|St. Marks Lighthouse|
After a myriad of problems caused by storms, shallow water, darkness and unexpected resistance from Major William H. Milton and a handful of men from the 5th Florida Cavalry (CS), Gen. John Newton brought his troops to shore at the St. Marks Lighthouse. The main body of the Union force was comprised of the main bodies of the 2nd USCT (U.S. Colored Troops) and 99th USCT. These were supported by a strong battalion of dismounted men from the 2nd Florida Cavalry (US). The U.S. Navy contributed two 12-pounder howitzers to the expedition along with gun crews to man them. Since Newton had no horses, the guns were dragged by men from the 99th USCT.
The Federals rested briefly on the higher ground near today's Mounds Pool nature trail in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge before starting north along the old road through the marshes to the wooden bridge over East River. A small force of Confederates had taken up the flooring of the bridge and positioned a single cannon on the opposite shore.
|East River at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge|
The Confederates got off only one blast of their cannon as USCT troops stormed the bridge, charging across the stringers despite the absence of the floor planks. Confusion broke out in the Confederate ranks and Scott's line broke in retreat. The Union soldiers captured the colonel's cannon, found the stacked floor planks from the bridge and soon Newton's entire command was across East River.
|The Confederate breastworks were on the far bank of the river.|
Additional Confederate troops were quick in coming up. A detachment of C.S. Marines arrived from the gunboat CSS Spray, then stationed at St. Marks. Volunteers from Campbell's Siege Artillery also came up from Fort Ward at St Marks (today's San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park). Although they had no field guns, the artillerymen brought their musket and joined the fight as "red-legged infantry."
|St. Marks River at Newport|
Seeing the smoke from the burning bridge rise above the treetops, Gen. Newton pushed forward the dismounted men of the 2nd Florida Cavalry (US) with orders to save the crossing. Led by Major Edmund Weeks, they stormed into the open on the east side of the St. Marks River and came under heavy fire from the Confederates on the opposite shore.
|Looking up the St. Marks River at Newport.|
The Confederates had no cannon with which to reply to this bombardment, but clung to their breastworks in the face of the superior fire.
The bombardment did not go as Gen. Newton had hoped. The Federal gunners fired too high so their shells sailed over the Southern breastworks and into the town of Newport itself. Civilians fled or took shelter as cannonballs crashed into houses and exploded in the streets. One shell struck a home in which a number of African American slaves had taken shelter. Seven were killed in the blast.
When the Federals finally stopped firing, however, the Confederates were still in their breastworks. Newton would not be able to force a crossing at Newport.
|Old Plank Road at Newport. Confederate troops shadowed|
Newton's advance to Natural Bridge by moving up this road.
The annual reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge takes place this weekend and is expected to be largest ever as the battlefield commemorates the 150th anniversary of the engagement. To learn more about the battle and this weekend's planned events, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.
If you would like to read an in-depth account of the battle, please consider my book:
The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (Paperback)
The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (Kindle)