Friday, February 27, 2009

What was the real objective of the Natural Bridge campaign?


From the time it happened, there has been considerable debate about the real purpose of General John Newton's expedition that ended at the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865.

Confederate authorities assumed, logically, that his plan was to capture Tallahassee. It was the capital of Florida and the state's military headquarters as well. Two vital railroads, one linking Quincy to the west with the outskirts of Jacksonville to the east and the other connecting the Tallahassee with St. Marks on the coast passed through the town. And finally, the city was the center of a vast agricultural district that contributed heavily to the supply of the Confederate armies in the field.

General Newton, however, denied in his post-battle reports that he planned to capture Tallahassee. Instead, he claimed that his movements were entirely planned to end the use of the port of St. Marks by Confederate blockade runners. In fact, he indicated that when he left Key West in late February, he had not even decided to move on St. Marks at all, but instead was hoping to cut-off Confederate troops in South Florida. Unable to do so, he settled on St. Marks as a reasonable alternative.

Newton's claims were made following his defeat at the Battle of Natural Bridge, however, when he was clearly trying to protect his reputation. Other sources indicate that his plans were much more ambitious.

Admiral C.K. Stribling, for example, reported while Newton was still steaming up the Gulf that the plan of the campaign was to strike at St. Marks, an indication that he and the general had agreed to this well before Newton left Key West.

A correspondent of The New York Times and another of the New York Herald reported from Key West before the Battle of Natural Bridge that Newton's plan was to march not just on Tallahassee, but on Thomasville, Georgia. According to the reporters, Newton believed that thousands of Union prisoners of war were being held in Thomasville and he launched the campaign in hopes of liberating them. After the expedition returned to Key West, both correspondents further reported that the expedition had not achieved its objective, the liberation of the prisoners in Thomasville.

The newspaper reports are worth consideration. Both reporters clearly were close associates of Newton, who was a native of New York. They knew significant detail about his plans ahead of time and it is likely that he discussed his movement with them so it could be relayed to readers in his home state.

There was, in fact, a Confederate prison in Thomasville. It had been established as Sherman made his way to the sea during late 1864, but had been evacuated by the time of the Natural Bridge expedition. General Newton, however, had no way of knowing this.

Despite his later denials, it seems likely that his plan from the beginning was to descend on St. Marks and then march inland to Thomasville, taking Tallahassee on the way.

To read more about the Battle of Natural Bridge before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Natural Bridge Battlefield Purchase Complete!


The state of Florida has completed its purchase of 55 acres of core battlefield land adjoining the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park. The historically and environmentally sensitive land will eventually become part of the park. The purchase was approved by Governor Charlie Crist and the Cabinet late last year and offically closed this week.

The land includes key areas where the Battle of Natural Bridge was fought on March 6, 1865. This battle was one of the last signfiicant Southern victories of the War Between the States and protected Tallahassee's status as the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not conquered by Union forces. You can learn more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Here is the official press release announcing the completion of the purchase:

TALLAHASSEE— The state of Florida yesterday closed on nearly 55 acres of land in Leon County adjacent to the Natural Bridge Historic State Park. Purchased through Florida Forever funding, the acquired parcel will be managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Division of Recreation and Parks, and is significant to the protection of a first magnitude spring and features a Civil War battlefield. This acquisition was approved by the Governor and Cabinet last November.

“Closing on this land is an important accomplishment for the state, as this property is a part of the Florida First Magnitude Springs project and one of the top projects on the Florida Forever priority list,” said DEP Deputy Secretary Bob Ballard. “This acquisition ensures that the geological, historical and cultural integrity of this property and the surrounding water resources are preserved for Floridians and visitors from all over the world to enjoy for years to come.”

This Florida Forever project focuses on land that provides increased protection for Florida’s First Magnitude Springs that discharge more than 100 cubic feet of water per second. Florida’s springs, scattered through northern and central Florida, draw from the Floridan aquifer system, which is the state’s primary source of drinking water. Springs, with clear, continuously flowing waters, are among the state’s most important natural resources and are famous attractions. This acquisition brings the Florida First Magnitude Springs project closer to completion, with 7,844 acres of the 14,081 acre project remaining.

The property contains many karst features such as sink holes, natural bridges, swallets, karst windows and submerged cave systems. By preserving the surrounding land, this project will preserve the area’s geological significance and protect Florida’s water resources from the affects of commercial, residential and agricultural runoff and other potential impacts.

