Saturday, September 17, 2011

September 17, 1864: Asboth prepares to move

Indian Mound at Fort Walton beach
The night of September 17, 1864, found the 700 man force of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth largely across Pensacola Bay and ready to begin its move on Marianna.

The soldiers would spend the night camped in the Deer Point area of today's Gulf Breeze before moving out early the next morning. The initial plan called for the mounted force to follow the Federal Road from Deer Point along the inland side of Santa Rosa Sound to the Narrows of the sound at present-day Fort Walton Beach.

Built during the 1820s, the Federal Road was the first major "super highway" across Florida. It led from Pensacola, the old capital of colonial West Florida, to St. Augustine, similarly the colonial capital of East Florida. Prior to the construction of the road, the only land route linking the two cities was the old Pensacola-St. Augustine road. Although it was called a road, this route was really a series of linked Indian trails that had been in use for centuries. The new road wasn't much better. Soldiers and civilian contractors opened a path wide enough for wagons, but simply went around trees too big to cut down and did not remove stumps from the road, but instead sawed them off low enough to the ground that theoretically wagons could pass over them. This didn't always work, especially as wagons cut ruts deeper and deeper into the ground.

Old Federal Road
To save money, the Federal Road had been built primarily over land that was still in government hands by the mid-1820s. The problem with this plan was that it also took the road far away from most of the key settlements in the vast expanse of Florida between Pensacola and St. Augustine. Since the road didn't pass through the settlements, no one really used it and for most of its length it was forgotten within a decade or two. Some sections, however, did remain in use and among these was the stretch that ran from today's Gulf Breeze to the modern city of Fort Walton Beach.  Although the stretch was called the "Jackson Road" by 1864, it really had not been built by Andrew Jackson.

Accounts by individual soldiers in Asboth's command indicate that the road was knee deep in mud. The tropical system that had moved up the Gulf over the previous week remained stalled out over the Panhandle and heavy rain continued to fall.

The West Florida Raid would officially begin the next morning. I will continue to post on the history of the raid throughout this month. If you would like to follow along or learn more, please consider ordering a copy of my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. You can also learn more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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