With this posting we conclude our two week long series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. We've devoted extended attention to Natural Bridge because he battle preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi River and was the last significant Confederate victory of the Civil War.
There are many sites today that can be visited to explore the history of this historic campaign. Here is a list of some of the most interesting:
- Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park - Located on Natural Bridge Road east of Woodville, Florida, the park preserves a key portion of the battlefield. There is not a museum on the grounds, but visitors can walk the battlefield and stroll along the scenic St. Marks Rivers. Monuments to the Confederate defenders and dead of both sides can be viewed, along with historic markers and interpretive signs. Time-worn segments of the Confederate earthworks can also be seen, along the with the Natural Bridge itself.
- Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad - This historic railroad bed was used by Confederates during the campaign to move troops to and from Tallahassee and St. Marks by train. It is now a state park facility and has been converted to a "rails to trails" project. A paved asphalt path follows the route of the old railroad all the way from Tallahassee to St. Marks and is popular with walkers and bikers. It can be accessed in both Tallahassee and St. Marks and at various points in between. There is a historic marker at the Tallahassee trailhead.
- San Marcos de Apalache - This state park and museum is located in St. Marks and contains the earthworks of Fort Ward as well as the ruins of earlier Spanish forts. The museum includes information on the Civil War and Natural Bridge Campaign and the old fort provides outstanding views of the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers and the vast marshes beyond.
- Newport - There is a small, but nice, park area on the east bank of the St. Marks River at Newport. Although there is no battle interpretation, it is a nice spot for a picnic and the dock at the boat ramp provides a good view of the St. Marks River.
- East River Bridge - The site of East River Bridge and the route of the Union troops from the St. Marks Lighthouse to the skirmish site there is now within the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge offers a visitor center and park personnel can answer questions about the war. The area around East River has changed dramatically over the years due to the creation of large pools decades ago.
- Port Leon - This old town site south of Fort Ward on the main channel was the intended landing point for Naval forces during the Natural Bridge Campaign, but they failed to make it far enough up the channel to complete the landing before learning that the army troops were already in retreat. Very, Very little remains of Port Leon and there are no surviving structures of the town, but the site is preserved by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and can be visited by a strenuous hike. You can obtain details and hiking maps at the Refuge Visitor Center.
- St. Marks Lighthouse - One of the most spectacular sites on the Gulf Coast, the historic St. Marks Lighthouse is now preserved and serves as a focal point of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The tower itself is not open to the public for climbing, but the grounds are popular with visitors and there is an observation platform that allows for a great view of the Lighthouse, the marshes and the Gulf of Mexico. The grounds are open daily during normal refuge hours and the drive out to the lighthouse provides an outstanding opportunity to experience not just the history of the area, but also the stunning natural setting preserved by the refuge.
- The Old Capitol- Located in the heart of the modern city of Tallahassee, Florida's Historic Old Capitol has been restored and is now a museum interpreting the state's political history. The Capitol served as Confederate military headquarters at the time of the Battle of Natural Bridge.
- Old Fort Park - Located a few blocks southeast of the Old Capitol is Old Fort Park, where the surviving earthworks of Fort Houstoun can be seen. The old fort was a rectangular earthen redoubt constructed during the winter of 1864-1865 as part of the defenses of Tallahassee. It was held during the Battle of Natural Bridge by Confederate militia in case the Union troops should break through at Natural Bridge and advance on Tallahassee, but the victory there prevented the fortifications from ever coming under attack.
This concludes our extended series. I hope you have enjoyed it. You can see additional photographs and read more at www.exploresouthernhistory.com. Just follow the link and then click the Battlefields heading and you will find the link to take you to the Natural Bridge pages. Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available through www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazon.com or for order through most local bookstores.