Monday, September 28, 2009

In Memory of Clinton T. Cox, 1925-2009


Clinton T. Cox passed away in his sleep on September 27, 2009.

He was the best friend, the best example, the best adviser and the best father any man ever had or ever will.

He was a member of the "greatest generation" and a veteran of the United States Navy. Although he was a veteran of World War II, Korea and the Cuban Missile Crisis, his greatest battle was against cancer. In the end he was victorious, as we all know that Heaven sings tonight with the voice of a new saint.

May I someday be able to live up to the example that he set.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Battle of Marianna, Florida - Sept. 27, 1864


Brigadier General Alexander Asboth made his final advance on the Northwest Florida city of Marianna during the morning of September 27, 1864. As he approached Hopkins' Branch, a small swampy stream about three miles from town, the first shots of the Battle of Marianna rang out.

Having fallen back ahead of the Union advance all morning, Colonel A.B. Montgomery and his three companies of mounted Confederates probably were hoping to allow time for additional reinforcements to come up. As the Federals approached town, however, they knew that time had run out.

Arraying his men in a line of battle on the east side of the Hopkins' Branch swamp, Montgomery opened fire as the head of Asboth's column approached the opposite bank. The Federals returned fire and eventually swung into a line of battle and charged through the swamp, driving back the outnumbered Confederates. Montgomery began to withdraw to town, but Union participants later recalled that he continued to fight as he went.

As he neared the western edge of Marianna, Asboth sent part of his force around a small logging road that bypassed the town on the north, while he moved forward up the main road with his main column. This flanking movement would spell disaster for the Confederates arrayed to meet him.

Having finally broken off his skirmishing, Montgomery had fallen back to Ely Corner (today's intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets) at what was then the western end of town. There he formed his mounted men into a line of battle and rode forward slightly to observe the Federal approach. Behind this cavalry screen, the men and boys of Captain Jesse Norwood's Marianna Home Guard placed a barricade of wagons and debris across Lafayette Street about half way between today's Russ and Wynn Street intersections. Contrary to legend, they did not man this makeshift wall, but instead built it to delay a charge up the street by the Union cavalry. They then took up hidden positions behind trees, fences, shrubs and in buildings along both sides of the street.

Watching the flanking party move out on the west side of town, Montgomery spurred his horse back to Ely Corner and tried to order a withdrawal. His men balked and as he was trying to explain the danger, the head of the first Union battalion rounded the curve at Ely Corner. The colonel ordered his cavalry to fire and a volley ripped across the open space and stunned the Union troops. The Federal advance disintegrated and retreated in disorder, much to the chagrin of General Asboth who rode among them shouting, "For Shame! For Shame!"

The general then ordered a second battalion to charge and spurred his horse forward, leading them himself. The charge hit the Confederate line of battle before Montgomery and his men could reload their muzzle-loading weapons and the Southern horsemen began a rapid retreat up the street. The Federals followed, but were stalled by the unexpected presence of the home guard barricade. The men and boys of Norwood's command took advantage of the situation to unleash their ambush on Asboth and his men. According to eyewitnesses, every officer and man at the head of the Union column fell from their saddles. Asboth was severely wounded and numbers of his men were left dead or bleeding.

Unfortunately for the Confederates, it was not enough. A portion of the Federal cavalry continued to drive up the street, pushing Montgomery and his retreating cavalry into the center of town where they ran head on into the Union flanking force at Courthouse Square. They tried to fight their way through in hand to hand action, but the colonel was knocked from his horse and captured and other men killed or wounded. Now led by Captain Robert Chisolm of the Alabama State Militia, most of the mounted Southerners made it through to the Chipola River Bridge where they tore up the flooring and held off Union attacks throughout the afternoon.

Back in town, the rest of the Federal column, now led by Colonel L.L. Zulavsky, fought it out with the Marianna Home Guard. The Confederates south of the main street were driven down the hill and across Stage Creek where most were killed, wounded, captured or dispersed. Those on the north side of the street fell back slightly into the yard surrounding St. Luke's Episcopal Church where they held out for about 30 minutes until their ammunition began to run low. Surrounded on all sides, they finally surrendered, although several were wounded after they had dropped their arms to the ground.

A few refused to surrender and continued to fire from inside the church and two nearby homes. Colonel Zulavsky ordered the buildings fired to dislodge them and several men died in the flames. In the end, 10 Confederates and 8 Federals were either killed or mortally wounded, several dozen more were wounded and scores were taken prisoner. Men of both sides - veterans of some of the largest battles of the war - described it as one of the most intense fights for its size they ever saw.

