bragg's Second Corps. As it pressed forward with the rest of Bragg's Corps, the 1st Florida came under heavy fire. Major McDonnell fell mortally wounded early in the fighting and Captain W.G. Poole assumed command.

In the fighting that followed, the battalion pushed forward into the Union camps at Shiloh, fell back and reformed, then reinforced pushed forward again. Ultimately the regiment advanced to within range of the heavy naval guns of the U.S. gunboats Tyler and Lexington, coming under heavy fire. By nightfall on the 6th, the battalion had fallen back to the captured Union camps. It retreated from there with the full Confederate army the next day.

Among the casualties sustained were Major T.A. McDonnell, killed; 1st Lieutenant L.M. Anderson, killed; 2nd Lieutenant E.C. Stevens, severely wounded; Captain T.S. Means, wounded; 1st Lieutenant J.T. Miller, wounded, and Lieutenant O.P. Hull mortally wounded.

To learn more about the Battle of Shiloh, please visit

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Capture of the Fashion - Apalachicola River, Florida

In one of the strangest incidents of the Civil War, a small Union boat raid into the Apalachicola River in May of 1863 led to the explosion and sinking of the most powerful Confederate warship in Florida.

The unusual chain of events began when a party of 41 officers and sailors left the U.S.S. Port Royal in small boats on May 23, 1863. Commanded by Acting Master Edgar Van Slyck, they had been ordered to capture the Fashion, a Gulf sloop reported to be hiding somewhere in the lower Apalachicola River. The vessel was taking on cotton for a planned attempt to run the blockade.

The Union sailors rowed an estimated 45 miles up the Apalachicola River, slipping past Confederate sentries at Fort Gadsden during the night, but did not find the Fashion. It was not until they were going back downstream that they spotted a barge of the type often used to move bales of cotton down the river. Turning up Brushy Creek, Van Slyck and his men found the sloop and captured it without resistance in a heavy rainstorm.

Taking the Fashion back down the river, the sailors fired a single round of cannister into Fort Gadsden, but did not elicit a response from the Southern troops there.

News of the successful raid generated near panic in the valley of the Apalachicola River and Lt. J.J. Guthrie, captain of the C.S.S. Chattahoochee, started his warship down the river in hopes of capturing the raiders before they could reach the bay. The ship was the most powerful Confederate warship in Florida, mounting 6 heavy guns and carrying a crew of more than 100 officers and men, many of whom had served aboard the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimac) during its immortal battle with the U.S.S. Monitor.

Guthrie reached Blountstown, but was unable to continue his pursuit of the raiders due to low water. After the river did not rise the next morning, he ordered the ship to return to its home port at Chattahoochee. Water was allowed to pour into an overheated boiler prompting an explosion that resulted in scalding steam killing many members of the crew. The Chattahoochee sank in a blinding rainstorm, destroyed by a Union raid that had not fired a single shot in her direction.

To learn more about the capture of the Fashion, please visit

Friday, December 11, 2009

An Inspection of Fort Ward - 1863

For most of the War Between the States, the earthwork battery at St. Marks was the primary defensive work for Florida's capital city of Tallahassee.

Built atop the stone ruins of the earlier Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache, the battery was named Fort Ward in honor of Major George T. Ward who had been killed in action at Williamsburg while serving with the 2nd Florida Infantry.

In the summer of 1864, as part of a Confederate effort to evaluate the defenses of North Florida, Major G.U. Mayo, the Assistant Inspector of Artillery for the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, was sent to inspect the batteries at St. Marks and on the Apalachicola River.

He reported his findings to Colonel A.J. Gonzales, Chief of Artillery, on July 12, 1864:

...The battery at Saint Mark's is at present in an inefficient state as a defense, being now in the hands of the engineers. When it shall have been completed its complement will consist of two 32-pounders smoothbores; two 32-pounders, rifled, and one 24-pounder. This last gun is not properly mounted, the front wheels of the chassis (center pintle) being adjusted with an iron flange over them which prevents the carriage from running into battery. This defect is apt to impair the sighting of the gun. I cannot discover the necessity for a full circle to this gun. A banquette should be affixed to the head of the chassis to facilitate loading. It has been requested of the headquarters at Tallahassee and approved....

