Thursday, February 27, 2014

Natural Bridge Expedition sails for St. Marks, 149 years ago today (February 27, 1865)

149 years ago today, the Union troops en route to the Battle of Natural Bridge left Cedar Key to continue their long journey to St. Marks.

Harbor at Cedar Key, Florida
The main body of Brigadier General John Newton's force had arrived at Cedar Key two days earlier aboard the transport steamers Magnolia and Honduras. There they were joined by Major Edmund Weeks of the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry and most of the men from his garrison.

Cedar Key in 1865 was garrisoned by troops from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry and 2nd U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). The former regiment had been raised in Florida and was made up of Southern Unionists, Confederate deserters and others. The latter regiment was mustered into the service in Washington, D.C., and most of its men came from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Some had been born into slavery, while others were free African Americans.



Men of the 99th USCT
Major Weeks had been an officer in the U.S. Navy who resigned his commission to accept rank in the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry. He had been instrumental in raising the regiment and was well known to most of the volunteers who filled its ranks.

Companies C, D and E of the Second Florida U.S. Cavalry and Companies E, G and H of the Second U.S. Colored Troops boarded the transports at Cedar Key, where enough troops were left behind to defend the coastal post.

James C. Haynes of Co. E, 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry
State Archives of Florida, Memory Collection
The steamer Alliance had joined the Union transports while they waited at Cedar Key for Major Weeks and some of his men to return from a raid up the railroad that connected the island city with Fernandina on the Atlantic Coast. General Newton transferred his headquarters staff over to the Alliance, freeing up room on Honduras aboard which he had traveled up from Key West.

The three steamers, likely escorted by U.S. Navy warships, left Cedar Key on the afternoon of February 27, 1865 - 149 years ago today - and headed west along the coast for the mouth of the St. Marks River. A large flotilla of warships had been ordered to assemble there ahead of the coming attack.

I will post more on the Natural Bridge Expedition tomorrow. Be sure to read more and see the new mini-documentary on the Battle of Natural Bridge by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

The annual reenactment of the battle will take place this weekend. For more information, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbreenactment.

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