Monday, September 12, 2011

Asboth's West Florida Raid takes shape - September 12, 1864

Gen. Alexander Asboth
The intelligence that Gen. Alexander Asboth received at Pensacola Bay on September 11, 1864 (see Asboth's Report No. 1045) was so precise that he immediately began preparations to act on it.

On September 12th he sent a notification up to the headquarters of the Department of the Gulf that he anticipated launching a raid deep into the interior of West Florida:

...I am to start a cavalry raid in the northwest portion of West Florida. Going up the Santa Rosa Island and swimming the horses across the East Pass to the mainland, I will proceed to Point Washington and from thence to Marianna and vicinity, returning via St. Andrews salt works. My object is to capture the isolated rebel cavalry and infantry in Washington and Jackson Counties, and to liberate the Union prisoners at Marianna, to collect white and colored recruits, and secure as many horses and mules as possible. - Alexander Asboth, September 12, 1864.

While a few historians have claimed that the general sent his notice and then immediately launched the raid before his superiors could countermand the plan, in truth the report had plenty of time to reach headquarters and Asboth's superiors in New Orleans were well aware of his plan.

The scope of the expedition would be expanded over coming days, but from the beginning the objective was Marianna and the city would remain the primary goal of the raid. Some writers have long speculated that Tallahassee was the ultimate objective of the coming raid, but this was simply not the case. As Asboth wrote six days before the beginning of the raid, Marianna was his target and nothing in his reports indicates that he anticipated advancing beyond that point.

There are some obvious reasons for this. First and foremost, Tallahassee was not in his area of command. Federal commanders had divided Florida along a line that carved the part of the state west of the Apalachicola River off from the rest of the peninsula. Asboth's District of West Florida ended at the river, with the commander at Key West responsible for other parts of the state. Second, a raid from Pensacola Bay

 to Marianna was more of an ambitious undertaking than many writers seem to think.


Antebellum Doctor's Office in Marianna
If the general could successfully reach Marianna, his raid would be the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida since the beginning of the war. Even the 5,500 man Federal army defeated at the Battle of Olustee earlier in the year had not covered one third of the distance that Gen. Asboth proposed raiding. In linear miles, in fact, his raid would cover a greater distance than Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's coming March to the Sea through Georgia.

It was an extremely risky undertaking, but if successful would all but end West Florida's ability to contribute to the maintenance of the Confederate armies in the field. And this would be a major blow to the Southern war effort as the region, especially Jackson County, was a major source of provisions and other supplies.


I will continue to post on Asboth's raid throughout this month. If you would like to read more or following along in more detail, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available by clicking the ad at left and also can be downloaded directly to your Amazon Kindle reading device (or Amazon's free Kindle software for your computer or smartphone) by clicking: The Battle of Marianna, Florida.  The book is also available for download at iBooks.

You can also see an overview of the raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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