Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Book is now in Print! (Ghost of Bellamy Bridge)

My latest book, The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge, is now in print!

This volume delves into 10 of Jackson County's most intriguing legends of the supernatural, mysterious and unexplained! Many of the stories have War Between the States ties and one even focuses around the ghost of a church deacon killed during the Battle of Marianna.

The first half of the book looks into the story of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge, the tale of a young woman from antebellum times and her tragic death. She is said to haunt historic Bellamy Bridge, a steel-frame structure north of Marianna. The other half of the book delves into nine other legends from Jackson County, including the story of the Ghost of St. Luke's Church. The figure of an elderly man, many believe the ghost is that of Francis Allen, who was killed in the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864.

The cover price is $19.95 and the book is available for order now at:

100% of the cover price goes to benefit the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail, a new public historic site in Jackson County that is being developed without the expenditure of any additional tax funds.

Thank you in advance for helping the project and I hope you enjoy the book!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge (A Florida Halloween Tale)

Bellamy Bridge in Jackson County, Florida
The story of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge is one of Florida's most enduring and oldest ghost stories.

The legend of Elizabeth Jane Bellamy, who is said to haunt the environs of Bellamy Bridge in Jackson County, dates back to the antebellum era in Florida. She and her husband, Dr. Samuel C. Bellamy, were among the most prominent residents of the early Florida territory and he actually helped draft the constitution that led to Florida being admitted to the Union in 1845.

Follow this link to read the story in its entirety!

Photograph of the "ghost" of Bellamy Bridge
Making the story even more exciting this year is the announcement that Bellamy Bridge has been saved and will be preserved as a historic site. The loosely organized Friends of Bellamy Bridge organization, working in cooperation with Jackson County Parks and the Northwest Florida Water Management District, have obtained approval for and are moving forward with completion on a new heritage trail that will lead from a parking area on Highway 162 in Jackson County down through the floodplain swamps to the historic old bridge.

The Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail is still a work in progress, but will open to the public during daylight hours tomorrow after the last of a series of Ghost Walks is completed tonight.

To learn more about the trail, be sure to visit and "like" the Facebook page at

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Battle of Marianna, 148 years ago today

Battle of Marianna Monument
The Battle of Marianna, Florida, one of the sharpest small encounters of the War Between the States, took place 148 years ago today.

Here are some facts about this encounter that you may not know:
  • 25% of Marianna's war-time population vanished in a single day, either killed, wounded, captured or voluntarily going away with the Union troops.
  • 600 slaves followed the Union troops back to Pensacola, the largest single emancipation of slaves in Florida during the war.
  • Jackson, Washington, Holmes and Walton Counties sustained more economic damage during the Marianna raid than did any other counties in Florida during the entire war.
  • The Confederate commander, Colonel Alexander Montgomery, was a seasoned field officer who had remained on the field in command of the 3rd Georgia Infantry at the Battle of Second Manassas, despite being seriously wounded.
  • The Union commnader, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, was a former Hungarian freedom fighter who was credited with helping to save the Union army at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. He was seriously wounded in that encounter and was wounded again at Marianna.
  • The raid ended mail service to the interior counties of the Florida Panhandle and it would not be restored until well after the end of the war.
  • Four Confederate soldiers and volunteers burned to death in St. Luke's Episcopal Church after refusing to surrender.
  • The Ely-Criglar home, which was in the line of fire during the Battle of Marianna, is thought to be the most battle-scarred private home in Florida.
  • The Confederate commander, Colonel Montgomery, was taken prisoner and refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Union at the end of the war and was held in prison for months after the final collapse of the Confederacy.
  • The Union commander, General Asboth, was a surveyor and engineer before the war. He supervised the surveys for famed Central Park in New York City.
  • There are multiple accounts, both Northern and Southern, that verify the participation of the women of Marianna in the fighting.
  • At least one Confederate, 15-year-old Woody Nickels of the Marianna Home Guard, was murdered by Union troops after the battle.
  • Armstrong Purdee, an 8-year-old slave taken from the Waddell Plantation, rode through the entire Battle of Marianna on the back of a Union soldier's horse. He later became Marianna's first black attorney. His daughter still lives in Jackson County.
  • Captain George Maynard, 82nd U.S. Colored Troops, received the Congressional Medal of Honor in part for his courage in saving the lives of Confederate prisoners of war at Marianna.
  • Boys as young as 12, 13 and 14 took part in hand to hand combat as members of the Marianna Home Guard, Greenwood Club Cavalry and Campbellton Cavalry.
To learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit, and please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition. It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and on iBooks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Crossing at Cerrogordo, 148 years ago today

Choctawhatchee River at Cerrogordo
Rain was falling as the Federal troops advancing on Marianna began their slow, arduous crossing of the Choctawhatchee River on September 25, 1864, 148 years ago today.

