Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Captain Amos and his Confederate Horse Navy

Waterfront at Milton, Florida
Capt. Amos's Departure Point
Much has been written, with good cause, about Nathan Bedford Forrest's seizure of a steamboat in Tennessee and his subsequent use of it as a warship manned by his cavalrymen. Few realize, however, that a similar incident happened in Florida!
Captain W.B. Amos was the commander of Company I, Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry. Stationed at Milton in Santa Rosa County, his primary duty was to watch for Union raids out of Pensacola. Amos was good at this duty, but he was an aggressive officer and chafed a bit at the natural restrictions of his duties.

In June of 1864, he set off on adventure that can only be described as one of the only naval raids ever carried out in coastal waters by a Confederate cavalrymen.

The following report was filed with Colonel Henry Maury, Amos's commanding officer at Pollard, Alabama:

Scene of first two schooner captures.

Milton, June 27, 1864
DEAR COLONEL: I left here on Saturday morning with two small boats and 15 men for the mouth of Yellow River. When I arrived there I discovered a small schooner lying about 2 miles below with her sails down. I landed my men and made my way to her, and succeeded in capturing her and crew. In a few minutes I discovered another small sail coming up the bay. I secreted myself and men until she came up, and succeeded in getting her and crew. I then sent my boats and prisoners up to camp, and took the small schooner and balance of my men and sailed down to East Bay, where I was informed that there was a schooner by the name of Osceola anchored out about 4 miles from shore with 5 men and some small-arms. So I concealed my men in the boat and sailed for her, and managed to get on her after dark and succeeded in boarding her. I ordered the crew to surrender. Three made to their guns. I ordered my men to fire on them, which they did, and killed the 3. The remainder (2) surrendered. I divided my men on the two schooners and set sails for camp, and arrived here yesterday morning, and I send up the prisoners today, and it will be late before they get there, as they have to foot it up. One of the men (W. Leonard) can give you all the information that you may desire about the yard, and if you will let me, after the excitement dies off I will burn the mills on the island. I will come up on July 1 or 2 and see you, as there is some other important business that I want to see you about, &c. Will make my report to your acting assistant adjutant-general of the prisoners and where they belong, &c. My respects to Dr. Tillman and Lieutenant Hallett.

W.B. Amos
Captain, Commanding Outpost (i.e. Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

Museum at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs is combining the old with the new for a unique Christmas experience.
The park celebrates and preserves Florida's unique folk culture and also plays tribute to Stephen Foster's legacy as one of the greatest American composers. A beloved figure of the antebellum era, he penned such Civil War era favorites as "Camptown Races," "My Old Kentucky Home" and, of course, "Suwannee River." The latter tune is now the State Song of Florida.

Here is the latest information on this year's Christmas event from the state park service:
Carillon Tower

Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is hosting its annual Festival of Lights, displaying more than four million lights throughout the park, continuing through December 31st each evening until 9 p.m. (closed Christmas Night, December 25th).

Visitors can enjoy the holiday sights and sounds as they drive through the park to see unique holiday light displays, including the majestic oak trees adorned with thousands of lights, the antebellum museum dressed in full holiday splendor and a gingerbread village at the Gift Shop and Craft Square. The centerpiece of the park's light display is the Carillon Tower, which illuminates the light sky standing more than 200 feet tallk, dressed from head to toe in lights as holiday music rings from its bells.

The Stephen Foster Museum will be open extended ohours until 8:30 p.m. nightly. Cousin THelma Boltin's Gift Shop will be open everyday until 9 p.m. where complimentary refreshments are served and the Craft Square comes alive with a bonfire and marshmallow roast for everyone. Wolverine Concessions will also feature delivious treats including favorites such as hot chili, hand made potato chips and their world famous fried Oreos!

Liv e holiday music will be performed at the Stephen Foster Museum nightly from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
Visitor admires piano once played by Stephen Foster

Santa will visit the park every evening through December 24th and will make appearances throughout the entire park during the festival.

Visitors can experience the festival via horse drawn wagon and carriage rides. Two large beautiful Percheron Horses will pull a large wagon on a one mile ride around the main park drive each evening. Take a leeisurely 20 minute ride through the park and sing carols while viewing the millions of lights on display!

Park entrance fees for this event will be $2.00 per person. The Festival of Lights is sponsored by the Stephen Foster Citizens Support Organization, the Town of White Springs and its special events committee and made possible by the generous support of numerous local individuals and businesses in the Suwannee Valley Region and has been recognized as a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Tips for Visiting the 2011 Festival of Lights (PDF - 0.11KB)

Located on U.S. 41 in White Springs. From I-75 to S.R. 136 (Milepost Exit 439 - Old Exit 84), travel east on S.R. 136 for 3 miles. Turn left on U.S. 41. Park entrance is on the left. From I-10 to U.S. 41 North (Milepost Exit 301 - Old Exit 43), travel 9 miles to White Springs. Park entrance is on the left.

Physical Address
11016 Lillian Saunders Drive
White Springs, Florida 32096

Please click here to learn more about the park: www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stephenfoster.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wartime Sketch of St. Marks Lighthouse and Fort Williams

1862 Sketch of Fort Williams and St. Marks Lighthouse
This fascinating sketch appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on February 11, 1862. It shows the St. Marks Lighthouse, Fort Williams, the Confederate gunboat C.S.S. Spray (in the background) and the Union warship U.S.S. Mohawk.
The lighthouse today is a popular landmark for visitors to the St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge, but no trace remains of Fort Williams.

Named for Colonel J.J. Williams, a well-known planter from Leon County, the fort was built in 1861 to protect the mouth of the St. Marks River from attack by Union warships. It mounted several pieces of heavy artillery and was built of earth with a timber backing. As the sketch shows, it stood on Lighthouse Point just west of the lighthouse itself, which was used as an observation post for Confederate sentries.

St. Marks Lighthouse
It did not take long for the Confederates to realize that the St. Marks Lighthouse was a horrible position for a fort designed to defend the port of St. Marks. Fort Williams was isolated and could not be easily supported in the event it was attacked. The only way for reinforcements to reach the fort was via a single road that led from the mainland through the marshes out to the lighthouse. Any troops approaching the fort would find themselves visible and subject to Union artillery fire for a long distance.

In addition, the fort's cannon did not command a long enough reach of the channel leading into the St. Marks River to be of much service should the U.S. Navy decide to move up the river.

Ruins of Spanish Fort at St. Marks
With these considerations in view, the Confederates evacuated the fort in 1862 and moved its guns and garrison to the old Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache, which stood on the point of land created by the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers. Although the old fort was in ruins, a strong Marine Hospital stood on the site which was converted for use as a barracks by the soldiers. The design of the fort was altered and the old stone walls were used to back heavy earthworks as Southern soldiers built batteries that would sweep for miles across the marsh to target any advancing warship.

Fort Williams was dismantled and the Union navy later burned what was left of it. No trace of the fort remains today. The lighthouse, however, survived the war and remains quite beautiful today.

To learn more about the St. Marks Lighthouse and its history, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stmarkslight.
To learn more about the old Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanmarcos1.