The property is also the site of Florida’s second largest Civil War battle. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and cited as one of the top ten endangered Civil War sites in the United States by the Civil War Preservation Trust. In 1865, during the final week of the Civil War, the battle at Natural Bridge preserved Tallahassee as the only Confederate Capitol east of the Mississippi that did not surrender to Union forces. Today, important historical and cultural resources can be found on the property dating from the Paleo-Indian period (10,000 B.C.) to the Civil War.

“We are extremely pleased to be working with the state of Florida to protect a key part of the Natural Bridge Battlefield,” remarked Civil War Preservation Trust President James Lighthizer. “The Rakestraw property saw some of the most intense fighting of the battle, fought just five weeks before General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Governor Crist and his administration should be applauded for stepping up to protect this unique part of Florida’s heritage.”

The closing comes just in time for the 32nd Annual Reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge at Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park on Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge commemorates the 1865 Civil War confrontation that preserved Tallahassee as the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi River to avoid Union control.

Originally established in 1999, the 10-year, $3 billion Florida Forever program is the largest land-buying initiative in the nation, conserving environmentally sensitive land, restoring water resources and preserving important cultural and historical sites. More than two million acres throughout the state have been placed in public ownership under Florida Forever and its predecessor program, Preservation 2000 (P2000). For more information on the Florida Forever program, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/fl_forever.htm.

To view maps that outline the property, visit the following links: www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/news/2008/11/files/rakestraw_springs76.pdf
www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/news/2008/11/files/rakestraw_springs77.pdf

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

St. Marks, Florida - The Confederacy's Last Port


It is a little known fact that Confederate blockade runners continued to slip out of the port of St. Marks, south of Tallahassee, until the end of the War Between the States.

There was considerable speculation in Northern newspapers during January and February of 1865 that Confederate authorities were moving to prepare St. Marks for greater activity as a result of the capture of Fort Fisher and closure of the port of Wilmington in North Carolina.

The following item, for example, appeared in the Kansas Weekly Champion and Press on February 2, 1865:

The American Counsul at Havana sends notice to Collector Draper that the rebels are reported to be staking out the harbor of St. Marks, on the western coast of Florida, in order to make it available for blockade runners. Vessels drawing eight feet of water can enter this harbor. No doubt some of our gun-boats drawing about that much will shortly look in at St. Marks.

St. Marks at the time was defended by the Confederate gunboat C.S.S. Spray and the heavy artillery of Fort Ward, an earthwork fort on the site of today's San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. Making the port of more importance, it was connected to Tallahassee by the Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad, which remained in operation throughout the war. This allowed supplies brought in by blockade runner (and cotton, etc., being shipped out) to be moved easily to and from the port to the capital city.

The reports that surfaced in January and February about Confederate plans for St. Marks likely contributed to planning taking place at that time in Key West. These plans would lead to the Natural Bridge expedition by the end of February.

I'll continue posting on this topic over the next few days. In the meantime, you can read more about the Battle of Natural Bridge and some of its related events by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Burial Place of Captain Billy Bowlegs, Union officer


Florida's connection with the modern state of Oklahoma is undeniable but often overlooked.

Hundreds of Seminole warriors and their families were forced west a gunpoint during the Second Seminole War, most making the long journey from Florida to the Indian Territory that is now Oklahoma by water. There they settled in the "new" Seminole Nation, a section of territory reserved for them by the U.S. Government.

Many of these individuals went on to fight again less than 20 years later when the so-called "Five Civilized Tribes" (the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles) splintered upon the outbreak of the War Between the States. Some fought for the Confederacy and others for the Union.

Among the well-known names of men enlisting to fight for the Union was a Seminole chief named Billy Bowlegs. Not the famed Bowlegs of the Second and Third Seminole Wars, who had died in 1859, this individual had adopted his name and may have been a relative.

He was commissioned as the captain of Company H, 1st Indian Home Guards, a Federal regiment raised in Kansas that included many Unionist refugees from the Seminole and Creek Nations. In this capacity, Captain Bowlegs earned fame in his own right, fighting on battlefields across the west in the cause of the country that had driven his people from Florida.

He is buried now at Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, along with more than 19,000 other Americans who served their country. To learn more about this cemetery of the western frontier, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortgibson1.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fort Barrancas - Pensacola, Florida


The first hostile shots of the War Between the States were fired on the morning of January 6, 1861, on the drawbridge of Fort Barrancas, an important fort built to defend Pensacola Bay.