The rain had actually been falling on the soldiers for over seven days. A tropical storm reported by ships in the lower Gulf of Mexico a couple of weeks earlier had moved ashore and then stalled out over the Florida Panhandle and South Alabama. The result was rain that continued for day after day after day.

The Union troops spent the entire day crossing the river.
The rains turned the primitive roads of the Florida Panhandle into muddy quagmires and brought the streams and rivers along the route of the raid out of their banks. This caused the Federal column to move slower than normal, but also proved to be an advantage to General Asboth as he drew ever closer to his target by keeping Confederate troops in their camps and under what shelter they could find.

The Holmes County Home Guard, for example, had formed during the summer under Captain Sam Grantham. Citizen soldiers who were expected to drop their daily pursuits and pick up their weapons during times of trouble, the men of Grantham's company were in their houses staying dry when Asboth reached their county seat of Cerrogordo on September 24th and do not seem to have been aware of his day-long crossing of the Choctawhatchee on the 25th, 148 years ago today.

Site of Cerrogordo in Holmes County
General Asboth reported that he crossed over the river from Cerrogordo in a small boat. His men came across on the ferry flat, while the more than 700 horses of the Union column swam the river. Remarkably, not a man was lost, even though the river was muddy and running high.

The crossing was completed by nightfall. No attempt was made by the Federals to resume their advance on the 25th. They bedded down for the night in the rain on the east bank of the Choctawhatchee directly across from Cerrogordo. They would continue their movement through Holmes County and into Jackson County the next day. The Battle of Marianna was now just two days away.

To learn more about the Raid on Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition. It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and on iBooks.

You can read more about the raid at To read the other posts in this series, just visit the home page of this blog at

Monday, September 24, 2012

Federal Raiders reach Holmes County, 148 years ago today

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park
The Raid on Marianna continued to push its way slowly eastward, with the Union troops moving into Holmes County 148 years ago today.

Having inflicted heavy losses on the people and farms of the Euchee Valley in Walton County, the raiders turned north up the west side of the Choctawhatchee River aiming for Cerrogordo, the county seat of Holmes County. Before moving out they had destroyed all of the boats in the vicinity, as well as the main ferry over the Choctawhatchee River that linked Eucheeanna with Vernon and Marianna.

The turn up the river did much to hide General Asboth's true intent. Since the main road from Walton County to Marianna was a direct route, by avoiding it he prevented Captain W.B. Jones' Home Guards at Vernon and Captain William A. Jeter's Company E, 5th Florida Cavalry, at Hickory Hill (Orange Hill) from discovering his movement. These two companies were placed at positions astride the Eucheeanna to Marianna road to warn headquarters in Marianna of any approach by Union troops from the west.

Water Pours from Ponce de Leon Springs
Instead of crossing the Choctawhatchee and continuing up the main road, however, Asboth detoured to the north into Holmes County and by midday on September 24th, 148 years ago today, reached the site of today's Ponce de Leon Springs.

As the entered Holmes County, the Federals struck the home and farm of Angus Gillis, where they took his livestock, fodder and corn, liberated and carried away his slaves and did other unspecified damage. They then paused at today's Ponce de Leon Springs State Park long enough to destroy the "double pen" log inn or hotel operated there for visitors who came to picnic or swim in the beautiful spring.

Monument at site of Cerrogordo in Holmes County
It was in this vicinity that the Union command suffered its first casualty of the raid. Private Joseph Williams of Company C, 86th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) was mortally wounded by an accidental gunshot. As was the custom of the day, he was left in the care of a local family. As best as can be determined, Private Williams was never heard from again and assuming the surgeon's description of his wound to be mortal was accurate, he probably died and was buried somewhere in the Ponce de Leon vicinity.