To learn more, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida available for order on the upper right of this page or at www.amazon.com. You can also learn more about the battle at www.battleofmarianna.com.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Battle of Campbellton - Sept. 26, 1864


Having crossed the Choctawhatchee River without opposition on the 25th, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth picked up the pace of his raid and moved through eastern Holmes County via forced march. By mid-morning of September 26, 1864, 145 years ago today, he had crossed Holmes Creek and entered the northwest corner of Jackson County.

The 700 Federal troops from the 2nd Maine Cavalry, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, 82nd U.S. Colored Troops and 86th U.S.C.T. moved into Jackson County about half way between the modern cities of Graceville and Chipley. Neither existed at that time. As the bluecoats appeared among the farms and plantations of the area, the news of their arrival spread like lightning across the area.

When Governor John Milton had issued his orders forming the Florida Home Guard in July, every male citizen of the state over the age of 15 and not already in the military had been required to join local defense units. They were specifically told that at the first sign of any threat, they should assemble at their muster grounds and resist until reinforcements could arrive.

Northwest Jackson County was patrolled by Captain Alexander Godwin's Campbellton Home Guard Cavalry. As the men of this unit learned that Federal troops were advancing into the county, they quickly assembled at their muster ground on the town square in Campbellton, a small town near the Alabama state line northwest of Marianna. They were joined there by a few "walking wounded" Confederate soldiers home on leave. As soon as he had most of his company together, Godwin moved out on the road leading to the Holmes Creek crossing to try to find out what was happening.

Also per his standing orders, the captain sent a courier down the 20 mile road to Marianna to alert Colonel Alexander Montgomery and the officers there that Union troops were on the move. He then pushed up near the head of the advancing Federal column.

Exactly what happened as the Union troops approached Campbellton is not known to this day. General Asboth simply reported that "rebel troops" were constantly hovering around his column and had "frequent skirmishes" with his vanguard. It is known that at least two men under Godwin's command were captured on the afternoon of the 26th in brushes with Federal soldiers. No surviving account by any of Godwin's men, however, has been found.

Local tradition holds that the captain and his citizen soldiers rode out and fought the Federals, despite the enormous odds against them. Since the men of the company were under standing orders from the state to do exactly that if they received reports of a raid into their area, that is probably exactly what they did.

Since Godwin's company was a mounted unit, the men probably fought in the partisan style of their ancestors who had served under men like Marion during the AMerican Revolution, hovering around the head of the advancing Union column, moving up and firing when the opportunity presented itself and then falling back out of danger to reload and wait for another opportunity. This is the type fighting that Asboth seems to have been describing in his brief description of the battle.

The skirmishing did slow the advance of the column, but Godwin did not have enough men to stop it. His movements did provide a great deal of information on the size and strength of the Federal force and he soon knew that Jackson County was in serious trouble.

By nightfall on the 26th, the Federals had reached Campbellton. Exhausted from a long day in the saddle, they camped there for the night before moving on to the county seat and the Battle of Marianna the next morning.

I'll post more on the activities of the 26th later today, so check back tonight to read more. If you would like to learn more about the raid on Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available through www.amazon.com. You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Asboth Steals a March - Sep. 25, 1864


By September 25, 1864, 145 years ago today, the Confederate headquarters in Marianna knew something was up west of the Choctawhatchee River.

Brigadier General Alexander Asboth had moved his Union column deep into Walton County, riding hard for five days without detection. That changed when he attacked a small Confederate cavalry camp at Eucheeanna on the 23rd. Some of the Southern horsemen escaped the onslaught and by the same night reached Marianna with news of the skirmish.

While they were able to tell Colonel Alexander Montgomery in Marianna that they had been attacked by a large force of mounted Federals, they provided him with very little other information. Such raids into Walton County were common and the county did not technically fall under Montgomery's command, although he cooperated with the Confederate post in Pollard, Alabama, to defend Northwest Florida.

The colonel's limited forces were arrayed in such a way that if the Federals tried to force their way across the Choctawhatchee and advance up the main road to Marianna, he would find out about it quickly. The primary road from Eucheeanna led across the river at Douglas' Ferry and then ran northwest to Marianna via Vernon, Holmes Valley and Orange Hill in Washington County. Montgomery had Jeter's Company E, 5th Florida Cavalry, stationed at Orange Hill where the Eucheeanna road connected with the road to Econfina and St. Andrew Bay. Any advance up the main road would run dead on into this unit. Also at Vernon was Captain W.B. Jones' company of home guard scouts. Both companies could be expected to fight and fall back ahead of any Union advance.

