Thursday, August 27, 2009

Col. Spurling's Bizarre West Florida Raid - Conclusion


Pushing on in the path of the main body of Asboth's troops, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Spurling and his small detachment of "undercover Yankees" followed the Vernon road and crossed into Washington County at Orange Hill.

In that vicinity they stopped at the house of an elderly woman who was living alone. Believing them to be Confederate soldiers, she gave them a horse that had somehow escaped detection by the main body as it passed. She also prayed a blessing on them as they rode on.

Not long after, they came up on the rear of the long Union column on its way back to Choctawhatchee Bay from the Battle of Marianna. Their appearance at first created alarm in the ranks as the Federal soldiers had been told Confederate cavalry was on their trail. Spurling, however, approached by "displaying a dirty pair of drawers, by way of a flag of truce." Relieved to see their lost comrades, the men of the Union column gave "three hearty cheers" to celebrate their return.

During his "jaunt through Rebeldom," Spurling had captured a total of 15 men, several wagons and a number of horses and mules. He also rescued a Union soldier who had been left behind by the main body near Campbellton due to illness.

The fate of the prisoners is one of the darkest aspects of the 1864 raid. They do not appear on Union prisoner of war lists and never returned home. The participant in the raid who wrote the account a short time later for his hometown Maine newspaper specifically mentioned that only one captured Southerner, a minister, was taken along with them. The only logical conclusion that can be reached regarding the rest is that they were executed to avoid them from alerting Confederate forces as to the identity and location of the colonel's detachment. Union members of the 2nd Maine Cavalry were silent on Spurling's activities other than to mention he had been detached, as was General Asboth in his official report of the raid.

To learn more about the main Marianna raid and the Battle of Marianna, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Col. Spurling's Bizarre West Florida Raid - Part Four


After enjoying their meal at Captain Grace's home and rescuing their sick comrade, Lt. Col. Andrew Spurling and his detachment of "undercover Yankees" continued their ride through northwestern Jackson County on the afternoon of September 27, 1864.

The main body of Asboth's force was heavily engaged in the Battle of Marianna that afternoon and things began to take a more serious turn for Spurling and his men as well. As they approached Campbellton, they "overtook a train of three army wagons, ladon with salt" that had bypassed the rear of the Union column then attacking Marianna.

Three citizen-soldiers, all militiamen from Dale County, Alabama, were taken prisoner. Their fates appear to have been grim. None of the three ever showed up on Union prisoner of war lists nor did any of them ever return home to their families in Alabama. The only logical assumption, as unsettling as it may be, is that Spurling had them murdered. He and his men knew they would face execution if caught roaming behind Confederate lines wearing Southern uniforms and they obviously knew that taking prisoners along with them would increase the odds that their true identities would be discovered. It appears he decided not to take that chance and killed three men from Dale County who had surrendered to him without resistance.

Turning south on the old Campbellton Road leading to Marianna, the Federal detachment camped somewhere that night and then continued on the next morning, still in disguise, towards Marianna. As they approached the city, they found the "rebels thick, and on the qui vive for the Yankees." Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, the "undercover Yankees" took to the woods but four times still barely escaped capture by larger Confederate patrols then swarming the areas west of the city.

They finally did succeed in passing Marianna and hit the Vernon Road heading southwest into Washington County, following the trail of the main body that had withdrawn from Marianna early that morning. Somewhere in the area of today's Kynesville, a small community southwest of Marianna in Jackson County, they encountered two men, a Confederate soldier and a minister. Despite the fact that he was wearing a Confederate uniform, Spurling dismounted and took aim at the men with his carbine. The Southern soldier immediately surrendered, but the minister dropped to his knees and begged for mercy. Northern accounts indicate that the minister's life was spared, but are ominously silent as to the fate of the Confederate soldier. As was the case with the three Dale County militiamen captured in Campbellton, he never showed up in Union prisoner of war records.

I will continue with the story of Spurling's bizarre little raid in the next post. Until then, you can read more on the Battle of Marianna itself by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Col. Spurling's Bizarre West Florida Raid - Part Three


Leaving the Holmes County home of Bethel Mattox on the morning of September 27, 1864, Lt. Col. Andrew B. Spurling and his detachment of "undercover Yankees" continued to follow in the path of Asboth's main column and crossed Holmes Creek into Jackson County.

The trail was easy to follow. The soldiers of the main body had carved a swath of destruction through Jackson County as they advanced first to Campbellton and then on to Marianna. By noon, the little detachment reached the home of Captain Henry B. Grace, then located on the old road connecting the Marianna ford (near today's Tri-County Airport) with Campbellton. They arrived at about the same time that the men of the main Federal column were launching the primary attack of the Battle of Marianna.

One of the men for whom the town of Graceville was later named, Grace (seen above) was the captain of Company G, 6th Florida Infantry, but was away on the front lines. His wife, daughter and father-in-law, however, were home when Spurling and his men arrived. The undercover Federals were extremely well treated:

Here they fared sumptuously, men and horses, the captain's daughter and father-in-law vying in their attentions to their guests.