The raiders also raided the home of one of their own while in Ponce de Leon. Owen T. Parish was a private in Company C, 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.). He later filed with the Southern Claims Commission seeking reimbursement for his losses during Asboth's raid. His fellow soldiers, he reported, took a mare, saddle and bridle from his home as they passed by.

Site of Cerrogordo on the Choctawhatchee River
The Federals reached Cerrogordo on the afternoon of September 24th and went into camp for the night, feasting on the chickens, hogs and cows of local residents. The seat of government and largest town in Holmes County, the community was home to the county's small frame courthouse and jail. It also had a store and a scattering of houses, but more importantly to Asboth was the location of Hewitt's Ferry across the Choctawhatchee River.

I will post more on the raid tomorrow, so be sure to check back then. To read all of my other posts, visit this blog's main page at

You can read about the Marianna Raid and Battle of Marianna in depth in my book The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition. It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and on iBooks.

You can also read more about the raid anytime at

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Asboth hits Eucheeanna, 148 years ago today

Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church in Eucheeanna
The Federal raiders had already been moving for five days when they hit the Walton County seat of Eucheeanna at sunrise on the morning of September 23, 1864, 148 years ago today.

The Second Maine Cavalry formed a line of battle outside the village and came down so fast the two detachments of Confederate cavalry camped there were not able to wage much of a defense at all. The Southern horsemen scattered, leaving behind their camp, supplies and even many of their weapons.

Asboth reported that he captured 9 prisoners of war and 6 political prisoners at Eucheeanna, which was located about 3 miles southeast of today's Defuniak Springs. Also taken were 46 horses, 8 mules, 26 stand of arms and bar lead bearing the mark of "Merchants' Shot-Works" in Baltimore, Maryland.

Euchee Valley as seen from a nearby hilltop
The real damage done that day, however, was not to the Confederate military but to the civilians of the Euchee Valley of Walton County.

The men of the community were rounded up and confined in the little two-story log jail while foraging parties spread out through Eucheeanna to began a day and night of destruction unlike anything seen in Florida since the Second Seminole War.

One of the men thrown into the jail that night was Alexander McCullum, a Unionist. He later filed a claim for his losses with the Southern Claims Commission, an agency established by the U.S. government after the war to consider the claims of Southern Unionists:

Grave of Giles Bowers of Eucheeanna
Asboth used his home as a headquarters.
...He was arrested by Genl. Ashboth Brigade, and put into the jail at Eucheeanna, where he remained all night, and brought before the General the next morning, and then and there examined and tried, and fully released, without any punishment whatever.

McCullum lost his horse, bridle and saddle to the Federal troops.

A foraging party hit the home of Mrs. McLean, where they looted her farm. Everything of value was taken and even her chickens were shot down in the yard. Her sick brother, who was home on medical leave from the Confederate army, managed to elude capture by lifting up the floorboards of the house and hiding in a hole beneath that had been dug to secure clay for the little house's "stick and daub" chimney.

Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church & Cemetery
At the plantation of Colonel John L. McKinnon, one of the few real plantations in the Euchee Valley, the soldiers ordered the slaves to hitch up all of the wagons and carts on the place. These were loaded with the meat from the smokehouse and corn from the corncrib. The slaves who did not want to go with the Federals were forcibly removed, although three escaped by hiding in a nearby swamp. One of these, Harriett Crow, was the wife of the Euchee (Yuchi) Indian chief Jim Crow. After the soldiers left, she came out of the swamp and set off on foot with one of the McKinnon daughters to learn the fate of a family member who was staying with friends nearby. Along the way they found a side of bacon in the road. It had fallen from one of the "confiscated" wagons. They were trying to get it back home when the missing brother appeared and lent a hand. The side of bacon along with kernals of corn sifted from the sand provided food for the family and slaves alike throughout the long winter of 1864-1865.

Euchee Valley as it appears today
At the home of Abigail McDonald, the raiders made off with a horse, a mule, 100 bushels of corn, a steer, 20 head of hogs, 75 bushels of potatoes, 500 barrels of fodder, 20 turkeys, 24 chickens and 3 sheep. In a claim filed with the Southern Claims Commission, she valued her losses at $799.80:

...[T]he mile was taken by Col. of Gen. Asboth's command, who said it was in compliance with an order of General Asboth, that their horses were worn out and they needed fresh ones, on the same day the poultry was killed, and the potatoes, corn and fodder also were taken.

