|Brig. Gen. John Newton, USA|
Their purpose was to develop a plan for the attack that they hoped would lead to the capture not only of St. Marks, but Tallahassee and the nearby city of Thomasville, Georgia as well. The meeting consisted of what Newton called a "full and free consultation." By the time it ended, the collected officers had agreed on a plan of attack that would go into operation on the night of March 3, 1865.
As devised by the officers, the plan consisted of five key elements:
- Parties of men were to be sent ashore to destroy the railroad and other bridges over the Aucilla River east of Tallahassee, the Ochlockonee River west of Tallahassee and to break the railroad between Tallahassee and St. Marks. This would prevent the Confederates from using the railroads to move troops quickly.
- A party of sailors and a detachment from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry would seize the East River bridge on the road connecting the St. Marks Lighthouse with the mainland on the night of March 3, 1865.
St. Marks Lighthouse
- The main body of the Union force would come ashore at the St. Marks Lighthouse on the same night in anticipation of a forward movement on the morning of March 4, 1865.
- On March 4, 1865, the land force would advance via the East River bridge to Newport, cross the St. Marks River and then take St. Marks from the rear. If conditions appeared favorable, however, it could move instead to break the Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad between the coast and the capital city.
- The warships would move up the St. Marks River and attack Fort Ward. Once the fort was captured, 500-600 sailors would be put ashore at Port Leon on the lower St. Marks to cover the movements of the Army column.
|St. Marks River at Newport|
The general was so confident that the Confederates would not be able to assemble a sufficient force to oppose him that he had brought neither field artillery nor horses for his cavalry and key officers.
|Boat howitzer on a field carriage|
|Major General Samuel Jones, CSA|
The general also underestimated his Confederate counterparts, Major General Samuel Jones and Brigadier General William Miller. The former officer was the overall Southern commander in Florida and was widely regarded as an artillery expert (he had commanded the Confederate cannon at First Manassas). General Miller, meanwhile, had served with distinction at Stones River where he had been badly wounded.
I will continue to post on the Battle of Natural Bridge tomorrow. To learn more and to see the new mini-documentary on the battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.