Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bennett Place State Historic Site - Durham, North Carolina

Bennett Place State Historic Site
It is somewhat strange to think that after four years of hard war and a desperate quest for independence, many of Florida's Confederate troops saw the end of their fight come not on a battlefield or in a grand hall, but at a small two-room farm house in North Carolina.

The Bennett Place was the family farm of James and Nancy Bennett, who lived in the countryside near what was then Durham Station. The station, of course, is now the City of Durham and the entire area is part of the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area.

1865 Sketch of the Surrender Talks

In 1865, however, Durham Station was a small dot on a map and the Bennett Place was a working farm, where James Bennett and his family grew crops and supported themselves. They owned no slaves, but the Bennetts were strong supporters of the Confederate cause and had given up two sons to the cause of Southern independence. A third son disappeared during the war years and his fate remains a mystery to this day.

They likely watched on April 17, 1865, as General Joseph E. Johnston rode by on the road from Hillsborough to Durham Station, escorted only by a small force of Confederate cavalry.

Reconstructed Surrender Scene
A couple of miles up the road, Johnston met with his Union counterpart, General William Tecumseh Sherman, and the two agreed to find a nearby house where they could talk in private. Johnston remembered having passed a couple of houses along the way, and the two men turned west with their escorts and rode back along the same road. They stopped first at a house where the occupants refused to allow Sherman to come under their roof. Rather than push the issue, the two generals rode on to the nearby Bennett house, where the family agreed to let them use their place to meet.

The meeting at the Bennett House led to the surrender of the famed Army of Tennessee, not just once, but twice. To learn more about the surrender and the Bennett Place State Historic Site, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bennettplace.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Death of Colonel Carraway Smith, 1868

While doing some research on a different topic, I found this brief notice in the August 6, 1868, issue of the Tallahassee Sentinel:

Col. Carraway Smith, of Madison, died on Wednesday, 29th inst. Col. Smith commanded a regiment of Florida cavalry during the war in the Confederate service, and was at one time temporarily in command of the District of Florida. He was the commander of the cavalry at the battle of Natural Bridge.

So ended the life of a well-known Florida officer.

As the Sentinel noted, Colonel Smith had been on the field at the Battle of Natural Bridge, although his cavalry regiment actually fought as infantry there.

The story of his command of the 2nd Florida Cavalry (C.S.) was one of steady determination. His regiment, along with the 5th Florida Cavalry, was one of the few commands left to protect Florida after authorities in Richmond pulled virtually all of the regular infantry from the state. For the most part, Smith and the 2nd Florida fought in scattered skirmishes across the state as individual companies from the regiment moved here and there trying to scout the coastlines and protect the interior.

Olustee Battlefield
On two notable occassions, however, the 2nd Florida took the field in strong (although not complete) force. The first of these major fights was the Battle of Olustee, fought between Jacksonville and Lake City on February 20, 1864. Smith received some criticism after Olustee because his regiment did not effectively pursue the rapidly retreating Union army. In truth, though, Smith's men were mounted on less than desirable horses and were woefully short of equipment.

Natural Bridge Battlefield
The second major fight involving a large portion of the 2nd Florida Cavalry was the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought south of Tallahassee on March 6, 1865. In that battle, one of the last significant Confederate victories of the war, Colonel Smith and his men arrived on the field in the afternoon after having come by train and on foot from East Florida. Arriving just after the last Union attack had been thrown back, the 2nd Florida was pushed forward in an attack across the St. Marks River on the Union forces. The men fought bravely at Natural Bridge and once the Federals began to retreat, Smith and his men drove them so hard they fell back to the Gulf of Mexico in a single day.

To learn more about the Battle of Olustee, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee

To learn more about the Battle of Natural Bridge, please consider my book (available at the upper right of this page) and also visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dealing with the Scars of War: A Marianna Dentist Helps a Neighbor

Hentz practiced in Downtown Marianna
The Marianna Courier of March 21, 1867, includes the unexpected story of how a Marianna dentist invented an appliance to help conceal a grievous inury suffered during the War Between the States by a Jackson County resident:

Mr. Milton Moseley of this county was wounded during the war in his face, carrying away his entire upper lip and nearly the entire nose, his palate was cleft its whole length and all the front teeth carried away, making his appearance as unseemly as possible, and interfering with his speech and respiration to such an extent as to be extremely annoying. - Marianna Courier, March 21, 1867.

Dr. Thaddeus W. Hentz, Marianna's dentist, had a strong interest in helping his fellow Confederate veterans recover as well as possible from their wounds. In fact, he had been wounded himself during the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864, when he suffered the loss of a finger that was shot off after he had surrendered to Union soldiers on the grounds of St. Luke's Episcopal Church. After surviving incarceration at Ship Island and Elmira, he returned home in 1865 and resumed his practice, soon taking interest in Mosley's horrible disfigurement:

Dr. Hentz made for hima palate and teeth, an india rubber nose, supported at its base by wires attached to the plate and at its upper extremity by a pair of spectacles. Also attached a moustache to the upper lip, thus converting Mr. Moseley to Quite a handsome man. His difficulty in speaking is removed, and unless by close inspection cannot be distinguished from a natural nose and palate. – This ingenious contrivance can be removed or put back at pleasure. Dr. Hentz deserves great credit for his skill and ingenuity, and the everlasting thanks of his patient, and we doubt not that if the apparatus was submitted to a competent committee his meed of praise would be more than enough for one man. - Marianna Courier, March 21, 1867.

The remarkable appliance invented by Dr. Hentz allowed Mosley to return to his normal life. He opened a store on the site of what would later become Malone and even became involved in politics during the turbulent Reconstruction era. In 1876, in fact, he would figure prominently in a controversy that may have decided the Presidential election.

The contest between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden, much like the election 125 years later between George W. Bush and Al Gore, hinged on a few hundred votes in Florida. As fate would have it, major focus was placed on the Friendship Church Precinct in Jackson County, where Milton Mosley was one of the poll workers.

Friendship Church near Malone, Florida
Because Friendship Church was then a rough log structure with no heat or light and because as darkness fell on that election day, temperatures had plunged as well, Mosley and his fellow poll workers took the ballot box to his nearby home where they could have both heat and light to count the votes. This led to the return of the precinct being contested as the law required ballots to be counted at the voting location. The Friendship Church ballots were thrown out by the state canvassing board for that reason, a move that in part prompted a major Congressional investigation.

A subcommittee of U.S. Congressmen convened a hearing at the Jackson County Courthouse in Marianna to hear testimony from various residents of the county with regard to the contested election. One of those who testified was Milton Mosley.

The votes of the people of the Friendship Precinct were not restored as the election had been declared decided by the courts, but the records of Congress contain pages and pages of testimony from the poll workers and voters there.

Had the votes been counted, the election might have swung in favor of Tilden, a Democrat. Instead, he lost in a contest that was so close his fellow Democrats were able to force Hayes to agree to end Reconstruction and withdraw occupation troops from the South.