Friday, April 17, 2009
Union Soldiers of Florida, Part Two
It was not until early 1863 that the Unionist movement again began to surface in Florida in a serious way.
Unionists were active earlier than that around the Jacksonville area, but it was the Union occupation of Pensacola, St. Andrew Bay, Apalachicola and Cedar Key in 1862 that really opened the doors for those interested in slipping through the lines. It was a Confederate action, however, that sent Floridians into the Union ranks in large numbers.
The Union occupation of Kentucky and Tennessee eliminated a vast breadbasket for the Confederate armies. As a result, Southern authorities were forced to look for dramatically increased supplies of provisions from Florida and other states in the Deep South. Whereas before Confederate agents had purchased supplies when farmers had them available to sell, it now became mandatory that Southern farmers provide the war effort and it was no longer up to them how much they sold.
Commissary agents were zealous in their duties and moved through the country securing corn, pork, beef and other supplies, often from wives of soldiers who could barely still feed themselves and their families. By 1863, calls for help were coming into the office of Governor John Milton (shown above) from citizens throughout the state. One example is a letter sent to the governor by Rev. John R. Richards of Calhoun County describing the passage of Commissary Agent J.P. Coker through that county:
...Some of my neighbors went after him and begged him to give them their milch cows, which he Mr. Coker, refused to do, and took them on. And now, my dear Governor, I assure you, on the honor of a gentleman, that to my knowledge there are soldiers' families in my neighborhood that the last head of cattle have been taken from them and drove off, and unless this pressing of cows is stopped speedily there won't be a cow left in Calhoun County. I know of several soldiers' families in this county that haven't had one grain of corn in the last three weeks, nor any likelihood of their getting any in the next three months; their few cows taken away and they left to starve; their husbands slain on the battlefield....
Milton heard such stories from across Florida and sent raging letters to Richmond about the situation. He pointed out that many Floridians were beginning to think that the new Confederate government cared less about their rights than the U.S. one. He described "brave men, who, indignant at the heartless treatment of the rights of citizens, have joined the enemy." He continued:
...The citizens of Florida in many parts of the State are ignignant at the unnecessary abuse of their rights; and I have reason to know that the lawless and wicked conduct of Government agents in this State have produced serious dissatisfaction among the troops from this State in Northwest Georgia and in Virginia, and unless the evils complained of shall be promptly remedied the worst results may be reasonably apprehended.
In short, according to Milton, it was the severity with which citizens were being treated by the commissary agents that started to drive the soldiers from Florida to desert and join the Union forces.
I will have more on the speed with which this movement took place in the next post.