Sexual assaults were a dark and often unmentioned part of such raids. The only recorded incident of sexual assault during the Marianna Raid took place that evening near Eucheeanna. A sergeant from one of the USCT detachments entered an isolated farm house where he allegedly raped both a woman and her teenage daughter. He was pointed out to Federal officers, but the local people were never informed of any action being taken against him.

To read about the Federal raid in Walton County in full detail, please consider my book The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition. It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and at iBooks.

To learn more about the Marianna Raid online, please visit

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Federal Troops in Walton County, 148 Years Ago

Choctawhatchee Bay
The long column of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth's Union force continued to push westward across the Florida Panhandle on September 22, 1864. Despite heavy rain, they advanced deep into Walton County 148 years ago today.

After camping two days at Camp Walton (Fort Walton Beach), the column moved around the northern rim of Choctawhatchee Bay to LaGrange Landing at present-day Freeport. There they took on supplies from the Quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis before turning inland on the morning of the 21st.

Instead of moving directly up the road to Eucheeanna, then the county seat of Walton County, the Federals turned to the northwest and rode for the Shoal River (between the present-day cities of Defuniak Springs and Crestview). The Shoal was the center of an area of extensive cattle ranches in 1864, the largest being owned by the Cawthon family.

Two brothers, Lafayette and William J. Cawthon, were home on leave from the Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry when Asboth arrived at their home. They were taken prisoner and were carried along with the raiders, who also seized corn, fodder, meat, livestock and inflicted as much damage as they could on the isolated farms and ranches of the area.

Lake Defuniak
By late afternoon on the 22nd, 148 years ago today, the raiders had turned east and were approaching Lake Defuniak, where the city of Defuniak Springs would grow in later years. It is an area of beautiful rolling hills and lakes and was then a cattle range.

Several individual soldiers noted in their diaries and letters that the rain continued to fall and that they were unable to camp that night because the ground was so wet. They continued to move slowly forward, sometimes falling asleep in their saddles.

Either before or during the early days of the raid, General Asboth had learned that there was a small Confederate cavalry camp at Eucheeanna. The Southern troopers had yet to show themselves, so the general decided to take the battle to them. Plans were made for an attack on Eucheeanna at sunrise the next morning.

I'll post on what happened at Eucheeanna tomorrow, so be sure to check back for more!  You can always learn more about the Marianna raid in my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition (also available for Amazon Kindle).

You can also

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Raid on Marianna began 148 years ago today

Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth
 On September 18, 1864, 148 years ago today, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth crossed Pensacola Bay on the Quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis to begin what would become the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Federal troops during the entire War Between the States.

Most of the general's troops had already crossed the bay from Fort Barrancas to Navy Cove at what is now Gulf Breeze. Other companies would continue to cross throughout the day. The 700 man force was made up of three battalions from the Second Maine Cavalry, one battalion from the First Florida Cavalry (U.S.) and two companies of picked men from the 82nd and 86th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). One officer, Captain Mahlon M. Young, from the Seventh Vermont Veteran Volunteers also took part as a member of Asboth's staff. All were mounted.

In addition to the soldiers making up the Union strike force, a company of New York troops manned field artillery that had been placed aboard the Lizzie Davis for the protection of that vessel. These men would not take part in the inland movement.

Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound
On the same day of his crossing, General Asboth moved east up the old Federal road to the Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound, a point known today as Fort Walton Beach. He indicated that his men were exposed to constant rain and individual soldiers noted in letters and their diaries that they advanced through heavy rainfall and mud that sometimes came up to the skirts of their saddles. Portions of the old road they followed can still be seen today in the Naval Live Oaks Reserve area of Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Fort Walton Temple Mound

The Federal encampment at the Narrows was where downtown Fort Walton Beach stands today. This was the site where the Confederates built Camp Walton in 1862. They had evacuated the position in 1862, but it stood around the well-known Fort Walton Temple Mound which can still be seen today. Centuries old, the platform mound was built during the Mississippian era (A.D. 900 - 1500) and was the center of a large chiefdom from which the Fort Walton culture of North Florida, South Alabama and Southwest Georgia derives its name.

