Friday, November 26, 2010

Dr. John Gorrie - Florida's Antebellum Ice Man

John Gorrie Museum State Park
On Gorrie Square in Apalachicola, a small state museum pays tribute to a man who may have been the most remarkable Floridian so far. His name was Dr. John Gorrie and he is remembered in the historic Florida city as "the Ice Man."

Dr. Gorrie came to Florida from South Carolina in around 1833, stopping first in Jackson County before moving on down to Apalachicola. He was a prominent figure in the city's early days, serving as mayor, director for a bank branch, postmaster and as one of the founders of Trinity Episcopal Church. His primary profession, however, was the practice of medicine and it was this work that led to his remarkable invention - a machine that made ice.

Replica of Gorrie's Machine
Gorrie battled throughout his career to save the lives of fever patients under his care. Coastal cities such as Apalachicola were ravaged by malaria and yellow fever during much of the 19th century. The doctor realized the condition of his patients improved when the weather cooled off and began to experiment with ways of duplicating this process artificially.

Eventually, he built a machine that stunned the residents of Apalachicola. Not only could it cool the air, it worked so well that it also made large amounts of ice. Gorrie was granted the first U.S. patent for a mechanical refrigeration process in 1851.

To learn more about the remarkable doctor and his remarkable machine, please visit

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Grave of Alvin Wentworth Chapman - Apalachicola, Florida

A stroll through Apalachicola's historic Chestnut Cemetery invariably brings you to the grave of Dr. Alvin Wentworth Chapman, one of the most noteworthy Floridians of the Civil War era.

Born in the North and educated at Amherst, Dr. Chapman moved to Florida in 1834 when he was 25 years old. He lived in Marianna and then Quincy before settling for good in Apalachicola in 1847. Always interested in nature and botany, he was a good friend of Hardy Bryan Croom, the man credited with discovering the extremely rare Florida Torreya tree. Following Croom's untimely death in a shipwreck, Dr. Chapman plunged fully into botanical studies himself and was credited with discovering scores of new varieties of plants in locations throughout the South.

His primary work, Flora of the Southern States, was published in 1860 even as war clouds gathered over the nation. The book would be published twice more in Dr. Chapman's lifetime and remains a favorite of lovers of trees and plants around the world.

A Unionist, Chapman decided to remain in Apalachicola throughout the war, even though his wife relocated to live with family in Marianna. To learn more of his remarkable story, please visit

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cape St. George Lighthouse - St. George Island, Florida

It is very rare for a lost Civil War landmark to return, but that is exactly what has happened in the case of the historic Cape St. George Lighthouse.

Built in 1852 to replace two previous lighthouses that were destroyed by storms, the Cape St. George Light guided ships into the port of Apalachicola and along Florida's Gulf Coast. It is a little known fact that for a time Apalachicola was the third busiest port on the entire Gulf Coast. The cotton crop from the vast Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River drainage area of Florida, Alabama and Georgia came downriver to the city for transport to the textile mills of Europe and New England.

When Florida left the Union in 1861, Southern troops moved quickly to remove darken the lantern and remove the lens from the lighthouse to prevent the Union navy from using the beacon in any effort to attack Apalachicola or force entry into the mouth of the Apalachicola River. The equipment was sent upriver to Eufaula, Alabama.

When Confederate troops evacuated Apalachicola in the spring of 1862, the Federal navy moved in, using the lighthouse from time to time as a lookout post.

The story of the Cape St. George Lighthouse had many ups and downs over the years and many thought it ended in a huge loss when it collapsed in October of 2005. Local preservationists, however, would not be defeated and in just three years the lighthouse rose again.

You can visit it today and the view from the top is absolutely stunning. To learn more, please visit

Friday, November 12, 2010

Expanded Edition of "The Battle of Natural Bridge" is now available

The new expanded edition of The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee is now available through

The book is the most in depth account available of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought on March 6, 1865, along the St. Marks River south of Tallahassee. The engagement prevented Federal troops from capturing Florida's capital city and inflicting widespread damage on the businesses, farms and infrastructure of North Florida and South Georgia.

