Thursday, September 18, 2014

Asboth's Northwest Florida raid began 150 years ago today

Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth (US)
The 1864 Union raid through Northwest Florida began 150 years ago today. It was the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Federal troops during the entire war and culminated at the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864.

Commanded by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, a naturalized U.S. citizen best remembered as the surveyor for New York's famed Central Park, the troops had started leaving Fort Barrancas near Pensacola two days earlier. They established a beachhead at Deer Point where the city of Gulf Breeze stands today and the quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis - a former Confederate blockade runner - began the enormous task of moving troops, horses and artillery across the bay.

Fort Barrancas
The operation took three day to complete, but 150 years ago today Asboth led his column east on the old Jackson or Federal Road. The general's 700 men were from the 2nd Maine Cavalry, 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.), 82nd U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) and 86th U.S. Colored Troops. One officer from the 7th Vermont Veteran Volunteers also took part as a volunteer aide to the general.

Gulf Breeze from Santa Rosa Sound
Individual soldiers wrote in their diaries and letters home that heavy rains began to fall as they rode east up the Federal road. The mud grew so deep that their stirrups sometimes dragged the ground as the horses trudged through it.

A portion of their route can be followed today on the Jackson Trail, a hiking trail in the Naval Live Oaks area of Gulf Island National Seashore. The trail follows a long section of the original Federal Road.

Indianola Mound at Fort Walton Beach
(Site of Confederate cannon emplacement)
By nightfall the column had reached Camp Walton (today's Fort Walton Beach). The Confederates had maintained a fort and outpost here in 1861-1862, but had evacuated it to reinforce the Southern army in northern Mississippi following the disastrous fall of Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee.

Traces of their burned buildings and the cannon emplacement they had excavated into a prehistoric American Indian shell mound likely were still visible to the Union troops as they arrived and set up camp for the night.

Waterfront at Fort Walton Beach
The few settlers living in the vicinity suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Union soldiers, who made off with livestock, poultry, meat from smokehouses and anything else edible or of value.

The Lizzie Davis had shadowed the movement of the column by steaming east up Santa Rosa Sound. It would continue to follow the soldiers until they turned inland on the morning of the 21st, serving as a floating logistical base for the expedition.

To learn more about the Battle of Marianna and events for this year's 150th anniversary commemoration, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Also please cover my book, which includes a detailed accounting of each day and activity of the raid as well as a thorough account of the fight for Marianna:

(Book) The Battle of Marianna, Florida 

(Kindle E-book) The Battle of Marianna, Florida
 (Just $4.95!)


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