War-time Sketch of Asboth & His Dog
Asboth remained at Camp Walton until the morning of September 20th before turning inland around the north side of Choctawhatchee Bay. While his primary objectives were to take Marianna, capture the Confederate cavalry and mounted infantry headquartered there and enlist recruits for the Union army, his route would give him the opportunity to inflict shocking damage on civilian targets in Walton, Holmes, Jackson and Washington Counties.

I'll post more about the raid in coming days, focusing on some original accounts and details that you might not have read before.  Here are some links that provide information on some of the sites involved in the first day's movement.
If you are interested in reading about the raid in detail, please consider my book:  The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition (also available for Amazon Kindle and on iBooks).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Powder Magazines

Old Powder Magazine in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The Magazine in Chattahoochee was Almost Identical.
During the antebellum era, two almost identical structures were built by the U.S. Army, one in Chattahoochee, Florida, and the other in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Both were part of important U.S. Arsenal complexes and both served as powder magazines for the storage of large amounts of gunpowder. The one at Chattahoochee was part of the Apalachicola Arsenal (named for the river and not the city) and the one in Louisiana was part of the Baton Rouge Arsenal & Ordnance Depot.

Old Powder Magazine
Chattahoochee, Florida
Both structures still stand today, although the one in Florida has been altered somewhat from its original form. The one in Baton Rouge, however, has been beautifully restored and provides visitors with a unique opportunity to see the original appearance of both of the old magazines.

The gunpowder magazines are often incorrectly viewed as being the "old arsenal" in both locations, but in reality there were only small parts of much larger military complexes. The Apalachicola Arsenal at Chattahoochee, for example, included an array of buildings grouped around a 4-acre parade ground, all connected and surrounded by a brick wall that measured 30 inches thick and 9 feet high. It was an important supply depot during the Second Seminole War of 1835-1842.

Restored Powder Magazine in Baton Rouge
In Baton Rouge, the Arsenal & Ordnance Depot was the largest facility of its type in the Old Southwest and also featured an array of other buildings including barracks, officers' quarters, an armory, workshops, storage facilities, etc. It was the primary source of supplies and munitions for the U.S. Armies of Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott during the Mexican War of 1846-1848.

The magazines at both arsenals were actually outbuildings from the main complexes of the posts. This was for the obvious reason that large quantities of gunpowder can be extremely dangerous. At arsenal facilities, it was common for the magazines to be located far enough away from the main buildings so that damage would be minimized in the event of an accidental explosion.

Arsenal Officer's Quarters in Chattahoochee
Both arsenals played important rolls in the beginning days of the War Between the States. The Apalachicola Arsenal at Chattahoochee was the first U.S. military installation in Florida to be seized by state troops in 1861. The Quincy Young Guards led by Captain William Gunn seized the arsenal from its small group of U.S. Army caretakers on the morning of January 6, 1861, four days before Florida seceded from the Union.

There was a brief standoff between Captain Gunn and Ordnance Sergeant Edwin Powell over possession of the keys to the magazine. It was only when Gunn threatened to use violence that Powell and his small garrison of three men surrendered and delivered up the keys.

State troops in Louisiana, meanwhile, seized the arsenal in Baton Rouge on January 10, 1861, the same day that Florida left the Union and well before the secession of the Pelican State.

Arsenal Barracks in Baton Rouge
It is remarkable today that both magazines still stand, even though most of the other arsenal buildings in both Chattahoochee and Baton Rouge have long since disappeared. In Baton Rouge, only the magazine and barracks survive, while in Chattahoochee only the magazine, officer's quarters and guard house still stand.

Both complexes did play important roles in civilian society after the war. The arsenal at Chattahoochee was turned over to the State of Florida and served first as a prison and then as a state mental hospital, a role it continues to serve today as the Florida State Hospital. The arsenal in Baton Rouge served for many years as the campus of Louisiana State University.

Both of the old magazines can still be seen today. The one in Florida is on the campus of Florida State Hospital and can be viewed from the outside but is not open to the public. Some stabilization work has been done and future restoration plans have been discussed. The roof now extends all the way out to the perimeter wall, but at the time it was in use by the military it looked like the facility in Baton Rouge.

