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.

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