Sunday, July 20, 2014

St. Andrew Bay Raid 150th Anniversary (July 20, 1864)

St. Andrew Bay at Panama City, Florida
The Union transport steamer Ella Norris arrived at St. Andrew Bay in Northwest Florida 150 years ago tonight.

On board were troops from the 2nd U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) and the 2nd Florida Cavalry (U.S.) under the command of Major Edmund Weeks. Their objective were the bridges, mills, small farms, plantations and a Confederate camp along Econfina Creek in what are now Bay and Washington Counties. The entire area was then part of Washington County.

St. Vincent Island
Numbering 400 men, the raiding force had reached St. Vincent Island off Apalachicola on July 16, 1864. The island was the site of a large refugee colony populated by the families of Southern Unionists, Confederate deserters and escaped slaves. Major Weeks spent time interviewing leaders of the camp along with new arrivals to obtain more information about the location and strength of Confederate troops around St. Andrew Bay.

Major Edmund Weeks, USA
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
This intelligence in hand, Weeks returned to the Ella Norris and the steamer set sail for St. Andrew Bay where it arrived late on the evening of July 20, 1864, 150 years ago today.

St. Andrew Bay was notorious for its shoals and oyster bars and navigating its waters under cover of darkness could be extremely treacherous, as the Union navy learned during an 1862 raid to capture the blockade runner Florida.

Despite the danger, the Ella Norris moved into the bay and passed the chimneys of the town of St. Andrew. Once a popular resort area for the citizens of the interior counties, the community had been shelled and burned to the ground by the U.S. Navy earlier in the war. It stood on the bluff along what is now Beach Drive in Panama City.

St. Andrew Bay
Passing around Dyer's and Sulphur Points the steamer moved up the bay and around into North Bay. Its route took it past the sites of today's Naval Coastal Systems Center, Gulf Coast College, Southport and Lynn Haven and to an anchorage at Bayhead in the far eastern end of North Bay. This area is recognizable today as the site where Deer Point Lake meets the bay.

During the mid-19th century, this area was an important port for the farms along Econfina Creek which entered the bay there before the construction of the Deer Point Lake Dam. Farmers would barge their shipments of cotton, timber, corn and other commodities down the creek on small flatboats to North Bay where the cargoes were transferred to sloops, schooners and steamboats for passage on to Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans.

Map of St. Andrew Bay (right) by Major G.W. Scott (CSA)
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
The 400 soldiers of Major Weeks' command came ashore at sunrise on July 21, 1864, pausing briefly to make coffee and rest before turning inland on the Econfina Road.

Among the officers of the 2nd Florida Cavalry (U.S.) was William McCullough. A Florida Unionist, he reported that the force had marched out at 8 a.m., covering 8 miles over 5 hours to reach the Bear Creek ferry at 1 p.m. There he was left behind with 30 men to guard the ferry until the main command returned. He remembered it as something of a picnic, describing how he and his men raided the farm of a "Mr. Vickrey" where they stole a cow, chickens, corn, salt and honey. They killed the cow and chickens and dined well that night.

The main body of the Union force, meanwhile continued its march north up the Econfina Road, raiding farms and plantations along the way. They pushed as far as Orange Hill in Washington County, less than 30 miles from the Confederate headquarters at Marianna. Along the way the soldiers inflicted devastating damage, destroying 2 bridges, a grist mill, 80 bales of cotton, an unoccupied military camp with storehouses and corn cribs, barns and anything else of use to the Confederates.

Among the farms they raided was that of William Gainer. One of the largest plantations in the county, his place was worked by 56 enslaved African Americans and he lost almost all of them to the Union raiders. Weeks and his men liberated 115 slaves (or "contrabands" as the U.S. Army called them), nearly one-third of the total slave population of Washington County.

The raid took Confederate forces in the area by complete surprise. A detachment of Captain William Jeter's Company E, 5th Florida Cavalry (C.S), was stationed at St. Andrews to watch for signs of a Union attack, but the Federals came in under cover of darkness and passed by the town site and into North Bay before Jeter's scouts became aware of their presence. By the time the Confederate cavalry realized the situation the next morning, the Union troops were between them and their headquarters at Marianna, with McCullough's small detachment guarding the ferry over Bear Creek on the main road connecting the two places.

Col. A.B. Montgomery, CSA (at left)
Cut-off and blocked from using the most direct route, the Confederate scouts were forced to make a 45 mile detour to the east in order to cross Bear Creek at what is now White City so they could get to Marianna and alert Colonel Alexander Montgomery of the situation. By the time they got to Marianna and Montgomery could respond, the raiders were already on their way back to the bay.

A raid was made by the enemy on last Thursday composed principally of Negro troops (supposed to be between three and four hundred strong) into the Econfinee settlement near St. Andrews Bay and upwards of one hundred negroes, mules, horses and provisions were captured and carried off before my forces could reach them, although a cavalry co. was dispatched in pursuit of them as soon as the news reached me. - Col. A.B. Montgomery, CSA, to W. McCall, July 24, 1864.

St. Andrew Bay at site of old St. Andrew
The Confederate company sent in pursuit of the raiders was Captain Jeter's unit from the 5th Florida Cavalry. It reached St. Andrew Bay only to find the Federals already gone. As they withdrew without losing a man, however, the Union soldiers warned local residents that they would be back:

The enemy informed residents whose houses [they visited] during this raid that this place [i.e. Marianna] would be their next point of attack. This may be mere bravado on their part. I think the next raid they make will be in the direction of Hickory Hill [i.e. Orange Hill] & Campbellton twenty miles west of this point and represented by large planting interests. - Col. A.B. Montgomery to W. McCall, July 24, 1864.

Governor John Milton of Florida
Montgomery asked for 1,000 infantry reinforcements and that he be allowed to maintain the services of the full strength of Captain Wilson W. Poe's Company C, 1st Florida Reserves (C.S.). Poe's unit had previousl been ordered to send half its men to Quincy.

The state had no infantry to send to Marianna, but orders transferring half of Poe's men to Quincy were rescinded.

The St. Andrew Bay was a serious warning for Confederate authorities in Florida. The Union soldiers had marched to within 30 miles of Marianna without encountering opposition of any kind. They expressed in their letters and reports that they could have taken the city with relative ease. Governor John Milton, Colonel Montgomery and other officers in the state would tried improve the defenses of Northwest Florida over coming weeks, but their efforts would fall short at the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864.

If you would like to read more about the St. Andrew Bay raid and related events, including the Battle of Marianna, please consider my book:  The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition.

It is also available as an instant download for Kindle readers at: The Battle of Marianna, Florida.

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