Friday, September 9, 2011

Marianna, Florida in 1864 - The Eve of Asboth's Raid

Downtown Marianna
To begin our month long coverage of the anniversary of Gen. Alexander Asboth's West Florida Raid, I thought a look at the raid's target would be appropriate.

The county seat of Florida's third oldest county, Marianna was established on hills overlooking the Chipola River in 1827. The unique name was created by combining the name of one of its founders, Anna Maria Beveridge, with the name of the wife of a business partner of the Beveridges. By 1864, the Jackson County city had emerged as the premier community in the interior of the Florida Panhandle.

Downtown Marianna in the 19th Century
A transportation hub from which a network of roads spread out to the coast, other interior counties, Georgia, Alabama and beyond, Marianna was also the key junction point for telegraph lines linking the capital city of Tallahassee and port of Apalachicola with the rest of the South. As the seat of one of Florida's three most populated counties, it held great political significance as was evidence by the fact that local planter John Milton was serving as Florida's Confederate governor. His Sylvania Plantation, located just northeast of Marianna, was one of the largest in the state.

The Confederate military recognized the significance of Marianna and the surrounding plantation district. While resources were limited, a considerable portion of the available military force in Florida was headquartered in the city. Colonel A.B. Montgomery, who had been wounded at Second Manassas while leading the 3rd Georgia Infantry, was assigned to command the military subdistrict headquartered in Marianna. His area of responsibility included the artillery batteries that defended the Apalachicola River as well as the coastal saltworks and interior farms and plantations in the eastern panhandle. The command stretched from the Apalachicola River west to the Choctawhatchee and from the Alabama line south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Col. A.B. Montgomery (at left)
Exclusive of the artillerymen stationed along the Apalachicola, Montgomery's command consisted of three companies of cavalry, a battalion of mounted infantry and seven companies of militia or home guards formed in August per the order of Governor Milton. The latter units were green, undrilled, for the most part poorly armed and were scattered in communities across the subdistrict.

In addition, Marianna was home to a 50-bed Confederate post hospital, military stables, a conscription camp where new recruits (i.e. draftees) were brought for training, provost marshal's office and commissary storehouses. The city was the center of military supply operations in the region and was the location to which herds of cattle and hogs were brought, along with stockpiles of grain, salt and other necessities prior to their shipment out to the Confederate armies in the field.

While barges, pole boats and small steamboats could navigate the Chipola River as far up as Marianna during high water, the primary supply line leading from Marianna to the rest of the South consisted of freight wagons that traveled the roads from the city to landings on the Chattahoochee River which formed much of the county's eastern border. From there, paddlewheeel steamboats carried the supplies north to the factories and rail connections at Columbus, Georgia.

It was just a matter of time before the city attracted the attention of Union commanders at Pensacola.

I will continue to post on Asboth's West Florida Raid throughout the rest of the month, so check back in regularly!  If you would like to read more and follow along, please consider my book - The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available by clicking the ad at left. The book is also available as an instant download for your Amazon Kindle reading device (or Amazon's free Kindle software for your computer, tablet or smartphone) by clicking here:  The Battle of Marianna, Florida. The book is also available for download via iBooks.

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