Tuesday, January 22, 2008
The Calhoun County War of 1860
Continuing with a theme I started yesterday in my posting about the "Julee Cottage" and free people of color in Florida at the time of the Civil War, I want to continue today with more on this topic and a little known event that took place in Calhoun County on the eve of the war.
In looking back today, it is difficult for us to conceive how violent and chaotic things had become by 1860. The secession movement was picking up speed across the South and the national elections taking place had fragmented the Democratic Party and feelings were running very high.
Although they are little written about today (with the exception of the "Kansas War" and John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry), a series of violent outbreaks took place across the South in 1860 as citizens fought amongst themselves over the future of their states and regions.
One of the most serious and least known of these outbreaks took place in rural Calhoun County, Florida, during the fall of 1860 and involved a host of individuals who would later figure prominently in Florida's Confederate government and military commitment. Among these were Jesse J. Finley(pictured here), a Circuit Judge based in Marianna, who would go on to become a Confederate general from Florida, and U.S. District Judge McQueen McIntosh, who happened to be at his home at West Wynnton in Calhoun County when the outbreak took place.
As late as September of 1860, the secession of Florida from the Union was not a certainty. Like the rest of the nation, the then southernmost state awaited the outcome of the Presidential election before setting its course. In Florida, like in many other Southern states, politics in those days sometimes involved a lot more than debates and voting. Bands of armed men, who called themselves "Regulators," often rode through the countryside to intimidate those they suspected of "disloyalty" to one side or the other. In 1860, most of these groups were Secessionist in their views and used violent tactics to intimidate their Unionist opponents. Others targeted anyone they suspected to be involved in Abolition movements or other efforts that might upset the social balance in the state.
Calhoun County, like much of Florida, was not a large slave-holding area. There were a few plantations scattered through the county, but nothing on the magnitude of neighboring Jackson and Gadsden Counties. Most of the inhabitants lived by their own labors and worked as farmers or lumbermen. Among these were the Durden and Musgrove families, who worked as farmers near Abe Springs, then the county seat for Calhoun, and also owned lands across the line in southern Jackson County. Unexpectedly, in the fall of 1860, they became the targets of a bloody and violent attack by a Regulator band that sparked what would become known as the "Calhoun County War."
I'll continue on with this topic in my next post, so please check back soon!