Friday, September 12, 2014

Asboth's Plan for the Marianna Raid (September 12, 1864)

Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth (US)
One of the most important documents of the War Between the States (or Civil War) in Northwest Florida was penned 150 years ago today on September 12, 1864.

Writing from Barrancas Post adjacent to Fort Barrancas near Pensacola, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth (US) outlined a plan for what would be the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Union troops during the entire War Between the States (or Civil War):

...I am to start a cavalry raid in the northwest portion of West Florida. Going up the Santa Rosa Island and swimming the horses across the East Pass to the mainland, I will proceed to Point Washington and from thence to Marianna and vicinity, returning via St. Andrews salt works. My object is to capture the isolated rebel cavalry and infantry in Washington and Jackson Counties, and to liberate the Union prisoners at Marianna, to collect white and colored recruits, and secure as many horses and mules as possible. - Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth (US), September 12, 1864

Asboth (second from left) with his dog.
The plan was based on intelligence received the previous day from either a scout or refugee that had just arrived through the lines from Confederate West Florida. That individual had given Asboth remarkably accurate information on the locations and strengths of the Confederate companies assigned to the command of Colonel A.B. Montgomery (CS) at Marianna.

The commander of the Union District of West Florida, Alexander Asboth was one of the more intriguing individuals of the 19th century.

Asboth
Born in Hungary, he had been educated as a military engineer in Austria before joining the forces of his native country in their uprising against the Hapsburg Empire in 1848. He demonstrated his courage in battle and rose to the rank of colonel in the early fighting against the Austrians as Governor Lajos Kossuth tried to establish an American styled democracy in Hungary.

Asboth eventually became Kossuth's chief of staff and was the only one of the governor's associates to accompany him in his carriage when the revolution collapsed and Kossuth fled into Hungary. The United States sent the warship USS Mississippi to bring them to America.

Settling in New York, the colonel became a naturalized citizen and worked successfully as a surveyor and engineer during the 1850s. He is best known for his invention of a paving process and as the surveyor who determined the lines for New York's famed Central Park.

Elkhorn Tavern at Pea Ridge, Arkansas
When war erupted between North and South, Asboth offered his services to President Abraham Lincoln and was sent to Missouri where he served as adlatus (basically chief of staff) to General John Freemont. In this capacity he commanded many future generals including Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. The latter described the Hungarian officer in his memoirs as one of the most "personally brave" individuals of the war, although he noted that Asboth often doubted himself.

General Asboth went on to command the Third Division of the Union army in Missouri and was badly wounded at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. In that battle he advanced with two cannon and a small force of infantry into the face of General Earl Van Dorn's attacking Confederate army and held it back until the main Union army could reverse front and avoid destruction.


Fort Barrancas near Pensacola, Florida
He later commanded troops in Tennessee and Mississippi and was one of the generals who recommended the promotion of Phil Sheridan to brigadier general. In November 1863 he was assigned the command of the District of West Florida. The assignment was part of the planning for Sherman's Atlanta Campaign and was given as a precaution should Sherman fail and be forced to cut his way through to the Gulf Coast.  Asboth's experience as a cavalry commander would help in the extraction of Sherman's army should such become necessary.

The signing of the general's report of September 12, 1864, opened the door for the Marianna raid. The specifics of his plan would change over the next six days but it was 150 years ago today that Union forces committed to an attack on Marianna, Florida.

To learn more about the Battle of Marianna and Asboth's West Florida Raid, please consider my book:

(Book) The Battle of Marianna, Florida

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

You can also learn more by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.


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