The U.S. troops holding the fort were jumpy over reports that state forces were planning to take possession of the fort. In the early morning darkness, sentries saw shadowy figures on the opposite side of the drabridge and opened fire. No one was injured. Years later it was revealed that the men were state soldiers from Alabama who had arrived to assist Florida troops in taking the fort, but that they had merely been looking at the fort. The incident took place months before Confederate forces in Charleston opened fire on Fort Sumter.

Built between 1839 and 1844, Fort Barrancas was an impressive masonry fortification designed to function in conjunction with Fort Pickens and Fort McRee to defend the entrance to Pensacola Bay against enemy attack.

Shortly after the drawbridge incident, U.S. troops evacuated the fort and moved to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. The latter position could be more easily defended from attack. Southern troops quickly occupied Fort Barrancas and held it until the spring of 1862. During that time the cannon of the fort took part in two major bombardments.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortbarrancas1.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Olustee Battlefield - Part Five


This is the monument placed to mark what is believed to be the site of the mass grave where the Union dead from the Battle of Olustee were buried.

It is a reproduction of the original wooden marker placed at the site and is located in the small cemetery adjoining the state park.

More than 200 Union soldiers died in the fighting at Olustee, compared to 93 Confederates. Many other wounded men died in the weeks and months following the battle (more than 2,000 men were wounded). The Southern dead from the battle were buried in Lake City and elsewhere around the region.

Walking the site today, it is difficult to visualize the violence of the battle fought there. Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is peaceful and quiet most days. It is often possible to walk the grounds or follow the trails along the battle lines without seeing another soul. The forest and trees are quite beautiful and the park is rich in birds and wildlife, a far cry from what must have been the scene on February 20, 1864 when Florida's largest Civil War battle was fought there.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Olustee Battlefield - Part Four


The main action of the Battle of Olustee was fought in open pine woods with neither side benefitting from breastworks or fortifications of any kind. This was remarkable by the time, late in the War Between the States, when the battle took place.

Vicksburg had already given the nation a brutal preview of the trench and siege warfare that would characterize later conflicts. Even at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, where Union and Confederate armies engaged in sweeping large scale movements, one side or the other had relied on field fortifications to defend their position.

At Olustee, however, more than 10,000 men stood in the open pine woods and blazed away at each other. According to some sources, the Union loss at Olustee was the largest, percentage-wise, of any Federal army during the war. The nature of the fighting undoubtedly contributed to its horrible toll.

The photograph above was taken along the walking trails that follow the battlelines at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. Developed as a joint project of the state park and the staff of Osceola National Forest, which maintains part of the battlefield, the trails wind through the open pine woods and follow the lines taken during the height of the battle by the two armies.

Tomorrow will mark the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee and our series on the battlefield will continue. Until then, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Olustee Battlefield - Part Three


This is the primary monument at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. Located immediately behind the museum, it was erected during the early years of the effort to mark and preserve the battlefield.

A total of four monuments can be found on the battlefield. The one shown here is flanked by two smaller ones. One honors Gen. Finegan, the hero of Olustee. The other honors Gen. Colquitt, the hero of Olustee. The Finegan monument was placed by UDC members from Florida, while the Colquitt monument was placed by UDC members from Georgia.

The fourth monument on the field is located in the cemetery adjoining the park and is believed to mark the location of the mass grave where Union dead from the battle were buried.

Unlike many Civil War battlefields, Olustee is preserved in a largely pristine state. It is still possible to walk the battle lines and see the field much as it looked on February 20, 1864. Pine and palmetto still cover much of the site.

We will take a closer look at the main battle line area in the next post. Until then, you can learn more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Olustee Battlefield - Part Two


This area, just north of the railroad tracks at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, was the position of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry during the Battle of Olustee.

The position is just to the left of the photograph used in the last post and is directly in front of the monuments on the battlefield.

The battle was already lost by the time the famed African American unit became engaged. Confederate troops had successfully overlapped the advancing Union army and the front ranks of the Federal force had given way under fire not only from in front, but from both flanks as well.

In the closing stages of the fighting, the 54th was moved forward. A seasoned regiment (the focus of the movie Glory), the Massachusetts infantrymen had already taken part in several key engagements. They stood their ground well at Olustee, giving General Seymour time to withdraw his forces from the face of the Confederate assaults.

