Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Captain Amos and his Confederate Horse Navy

Waterfront at Milton, Florida
Capt. Amos's Departure Point
Much has been written, with good cause, about Nathan Bedford Forrest's seizure of a steamboat in Tennessee and his subsequent use of it as a warship manned by his cavalrymen. Few realize, however, that a similar incident happened in Florida!
Captain W.B. Amos was the commander of Company I, Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry. Stationed at Milton in Santa Rosa County, his primary duty was to watch for Union raids out of Pensacola. Amos was good at this duty, but he was an aggressive officer and chafed a bit at the natural restrictions of his duties.

In June of 1864, he set off on adventure that can only be described as one of the only naval raids ever carried out in coastal waters by a Confederate cavalrymen.

The following report was filed with Colonel Henry Maury, Amos's commanding officer at Pollard, Alabama:

Scene of first two schooner captures.

Milton, June 27, 1864
DEAR COLONEL: I left here on Saturday morning with two small boats and 15 men for the mouth of Yellow River. When I arrived there I discovered a small schooner lying about 2 miles below with her sails down. I landed my men and made my way to her, and succeeded in capturing her and crew. In a few minutes I discovered another small sail coming up the bay. I secreted myself and men until she came up, and succeeded in getting her and crew. I then sent my boats and prisoners up to camp, and took the small schooner and balance of my men and sailed down to East Bay, where I was informed that there was a schooner by the name of Osceola anchored out about 4 miles from shore with 5 men and some small-arms. So I concealed my men in the boat and sailed for her, and managed to get on her after dark and succeeded in boarding her. I ordered the crew to surrender. Three made to their guns. I ordered my men to fire on them, which they did, and killed the 3. The remainder (2) surrendered. I divided my men on the two schooners and set sails for camp, and arrived here yesterday morning, and I send up the prisoners today, and it will be late before they get there, as they have to foot it up. One of the men (W. Leonard) can give you all the information that you may desire about the yard, and if you will let me, after the excitement dies off I will burn the mills on the island. I will come up on July 1 or 2 and see you, as there is some other important business that I want to see you about, &c. Will make my report to your acting assistant adjutant-general of the prisoners and where they belong, &c. My respects to Dr. Tillman and Lieutenant Hallett.

W.B. Amos
Captain, Commanding Outpost (i.e. Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

Museum at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs is combining the old with the new for a unique Christmas experience.
The park celebrates and preserves Florida's unique folk culture and also plays tribute to Stephen Foster's legacy as one of the greatest American composers. A beloved figure of the antebellum era, he penned such Civil War era favorites as "Camptown Races," "My Old Kentucky Home" and, of course, "Suwannee River." The latter tune is now the State Song of Florida.

Here is the latest information on this year's Christmas event from the state park service:
Carillon Tower

Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is hosting its annual Festival of Lights, displaying more than four million lights throughout the park, continuing through December 31st each evening until 9 p.m. (closed Christmas Night, December 25th).

Visitors can enjoy the holiday sights and sounds as they drive through the park to see unique holiday light displays, including the majestic oak trees adorned with thousands of lights, the antebellum museum dressed in full holiday splendor and a gingerbread village at the Gift Shop and Craft Square. The centerpiece of the park's light display is the Carillon Tower, which illuminates the light sky standing more than 200 feet tallk, dressed from head to toe in lights as holiday music rings from its bells.

The Stephen Foster Museum will be open extended ohours until 8:30 p.m. nightly. Cousin THelma Boltin's Gift Shop will be open everyday until 9 p.m. where complimentary refreshments are served and the Craft Square comes alive with a bonfire and marshmallow roast for everyone. Wolverine Concessions will also feature delivious treats including favorites such as hot chili, hand made potato chips and their world famous fried Oreos!

Liv e holiday music will be performed at the Stephen Foster Museum nightly from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
Visitor admires piano once played by Stephen Foster

Santa will visit the park every evening through December 24th and will make appearances throughout the entire park during the festival.

Visitors can experience the festival via horse drawn wagon and carriage rides. Two large beautiful Percheron Horses will pull a large wagon on a one mile ride around the main park drive each evening. Take a leeisurely 20 minute ride through the park and sing carols while viewing the millions of lights on display!

Park entrance fees for this event will be $2.00 per person. The Festival of Lights is sponsored by the Stephen Foster Citizens Support Organization, the Town of White Springs and its special events committee and made possible by the generous support of numerous local individuals and businesses in the Suwannee Valley Region and has been recognized as a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Tips for Visiting the 2011 Festival of Lights (PDF - 0.11KB)

Located on U.S. 41 in White Springs. From I-75 to S.R. 136 (Milepost Exit 439 - Old Exit 84), travel east on S.R. 136 for 3 miles. Turn left on U.S. 41. Park entrance is on the left. From I-10 to U.S. 41 North (Milepost Exit 301 - Old Exit 43), travel 9 miles to White Springs. Park entrance is on the left.

Physical Address
11016 Lillian Saunders Drive
White Springs, Florida 32096

Please click here to learn more about the park: www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stephenfoster.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wartime Sketch of St. Marks Lighthouse and Fort Williams

1862 Sketch of Fort Williams and St. Marks Lighthouse
This fascinating sketch appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on February 11, 1862. It shows the St. Marks Lighthouse, Fort Williams, the Confederate gunboat C.S.S. Spray (in the background) and the Union warship U.S.S. Mohawk.
The lighthouse today is a popular landmark for visitors to the St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge, but no trace remains of Fort Williams.

Named for Colonel J.J. Williams, a well-known planter from Leon County, the fort was built in 1861 to protect the mouth of the St. Marks River from attack by Union warships. It mounted several pieces of heavy artillery and was built of earth with a timber backing. As the sketch shows, it stood on Lighthouse Point just west of the lighthouse itself, which was used as an observation post for Confederate sentries.

