Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26, 1864: The Raid closes in on its target

Faded Image of Col. A.B. Montgomery, C.S.A. (at left)
The late afternoon of September 26th found the Union column of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth pitching camp in and around the town of Campbellton in northwestern Jackson County.
At about the same time, Confederate Colonel A.B. Montgomery in Marianna received his first reliable intelligence of the approach of the Federal troops. The news that they were only eighteen miles away in Campbellton must have been a considerable surprise.

Montgomery had known since the 23rd that a raid was underway in Walton County. A few of Captain Chisolm's men rode cross-country from Eucheeanna to alert the post at Marianna of the attack on the Walton County village. This news was confimed on the 25th, when Arthur Lewis (described in Battle of Marianna legend as the "boy courier" even though he was a private in the 5th Florida Cavalry) arrived in town with a similar report of Federal movements in Walton County.

Neither Chisolm's men nor Lewis brought any intelligence that the Union troops were attempting to cross the Choctawhatchee River, nor did the Vernon Home Guard under Captain W.B. Jones or Captain Jeter's company from the 5th Florida Cavalry report any movement by enemy forces up the main road from Douglas's Ferry to Marianna. Similarly, the Holmes County Home Guard made no report of any problems from the river crossing at Cerrogordo. As late as midday on September 26, 1864, just 24 hours before the Battle of Marianna, Colonel Montgomery did not know that Asboth was across the Choctawhatchee and pushing hard for Campbellton.

Campbellton Baptist Church, Built in 1858.
That changed on the afternoon of the 26th when a courier sent to headquarters by Captain Godwin of the Campbellton Cavalry reported that a large column of the enemy was in northwestern Jackson County. Ordering that the intelligence be kept quiet in town to avoid unduly alarming the citizens of Marianna until he could get a better idea of the situation, the colonel rode out from Marianna with two companies of mounted troops. He reached the outskirts of Campbellton by dark and was informed that the Federals were bedding down for the night.

From Captain Godwin and his men, Colonel Montgomery likely learned that the long Union column had crossed at Cerrogordo and advanced through Holmes County to Campbellton. What had become of the Holmes County Home Guard he did not know and apparently never would learn.

Historic Cemetery at Campbellton Baptist Church
He also had no idea where the Federals were going. While on the surface Marianna might appear to be the obvious target, this was not as clear as it might seem. Campbellton was a vital road junction from which it would be possible for Asboth to move in a number of directions, ranging from a turn north into Alabama to a ride east to Neal's Landing on the Chattahoochee River and on across into Georgia. Another road led southeast to Marianna and yet a fourth struck south to Orange Hill and from there down Econfina Creek to St. Andrew Bay.

Until he could figure out what the Federals were up to, the Confederate colonel's options were limited. He did send a courier to alert Captains Milton and Jeter (Companies A and E, 5th Florida Cavalry) and convey orders for them to prepare to break camp the next morning as soon as possible and move for Marianna. He hoped they would be reach the town in time to reinforce him should he find it necessary to fall back to that point.

To better observe the Federal movements and scout the size of their force, Colonel Montgomery remained outside Campbellton on the night of the 26th. His available force at that point consisted of Captain Godwin and his Campbellton men, the main body of Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts (Alabama State Militia) and Captain W.W. Poe's Battalion from the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves (Mounted). Asboth's 700 man force outnumbered him by more than 2 to 1.

I will post several times tomorrow on the Battle of Marianna, so be sure to check in throughout the day for updates. You can learn more in my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, which can be ordered by clicking the Books section at the upper right. It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and at iBooks.

Learn more about the raid and battle 24 hours a day at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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