The expanded edition includes two chapters not available in the original version, as well as much more detailed casualty lists that greatly expand the number of previously known casualties of the fighting. The two new chapters detail 19th century accounts of the battle and explore the strange tale of the mysterious "last casualty" of the Battle of Natural Bridge.

The book also cuts through many of the legends and suppositions about the Battle of Natural Bridge to clarify the truth of the engagement and the land and sea expedition that led to it. Reversing much modern "revisionist history" about the battle, the book relies heavily on primary sources to place the engagement in true perspective.

To order the new version through Amazon, simply click the ad at the top left of this posting. You can learn more about the battle by visiting

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grave of an Officer of the C.S.S. Tennessee - Apalachicola, Florida

While walking through Chestnut Cemetery in Apalachicola this week, I was struck by the large number of graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers there. One in particular caught my attention.

It is the resting place of Lt. David Raney, an Apalachicola native who served as an officer aboard the famed Southern ironclad, C.S.S. Tennessee.

The Tennessee, of course, is remembered today because its officers and crew waged one of the most desperate fights in naval history. On August 5, 1864, Admiral David G. Farragut storming into Mobile Bay. Under a hail of fire from Forts Morgan and Gaines, after one of his ships struck a mine or "torpedo" and went down, the admiral shouted out the immortal command, "Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!"

Waiting for him inside Mobile Bay was an admiral every bit as daring and courageous. Knowing that he was severely outnumbered and that it was a battle he likely could not win, Admiral Franklin Buchanan steamed the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Tennessee at the Union fleet. The battle that followed was fierce and bloody. At one point, the Tennessee could be seen surrounded by seven Union warships, fighting to the finish.

The Union navy won the Battle of Mobile Bay, but the courage of the Confederate officers and sailors aboard the Tennessee has echoed through the ages. Lt. David Raney was one of those men.

You can read more about the battle at

Saturday, November 6, 2010

J.J. Dickison's Cannon on display at Silver River Museum

One of the most unique artifacts of the War Between the States in Florida can be found on display at the outstanding Silver River Museum at Silver River State Park in Ocala.

A small howitzer said to have been used by Captain J.J. Dickison and his men is part of a display of Confederate and Union artifacts at the museum, which is a joint venture of the Marion County School District and the Florida Park Service. Dickison, of course, was known as the "Swamp Fox" of the Confederacy because of the highly successful raids he engineered using tactics much like those employed by General Francis Marion, the original "Swamp Fox" of the American Revolution.

A Florida cavalry officer, Dickison was a courageous defender of the home front who bedeviled Union troops in Florida with bold tactics and sudden surprises. His tactical ability was well-demonstrated at engagements such as the Battle of Number Four near Cedar key and actions at Gainesville and along the St. Johns River. He often spoke of his "small cannon" or howitzer and the efficiency with which it was served.

The well-preserved howitzer is just one of the myriad of artifacts on display at the Silver River Museum, which is one of the finest public museums in the state. Other exhibits include a gigantic mammoth skeleton, artifacts from Florida's colonial times, relics of the Second Seminole War and even Spanish cannon and pieces of silver. You can learn more about the museum at

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Public Input invited on livestock management at Paynes Prairie

I received the following from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and thought it might be of interest to those of you either living in the Gainesville area or with an interest in Paynes Prairie. If you aren't familiar with this really fascinating state park, you can learn more at
 ALACHUA - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service will host a public meeting to address livestock management at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park on Tuesday, November 30. The meeting will take place at 7:00 p.m. at the Doyle Connor Building in Gainesville.  Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions about the livestock at the park, including American bison, cracker horses and cracker cattle and provide feedback on a draft livestock management plan proposed for Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
A copy of the draft livestock management plan can be viewed at
The public meeting will take place:
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
7:00 p.m.
Doyle Conner Building
1911 SW 34 Street
Gainesville, FL 32608
(352) 372-3505