St. Marks Lighthouse
It did not take long for the Confederates to realize that the St. Marks Lighthouse was a horrible position for a fort designed to defend the port of St. Marks. Fort Williams was isolated and could not be easily supported in the event it was attacked. The only way for reinforcements to reach the fort was via a single road that led from the mainland through the marshes out to the lighthouse. Any troops approaching the fort would find themselves visible and subject to Union artillery fire for a long distance.

In addition, the fort's cannon did not command a long enough reach of the channel leading into the St. Marks River to be of much service should the U.S. Navy decide to move up the river.

Ruins of Spanish Fort at St. Marks
With these considerations in view, the Confederates evacuated the fort in 1862 and moved its guns and garrison to the old Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache, which stood on the point of land created by the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers. Although the old fort was in ruins, a strong Marine Hospital stood on the site which was converted for use as a barracks by the soldiers. The design of the fort was altered and the old stone walls were used to back heavy earthworks as Southern soldiers built batteries that would sweep for miles across the marsh to target any advancing warship.

Fort Williams was dismantled and the Union navy later burned what was left of it. No trace of the fort remains today. The lighthouse, however, survived the war and remains quite beautiful today.

To learn more about the St. Marks Lighthouse and its history, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stmarkslight.
To learn more about the old Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanmarcos1.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Old Bellamy Road - 19th Century Roadway in Florida

Section of the Old Bellamy Road
When the United States took possession of Florida from Spain in 1821, the only roads in most of the territory were old pathways once used by Spanish missionaries and the narrow trails worn down over the centuries by the footsteps of Indians.
Tallahasse did not then exist and the Spanish had treated the territory as two separate colonies, East Florida and West Florida. The capital of East Florida was, of course, St. Augustine. The capital of West Florida was Pensacola. The only trail connecting the two was a long, dangerous, winding path.

With the decision to establish a new capital, Tallahassee, roughly equi-distant between the two cities also came a strong realization that a good road was needed to connect the three communities. Since Florida was a U.S. Territory, the approval and funding of this new road fell to the U.S. Congress. An appropriation was made and work began during the winter of 1824-1825.

In the section of Florida west of the Apalachicola River, work on this new Federal road was carried out by the U.S. Army. East of the river, however, it was decided to accept bids from private contractors. The winning bid was received from John Bellamy, who began work on the segment of road from the Ochlockonee River west of Tallahassee to the St. Johns River near St. Augustine. He could do the work, he promised, for $13,500.

Surviving trace of the Old Bellamy Road.
Bellamy completed his road in just one year, but it was far removed from the super highways of today. A winding dirt path, Bellamy's laborers (many of them slaves) simply cut down trees low enough for wagons to pass over, leaving the stumps in the ground. Trees that were too big to cut were bypassed.

Since he had supervised its construction, the section of the road between the St. Johns and the Ochlockonee was unofficially named in Bellamy's honor. Surviving sections of it are known as the Old Bellamy Road to this day.

The road provided an important route between St. Augustine and Tallahassee for early settlers. By the time of the Civil War it had been bypassed by newer roads in many areas, but sections in East Florida remained in use. As a result the road was used by Confederate troops, including those of Florida's famous "Swamp Fox," Captain J.J. Dickison.

One of the best places to see an original section of the Bellamy Road is River Rise Preserve State Park in High Springs. Adjacent to O'Leno State Park, the preserve offers numerous hiking and equestrian trails. One of these follows a section of the Old Bellamy Road.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamyroad.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

O'Leno State Park - High Springs, Florida

Historical Marker at O'Leno State Park
O'Leno State Park is located along the Santa Fe River near High Springs and is a great place to explore the remains of a Civil War era Florida ghost town.
The Town of Leno, originally called Keno, was established just above the "sink" and natural bridge of the Santa Fe during the 1840s. Stone dams in the river powered two mills and eventually up to six cotton gins. This source of power gave the little town its existence and helped survive through the years of the Civil War.

Old Mill Dam at O'Leno State Park
Keno, as gamblers know, is a bingo-like lottery game. It was under this name that the community was known during the Civil War years, but the name was changed a decade or so later after the postal service refused to approve a post office for a town with a name associated with gambling!  The name was subsequently changed to Leno. After the village was bypassed by the railroad and faded away, it became known as Old Leno. The name was eventually contracted to O'Leno, the name of today's state park.

Suspensioin Bridge at O'Leno State Park
The park offers an excellent open air pavilion with artifacts from and displays about Keno (or Leno). There are grindstones from the old mills, photographs and informational panels. The picnic area with its unique C.C.C. built structures is now located on the town site.

The Santa Fe River also ripples over the remains of the two stone mill dams.

In addition, O'Leno State Park is a place of extraordinary beauty and is known for its beloved swinging or suspension bridge. Built by the C.C.C. during the Great Depression to carry hikers across the river, the old bridge is still in excellent condition.

To learn more about O'Leno State Park and its history and unqiue geology, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/oleno.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Phase Three)

St. Luke's Episcopal Church
With the Confederate cavalry scattered or pushed across the Chipola River, the Battle of Marianna moved into its most pivitol phase as the full strength of the Union force was turned on the home guards and volunteers along West Lafayette Street.

In close range and often hand to hand fighting, the Confederates positioned behind trees, shrubs, fences and buildings along the south side of the street were the first to give way. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Southern men and boys tried to withdraw down the slope to and beyond Stage Creek. Even though several experienced regular officers and soldiers were present, most of the Confederates were local citizens with little if any miltary training. Their line crumbled as the retreat began.

Littleton Myrick, killed in battle.
The Federals pursued them with considerable intensity. Captain H.O. Bassett, the former sheriff of Jackson County who was home on leave from Company E, 6th Florida Infantry, was cornered near the creek and fell from so many bayonet wounds that his body was later recognized only by his gray Confederate officer's pants. The fact that he suffered bayonet wounds indicates that he and the men around him were battling the Union soldiers from the U.S. Colored Troops detachment that was part of Asboth's force.

