Monday, April 28, 2014

Florida's Oldest Confederate Monument re-dedicated in DeFuniak Springs

U.S. and C.S. flags fly over the restored monument.
I had the rare opportunity and honor today to speak at the re-dedication ceremony for Florida's oldest Confederate Monument.

Located on the grounds of the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs, the monument was erected in 1871 just six years after the end of the War Between the States (or Civil War). Carved from Alabama marble, it once stood in Eucheeanna when that community was the county seat of Walton County. The village had been severely looted by Union troops on their way to the Battle of Marianna in 1864.

Rev. Tyrone Broadus delivers the Invocation
The county seat was moved from Eucheeanna to DeFuniak Springs after the courthouse in the former community burned in an arson-related fire. The monument followed in 1927 and has stood on the grounds of the courthouse in DeFuniak Springs ever since.

Last year the Walton County Heritage Association launched a drive to raise funds to restore the monument, which had been vandalized several years ago. The $3,500 restoration is now complete and citizens from throughout Northwest Florida gathered this afternoon for an official re-dedication of the monument.

Honor Salute by the Walton Guards
As both the Confederate and United States flags flew overhead, participants and guests enjoyed a breezy, warm afternoon that culminated with an Honor Volley fired by the reenactors of the Walton Guards and a sidewalk social.

The restored monument is designated by a historical marker and faces U.S. 90 on the southeast corner of the courthouse grounds in DeFuniak Springs.

Here are more photos from the ceremony:
Setting up for the Ceremony
The restored monument and the Walton County Courthouse
Speaker's view of those assembled from the ceremony.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Florida's Confederate Governor did NOT commit suicide!

Governor John Milton of Florida
For nearly 150 years, a lie has been perpetrated on the people of Florida, the South and the United States. Governor John Milton, who led Florida through the War Between the States (or Civil War), did not commit suicide.

The governor died of a gunshot wound at Sylvania, his Jackson County plantation, on April 1, 1865.

Northern newspapers immediately leaped on the incident, claiming that Milton was so terrified of losing the war that he took his own life:

The late Gov. Milton, of Florida, was first a lawyer, then a duellist, then a preacher, then a politician, and, finally, a suicide. - Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, May 6, 1865.

We learn through a gentleman recently from Barrancas, that a report reached there a short time before he left, that upon hearing of the capture of Petersburgh and Richmond, Gov. Milton, of Florida, committed suicide at his residence, a few miles from Marianna. The report was subsequently confirmed by a refugee directly from that place. - Trenton State Gazette (New Jersey), May 2, 1865.

Governor John Milton
The only rebel who has killed himself because of the killing of the Confederacy, is Gov. Milton of Florida. His name was John Milton, and as he thought paradise was lost, he shot himself...The world is rid of him. - Lowell (Massachusetts) Daily Citizen and News, May 8, 1865.

Gov. Milton, of Florida, has committed suicide. He did not want to be hanged. - Newport Mercury (Rhode Island), April 29, 1865.

Hundreds of such accounts appeared in Northern newspapers, almost all of them claiming that Milton killed himself after hearing of the fall of Richmond. This claim remains widely accepted today, even though it is completely false. Richmond did not fall until after the death of Governor Milton.

A newly discovered account of the governor's death tells a very different story. It appeared in an Extra edition of the West Florida News, a Marianna newspaper, on April 3, 1865:

Sylvania Plantation historical marker at Blue Springs
Gov. Milton has been killed by the accidental discharge of a gun. The Governor was in his home when he retrieved a shot gun in expectation of an expedition to shoot birds. The gun discharged and the Governor was killed.

The discovery of this long lost account confirms tradition in the Milton family regarding the circumstances of Governor Milton's death. Mrs. Bruce Milton Singletary repeated family legend of the Governor's death to me in a 1982 interview. According to her grandfather, Major William Henry Milton who was present when Governor Milton was killed, the shooting was an accident.

William Hall Milton, grandson of the Governor
Major Milton later told his son, William Hall Milton, that the Governor had returned home to Sylvania following the crisis surrounding the Battle of Natural Bridge and subsequent events. Under intense stress because of the inevitable collapse of the Confederacy, Governor Milton, but was badly in need of rest. Major Milton suggested to his father that they go out and shoot birds. According to his account, the Governor responded, "That is just the thing." He went to retrieve his shotgun, but when he removed it from its rack on the wall the butt of the stock banged hard against the floor and the gun went off. Governor Milton was killed.

The discovery of the 1865 Marianna newspaper account substantiates family tradition of how Governor John Milton died and confirms that he did not commit suicide, but instead was killed in "a tragic accident." This, of course, explains why the Governor was buried in the cemetery of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna, since in those days suicide victims were not allowed to be interred on sacred ground.

Governor John Milton rests in sacred ground.

Note: Thank you to Albert Milton of Marianna for inspiring me to dig deeper into the story of Governor Milton's death. Our recent conversation about the Governor raised my curiosity and I began to look for a local account of the incident. I was able to find one and it changes accepted history.  - Dale Cox