Saturday, June 4, 2011

Confrontation at Campbellton - Last Confederate Company in the Field?

Campbellton Baptist Church
On May 17, 1865 - four days after the Battle of Palmito Ranch in Texas - the Campbellton Cavalry stood off a raid by Union troops and deserters in what seems to have been the last armed confrontation of the War Between the States in Florida.

Campbellton is a small community just south of the Alabama line in northwestern Jackson County that is home to the oldest continuously operating Baptist church in Florida. In 1865 it was the second largest town in the county and served as a trading and commercial center for for plantations and farms covering some of the finest lands in the area. It had been settled before the surrender of Florida by Spain to the United States, with some of the still-operating farms there dating back to as early as 1819.

On September 26, 1864, the area had been subjected to devastating raiding and light skirmishing as a column of Union troops led by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth passed through on their way to the Battle of Marianna. The Federals had been opposed in their advance by a small militia cavalry unit called the Campbellton Cavalry.

Commanded by Captain A.R. Godwin, a local plantation owner, the Campbellton men had skirmished with Asboth's vanguard, slowly falling back to Marianna where they joined in the defense of that city on the 27th. One of the units that escaped the Battle of Marianna relatively intact, the horsemen continued to patrol their area and protect their homes against threats on through the end of the war.

On May 17th, they were called out as news spread that a large raiding party was approaching town. The raiders arrived in Campbellton only to find the local men armed and waiting for them. The result was a standoff that likely saved the town from heavy damage:

...The raiders, under a man by the name of Pittman, who was styled a lieutenant, made a demonstration upon Campbellton on Wednesday last; numbers about 100. They were met by some forty armed citizens at the above place, but no collision. The raiders retired to their homes, learning they would be fought, with promises to be quiet. I am inclined to the opinion that nothing further is to be apprehended.

The account was written by George S. Hawkins, who served as Florida's sole Congressman until he resigned as the state moved to seceed from the Union. He lived in nearby Marianna and apparently learned the details first hand from participants.

The leader of the raiders, identified by hawkins as "a man by the name of Pittman," was Sergeant Thomas H. Pitman from Company F, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry. His title of lieutenant had actually been earned earlier in the war when he served in the Confederate army. His service record indicates that he was elected 2nd Lieutenant of Company I, 6th Florida Infantry, in March of 1863. On May 18, 1864, however, he was dropped from the register of commissioned officers after he was reported absent without leave. By this time he had already crossed through the lines at East Pass (today's Destin) and joined the Union army.

Pitman was 6'4" tall, a towering height for those days, with blue eyes, sandy hair and a fair complexion. He was literate and even wrote a letter to his Union commanders seeking a commission based on his previous service in what he called the "so-called" Confederate army.

During the final stages of the war, Union soldiers from the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry were sent into the Confederate-held areas of Northwest Florida and Southeast Alabama to organize raiding parties like the one confronted by the Campbellton Cavalry on May 17, 1865. Their primary orders were to secure horses and cattle as well as to do any damage they could. The group led by Pitman may or may not have known that the war was technically over, but he was definitely a soldier in good standing in the Union army at the time of the raid.

The men of the Campbelton Cavalry would continue to defend their community and farms against perceived threats for several years to come. The names of members of the organization pop up regularly in accounts of the Reconstruction era in Jackson County. On one occasion in 1866, U.S. occupation troops rode out to Campbellton and found themselves confronted by men dug in around plantation buildings. Outgunned, the Federal soldiers withdrew back to their post at Marianna without making a fight of it.

Could the loosely organized Campbellton Cavalry have been the last Confederate company in the field?  The men of the community remained organized for defensive purposes for several years after the war and there is no indication that their organization was any different than it had been when they formed their company in the spring of 1864. No members of the unit took paroles from Federal officers in Florida when the war ended.

They very well could have made up the last unit of undefeated Southern soldiers.


Terry Sirmans said...

Nice article Dale. Never heard about these actions. Any specific info on members of unit at these times?

Dale said...

Terry, Thank you. George Ball was with the 5th Florida Cavalry by then and the members captured in 1864 during the Asboth Raid were either dead or still in Union prison. I have found mention of Godwin himself in the records for this time period, along with Williams, Clayton and some other names.