Seeing their comrades across the street give way, the men along the north side of Lafayette knew they were in serious trouble. Deciding to pull his men back deeper into town, Captain Jesse Norwood of the Marianna Home Guard ordered a withdrawal. The men fell back from their positions along the road into the fenced yard that surrounded St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Norwood evidently planned to pull his men on beyond that point into the buildings that surrounded the downtown area, but the main body of Asboth's flanking party had come in behind them now and they were trapped in and around the church.

St. Luke's Churchyard, scene of heavy action.
A militia unit like the Marianna Home Guard normally would have crumbled under such circumstances, but Norwood's men did not. Their ranks included numerous men and officers who had served in the regular Confederate army. Some were still on the rolls but home on leave or furlough, while others had been disabled earlier in the war due to battlefield wounds or illness. As a result, the company had a wide and solid backbone of seasoned soldiers.

Final Home Guard Position
Now trapped in the churchyard but determined to keep fighting, the Confederates took up position behind the stout board fence that surrounded the guard and kept up a constant fire with their attackers. General Asboth had been severely wounded in the ambush near the barricade, so Colonel Ladislas L. Zulavsky now had command of the fight. Seeing that his cavalrymen were unable to dislodge Norwood's men from their position behind the churchyard fence, he ordered the now dismounted men from the 82nd and 86th U.S. Colored Troops to form ranks in the street.
The order was given and the African American soldiers surged forward in a bayonet charge that went up and over the wooden fence. The home guards were driven back into the cemetery behind the church, but continued such a hot fire that the bayonet charge eventually stalled out. The Union troops now closed in on Norwood's men from three sides (the church forming the fourth). The fighting, however, continued. In fact, it continued so fiercely that some of the Union officers began to wonder if they would be able to dislodge the Confederates from their new position.

I'll post on the final phase of the battle in the next post. If you would like to read about the fight in more detail, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is also available as an instant download for both Amazon Kindle and iBooks.

You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Phase Two, Continued)

Major Nathan Cutler
By most accounts, the main Union column rounded the curve at Ely Corner at high noon on September 27, 1864. Major Nathan Cutler's battalion of the 2nd Maine Cavalry was in the lead.
The Federals, not expecting resistance from Confederate cavalry that they thought was in full retreat, came on in a column of fours... and ran head on into the Southern horsemen who were formed in line of battle across the road at Ely Corner. All debate now over, Colonel Montgomery ordered his men to fire and a volley erupted from the Confederate line.

Russ House at Ely Corner
The Union soldiers were stunned and, while Major Cutler ordered an immediate charge, it failed to materialize and the column fell back on itself and retreated around the curve. 8-year-old Armstrong Purdee, who witnessed the scene from the back of a Union soldier's horse, later recalled that two of Cutler's men were badly wounded. They were carried back to Russ Branch, a small stream that flowed behind today's Russ House (Chamber of Commerce), and water was poured on their wounds by the surgeons.

Outraged by the unexpected retreat of his men, General Asboth spurred his horse forward and cried, "For Shame! For Shame!" at them. He then ordered a second battalion from the 2nd Maine to charge and led them himself.

Montgomery's men, meanwhile, were still struggling to reload their musketoons when the second Federal charge surged around the curve. Unable to resist, Montgomery and his horsemen withdrew up Lafayette Street. Eyewitnesses later noted that the Federals were hot on their heels as they retreated.

Holden House, Barricade Vicinity
The Confederates reached the barricade and, knowing the ways to bypass it, went around and through it to continue their withdrawal up the street. It served its intedned purposes, however, by delaying the Federals who had to slow their charge in order to pass it. Once the head of their column was past the wagons and debris, however, the home guards and volunteers suddenly entered the fight.

Musket, shotgun and pistol fire erupted from both sides of the street, mowing down the head of Asboth's column. The Southern citizen-soldiers had been so well concealed behind trees, bushes, fences and buildings that the Federals never saw them until it was too late.

The first volley was stunningly effective. General Asboth went down with wounds to his jaw and arm. Some of the Confederates tried to capture him, but were held off by men from the 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.) who fought with sabres to defend the general and get him to safety. In the 2nd Maine Cavalry, it was reported that every man and officer at the head of the column went down killed or wounded.

Lafayette Street in Downtown Marianna
Unfortunately for the Confederates, it was not enough. While the volley from ambush by the home guards and volunteers had stunned the Union charge, it did not stop it. The main body of the battalion continued up the street after the Southern cavalry, while the rest of the column pushed up to deal with the men and boys that had fired from ambush.

Pushed with his horsemen up the street by the Federals, Colonel Montgomery reached the center of town to find that his worst fears had been realized - the Union flanking party had come in behind him and was now in position around courthouse square. The Confederates charged into these men and hand to hand combat broke out all around the square. The colonel was thrown from his horse and captured near the southeast corner of the square. Lieutenant M.A. Butler of the Greenwood Club Cavalry was shot down and killed as he turned north on Jefferson in an effort to escape. Eyewitnesses saw him fire back at his pursuers but miss just before they blasted him from the saddle.

Downtown Marianna in the late 1800s
Most of the Confederates broke through the flanking party, while others were captured or scattered in all directions. A teenaged eyewitness described watching the cavalrymen fighting as they went down the red clay hill on Jackson Street (then the main road to the Chipola River bridge). As the fight neared the bridge, Captain Chisolm and his Woodville Scouts, a militia cavalry company from Alabama, turned back on the Federals and counter-attacked. This gave the rest of the mounted men time to get across the bridge. Chisolm and his men then slowly withdrew across to the east bank, taking up the already loosened flooring as they went.

The two forces spread out along the banks of the Chipola, continuing a sharp skirmish but not otherwise advancing.

Meanwhile, out along West Lafayette Street, the home guards and volunteers were engaged in a battle that several veteran officers and soldiers would remember as the fiercest of the war, for its size. I will write more on that in the next post.

