Sunday, February 24, 2013

Natural Bridge Commander's connection to the Immortal Six Hundred

Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones, CSA
The Immortal Six Hundred were Confederate prisoners of war who were subjected to intentional starvation and deliberate torture by the U.S. Army during the final year of the War Between the States.

Their story has been forgotten by most people, even in the South. This is particularly sad because The Immortal Six Hundred exemplify honor and courage, while also providing a cautionary tale of the horrible cruelty that people can inflict on each other during times of war.

For those unfamiliar with their story, it began in Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederate commander there watched helplessly as Union artillery rained fire down on civilian areas of the city. The homes and shelters of women, children and other noncombatants were made targets of a Union army determined to conquer the city where the war had started with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861.

Maj. Gen. J.G. Foster, USA
Major General Samuel Jones, the Confederate commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, finally resolved on a desperate measure to stop the ruthless attack. He warned the Union commander in the vicinity, Major General J.G. Foster, that 50 Union prisoners of war would be housed in the civilian areas of Charleston. There were no Confederate military installations in these areas and Jones warned Foster that if he continued the bombardment, he would be targeting not only women and children but Union officers as well.

In truth, General Jones seems to have been making a point and never actually placed Union prisoners of war in harm's way, as they verified in a letter he sent across Charleston Harbor to General Foster. He even offered to exchange them if the Federal commander so desired.

Foster and other officers in the U.S. Army, however, were outraged and decided to retaliate by placing 50 Confederate prisoners of war in front of the walls of their batteries to serve as human shields against Confederate counter-fire. The number of prisoners sent to Morris Island for this purpose grew from 50 to 600 and hence the "Immortal Six Hundred" came into being.

Dungeon of the Immortal Six Hundred at Fort Pulaski
The prisoners were kept on Morris Island for a time and used as a human shield in front of Union batteries to prevent Confederate gunners from firing on them. After about six weeks they were moved to Fort Pulaski in Georgia where they were subjected to an intentional starvation diet of 10 ounces of cornmeal and one-half pint of onion pickles every 24 hours. They were denied blankets, warm clothing, shoes and even fires to warm by during a freak snowstorm that left 4 inches of snow on the parade ground of Fort Pulaski. Many of them died (Read more about the Immortal Six Hundred at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/immortal600).

Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park
It is a little known fact in Florida that Major General Samuel Jones, the officer who tried to protect the women and children of Charleston in 1864, was the Confederate commander in Tallahassee in March 1865 when the city was threatened by the advancing Union command of Brigadier General John Newton.

Jones, with assistance from Brigadier General William Miller, coordinated the massive movement of troops from all over North Florida that blunted Newton's raid and he was in overall command of the Confederate forces at the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1864. One eyewitness described how General Jones placed and personally aimed the Confederate cannon that took such a horrible toll on the attacking Federal troops.

The Battle of Natural Bridge is considered by many to have been the last significant Confederate victory of the War Between the States. Newton had intended to take not only St. Marks, as he later claimed, but Tallahassee and even Thomasville, Georgia, as he had told reporters and naval officers prior to departing on his expedition.

You can learn more about the engagement in my book:

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee (Book)

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (Kindle)

You also can learn more at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

1 comment:

Savez said...

The immortal six hundred is a little known story that has been shrouded by the "treasury of virtue". Great post!