Monday, September 27, 2010

September 24-26, 1864 - The Prospect of a Winter of Hunger

As the Union troops continued their way through Northwest Florida on September 24-26, 1864, they inflicted severe damage on the communities, farms and homes they encountered. Doing such damage had become a key objective of all Federal raids by this point in the war and Asboth's expedition to Marianna was no exception.

The total extent of damage done is not known. Eyewitness accounts reported that livestock was confiscated, forage taken or destroyed and barns burned. Two women were sexually assaulted in Walton County before the troops left there on the 24th, turning north along the Geneva Road into Holmes County. Passing Ponce de Leon Springs, now a beautiful state park, they "broke up" the inn that operated by the spring and moved on up to the community of Cerrogordo, then the county seat of Holmes County.

The Federals crossed the Choctawhatchee with no resistance, successfully clearing the only major natural barrier that barred them from their ultimate destination of Marianna. With the river running high and only a single ferry flat to use in crossing, Confederate troops probably could have ended the raid then and there had they been aware that the crossing effort was underway. They did not know, however, and by the evening of September 26, 1864, Asboth was at Campbellton in Jackson County, ready to move on Marianna the next morning.

A comparison of data from the 1860 and 1870 census reports indicates that the people of Walton, Holmes, Jackson and Washington Counties suffered the greatest economic losses in Florida during the decade of the War Between the States. A good idea of what happened has been handed down in the tradition of the Watford family.

Nelson Watford was a farmer who lived in the Galilee Community, just south of the modern Jackson County city of Graceville. Mr. Watford was away in the war, but his wife and their numerous children were home. Union troops arrived at the farm and quickly cleaned it out. Except for some livestock that the slaves had hidden in a nearby swamp, the Federals took all of the horses, mules and cattle on the place. The chickens were shot. The forage was taken. Even the molasses barrel was dug from the ground and poured out. By the time the soldiers left, the farm had been devastated.

As the raid was made in late September with the growing season over and the first frost approaching, the families along its route faced the prospect of starvation during the coming winter. While the accounts of the Union soldiers indicate they viewed this part of the raid as something of a picnic or lark, the families they looted - both white and black, slave and free - faced a winter of hunger and sickness.

I'll discuss the Battle of Marianna itself in the next couple of posts. You can always learn more about the Marianna raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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