Until then, you can learn more in my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, which is available by clicking the Books section at the upper right of this page. It is also available as an instant download for both Amazon Kindle and iBooks devices. You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Phase Two)

War-time sketh of Asboth (2nd from left)
The return of the Confederate cavalry to Marianna (please see Battle of Marianna: Phase One) initiated a general movement of the troops, home guards and volunteers there to the western edge of town.
Some ranking officer, probably Colonel Montgomery, ordered the men and boys to take up positions that it was hoped would allow the Southern forces to draw the oncoming Union soldiers into a trap. If the plan worked, it might allow the outnumbered and outgunned Confederates to defeat the Federals.

The plan called for the mounted men to form in line of battle on the very western edge of town. Their position, then called Ely Corner, was an open area adjacent to the Ely estate and is recognized today as the intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets, where the beautiful Russ House now houses the Chamber of Commerce. The house was not built for several decades after the war and here it stands today was a wooded area in 1864.

As it approached Ely Corner, the narrow Campbellton road rounded a sharp bend just before reaching the edge of town. If things went as planned, the Federals would come blindly around this curve and directly into the guns of the Confederate cavalry. If the Southern horsemen were forced back, which their officers fully expected they would be, they were to retreat up Lafayette Street into town.

About half-way up the street between Ely Corner and Wynn Street, the Confederates placed a barricade of wagons and other debris across the road. While local legend holds that the men of the Marianna Home Guard took up positions behind this barricade, it reality it was not manned at all but instead was intended to delay a Union cavalry charge up the street. The Southern horsemen knew how to get through and around it, the Federals they expected to pursue them did not.

Ely Corner
Along both sides of the street between St. Luke's Episopal Church and this barricade, the home guards and volunteers took up positions behind fences, trees, shrubs and buildings. The objective was for the Confederate Cavalry, when forced back from Ely Corner, to lead the pursuing Union troops directly into an ambush. The home guards would open fire from both sides of the road and then the Confederate cavalry would turn back against the head of the Federal column. If all went well, the Federals would be stunned and trapped, taking fire at short range from three directions at once.

While home guards or militia were generally not held in high regard as a fighting force by regular soldiers, the men at Marianna was augmented by a large number of regular soldiers and officers who were home from the main fronts of the war on either medical furlough or leave. This solid core of seasoned, professional soldiers gave the home guards a backbone of experience.

Ely-Criglar House at Ely Corner
In addition, the men and boys of Marianna had been cheered by their wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and other kin as they marched from the courthouse out to West Lafayette Street. They had no doubt as to why they were fighting and who they were defending.

Colonel Montgomery had waited out west of town when his cavalry returned to Marianna in order to scout the Federal approach. What he saw alarmed him. When the Federals reached the vicinity of today's intersection of Kelson and West Lafayette, they halted. After talking to his guides, General Asboth sent a portion of his force to the left, around the old logging trail or bypass that followed the rotue of what is now Kelson Avenue. He then led the main body of his column straight up the main road.

Colonel Montgomery (at left)
Realizing that his outnumbered men were about to be attacked both on the flank and front, he rode at full speed up the road to Ely Corner even as they Federal main body picked up speed behind him. When he arrived to find his horsemen formed in line of battle as planned, the colonel ordered an immediate withdrawal to the Chipola River. Obviously hoping that he still had time to extricate his men from what was now turning into a Federal trap, he hoped to pull back across the bridge and make a stand there.

In the words of one eyewitness, though, there was "demurring" about abandoning Marianna without a fight. Before Colonel Montgomery could explain the situation, the head of the Federal column rounded the curve at Ely Corner.

I will continue to post on the Battle of Marianna over the next several days. If you are interested in reading more, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It can be ordered by clicking the "Books" section at the upper right of this page and is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and at iBooks. You can also read more online at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 27, 1864: The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Phase One)

Battle of Marianna Monument
The morning of September 27, 1864, dawned clear, blue and cool. The lingering tropical system that had drenched the Florida Panhandle with rain for more than twelve days had pushed on during the night and the citizens of Marianna awakened to their first hint of fall.
It was court day in Marianna. Plantiffs and defendants joined with lawyers and judges at the Jackson County Courthouse, most dressed in their finest in anticipation of having their day in court. Elsewhere around town, people began to open their businesses and childreen and teens started for the community's wooden schoolhouse. Despite the misery that three years of war had brought on the people of the county, it was an idyllic morning for most.

That changed suddenly when the alarm bell at the courthouse began sounding. As the men and boys ran to find out what was wrong, other bells joined in until every citizen of Marianna knew that something serious was taking place. The new struck the community like a thunderbolt. Colonel Montgomery had sent in a rider to alert the people that a large force of Union soldiers was advancing from Campbellton and would likely reach Marianna by midday.

As the men of the Marianna Home Guard ran for their weapons and assembled at the courthouse to await the orders of their captain, local attorney Jesse J. Norwood, the women and slaves loaded wagons and carts with valuables to save from the oncoming raiders. Most of the noncombatants fled the city, crossing the Chipola River and spreading out to the homes of friends in the country. Others, it is said, hid in the caves both beneath the city and at the Natural Bridge Cave in what is now Florida Caverns State Park.

Additional riders went out from Marianna to summon in Captain Henry J. Robinson's Greenwood Club Cavalry, Captain George Robinson's Jackson County Home Guards, Captain Luke Lott's Calhoun County Home Guards and Captain W.B. Jones' Vernon Home Guard. Only the Greenwood unit would make it in time, although a few of Captain George Robinson's men were already in town and took part in the fight.

Old Campbellton Road
Meanwhile, to the northwest of town, Colonel Montgomery and his mounted men fell back ahead of General Asboth's advance. The force with the colonel by this time included Captain Alexander Godwin's Campbellton Cavalry, Captain Wilson W. Poe's Battalion from the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves (Mounted) and Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts from the Alabama State Militia (Mounted).

