|Island Hotel at Cedar Key (ca. 1850s)|
The vessels had come to take aboard men from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry and the 2nd U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) for transport to the mouth of the St. Marks River for an expedition that would lead 8 days later to the Battle of Natural Bridge, one of the last significant Confederate victories of the War Between the States.
|Gen. John Newton|
While Newton had no way of knowing it, the Southern force engaged at Fort Myers was part of Florida's famed "Cow Cavalry" and its presence in the southern peninsula had in no way weakened the defenses of the northern parts of the state.
|Admiral C.K. Stribling|
The Honduras linked up with the Magnolia at Punta Rassa and the two steamers moved together up the coast, arriving off Cedar Key at nightfall on February 25, 1865. The vessels were joined there shortly by the steamer Alliance, which had followed them up from Key West. Other ships, including the warships Mahaska, Stars and Stripes, Spirea and Fort Henry, were ordered by Admiral Stribling to assemble off the mouth of the St. Marks.
It was not until he reached Cedar Key that General Newton learned that that the post commander, Major Edmund Weeks of the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry, was away with many of his men on a projected raid into the interior. On the 26th, 146 years ago today, couriers were sent to call him back and the men still at post were ordered to prepare to embark.
The plan devised by Newton and Stribling was simple on its face, but would prove complicated to carry out. Moving up from Key West with the 99th USCT and three companies from the 2nd USCT, Newton would augment his force with three companies from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry and four companies from the 2nd USCT at Cedar Key before steaming on to the mouth of the St. Marks River. There he would join forces with a large navy flotilla that would assist in putting the me ashore. While the general marched inland with his troops, the warships would move up the St. Marks River, silent the guns of Fort Ward (today's San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park) at the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers, and put ashore 1,000 sailors who would assist the army force on its march inland.
In the next post, I'll look closer at the objectives of the Natural Bridge Expedition and discuss some of the targeted communities as part of a week long series marking the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge. Until then, you can read more in the new Expanded Edition of my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (also available as a Kindle download), or by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.
The annual Memorial Service and Reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge will take place next weekend, March 5-6, 2011. The Memorial Service will be held at the battlefield at 1 p.m. next Sunday, March 6th, followed by the main battle reenactment.