Our series on Olustee Battlefield will continue. Until the next post, you can read more on the battle by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Olustee Battlefield - Part One


Last February, I spent time retracing the events of the Battle of Olustee. If you are interesting in reading back through those posts, you can find them by looking in the Archives section at the bottom of this page under February of 2008.

This year I thought I would devote a little time to exploring some of the features that can be seen at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. Located 13 miles east of Lake City on U.S. 90, the park preserves a key section of the site of the battle, which was fought on February 20, 1864 (145 years ago this Friday).

The photograph above was taken just after turning off U.S. 90 onto the park entrance road. The railroad played a critical role in the battle.
As they marched west in the hours before the battle, the Union army under General Truman A. Seymour followed the tracks of the Atlantic-Gulf Central Railroad. Their plan was to follow the railroad as far west as its Suwannee River bridge, which they hoped to destroy and break communications between East and West Florida.

Seymour was not aware that an army of more than 5,000 Confederates had moved into position to block his campaign. As he approached Olustee Station, his troops moving along a road that ran just to the north of the tracks (the left in the picture), he ran head on into a Southern force led by Generals Joseph Finegan and A.R. Colquitt.

Our series on the points of interest on the Olustee Battlefield will continue. You can also learn more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Olustee Battle Reenactment is this Weekend


The annual festival and reenactment commemorating Florida's largest Civil War battle will take place this weekend in Lake City and at the nearby Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park (13 miles east of Lake City on U.S. 90).

Events get underway in Lake City tomorrow as the annual Olustee Festival begins with the annual Festival and Craft Show in downtown Lake City. There will also be a square dance, 5k and 10k runs and more. The annual parade will take place on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in Lake City.

The 33rd annual reenactment of the Battle of Olustee will take place on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the battlefield park. You can park and ride the shuttle from either the Lake City Airport or the Baker County Prison Center on U.S. 90 just east of the battlefield.

The battle actually took place on February 20, 1864. Beginning tomorrow, we will look back on events associated with Olustee. To learn more about this weekends events, please click here. To learn more about the Battle of Olustee, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sketoe's Hole - A Reminder of the "Deserter War"


In a little known front of the War Between the States, armed bands of guerillas carried out a brutal war of attrition with the citizens of Northwest Florida and Southeast Alabama.

These groups, called "raider gangs" by the people of the region, were made up of Unionist men who took to the swamps to avoid the conscription or draft, Confederate deserters and others. Most of the true Unionists quickly passed on through the lines, but hard core groups of outlaws remained in hiding in the swamps and deep woods, coming out from time to time to attack communities and isolated homes in search of food, supplies, valuables and other items.

Over the last three years of the war they proved quite proficient at their irregular operations. An entire company of Confederate cavalry was surrounded and disarmed near the Chattahoochee River in eastern Jackson County. The Coffee County, Alabama, Courthouse in Elba was burned to the ground and a sharp battle fought with a local militia company. A band hiding in the swamps of the upper Chipola River battled state troops from both Florida and Alabama through the winter of 1863-1864.

By the winter of 1864-1865, the raider gangs had become enough of a threat that regular campaigns were launched to root them out. These efforts intensified after the successful Union raid on Marianna in September of 1864. By November, Alabama had put more than 500 men into the field in a campaign that moved down into the swamps of the Choctawhatchee River.

The operation met with some success and several deserters were captured and hanged by the Alabama troops.

A strange relic of this campaign existed for many years on the bank of the Choctawhatchee River near the small Dale County, Alabama, community of Newton. Called "Sketoe's Hole," it served as a macabre reminder of the brutal deserter war that raged in the Alabama-Florida borderlands.

A detachment of men from Captain Joseph Breare's company of Alabama Militia captured a man named William "Bill" Sketoe and summarily hanged him as a deserter. The man's family has long maintained that the execution was nothing short of murder and that Sketoe was not a deserter, but had come home to take care of his sick wife.

Bill Sketoe was a tall man and as the militiamen tried to hang him, his feet unexpectedly touched the ground. One of the citizen soldiers used a crutch to dig out a hole under the unfortunate man's feet, so that the hanging could continue. For more than 100 years after, "Sketoe's Hole" could be seen. As the story goes, it was swept clean nightly by the swinging feet of Bill Sketoe's ghost.