As Asboth pushed down the Campbellton road past the Waddell, Russ and Webbville (Barnes) plantations, Montgomery realized that he was coming on too fast and that his own reinforcements would not have time to reach Marianna before the Federals themselves arrived in the city. Determined to slow down the Union column if possible, he formed his men into a line of battle on the east side of Hopkins' Branch, a swampy stream about three miles northwest of town.

While the branch is seasonal, it was then flowing well because of the nearly two weeks of rain that had fallen on the area. This meant the swamp would likely be too wet for Asboth's soldiers and would funnel them onto the main road at the point it crossed the branch.

Chipola River near Marianna
As the Federals approached the crossing, Montgomery's men opened fire. The Union soldiers returned the gunshots and the opening encounter of the Battle of Marianna took place. The Confederate colonel's hope that the swamp might present a natural barrier of sorts to the enemy horses was dashed when Asboth swung his own men into a line of battle and charged directly through the muddy water at the Southern soldiers. Armstrong Purdee, an 8-year-old liberated from slavery at the Waddell Plantation, was riding on the back of one of the Union soldier's horses when the man told him to hold fast and not fall. He later recalled how the men were firing their carbines as they charged over fallen trees and logs.

Unable to hold back the larger Union force, Montgomery began a slow retreat for Marianna, fighting as he went. A member of the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry later recalled that his company had approached the city from the northwest, fighting a sharp skirmish with Confederate cavalry.

The fighting finally broke off on the outskirts of town as the Confederates ended contact with the Federals and headed into Marianna while Asboth paused his column briefly to consider tactics and form his men. The main fighting of the Battle of Marianna was about to begin.

I will post more on the Battle of Marianna over coming days, so check back regularly. You can read more in my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, which can be ordered by clicking the Books section at the upper right of this page. It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and at iBooks.

Read an online overview of the battle at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26, 1864: The Raid closes in on its target

Faded Image of Col. A.B. Montgomery, C.S.A. (at left)
The late afternoon of September 26th found the Union column of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth pitching camp in and around the town of Campbellton in northwestern Jackson County.
At about the same time, Confederate Colonel A.B. Montgomery in Marianna received his first reliable intelligence of the approach of the Federal troops. The news that they were only eighteen miles away in Campbellton must have been a considerable surprise.

Montgomery had known since the 23rd that a raid was underway in Walton County. A few of Captain Chisolm's men rode cross-country from Eucheeanna to alert the post at Marianna of the attack on the Walton County village. This news was confimed on the 25th, when Arthur Lewis (described in Battle of Marianna legend as the "boy courier" even though he was a private in the 5th Florida Cavalry) arrived in town with a similar report of Federal movements in Walton County.

Neither Chisolm's men nor Lewis brought any intelligence that the Union troops were attempting to cross the Choctawhatchee River, nor did the Vernon Home Guard under Captain W.B. Jones or Captain Jeter's company from the 5th Florida Cavalry report any movement by enemy forces up the main road from Douglas's Ferry to Marianna. Similarly, the Holmes County Home Guard made no report of any problems from the river crossing at Cerrogordo. As late as midday on September 26, 1864, just 24 hours before the Battle of Marianna, Colonel Montgomery did not know that Asboth was across the Choctawhatchee and pushing hard for Campbellton.

Campbellton Baptist Church, Built in 1858.
That changed on the afternoon of the 26th when a courier sent to headquarters by Captain Godwin of the Campbellton Cavalry reported that a large column of the enemy was in northwestern Jackson County. Ordering that the intelligence be kept quiet in town to avoid unduly alarming the citizens of Marianna until he could get a better idea of the situation, the colonel rode out from Marianna with two companies of mounted troops. He reached the outskirts of Campbellton by dark and was informed that the Federals were bedding down for the night.

From Captain Godwin and his men, Colonel Montgomery likely learned that the long Union column had crossed at Cerrogordo and advanced through Holmes County to Campbellton. What had become of the Holmes County Home Guard he did not know and apparently never would learn.

Historic Cemetery at Campbellton Baptist Church
He also had no idea where the Federals were going. While on the surface Marianna might appear to be the obvious target, this was not as clear as it might seem. Campbellton was a vital road junction from which it would be possible for Asboth to move in a number of directions, ranging from a turn north into Alabama to a ride east to Neal's Landing on the Chattahoochee River and on across into Georgia. Another road led southeast to Marianna and yet a fourth struck south to Orange Hill and from there down Econfina Creek to St. Andrew Bay.

Until he could figure out what the Federals were up to, the Confederate colonel's options were limited. He did send a courier to alert Captains Milton and Jeter (Companies A and E, 5th Florida Cavalry) and convey orders for them to prepare to break camp the next morning as soon as possible and move for Marianna. He hoped they would be reach the town in time to reinforce him should he find it necessary to fall back to that point.

To better observe the Federal movements and scout the size of their force, Colonel Montgomery remained outside Campbellton on the night of the 26th. His available force at that point consisted of Captain Godwin and his Campbellton men, the main body of Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts (Alabama State Militia) and Captain W.W. Poe's Battalion from the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves (Mounted). Asboth's 700 man force outnumbered him by more than 2 to 1.

I will post several times tomorrow on the Battle of Marianna, so be sure to check in throughout the day for updates. You can learn more in my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, which can be ordered by clicking the Books section at the upper right. It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and at iBooks.

Learn more about the raid and battle 24 hours a day at www.battleofmarianna.com.

September 25-26, 1864: The Raid in Holmes and Jackson Counties

Monument at site of Cerrogordo
The morning of September 25, 1864, found Brigadier General Alexander Asboth and his 700 Union soldiers camped in the little town of Cerrogordo on the Choctawhatchee River. Rain from a tropical system continued to fall, just as it had been doing for at least the previous ten days.
Located atop what was then called Hewett's (or Hewitt's) Bluff, Cerrogordo was a small village that consisted of a courthouse, jail, store, a few homes and around 25 inhabitants. The county seat of Holmes County, it was the location of a ferry and was surrounded by woods and occasional farms. The river was then navigable for small paddlewheel steamboats and in the years before the war, such vessels routinely stopped at the town to take on passengers or cargo. The blockade, of course, had ended this traffic for the duration of the war.