The magazine in Baton Rouge has been restored and now houses the Old Arsenal Museum. The beautiful facility interprets the history of the Baton Rouge Arsenal and the 1862 Battle of Baton Rouge. It is located directly across the street from the State Capitol.

To learn more about both arsenals, please follow these links:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Jim Ward's Raiders and the Battle of Fairview

Courthouse Square in Elba, Alabama
Ward's Raiders burned the courthouse in 1864.
On September 2, 1864, at party of outlaw guerrilla raiders from Florida got more than it bargained for when its members tried to torch a South Alabama town.

Jim Ward was the head of an outlaw "raider gang" that hid out on Boynton Island in the Choctawhatchee River swamps of Washington County, Florida. Ward and most of his men had deserted from the Confederate army and more than a few had even crossed the lines, joined the Union army and then deserted that army too as soon as they received their enlistment bonuses.

They can only be described as outlaws and were men who lived by raiding farms, homes and even towns. They robbed, looted and even murdered the people living in Northwest Florida and South Alabama, without regard to their sentiments or defenseless condition. Repeated efforts to root out Ward's gang by Confederate troops had failed and by the fall of 1864 he and his men were the scourge of a large part of the "Wiregrass area."

Today's Pea River Bridge at Elba, Alabama
The 1864 bridge was fired by Ward's Raiders and one was
hanged near this spot after the Battle of Fairview.
In April 1864 Jim Ward and his men slipped across the state line into Alabama and sneaked into the Coffee County town of Elba in the middle of the night. Their plan was to destroy the conscription or draft records at the Coffee County Courthouse by setting the building on fire during the night and burning it to the ground. The succeeded in destroying the building, but to their chagrin soon learned that local citizens had spotted the fire and been able to save the courthouse records before they were lost in the blaze.

Watching and waiting for an opportunity to try again, Ward spent the summer of 1864 hiding out on Boynton Island near present-day Ebro, Florida. On the last day of August, he and his men emerged from hiding and once again headed for Elba.

Courthouse Marker in Elba
This time, Ward and his men set fire to the town in multiple places. Every building thought to be used as a temporary government office was torched and the raiders then fired the Pea River bridge behind them as they retreated from the town.

...We learn that on Thursday night last some deserters from the lower part of Coffee county fired the bridge across Pea river at Elba, and set fire to the town of Elba in several places. Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, September 10, 1864.

UDC Members dedicate Battle of Fairview marker in 2010.
The success of the raiders in burning the records was no better this time than it had been in April. Once again, the fires were spotted and citizens turned out to extinguish the blazes before the entire town could be consumed. They also managed to save the bridge before it collapsed into the Pea River.

The citizens of Elba were irate. They had appealed over and over to Alabama's governor and to the Confederate military for protection and yet Jim Ward had once again crossed the line from Florida, this time coming very close to destroying their entire town.

Battle Branch, where the Battle of Fairview took place.
There were no troops in town at the time of the raid, so they rounded up every weapon they could find, mounted their horses and set out after the raiders. The ranks of their body of irregular volunteers included the tax collector, tax assessor, sheriff, a deputy sheriff, merchants, lawyers, doctors and others. Captain John C. Brown was in town at the time and took the lead.

All night long the citizens pursued Jim Ward and his outlaws. They had the advantage in that their horses were fresh, while Ward and his men had been on the backs of their mounts for two days. After a fourteen mile raid, the citizens caught up with the guerrillas at a place now called Fairview in southern Coffee County.

By the time the smoke cleared, men from both sides lay dead and wounded and talk of hangings was in the air. To learn more about what happened at the Battle of Fairview, please visit my new page on the battle at

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Great Hurricane of 1863 at Apalachicola & St. Marks

Gulf of Mexico from St. George Island
In previous posts I have mentioned the sinking of the gunboat CSS Chattahoochee at Blountstown during a severe storm on May 27, 1863.
What seems to have been an early hurricane struck the northern Gulf Coast that day, not only contributing to the sinking of the Chattahoochee but also driving two Union blockade vessels ashore near Apalachicola. I've been aware of this storm for some time, but recent research has revealed new details that show it was far worse than I had ever realized.