If you would like to learn more about this story and find out what happened to Sketoe's Hole, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sketoe1.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fort Pickens - Pensacola, Florida


A few days ago I posted an update on the status of land access to Fort Pickens, which should be available again this spring.

If you are interested in learning more about this historic old fort, I've launched a new Fort Pickens page at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortpickens1.

Built between 1829 and 1834, the five sided fort was located at the western point of Santa Rosa Island. Designed so that its guns could sweep the entrance to Pensacola Bay, Fort Pickens was a formidable obstacle to any enemy ship trying to enter Pensacola Bay.

Had Confederate troops been able to occupy the fort at the beginning of the War Between the States, Pensacola might have proved a very tough nut to crack for the Union navy. Unlike many similar works that were reduced by bombardment during the war, Fort Pickens was built right on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico and would have been very difficult to take by siege or naval bombardment.

Confederate troops attacked the outlying camps of the fort during the Battle of Santa Rosa Island on October 9, 1861, but did not attempt to take the main fort itself. Two heavy bombardments followed. The first, in November of 1861, lasted two days and was initiated by the Federals. Artillery fire from Fort Pickens and U.S. Navy ships offshore was directed at Fort McRee, Fort Barrancas, the Pensacola Navy Yard and other Confederate installations around the bay. The second, in January of 1862, was of shorter duration. Neither resulted in any significant damage to Fort Pickens.

After Confederate troops were withdrawn from Pensacola in May of 1862 to reinforce the Army of Tennessee, Union trops continued to occupy Fort Pickens. Prisoners were sometimes held there, but it primarily served as a military post. In the years after the war the fort became a prison for the Apache leader Geronimo and a number of his followers. It remained active as a military post until the end of World War II.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortpickens1.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Battle of Santa Rosa Island - Pensacola, Florida


On October 9, 1861, a brutal night fight took place in the sand dunes of Santa Rosa Island. It was the first significant battle of the War Between the States in Florida.

The Battle of Santa Rosa Island was the result of a retaliatory strike on Union forces at Fort Pickens ordered by General Braxton Bragg after a Federal boat party attacked and destroyed the Confederate privateer Judah at the Pensacola Navy Yard in September of 1861.

The general's intent was never to capture Fort Pickens, unless an opportunity somehow presented itself. Instead, he hoped to destroy the camp of the 6th New York Volunteers and spike the guns of outlying batteries in the vicinity. Also known as Wilson's Zouaves, the 6th New York was commanded by the infamous William "Billy" Wilson, a former New York politician who had recruited a regiment largely filled with rough and tumble toughs from the docks and streets of New York. Confederate troops at Pensacola were anxious to attack them.

Deciding on a night attack, Bragg sent Brigadier General Richard H. "Dick" Anderson across Pensacola Bay with 1,100 men shortly after midnight on Ocotber 9 1861. Landing under cover of darkness, the men formed into three columns and advanced west down Santa Rosa Island. They overran Wilson's camp with a bayonet charge, sending the New Yorkers fleeing for their lives.

Union troops in Fort Pickens moved out to engage the Confederates and, as planned, Anderson began a withdrawal back down Santa Rosa Island to his boats. Heavy fighting took place in pitch darkness and on the shifting sand dunes of the island, but despite heavy rifle fire, the Confederates were able to return to their boats and head back across the bay to Pensacola.

Both sides reported significant losses. Southern losses were 18 killed, 39 wounded and 30 captured (General Bragg reported that 11 of the dead had been executed with shots to the head after they were first wounded). Union losses were 14 killed, 29 wounded and 24 captured.

To read more about the battle, please visit our new Battle of Santa Rosa Island page at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/santarosa.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Camp Walton - Fort Walton Beach, Florida


The modern city of Fort Walton Beach takes its name from a Confederate camp established there in 1861 by the Walton Guards.

Later a company in the 1st Florida Infantry, the Guards were formed at Eucheeanna in Walton County during the early days of the war. The soon moved down to the Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound (today's Fort Walton Beach) where they established a semi-permanent camp at a prehistoric mound group dating from the Mississippian time period (A.D. 900-A.D. 1500).