Site of Cerrogordo on the Choctawhatchee River
The ferry flat was put to use ferrying the men and horses across the rising Choctawhatchee. Fighting the rain and growing current of the river, the soldiers spent a long exhausting day just getting from one side of the river to the other. It would have been the ideal point for even a much smaller Confederate force to stop the Federals in their track, but no resistance took place. Captain Sam Grantham's Holmes County Home Guards did patrol the area, but they do not appear to have become aware of Asboth's presence until it was too late, as the unit was never called out.

Looking across the Choctawhatchee where Asboth Crossed
Having completed the crossing from Cerrogordo to the east bank by nightfall, the soldiers slept in the mud and rain before rising early on the morning of September 26th to continue their advance. The route of the raid now pushed across Holmes County along a road that then led from Cerrogordo to the Marianna ford on Holmes Creek (near today's Tri-County Airport) and into Jackson County. Homes along the way were raided as the soldiers continued to confiscate food, supplies, weapons and livestock.

As the Union column pushed through eastern Holmes County, word reached Captain A.R. Godwin of the Campbellton Cavalry, a Jackson County home guard unit, that something "was up" west of Holmes Creek. Calling his men out, he formed them at the Campbellton town square and rode southwest across the creek into Holmes County to see what was going on. According to one participant, they soon came up with the head of the Federal column and quickly realized that a major raid was underway.

Godwin skirmished with the vanguard of Asboth's oncoming column, his men approaching, shooting and then retreating on horseback in a futile effort to somehow delay the powerful raiding force. At least three men fighting with the Campbellton Cavalry were captured in these skirmishes, but there is no record of other casualties.

In my next post, later today, I will look at Asboth's arrival in Campbellton and the sounding of the alarm in Jackson County. You can read more or follow along in my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available by clicking the Books ad at the upper right of this page and can also be downloaded for both Amazon Kindle and any device using iBooks.

More information is also available at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 23-24, 1864: The Raid in Walton and Holmes Counties

Road through Euchee Valley
The brief fight on September 23rd (see The Skirmish at Eucheeanna) was just the beginning of the misery for the people of Walton and Holmes Counties.
No sooner had the smoke cleared that did the Union soldiers begin rounding up the men and boys of the Euchee Valley area. Most were too young or too old for regular military service and were in their homes when the Federals arrived in Eucheeanna. Not taking any chances that they might resist his command's foraging efforts, General Asboth had them placed in confinement at the community's jail. They were held there until he left Eucheeanna on the morning of the 24th.

Grave of Giles Bowers. Asboth commandeered his Home.
The general himself then set up his field headquarters at the home of Giles Bowers. Troops from the 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.) were sent to escort the prisoners, 16 liberate slaves and unserviceable horses down to Four Mile Landing and the Lizzie Davis. Another detachment was sent to destroy the boat at Douglas's Ferry, along with all of the other small craft in the vicinity.

Destroying Douglas's Ferry might seem like a strange decision, as it was the primary means of crossing the Choctawhatchee River on the main road from Eucheeanna to Marianna. Asboth, however, planned to approach the latter place from an unexpected direction and destroying the ferry not only concealed his intent, but also prevented its use by any Confederate force that might try to come in behind him.

A small detachment was sent out in Confederate uniforms under Lt. Col. Andrew Spurling of the 2nd Maine Cavalry in an attempt to capture the Southern cavalrymen that had escaped from Eucheeanna during the skirmish. Their tracks were found leading up the road to Geneva, Alabama, so Spurling and his men set off in that direction. Please click here to learn more about their activities.

The rest of the men set up camp in Eucheeanna and immediately began to move out in small squads to forage for food, seize wagons and livestock and liberate slaves. They undertook these activities with enthusiasm and the misery inflicted on the families - white and black - of Walton County was severe. Corncribs and smokehouses were cleaned out. Slaves were forced to hook up wagons and carriages and go along, although in many cases they did not wish to leave (a number escaped by hiding in the woods until the soldiers left). Homes were ransacked and at least two women were sexually assaulted.

Ponce de Leon Springs in Holmes County
The foraging and looting continued into the night of the 23rd and the soldiers camped in and around Eucheeanna until the morning of the 24th. Asboth then ordered the local civilians released from the jail and moved his column north up the road to Holmes County. The soldiers broke up the log inn at Ponce de Leon Spring and in that vicinity a soldier from the U.S. Colored Troops detachment was mortally wounded in an accidental shooting.

From Ponce de Leon the column continued north to Cerrogordo, then the county seat of Holmes County, which was reached on the afternoon of the 24th. I'll have more on events there in the next post.

To learn more about the West Florida Raid, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It can be purchased by clicking the Books section on the upper right of this page and is also available for Amazon Kindle and at iBooks.  To read an overview of the raid, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 23, 1864 - The Skirmish at Eucheeanna

Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church
The Federal troops of Asboth's column moved through the night from the vicinity of Lake Defuniak (see The Advance into Walton County) in order to attack the small Confederate camp at Eucheeanna on the morning of September 23, 1864.

Then the county seat of Walton County, Eucheeanna took its name from the Euchee Valley. Noted for its fertile soil and early Scotch settlement, the valley in turn was named for the Euchee or Yuchi Indians that once made it their home. At the time of Asboth's West Florida Raid, it was a center for farming and the main village of Eucheeanna was also the site of the county courthouse and jail, stores, homes, churches and a cemetery that was already four decades old by the time of the raid. The Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church was the oldest of that denomination in Florida.

