Saturday, September 27, 2008
The Battle of Marianna, Florida - September 27, 1864, 12 noon
This is a view of Ely Corner (the intersection of Lafayette, Russ and St. Andrews Streets) in Marianna as it appears today.
Now a modern four-lane highway, the site in 1864 was an open area on the edge of town where the Campbellton road entered Marianna.
The Confederate cavalry formed into a line of battle at this point, facing west (the direction of the camera). In the far distance behind them was the location of the unmanned barricade, where the local home guard and volunteers had formed an ambush on each side of the street.
A few minutes before 12 noon, Colonel Montgomery rode up to his men. He had remained west of town observing the Federal approach. The colonel saw Asboth dispatch some of his men to follow the bypass or logging road around the north side of town while the main body continued straight up the road for Ely Corner.
Aware that he was about to be flanked, the colonel ordered his men to withdraw. There was, in the words of one eyewitness, "some demurring." Many of the soldiers were from the area and did not like the idea of leaving Marianna undefended. Montgomery, on the other hand, was more concerned about keeping his forces intact until reinforcements could arrive and did not look at Marianna in the same light as the local citizens. From a military perspective, he was right. It was just a small town of fewer than 500 people and he could better hold back the oncoming Federals by taking a position on the east bank of the Chipola River.
To the locals, though, Marianna was home. Their families and possessions were there. And they were unwilling to go without a fight.
Whatever might have been the plan, things quickly began to fall apart. If the colonel intended to evacuate the local home guard and volunteers under the protection of a shield of cavalry, he never got the chance. While he was trying to explain to his men that they were being flanked, the head of the Union column came around the curve at Ely Corner.
Out of time, Montgomery turned and fought. The Confederate cavalry unleashed a volley at short range on the stunned Union soldiers. Northern eyewitnesses indicated that they thought the Confederates were in full retreat for the river and were stunned to come around the curve in the road and find themselves faced with the Southern cavalry in line of battle.
The Union column was led at this point by Cutler's battalion of the 2nd Maine Cavalry. The Federals made a half hearted attempt to charge, but were caught in column formation (four men on horseback, side by side, in a long column), while the Confederates were spread out in a line of battle with hundreds of shotguns and muskets aimed at the head of their formation.
The volley of fire plunged the corner with smoke and sent Union soldiers toppling from their horses. At least one Union soldier was killed in the blast of gunfire and another was wounded. Horses were also wounded and a number of men fell from their saddles as their horses panicked.
Despite the efforts of Major Nathan Cutler to rally his men, the fell back in a headlong retreat around the curve.
Armstrong Purdee saw all of this and remembered how the wounded were brought back to a little stream that flowed behind today's Joseph Russ house. One of the men was shot in the chest and Purdee saw surgeons pouring water on him and trying to cleanse the wound.
Our series will continue. You can always read more about the Battle of Marianna at www.battleofmarianna.net.