Friday, March 7, 2008
Natural Bridge (27) - Post Battle Executions
Our next post will conclude our special series on the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. To read the entire series, please scroll down the page.
As Confederate troops swarmed south in the wake of Newton's column, they captured a number of Union stragglers and wounded soldiers. One entire detachment was captured with its lieutenant after they were left behind guarding a river crossing by the main body. Another group was captured at Newport on the morning of the 7th. Strickland and one of his men from the bridge burning party sent up the Aucilla River were captured by Confederates after they tried to set the bridge on fire, but were spotted.
Most of these prisoners, white and black, were treated according to the standard rules of war. General Jones made sure that they were given medical attention and not subjected to manual labor, etc., regardless of their race.
Four of the prisoners turned out to be Confederate deserters and the rules for them were different. Peter Pelt and Corporal Asa Fowler from Company E, 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry, were captured at Newport on the morning of March 7th. Both were recognized as deserters who had joined the Union ranks. Rails were placed upright in the ground, they were tied to them and then shot by firing squad on the same day. W.W. Strickland and John R. Brannon were captured at Aucilla Bridge. They were spared for ten days and tried before a court martial, but were shot by firing squad on March 17, 1865.
The other prisoners were taken to Tallahassee, where the wounded received treatment. Ultimately they were ordered to Camp Sumter stockade at Andersonville, Georgia, where they spent the rest of the war. All of these men, white and black, survived the war and eventually were released. A number of Union soldiers were reported as missing in action immediately following the battle, but they all eventually turned up. Most made their way to the Union post at Cedar Key and rejoined their regiments.
There have been rumors since 1865 that some of the captured African American Union soldiers were murdered on the battlefield by Confederate soldiers. Questions about this were raised by Union officers after the battle and they have been part of the folklore surrounding the battle for 143 years. A careful examination of Union lists of captured and missing in action soldiers reveals, however, that all Union soldiers from the campaign can be accounted for. The only ones killed after the battle were the four white soldiers from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry that proved to be Confederate deserters. The black soldiers captured during and after the Battle of Natural Bridge were treated well by order of General Jones as long as they were in the hands of troops after his command. Some were subjected to manual labor after they were sent to Andersonville, but this was at the order of prison authorities and not the Confederate officers in Florida.
Our series will conclude later tonight with a look at the Natural Bridge battlefield and points of interest from the campaign as they appear today. Until then, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex. Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida, now available from www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazon.com and by order through most bookstores.