Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Natural Bridge flotilla reaches Cedar Key, 149 years ago today (February 25, 1865)

Waterfront at Cedar Key, Florida
The transport steamers carrying the Union troops bound for the Battle of Natural Bridge reached Cedar Key 149 years ago tonight on February 25, 1865.

Brigadier General John Newton, commanding the U.S.force, hoped to quickly board additional troops from the Union post at Key West, but was disappointed to find that Major Edmund Weeks and a number of his men were out on a raid. A courier was sent to call them back to their post, leaving Newton with no option but to sit and wait.

Island Hotel in Cedar Key stood in 1865.
Cedar Key had been a major Florida port facility when the war began and was connected by railroad with Fernandina on the Atlantic Coast. Confederate troops had garrisoned it in 1861, but from 1862-1865 it was almost exclusively in Federal hands. Please click here to learn more about the historic island city.

In his main report on the Battle of Natural Bridge, the Union general noted that upon arriving at Cedar Key he determined that "no chance to cut off or intercept the enemy's force in the South Peninsula appeared to offer itself." He was speaking of the Confederate troops that had attacked Fort Myers four days earlier (See The Battle of Fort Myers).

Cedar Key was connected to Fernandina by early railroad.
The inclusion of this statement in the general's report appears to have been an attempt to somewhat cover the truth regarding his intentions. He and Admiral C.K. Stribling of the U.S. Navy had already agreed to launch their invasion of Confederate Florida at St. Marks and both military officers and newspaper reporters wrote at the time that the actual objective of the expedition was Thomasville, Georgia.

The Confederates had briefly operated a prison camp for thousands of Union prisoners of war in Thomasville and Newton hoped to free them. He had no way of knowing that the camp had already been evacuated and the prisoners returned to other facilities.

Newton would wait in Cedar Key for two days to include the troops with Major Weeks and his force. Ships of the U.S. Navy, meanwhile began to assemble off the mouth of the St. Marks River for the coming attack. The Confederates thus far did not know that a major movement was afoot.

To learn more about Natural Bridge and to see the new mini-documentary on the battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

The annual reenactment of the battle is set for this weekend (March 1-2). For a schedule of events, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbreenactment.

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