The soldier who wrote the account of the Spurling raid for the Bangor Whig and Courier identified the family by the name of "Grashus," but this appears to have resulted from an attempt to write the name "Grace's" as it was pronounced in the thick Southern dialect of the area. He also described how Spurling and his men took great delight in the ruse they were pulling over on their hosts, but their attempt to disguise themselves may not have been as successful as they thought.

An old legend in northwestern Jackson County holds that a group of Union soldiers in Confederate uniform passed through the area while the battle was underway in Marianna. The purpose of these men was a puzzle to the local residents, but because most of the local men were serving with Captain A.R. Godwin's militia company at the Battle of Marianna, no effort was made to oppose their passage.

During the hour or so they spent at the Grace home, the Federals made a surprising discovery:

While here one of our men was taken sick. He was then clothed in blue, a wagon was stolen, and placing him in it our lieutenant (i.e. Spurling) proclaimed him to be a Yankee prisoner, when he was informed that at the next house another sick Yankee might be captured, who had been left behind by our forces. Threatening vengeance on the blue devil when he should catch him, the lieutenant continued his journey, stopping to catch the blue devil aforesaid.

The sick man was so stunned by the appearance of men he recognized that he began to apologize to Spurling, almost disclosing the true identities of the "undercover Yankees." Quieted, he was taken along as the Federals continued their ride.

Thus far Spurling's activities had bordered on the comical, but things were about to take a tragic turn. I'll have more on that in the next post. Until then, if you would like to read more about the Battle of Marianna itself, you can do so by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Col.Spurling's Bizarre North Florida Raid - Part Two


Spurling and his little detachment of "undercover Yankees" arrived in Geneva on September 24, 1864.

The people of the South Alabama city had heard of the Union presence down the Choctawhatchee River in Walton County and were alarmed. The colonel used this natural fear to improve the effectiveness of his disguise by telling the people of the town that he had been sent to scout and observe the movements of Asboth's column. He stationed his men in ambush on the southern outskirts of town to keep up the ruse. It worked like a charm:

The ladies of Geneva were much pleased with Lieut. Clark (i.e. Spurling); his welfare and success were prime objects of solicitude with them, they evidently took kindly to him, and he was solicited by one of these fair beings to bring her some trophy off a dead yank, which he promised to do on his return. He made engagements for hunting with male friends, when he should be at liberty from the more congenial pleasure of hunting the Yankees.

Spurling and his men remained in Geneva until the morning of September 26th, apparently expecting Asboth to come that far north. When the main column failed to appear, they turned back south across the state line in an effort to catch up with their comrades.

Retracing their route to Cerrogordo in Holmes County, they learned that the Union troops had crossed the river there the previous day. Still in disguise, Spurling's men were warned of the size of Asboth's column. Local citizens told them that 1,000 Federal soldiers were just ahead of them.

Expressing their "fearlessness" of "any number of Yankees," the undercover Federals crossed the Choctawhatchee and continued in the path of the main body. At nightfall on the 26th, they reached the home of Bethel Mattox, a farmer who lived in eastern Holmes County. He told Spurling that the Union troops had taken all of his horses and weapons except for one favorite rifle that he had managed to hide. Sergeant Butler of Company D, 2nd Maine, suggested that the weapon had better be produced as it would be needed if the enemy reappeared during the night.

Believing his guests were Confederate soldiers, Mattox did so, swearing that it would "fetch a Yank at a hundred yards at every pop." Spurling and his men took the rifle with them when they left the next morning, but left Mattox unharmed and with his family.

This series of posts will continue. If you would like to read more about the main Marianna raid, be sure to visit www.battleofmarianna.com.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Col. Spurling's Bizarre West Florida Raid - Part One


One of the strangest events to take place in Florida during the War Between the States was a raid carried out in September of 1864 by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew B. Spurling of the 2nd Maine Cavalry.

Spurling left Pensacola Bay with the command of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth on September 18, 1864, and led Asboth's attack on a small Confederate camp at Eucheeanna in Walton County on the morning of the 23rd. General Asboth had hoped to capture all of the Confederates at Eucheeanna to prevent them from spreading word of his advance on Marianna, but to his dismay a party of 11 escaped up the road leading to Ponce de Leon and Cerrogordo in Holmes County and eventually on to Geneva just across the line in South Alabama.

Asboth made a quick decision to try to capture these men and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Spurling to undertake the task.

A fairly bizarre individual, Spurling was a native of Maine and had been a sea captain, California gold miner and bear hunter before the war. According to an account of him written shortly after the war, he often liked to amuse his fellow officers by placing a lit candle on the head of his young African American servant and then shooting out the wick with his revolver. He also liked to impersonate Southern accents and more than once went on scouting expeditions behind Confederate lines wearing a Southern uniform.