Named Camp Walton, the outpost was occupied until the summer of 1862. It was attacked on April 1st of that year by a force of 200 Union soldiers that marched down Santa Rosa Island from Fort Pickens on Pensacola Bay after learning that Confederates from Camp Walton had skirmished with sailors from a blockade vessel. The Federals opened fire on the camp with rifled artillery, driving off the Walton Guards who were able to do little more than return fire with small arms.

After learning of the attack, Gen. Braxton Bragg sent an 18-pounder carronade from Fort Walton to assist in the future defense of the camp. When the Walton Guards left Camp Walton during the summer of 1862, they buried the cannon in a shell mound.

Later recovered, it is now on display at Fort Walton Beach's Heritage Park, which preserves part of the site of the Confederate outpost. Markers provide information on the significance of the site. For more information, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortwalton.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Advanced Redoubt of Fort Barrancas


This fascinating old brick structure was begun in 1845 as the last of four major forts built by the United States to defend Pensacola Bay from foreign attack.

Unlike the other three forts (Fort Pickens, Fort McRee and Fort Barrancas), the Advanced Redoubt (also called Fort Redoubt) does not command a view of the bay. Instead it was built to defend the land approaches to Fort Barrancas and the Pensacola Navy Yard. The two mainland installations were vulnerable to land attack, a deficiency solved by the construction of the Advanced Redoubt.

Occupied by Confederate forces in 1861, the fort did not play a significant role in their operations as they were never threatened by a land assault. After Southern troops withdrew in 1862, however, Union forces occupied the fort and used it to defend their large camps at Fort Barrancas.

The Advanced Redoubt is now preserved as part of Gulf Islands National Seashore. Located just up the street from Fort Barrancas and the National Museum of Naval Aviation, the fort's grounds are open on a daily basis. It is located on board the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Gate personnel there can direct you to the fort.

For more information, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/redoubt1.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Battle of Natural Bridge Memorial Services and Reenactment set for March 8th


The annual memorial services and reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge near Tallahassee will take place at the battlefield on Sunday, March 8th. The memorial service begins at 1 p.m. (Eastern) with the battle reenactment following as soon as the services conclude.

There will be events all weekend, but the main day is always on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the battle.
Fought on March 6, 1865, the Battle of Natural Bridge was the last signficant Confederate victory of the War Between the States. Southern forces under Generals Samuel Jones and William Miller turned back a Union force commanded by General John Newton in heavy fighting along the St. Marks River. The battle preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not conquered during the war.

In addition, the battle was unique in the makeup of the troops involved. The cadets from the West Florida Seminary (today's Florida State University) played a critical role in the engagement. FSU's ROTC corps is today one of three in the country that displays a Pentagon approved battle streamer with its colors. On the Union side, all of the infantry forces engaged in the battle were black soldiers from the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments. Like their Confederate counterparts, they fought courageously at Natural Bridge.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Natural Bridge, please consider my book on the topic (available for order at the upper right of this page) and also please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Annual Battle of Olustee Reenactment Set for February 13-15


The 2009 version of Florida's largest Civil War reenactment will take place on the weekend of February 13-15 in Lake City and nearby Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. That's just two weeks away.

For a schedule of events and other information, please click here.

Fought on February 20, 1864, the Battle of Olustee was the largest Civil War battle to take place in the state of Florida. More than 10,000 men battled each other for much of the day in the open pine woods just east of the Olustee rail station.Confederate forces were able to use superior tactics and converging fire to defeat the Union army and drive it back to Jacksonville, ending a major effort to split Florida in half and return at least part of the state to the Union in time for the 1864 Presidential Election.

You can learn more about the battle at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Lee Square - Pensacola, Florida


This is Lee Square, a beautiful park area in the North Hill area of Pensacola.

The square is located on North Palafox Street and is the site of the city's primary Confederate monument, a 50-foot tall structure that despite its size is still dwarfed by the beautiful trees of the park.

Although no traces of its earthworks remain, Lee Square was the site of Fort McClellan. This rectangular redoubt was constructed by Union forces when they occupied Pensacola following the 1862 withdrawal of the city's Confederate defenders. Part of a chain of fortifications that ringed the city, it formed the northern apex of a line that was shaped like an "A" or inverted "V."

Occupied by Union troops in 1862-1863, Fort McClellan mounted several pieces of field artillery, but was never attacked by Confederate troops.

The fort disappeared quickly in the years after the war and the square became part of the city's expanding residential area. Numerous beautiful old homes dating from the Victorian era can now be seen in its vicinity.