|East River in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge|
Milton dismounted his men as he approached the bridge, leaving part of his small force to the rear to hold the horses. With the rest of his men, he then crept forward through the trees and brush to reconnoiter the situation at the bridge.
|Another view of East River|
Spreading his men out, he moved aggressively and opened fire on the Union sailors. The Confederate cavalrymen were armed with single shot carbines and were able to maintain a steady volume of fire on the Federal shore party. Unsure of the size of the Confederate force but convinced from its aggressiveness that he was heavily outnumbered, Whitman and his men began to give way. Milton's dismounted cavalrymen surged across the wooden bridge in hot pursuit.
|Road from the St. Marks Lighthouse (left of photo)|
Weeks immediately ordered his men to form a line of battle on both sides of the road in the marsh. To let the sailors at the bridge know that help was on the way, Chatfield fired a series of shots from his revolver. The U.S. sailors fell back to link up with the oncoming Federal soldiers.
|Marshes of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge|
|St. Marks Lighthouse|
As the sun rose over the marshes, the Confederates continued their advance. The Union force - which had about a 2 to 1 numerical superiority - was pushed all the way to the lighthouse. As he arrived there, however, Milton could see the Union ships and transports moving offshore and realized that a major invasion was underway. He fell back to East River bridge where he ordered the floor planking removed and prepared for defense.
The first armed encounter of the Natural Bridge expedition, however, had been a clear victory for the aggressive Confederate major and his outnumbered men.
I will post more on the Natural Bridge expedition later today. To learn more and to see the new mini-documentary on the Battle of Natural Bridge, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.
Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee. It is available on the right side of this page.