When Asboth ordered him to undertake the effort to capture the Confederate horsemen who had escaped from Eucheeanna, Spurling decided to put his imitate a Southern officer to use. Apparently taking the uniform of 2nd Lieutenant Francis Gordon of Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry, who had been captured at Eucheeanna, Spurling disguised himself as a Confederate officer.

He then formed a small detachment of picked men from the 2nd Maine Cavalry and similarly dressed them in Confederate uniforms. According to Neal J. Dow, a member of the unit, the men knew what would happen if they were captured:

It was thoroughly understood that all engaging in it put themselves outside the protection of the ordinary rules of war and subjected themselves to the penalty of death if captured.

According to Dow, each soldier in the detachment was armed with two Remington six-shooters and a fully-loaded Spencer repeating carbine. "It was fully understood," he wrote, "that in the case of discovery there was to be no surrender."

While Asboth and the main body completed their work of destruction around Eucheeanna and then continued their advance to the Battle of Marianna, Spurling and his detachment of fewer than 20 men turned north on the Geneva road through Holmes County. Another participant described their progress in an October 8, 1864, letter to the Bangor, Maine, Whig and Courier:

After a rapid travel of twenty-four hours, they arrived at Geneva, but failed in getting any trace of the escaped ones. The citizens of Geneva welcomed the colonel with open arms and furnished him and his men with everything needful to their comfort, including arms and ammunition. He announced himself as Lieut. Clark, Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry regiment, and stated that he had been stationed at Milton, Fla., but was ordered to scout from that pint by the way of Euchesana (sic.) to Geneva, to ascertain the movements and intentions of the Yankees.

Geneva, then as now, was an important community located at the confluence of the Pea and Choctawhatchee Rivers just north of the Alabama state line.

I will continue with details of Spurling's bizarre little raid in the next post. Until then you can read more about the Marianna raid itself at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New Design Launched for Battle of Marianna site


A major redesign has been launched at the top site exploring the history of the Battle of Marianna, Florida. It can be accessed by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.

One of the most intense Civil War battles in Florida, the fight at Marianna developed on September 27, 1864, when the city was attacked by Union troops under the command of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth. Confederate forces led by Colonel Alexander B. Montgomery resisted, resulting in a fierce battle that was called the "most severe fight of the war" for its size by participants who had taken part in such actions as Shiloh and Chickamauga.

Commanding a force of troops from the 2nd Maine Cavalry, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, 82nd U.S. Colored Infantry and 86th U.S. Colored Infantry, Asboth stormed the town at high noon on September 27th, culminating the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Union soldiers during the entire War Between the States.

After driving back an outnumbered force of mounted men from the 1st Florida Reserves, Campbellton Cavalry, Greenwood Club Cavalry and Chisolm's Alabama Militia, the Union troops rode headlong into an ambush prepared for them by the Marianna Home Guard. Firing from the cover of trees, fences, shrubs and buildings along both sides of the main street, the home guards mowed down "every officer and man" at the head of the Union column. Asboth himself was wounded in two places and the 2nd Maine Cavalry suffered its greatest losses of the war.

The battle deteriorated into two fights, one for control of the vital bridge over the Chipola River, and the second for command of the town itself. Although cornered and surrounded on the grounds of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, the men and boys of the Marianna Home Guard refused to surrender and waged a fierce battle at close range with attacking Union forces. It was not until they ran low on ammunition that they finally agreed to lay down their arms, only to be fired on by outraged Union soldiers.

A possible massacre was prevented when one of the Federal officers pointed a pistol at the head of one of his own men and threatened to shoot any man who dared shoot a prisoner. Captain George Maynard later received a Congressional Medal of Honor in part for his actions at the Battle of Marianna.

The new site features numerous photographs of the battlefield as well as detailed accounts of events leading up to, during and following the battle. There are casualty lists, orders of battle and even a walking tour of the battlefield as it appears today.

To learn more, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Reenactments Planned for Battle of Marianna Anniversary


The anniversary of the Battle of Marianna, a deadly fight that took place in the streets of the Northwest Florida city on September 27, 1864, usually passes quietly, but this year will be different.

The Theophilus West, M.D., Camp 1346 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is joining with the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department, Main Street Marianna, the William Henry Milton Chapter 1039 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Loreta Velazquez Chapter 14 of the Order of the Confederate Rose to plan three days of activities to observe this year
's Marianna Day weekend.

Marianna Day was once observed by cities across Florida but the tradition slowly faded away. Activities observing the anniversary of the Battle of Marianna were once covered as important news by the Miami Herald and other major Florida newspapers, but such events are generally ignored by the media of today.

The major events planned for this year's observance will begin on Friday, September 25th and will consist of two battle reenactments on Saturday, September 26th. The first, planned for 10 a.m. following a parade through downtown Marianna, will take place on the original battle site and will consist of a partial reenactment of the battle itself. The second, scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Citizens Lodge Park on Caverns Road, will be a general reenactment of a battle from the War Between the States.

To learn more, please click here to visit the West Camp's website. You can also learn more about the battle itself by visiting www.battleofmarianna.com.