Eucheeanna Area Today
Located along what had developed as the primary road linking Pensacola with Marianna, Eucheeanna was a logical target for the raiders. From the community, a quick movement east would lead to Douglas's Ferry on the Choctawhatchee River and from there Marianna could be reached via a good and direct road.

Asboth's primary target that morning, though, was a camp of Confederate cavalry in the village. These troops, made up of detachments from Captain W.B. Amos' Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry and Captain Robert Chisolm's "Woodville Scouts," a militia cavalry company from Henry County, Alabama, were in Eucheeanna enforcing the "conscription" or draft. Commissary negotiations appear also to have been underway in the village between Confederate officers and the ranchers of the area.

Euchee Valley Cemetery
The Federal troops approached Eucheeanna through the falling rain during the predawn hours, completely undetected by the Southern cavalrymen. As the soldiers neared the village, Asboth spread the 2nd Maine Cavalry into a line of battle and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Spurling to take his men and charge the Confederate camp. The attack was successful, not there was any doubt as to whether the Federals could overwhelm a few dozen Southern cavalrymen, but it was not planned particularly well.

Instead of trying to surround the Confederate camp or approach stealthily, Spurling and his men went in shouting and shooting. This, of course, ended the element of surprise and, while they were able to capture a handful of the Southern soldiers, quite a few had time to get to their horses and escape. This was bad news for Asboth, who was hoping to bag the whole lot so they could not alarm the countryside ahead of his approach.

The skirmish was over in minutes. So far as is known, no one was killed, although Spurling and his men managed to capture 9 prisoners of war, 6 political prisoners, 46 horses, 8 mules, 26 stand of arms and a quantity of bar lead bearing the mark of Merchants' Shot-Works in Baltimore, Maryland (an interesting discovery, as Maryland was technically a Union state).

The following Confederates were taken as prisoners of war at Eucheeanna:
  • Lt. Francis M. Gordon (15th Confederate Cavalry)
  • John Pitts (15th Confederate Cavalry)
  • William Clayton (15th Confederate Cavalry)
  • J.C. Thomas (Chisolm's Company)
  • J.W. Brett (Chisolm's Company)
  • C.H. Parker (Chisolm's Company)
  • Daniel Neel (Gillis' Company, Walton Home Guard)
  • Daniel McDonald (1st Florida Reserves)
  • James W. Skipper (Crosby's Company)
The last three individuals seem to have been in the Confederate camp for some reason, but there is no indication that other men from their units were there.

The Federal troops spread out through the Euchee Valley area, subjecting the residents there to a day and night of terror that has not been forgotten to this day.  More on that in my next post.

To learn more about Asboth's raid, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida (available by clicking the Books area at the upper right of this page). It is also available as an instant download for both Amazon Kindle and iBooks. You can also learn more about the raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22, 1864: The Advance into Walton County

Lake Defuniak in Walton County, Florida
Brigadier General Alexander Asboth's main column turned inland from Four Mile Landing (Freeport) on the morning of September 22nd, aiming for the populated areas of Walton County.

His smaller foraging column hit the cattle ranches along the Shoal River in what is now eastern Okaloosa and western Walton Counties that same morning. The area was then all part of Walton County, as Okaloosa was not created until 1915, but was sparcely populated. Its primary industry was cattle ranching and a number of large ranches then operated along the Shoal River and its tributaries, supplying beef to the Confederate armies.

Part of Asboth's plan was to raid these ranches to secure beef not only for his own movement, but to supply the forces at Pensacola. He accomplished this goal on the 22nd when part of his force moved through the ranches rounding up cattle. Several Southerh soldiers, among them William J. Cawthon and Lafayette Cawthon of the 15th Confederate Cavalry, were found at home on leave and were taken as prisoners of war. The Cawthon brothers were sons of William Cawthon (Sr.), one of the largest landowners in Northwest Florida and South Alabama.

Daniel Campbell of Walton County
There is no evidence of Confederate resistance during the day and by late afternoon Asboth's men reformed a single column and moved into the vicinity of what is now known as Lake Defuniak. A stunning natural body of water, the lake forms the heart of Defuniak Springs, a town that was not founded until after the Civil War.

Without Confederate opposition to battle, the Union soldiers helped themselves to fresh beef from the herds of the Campbell family, which grazed in the natural grasslands that then surrounded Lake Defuniak.

Asboth was now within a few miles of the county seat at Eucheeanna. The Confederates there, likely because of the heavy rain that continued to fall, had no idea that he was coming and consequently made no effort to prepare for attack. This would lead to disaster when the first gunfire of the raid was exchanged the next morning.

I will discussed the Skirmish at Eucheeanna in the next post as I continue a look at Asboth's 1864 West Florida Raid. If you would like to read more or follow along, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available by clicking the books section at the upper right of this page. The book can also be purchased as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and can also be found at iBooks.

To see an overview of the raid, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September 21, 1864: Asboth continues moving inland

Longleaf Pines like those seen by Asboth's Troops
Rain continued to fall on September 21, 1864, as Brigadier General Alexander Asboth's columns continued their move into the interior of the Florida Panhandle.

They were now three days out from Pensacola Bay, but the Confederate forces assigned to Walton and Santa Rosa Counties (Okaloosa did not then exist) still had not detected their presence. Part of the reason for this was that the Federals were moving along a route they had not previously used. The other reason was the rain. The tropical system that had come up the Gulf days earlier still hovered over the Panhandle, drenching men and horses alike. The Confederates, it seems, were simply staying in their camps.

Moving through what one of his soldiers called "some of the darndest mud holes you ever saw," Asboth reached Four Mile Landing on the afternoon of September 21, 1864. The Lizzie Davis had made her way across the bay and was waiting there for him.

