Sunday, September 11, 2011

Asboth's Report No. 1045 - September 11, 1864


Holden House in Marianna
One of the least known facts about Gen. Alexander Asboth's 1864 West Florida Raid is that he used the newly organized 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.) to conduct scouting and recruiting missions deep into the interior of the Panhandle during the weeks before the raid.

Service records of individual members of the regiment reveal that such operations were common in West Florida during the final year of the war and that Walton, Holmes, Jackson and Washington Counties were often targeted, as were the border counties in South Alabama. Usually carried out by small detachments of men who often went inland on foot and split up with orders to reassemble in a few days at a designated location, these parties provided not just a steady flow of intelligence and recruits for the Federal forces at Pensacola Bay, but also damaged infrastructure, captured an occasional Confederate soldier and made off with horses, mules and other livestock from isolated farms and communities.

On September 11, 1864, Gen. Asboth revealed the depth of intelligence he was receiving from such operations in his Report No. 1045:

Blue Springs near Marianna
On the northern portion of my district there are in and around Marianna the following troops, in charge of Colonel Montgomery, commanding district: 300 infantry (militia) and 100 Cavalry, Captain Poe, in the city; one small company of cavalry at Chipola Spring, Captain Chissen; one company below Hickory Hill, Captain Gida; one at Vernon, Captain Jones, and one at Sweetwater, on the Saint Andrew's Road, Capt. William H. Milton. Their strength averages 80 men.

The units named by Asboth's informant can be identified with real companies and their locations as of early September of 1864 were accurately stated.

The "300 infantry (militia)" in Marianna referred to the home guard force that had formed in West Florida during the summer under orders from Governor John Milton. This force was made up of seven companies of men and boys either too young, too old or too disabled for service in the regular army. Asboth's informant may have observed their original organizational meeting which was presided over by Governor Milton in person, since as soon as that session was over they returned to their home communities. The "100 Cavalry, Captain Poe" was Captain W.W. Poe's mounted battalion (often identified as Company C) of the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves.

The company at "Chipola Spring, Captain Chissen" was Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts, a cavalry company of Alabama militiamen stationed at what is now Blue Springs. From Woodville (today's Gordon), they had been sent to Marianna by order of authorities in their home state and would later become Company I, 5th Florida Cavalry.

The company "below Hickory Hill, Captain Gida" was Captain William A. Jeter's Company E, 5th Florida Cavalry. Hickory Hill, now known as Orange Hill, is a significent elevation in eastern Washington County. The unit at Vernon was Captain W.B. Jones' Vernon Home Guard and the unit at Sweetwater (Econfina) was Captain William H. Milton's Company A, 5th Florida Cavalry.

The odd spellings of the names of some of the Southern officers likely result from an attempt by Asboth or one of his staff members to spell them phonetically as they were given in the Southern drawl of the informant.

In addition, Report No. 1045 conveyed information on the military situation in Marianna itself:

At Marianna there are several hundred prisoners confined. They have commenced to fortify Marianna and expect artillery. The negroes of the neighborhood are placed at work on the fortifications.

The reference to prisoners in the city is difficult to reconcile with actual Confederate records unless these men were the conscripts or draftees forced into the service, often at bayonet point, at the Marianna Conscription Camp. There is evidence that efforts were underway to fortify the city, but the work was just beginning and the defenses still useless in protecting Marianna against an attack.

The report was immediately dispatched up to the headquarters of the Department of the Gulf and would be followed the next day by Asboth's report on how he planned to take advantage of the newly obtained intelligence.

I will continue following the events surrounding Asboth's Raid throughout the rest of the month. If you would like to read more and follow along, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Expanded Edition). It can be ordered by clicking the ad at left and is also available as an instant download for your Amazon Kindle device or the free Kindle software Amazon provides for your computer or smartphone. Please click here to download the Kindle version: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. The book is also available for download at iBooks.

You can also learn more about the raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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