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).

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