On June 8, 1863, for example, the Richmond Daily Dispatch carried a brief early report on the severity of the storm:

Fort St. Marks or San Marcos de Apalache
Where the water rose "five feet deep."
...There was a very heavy gale and rain in Florida during the week ending the 29th. At Newport the town was four feet deep. The salt works near there were drowned out. One white boy, seven negroes, thirty five mules and eight oxen were drowned. The water in Fort St. Marks was five feet deep, and the troops had to signal the steamer Spray for assistance. - The river rose to a very great height at St. Marks, and the entire town was flooded, doing much damage. One regiment of artillery and one of infantry, in camp between Tallahassee and St. Marks, lost all their tents and fixtures.

Cape St. George Lighthouse
Other newspapers across the South also carried coverage of the storm. The editor of the Tallahassee Floridian wrote to Macon's Weekly Telegraph on May 30, 1863, reporting even higher human losses:

...We have had a heavy blow here the past week - the heaviest I ever witnessed in Florida at this season of the year. From the coast there are various rumors of loss of life and property. I have just heard that from the Ocklockonnee to Peurifoy's Landing, twenty-one bodies of persons drowned were recovered on Friday, and eleven from Goose Creek, making thirty-two.

The surge from the storm apparently reached several miles inland in the St. Marks area. Additional detail appeared in the Columbus (GA) Times on June 3:

...We learn that on last Wednesday and Thursday, a most terrific gale swept along the south coast of Florida, destroying the entire Salt Works near St. Marks and Bay Port, large quantities of salt, and drowning some forty white men and negroes. So strong was the gale the water from the gulf was driven out of its banks along the line of the St. Marks railroad, completely inundating the track for several miles back into the country.

The newspaper writer went on to express hope that "some portion of the shipping of the United States was caught in the gale, and driven ashore." His hopes were realized. The following account datelined Key West on June 12, 1863, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer six days later:

Indian Pass and the Gulf of Mexico
...A very severe gale occurred at Apalachicola, Fla., a few days since, during which two of our vessels were wrecked at the entrance to that harbor and totally lost. The steamer Hendrick Hudson, Captain Cate, has just arrived from there, and from Captain Cate I learn these particulars: - That the gun-boat barque Amanda being at anchor at her usual station, broke loose from her moorings and drifted across the bay to the mainland in spite of all their efforts to save her. Being unable to get her off, she was stripped and blown up to keep her from the Rebels. No lives lost. The barquentine Andrew Manderson being there with a load of coal for supplying naval vessels, was also driven ashore and her masts, spars, sails and rigging were entirely swept clean from her deck by the violence of the gale. She is a total loss. The gun-boat Fort Henry was driven to sea and weathered the storm.

USS Port Royal (Center) as sketched during the war.
The USS Amanda was on station off East Pass near St. George Island when the storm hit. She was driven ashore on the mainland where parts of her wreck remain buried in the sand today.The USS Andrew Manderson was at the other end of St. George Island where damage was even greater. The New York Herald carried a letter from the USS Port Royal dated May 23 on June 20, 1863:

...At West pass the damage by the gale was also considerable. The barkentine Andrew Manderson, of Philadelphia, loaded with coal for the squadron, ran ashore on Sand Island. Her masts were cut away after she struck. Several small prize vessels lying at anchor inside the pass were driven to sea or sank at their moorings. The United States gunsloop Brockenborough broke from her moorings and was run on shore at St. Vincent's Island. She will be saved. The Port Royal and Somerset rode the gale out without damage.

A letter dated Thomasville, Georgia, on May 31, 1863, appeared in the Macon Weekly Telegraph four days later:

The gale of Thursday is said to have done much mischief among the salt boilers on the Florida coast - One report says 150 lives were lost - many animals, much stock and salt. Hope it is not so bad - some, though, have certainly perished.

The storm must have been a hurricane, even though hurricane researchers do not list a May storm in their data for 1863. The total number of lives lost will never be known. If the figure of 150 given by the Thomasville writer was accurate, then the storm should be ranked as the 22nd deadliest hurricane ever to hit the U.S. (or in this case, the C.S.) coast. Hurricane Andrew, by comparison, claimed 61 lives.
CSS Chattahoochee Monument
If the Tallahassee editor's estimate of 32 lives lost along just part of the affected coast is accurate, which it probably was, then the death toll from the storm must have been enormous. When the 17 men who lost their lives in the sinking of the CSS Chattahoochee are added to that tally, the total number rises to 49 exclusive of deaths elsewhere along the coast or on the prize vessels reported lost off the West Pass of Apalachicola Bay.