...The magazine is in such a condition that nothing but confusion and delay could arise in the event of an attack, as no arrangment is apparent. It needs sodding. No planking is upon the floor, yet boxes of cartridges and powder are kept upon it and in the gallery, where the ground is proverbially damp. The carriages will be ruined unless protected from exposure...The barrack quarters are neatly kept. The roof needs repairing. The kitchens should be floored to enhance the neatness and approve the hygiene....

The earthworks of Fort Ward can still be seen today at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida. To learn more and see photographs, please visit

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Dade Pyramids - St. Augustine, Florida

Although historians devote considerable attention to the role the Mexican War played in the development of the generals of both sides during the Civil War, seldom is attention given to another conflict that actually provided better training for the conflict in many ways.

From 1835-1842, and actually for a bit longer, U.S. troops engaged in a deadly war with the Seminole Indians of Florida. It was the longest American war of the 19th century and by the time it was over, had deteriorated into brutal guerrilla warfare that was as different from the European style tactics officers of the time had been tought as day is from night. By the time the war dragged to an end, the Seminoles had taught the U.S. Army a lesson in irregular combat tactics that could have saved tens of thousands of lives during the Civil War if senior officers had learned it.

The war began with a military defeat so stunning, complete and deadly that it would not be repeated again until Custer lost his battle at the Little Bighorn. Marching from Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay to Fort King at present-day Ocala, Major Francis L. Dade and a column of U.S. soldiers were ambushed by several hundred warriors led by Micanopy, Jumper and Alligator. Although the soldiers had superior weapons, including artillery, they were wiped out by the determined Seminole force. Dade, his officers and at least 103 of his men lay dead. Only one of the two or three wounded survivors lived for more than a couple of weeks.

The bodies were later given a temporary burial on the battlefield by other soldiers, but eventually were moved to St. Augustine where they were reburied at what is now the St. Augustine National Cemetery. The vaults containing the graves also hold the remains of more than 1,000 other soldiers who died during the Second Seminole War. Capped with unique stone pyramids, known today as the Dade Pyramids, they are often overlooked by visitors to the nation's oldest city.

To learn more, please visit

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Point Washington - Union Base on Choctawhatchee Bay

One of my favorite Florida places, Point Washington has largely escaped (at least so far) the sprawling development that has taken place along the state's famed Emerald Coast.

Located just north of U.S. 98 between Panama City Beach and Destin, Point Washington is a charming bayou community blessed with beautiful views, ancient oak trees shrouded with Spanish moss and an array of historic sites. Brigadier General William Miller, second-in-command of Confederate forces at the Battle of Natural Bridge, once called Point Washington home, as did a number of other Civil War veterans, both Union and Confederate. A small sign points out the location of Miller's home and a walk through the community's historic cemetery reveals the graves of a number of Civil War soldiers.

An important port in 1861, Point Washington served as a place where cotton, timber, sugar and other commerce coming down the Choctawhatchee River could be transferred to schooners, sloops and steamers for the trip on down the coast to Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans.

Union forces established a post there at about the mid-point of the war, both to serve as base for minor operations in the vicinity and to assist Confederate deserters and Unionists in making it through the lines. As a result, Point Washington was a major recruiting station for the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry when efforts began to organize that regiment during the winter of 1863-1864.

Troops from Point Washington staged a disastrous raid up the Choctawhatchee River in February of 1864. Although the Federals succeeded in capturing Captain Gabriel Floyd's company at Cedar Bluff near present-day Ebro, they were counterattacked by Confederates who freed Floyd's men and captured almost the entire raiding party.

The steamer Lizzie Davis, moving in support of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth's raid on Marianna, was ordered to Point Washington in September of 1864 after Asboth and his men turned inland. The command reunited with the steamer here at the end of the raid.

Point Washington became an important lumber mill town during the years after the war and today is home to the magnificent Eden Gardens State Park. To learn more about the gardens, please visit