Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Natural Bridge (21) - The night of March 5, 1865
This is part 21 of a series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. To read the previous posts first, please scroll down the page.
Blocked from crossing at Newport by the Confederates, General Newton now considered his options. His guides informed him that there was another crossing five miles upstream at the Natural Bridge. With no other way to get across the St. Marks River (seen here at Newport), he decided to try for the second crossing. As afternoon turned into evening, the Union troops marched north up the east bank of the river, following an old and infrequently used road. The distance proved to be much more than five miles.
The Confederates had left a small detachment of cavalry on the east side of the St. Marks to watch for such a move and these men soon signaled the force on the west bank that the Union troops were on the move.
General Jones and General Miller were now both on the ground at Newport. They sent Lt. Col. Scott up the west side of the river to watch the Union movement and prevent them from using any of the crossings between Newport and the Natural Bridge. Scott soon reported that the Federals had halted at Tompkins' Mills, three miles north of Newport, to rest. Darkness had fallen and the men were undoubtedly exhausted.
Jones and Miller correctly deduced that the next target of the Federals would be Natural Bridge. General Jones then headed for the railroad to begin diverting troops coming south from Tallahassee to that point. Miller began preparations to move his men from Newport up the river to Natural Bridge when suddenly he learned that the officers and soldiers at Fort Ward in St. Marks had made plans to blow up the fort and abandon it if they came under attack by the Union Navy.
Union ships were then making their way up the lower St. Marks and could be seen far downstream across the marshes by the men in the fort. General Miller rushed to Fort Ward, assembled the garrison, and promptly informed them that the fort could and would be defended. Plans for evacuating the post were abandoned and the general headed back up to Newport.
When our series continues tomorrow, we will explore the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought on March 6, 1865 (143 years ago tomorrow). In the meantime, to read more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex. Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available at www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazon.com or for order through most bookstores.