Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Phase Two, Continued)

Major Nathan Cutler
By most accounts, the main Union column rounded the curve at Ely Corner at high noon on September 27, 1864. Major Nathan Cutler's battalion of the 2nd Maine Cavalry was in the lead.
The Federals, not expecting resistance from Confederate cavalry that they thought was in full retreat, came on in a column of fours... and ran head on into the Southern horsemen who were formed in line of battle across the road at Ely Corner. All debate now over, Colonel Montgomery ordered his men to fire and a volley erupted from the Confederate line.

Russ House at Ely Corner
The Union soldiers were stunned and, while Major Cutler ordered an immediate charge, it failed to materialize and the column fell back on itself and retreated around the curve. 8-year-old Armstrong Purdee, who witnessed the scene from the back of a Union soldier's horse, later recalled that two of Cutler's men were badly wounded. They were carried back to Russ Branch, a small stream that flowed behind today's Russ House (Chamber of Commerce), and water was poured on their wounds by the surgeons.

Outraged by the unexpected retreat of his men, General Asboth spurred his horse forward and cried, "For Shame! For Shame!" at them. He then ordered a second battalion from the 2nd Maine to charge and led them himself.

Montgomery's men, meanwhile, were still struggling to reload their musketoons when the second Federal charge surged around the curve. Unable to resist, Montgomery and his horsemen withdrew up Lafayette Street. Eyewitnesses later noted that the Federals were hot on their heels as they retreated.

Holden House, Barricade Vicinity
The Confederates reached the barricade and, knowing the ways to bypass it, went around and through it to continue their withdrawal up the street. It served its intedned purposes, however, by delaying the Federals who had to slow their charge in order to pass it. Once the head of their column was past the wagons and debris, however, the home guards and volunteers suddenly entered the fight.

Musket, shotgun and pistol fire erupted from both sides of the street, mowing down the head of Asboth's column. The Southern citizen-soldiers had been so well concealed behind trees, bushes, fences and buildings that the Federals never saw them until it was too late.

The first volley was stunningly effective. General Asboth went down with wounds to his jaw and arm. Some of the Confederates tried to capture him, but were held off by men from the 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.) who fought with sabres to defend the general and get him to safety. In the 2nd Maine Cavalry, it was reported that every man and officer at the head of the column went down killed or wounded.

Lafayette Street in Downtown Marianna
Unfortunately for the Confederates, it was not enough. While the volley from ambush by the home guards and volunteers had stunned the Union charge, it did not stop it. The main body of the battalion continued up the street after the Southern cavalry, while the rest of the column pushed up to deal with the men and boys that had fired from ambush.

Pushed with his horsemen up the street by the Federals, Colonel Montgomery reached the center of town to find that his worst fears had been realized - the Union flanking party had come in behind him and was now in position around courthouse square. The Confederates charged into these men and hand to hand combat broke out all around the square. The colonel was thrown from his horse and captured near the southeast corner of the square. Lieutenant M.A. Butler of the Greenwood Club Cavalry was shot down and killed as he turned north on Jefferson in an effort to escape. Eyewitnesses saw him fire back at his pursuers but miss just before they blasted him from the saddle.

Downtown Marianna in the late 1800s
Most of the Confederates broke through the flanking party, while others were captured or scattered in all directions. A teenaged eyewitness described watching the cavalrymen fighting as they went down the red clay hill on Jackson Street (then the main road to the Chipola River bridge). As the fight neared the bridge, Captain Chisolm and his Woodville Scouts, a militia cavalry company from Alabama, turned back on the Federals and counter-attacked. This gave the rest of the mounted men time to get across the bridge. Chisolm and his men then slowly withdrew across to the east bank, taking up the already loosened flooring as they went.

The two forces spread out along the banks of the Chipola, continuing a sharp skirmish but not otherwise advancing.

Meanwhile, out along West Lafayette Street, the home guards and volunteers were engaged in a battle that several veteran officers and soldiers would remember as the fiercest of the war, for its size. I will write more on that in the next post.

Until then, you can learn more in my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, which is available by clicking the Books section at the upper right of this page. It is also available as an instant download for both Amazon Kindle and iBooks devices. You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

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