Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Phase Three)

St. Luke's Episcopal Church
With the Confederate cavalry scattered or pushed across the Chipola River, the Battle of Marianna moved into its most pivitol phase as the full strength of the Union force was turned on the home guards and volunteers along West Lafayette Street.

In close range and often hand to hand fighting, the Confederates positioned behind trees, shrubs, fences and buildings along the south side of the street were the first to give way. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Southern men and boys tried to withdraw down the slope to and beyond Stage Creek. Even though several experienced regular officers and soldiers were present, most of the Confederates were local citizens with little if any miltary training. Their line crumbled as the retreat began.

Littleton Myrick, killed in battle.
The Federals pursued them with considerable intensity. Captain H.O. Bassett, the former sheriff of Jackson County who was home on leave from Company E, 6th Florida Infantry, was cornered near the creek and fell from so many bayonet wounds that his body was later recognized only by his gray Confederate officer's pants. The fact that he suffered bayonet wounds indicates that he and the men around him were battling the Union soldiers from the U.S. Colored Troops detachment that was part of Asboth's force.

Seeing their comrades across the street give way, the men along the north side of Lafayette knew they were in serious trouble. Deciding to pull his men back deeper into town, Captain Jesse Norwood of the Marianna Home Guard ordered a withdrawal. The men fell back from their positions along the road into the fenced yard that surrounded St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Norwood evidently planned to pull his men on beyond that point into the buildings that surrounded the downtown area, but the main body of Asboth's flanking party had come in behind them now and they were trapped in and around the church.

St. Luke's Churchyard, scene of heavy action.
A militia unit like the Marianna Home Guard normally would have crumbled under such circumstances, but Norwood's men did not. Their ranks included numerous men and officers who had served in the regular Confederate army. Some were still on the rolls but home on leave or furlough, while others had been disabled earlier in the war due to battlefield wounds or illness. As a result, the company had a wide and solid backbone of seasoned soldiers.

Final Home Guard Position
Now trapped in the churchyard but determined to keep fighting, the Confederates took up position behind the stout board fence that surrounded the guard and kept up a constant fire with their attackers. General Asboth had been severely wounded in the ambush near the barricade, so Colonel Ladislas L. Zulavsky now had command of the fight. Seeing that his cavalrymen were unable to dislodge Norwood's men from their position behind the churchyard fence, he ordered the now dismounted men from the 82nd and 86th U.S. Colored Troops to form ranks in the street.
The order was given and the African American soldiers surged forward in a bayonet charge that went up and over the wooden fence. The home guards were driven back into the cemetery behind the church, but continued such a hot fire that the bayonet charge eventually stalled out. The Union troops now closed in on Norwood's men from three sides (the church forming the fourth). The fighting, however, continued. In fact, it continued so fiercely that some of the Union officers began to wonder if they would be able to dislodge the Confederates from their new position.

I'll post on the final phase of the battle in the next post. If you would like to read about the fight in more detail, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is also available as an instant download for both Amazon Kindle and iBooks.

You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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