Four Mile Landing in around 1900
This landing was an important port for the farmers of Walton County, particularly those of the Euchee Valley area. Their crops and timber could be brought down by wagon and ox cart to what is now the town of Freeport at the confluence of Fourmile and Lafayette Creeks. Fourmile Creek (then usually spelled "Four Mile") was navigable from that point the short distance down into LaGrange Bayou and Choctawhatchee Bay. Steamboats and schooners made their way up to the docks at Four Mile Landing and from there carrying the commerce of much of Walton County to Pensacola and beyond.

Its use as a resupply point shows that Asboth was extremely well-informed on the topography of Northwest Florida and that his guides knew the region extremely well. Using Four Mile Landing allowed him to move his force without having to make use of a long train of supply wagons.

Additional provisions and other supplies were brought ashore from the Lizzie Davis and the men were also ordered to slaughter fresh beef and prepare two days worth of rations. The general clearly expected to reach an area where his men could live off the land in that time and the obvious target was the Euchee Valley.

Euchee Valley seen from Knox Hill
An area of rich farmland in eastern Walton County, it was then one of the county's most populated area. The county seat - Eucheeanna - was there, as were a handful of commercial establishments, churches, farms and homes. The famed Knox Hill Academy, a place of higher learning, overlooked the valley. The farms here were among the finest in the western Panhandle and with the harvest season in full force, Asboth knew that a wealth of foodstuffs and other supplies waited there for him.

I will continue to post on the 1864 West Florida Road throughout this month. You can read more and follow along in my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, which is available in both print and as a Kindle instant download at the upper right of this page. It is also available for users of Nook, Ipad and other devices at iBooks.

You can also access an overview of the raid by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September 20, 1864: The Federals advance into the interior

Four Mile Landing
While troop movements had been underway both across Pensacola Bay and then down Santa Rosa Sound to what is now Fort Walton Beach for five days, it was on September 20, 1864, that the Federal column under General Alexander Asboth made its initial inland push.
Have spent two days supplying, feeding and resting his force, Asboth turned inland via the Ridge Road on the early morning of the 20th. The heavy rain of the last five days continued to fall as the soldiers moved on horseback into the vast longleaf pine forests that characterized the coastal plain. One member of the 2nd Maine Cavalry wrote in his diary that there was "not a house" to break the monotony.

Leaving the Camp Walton site at Fort Walton Beach, the soldiers appear to have moved in two columns. One followed the sandy pathways around that curved around the north side of Choctawhatchee Bay, while a second smaller force appears to have pushed north for the Shoal River in what is now eastern Okaloosa and western Walton Counties (then all part of Walton). The Shoal was the center of an area of large cattle ranches operated by the Cawthon, Hart and other families and the beef herds there were the target of this secondary movement.

The main body rode for Four Mile Landing (near present-day Freeport) on the north side of the bay. The Quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis had been ordered to that point to provide the force one last opportunity to receive supplies before it disappeared fully into the interior.

No known damage was inflicted by either force on the 20th of September as both spent the day passing through the towering pines that one Federal soldier remarked would make a lumberman rich if he only had the resources to harvest them. No Confederate troops were encountered and so far as is known, the main headquarters for the region at Pollard, Alabama, and the outposts at Milton in Santa Rosa County and Eucheeanna in Walton County remained oblivious to the movement.

Col. A.B. Montgomery (at left)
The movements around Choctawhatchee Bay were well removed from the subdistrict of Colonel A.B. Montgomery at Marianna, who was depending on the Confederates to the west to alert him of any danger approaching from that direction. Their failure to do so would prove catastrophic for Confederate forces east of the Choctawhatchee over the coming days.

I will post more on the 1864 West Florida Raid over coming days. To learn more or to follow along, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida (available at the upper right of this page). The book is also available as an instant download for your Amazon Kindle reading device or software as well as for Nook, Ipad and Iphone users at iBooks.

To see an overview of the raid, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com

Sunday, September 18, 2011

September 18, 1864: The West Florida Raid Begins

Deer Point and Santa Rosa Sound
With heavy rain from a tropical system continuing to fall across the Florida Panhandle, the long mounted column of Union troops under Brigadier General Alexander Asboth began its move eastward along the Old Federal Road (see yesterday's post: Asboth prepares to move) during the predawn hours of September 18, 1864.

With a battalion of the 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.) and two mounted detachments from the 82nd and 86th U.S. Colored Troops, the general pushed up the road from Deer Point (Gulf Breeze) to what is now Fort Walton Beach. The latter place was then known as Camp Walton, after an outpost established there in 1861 by the Walton Guards. This unit had been raised in Walton County and took up a position at the Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound to provide protection to Southern vessels making their way in and out of Choctawhatchee Bay.

It is a little known fact that schooners, steamboats and other commercial vessels leaving the bay once had to do so by way of Santa Rosa Sound. The sound, which ran behind Santa Rosa Island from Choctawhatchee Bay to Pensacola Bay, was a deep natural channel that allowed easy navigation between the two bays.  The East Pass, the main inlet from the Gulf of Mexico into Choctawhatchee Bay, was too shallow most of the time and vessels could not safely pass. As a result they used the sound to travel down to Pensacola Bay and from there either to the wharves of Pensacola or out into the Gulf.

Camp Walton Cannon at Fort Walton beach
The natural choke point of Santa Rosa Sound was at the Narrows or today's Fort Walton Beach. Here the waterway narrowed considerably and the Confederates placed a cannon there an emplacement they dug into an Indian mound. They evacuated Camp Walton and buried the gun in 1862, when the need of troops for the Army of Tennessee became too severe and the men were called to the main front.

Asboth reached the former Camp Walton site on the afternoon of September 18, 1864, and established a second camp. The 2nd Maine Cavalry, which remained behind at Deer Point, would come up the next day. The quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis paralleled the movement via Santa Rosa Sound and came up to the camp with additional supplies.

I will continue to post on the West Florida Raid over coming days. Learn more or follow along with a copy of my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is also available for the Amazon Kindle reading device or software as well as in the iBook store.

Read more anytime at www.battleofmarianna.com.