Read more about the sinking of the CSS Chattahoochee during the storm of May 27, 1863, at

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Marianna Reeactment Cancelled for This Year

Marianna Reenactment
Courtesy Ashley Pollette
The Marianna Day Committee informs me there will be no reenactment of the Battle of Marianna this year.
The reenactment had been a feature of the community's Marianna Day observance over the last few years, but was expensive to produce and difficult to coordinate. The Committee has decided for this year to focus on other ways of commemorating the battle, including memorial services, etc.

Fought on September 27, 1864, the Battle of Marianna was a small but bloody and significant encounter.

Marianna Day, 2011
Courtesy Ashley Pollette
It was the culmination of the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Union troops during the entire War Between the States. Leaving Pensacola Bay on September 18, 1864, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth led a column to and from Marianna in Jackson County, covering more land miles than did Sherman during his "March to the Sea" through Georgia.

The battle was a fierce encounter in which men, women and even children took up arms to defend their town against the Union raiders.

To learn more, please visit or consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Expanded Edition). It is available in both book and Kindle formats by following the links below and can also be found at iBooks.

Book - The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition, $17.95
Kindle - The Battle of Marianna, Florida, $9.95

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bateria de San Antonio - Florida's Third Oldest Standing Fort

Bateria de San Antonio and Pensacola Bay
Unless they make their way down the dark tunnel that provides its only entrance, visitors to Fort Barrancas in Penscaola often overlook a fascinating old Spanish fortification that is Florida's third oldest standing fort.

The Bateria de San Antonio, built by the Spanish in 1793-1797, is a semi-circular masonry fortification built to serve as a water battery for the original Spanish fort of San Carlos de Barrancas. The Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas, both in St. Augustine, are the only still-standing Florida forts older than the Bateria, which is one of the oldest standing fortifications in the United States.

Inside the Bateria de San Antonio
The most expensive fortification built by the Spanish at Pensacola, the idea for a water battery originated during the American Revolution. Spain was then allied with the fledgling United States, but Florida was possessed by Great Britain. In 1781, General Bernardo de Galvez led an allied fleet into Pensacola Bay past the guns of the Royal Navy Redoubt which stood on the bluff where Fort Barrancas can be seen today.

The redoubt had numerous cannon aimed out at the bay, but they proved completely ineffective in stopping the allied fleet. Pensacola fell after one of the most significant yet often overlooked battles of the American Revolution. Please click here to learn more.

Model showing the Bateria de San Antonio from Above
When Florida once again became a Spanish possession after the war, that country's engineers used the lessons they had learned during Galvez's attack on Pensacola. Fort San Carlos de Barrancas, of earth and wood, was built on the ruins of the Royal Navy Redoubt, but far more expense went into building a new masonry water battery - the Bateria de San Antonio - lower on the bluff.

Semi-circular in form, the Bateria was designed so that its cannon could sweep across as much of the channel as possible. Because it was lower on the bluff than the old British fort, its cannon could actually "skip" their cannonballs across the surface of the bay and into the sides of attacking warships.

Bombproof of the Bateria de San Antonio
Due to the strength of its construction, the Bateria survived the demolition of Fort San Carlos de Barrancas by the British during the War of 1812. Spain rebuilt the fort and both it and the Bateria came under fire in 1818 when Andrew Jackson attacked and captured the works during the First Seminole War.

U.S. engineers renovated and strengthened the Bateria in 1839-1840 as they built today's Fort Barrancas on the old San Carlos de Barrancas. Thereafter called the Water Battery, it was occupied by state troops in January 1861 when the U.S. garrison of Fort Barrancas withdrew to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island.

Manned by Confederate gunners, the cannon of the Water Battery took part in the massive bombardments that shook Pensacola Bay in November 1861 and January 1862. It was not significantly damaged in the fighting.

Restored by the National Park Service, the historic fortification is now accessed via the Fort Barrancas area of Gulf Islands National Seashore at Pensacola Naval Air Station. To learn more about the history of this fascinating old Spanish work, please visit