By the 25th of September, neither of these companies had reported any activity other than that the Federals had destroyed the flat at Douglas' Ferry and all of the other small boats in the area. This did not indicate any plan to cross the river on their part.

At some point on the 25th, Arthur Lewis reached Marianna from Walton County. Sometimes described as a "boy scout," he was actually an adult private in Company G, 5th Florida Cavalry. He had been sent a few days earlier to call in the detachment from Captain Robert Chisolm's cavalry company camped at Eucheeanna. He arrived in Walton County to find the countryside thick with Union soldiers. He lost his horse but made his way back across the Choctawhatchee by using pieces of wood as floats.

When he reached Marianna on the 25th, he provided essentially the same information as the soldiers from Chisolm's company who had come in two days earlier. There was a Union raid into Walton County, but no indication that the Federals were crossing the Choctawhatchee River.

What Montgomery did not know was that Asboth was expertly guided by James Love, a deserter from Jackson County who was now a member of the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry. Instead of leading the Federal column directly up the main road, Love took it on an out of the way route up to Cerrogordo in Holmes County. As Lewis was confirming the earlier reports of the Walton County raid, Asboth was actually crossing the Choctawhatchee at Cerrogordo in an all day operation. By the night of the 25th, however, his troops were on the east bank of the river.

The area where the Federals crossed was supposedly patrolled by Captain Sam Grantham's Holmes County Home Guards. Likely because of the heavy rain that was falling across the region at the time, however, Grantham was taken by surprise. His men did not know that Asboth was east of the Choctawhatchee and most were at their homes when the raiders pushed east the next morning. A vital source of early warning for the command at Marianna had failed and as a result, things would begin to go very badly for the Confederates of Northwest Florida. The Battle of Marianna was now just two days away.

To learn more about the raid on Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available for order at the upper right of this page or can be found at www.amazon.com. You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Raid at Ponce de Leon Springs - Sept. 24, 1864


On September 24, 1864 (145 years ago today), Union troops led by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth pushed north from the community of Eucheeanna in Walton County and passed Ponce de Leon Springs. The troops were three days away from their confrontation with Southern forces at the Battle of Marianna, Florida.

A Northwest Florida landmark in the southwest corner of Holmes County, the springs were already popular with visitors by the time of the War Between the States. The Brownell family operated a small log hotel there. Said to have been built in the "dogtrot" style then popular with an open central hallway that divided two rooms, the hotel was popular with travelers and those who came to "take the waters" of the springs in hopes that they might hold curative powers to fight various illnesses.

To the Federals heading north up the Geneva Road, however, the hotel was a military target. It was destroyed by the raiders, who also confiscated any livestock and food they could find in the area and destroyed what they could not carry away. The did not tarry long at Ponce de Leon Springs, but continued their movement up the west side of the Choctawhatchee River to Cerrogordo, then the county seat of Holmes County, where they would begin crossing the river on the morning of the 25th.

As they passed through, however, the Union troops experienced the first casualty of the raid. Private Joseph Williams, one of the 79 soldiers from the 82nd and 86th U.S. Colored Troops participating in the expedition, was mortally wounded in an accidental shooting. This was what today would be called a "friendly fire" incident. According to the muster rolls of his regiment, he was left behind in the hands of a local family at Big Sandy Creek, which flows near Ponce de Leon Springs.

The springs today are the focal point of a beautiful Florida State Park located in the town of Ponce de Leon. They are easily accessible from both Interstate 10 and U.S. 90. Especially popular for swimming during the hot summer months, they are quite beautiful year round. Please click here to learn more about the springs and to learn more about the Marianna raid, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Anniversary of the Skirmish at Eucheeanna


Today marks the 145th anniversary of the skirmish at Eucheeanna, Florida.
An important preliminary to the Battle of Marianna, which would take place four days later, the encounter developed on the morning of September 23, 1864, when Union forces led by Brigader General Alexander Asboth turned south from the site of today's Defuniak Springs and struck a Confederate camp at Eucheeanna.

The community was then the county seat of Walton County and, despite its small size, was one of the most important communities in the interior of the Florida panhandle that was still under Southern control. An important road junction, Eucheeanna was the site of the county's courthouse and jail, a few businesses and a scattering of homes.

The community took its name from the Yuchi or Euchee Indians who were found living in Walton County when the first settlers arrived there. Many of the local residents were of proud Scott heritage and they were among the first Floridians to turn out in large numbers as volunteers for the Confederate forces. In later times, Walton County became the first county in Florida to erect a monument in honor of its Southern heroes.

On the morning of September 23, 1864, the community was the site of a small Confederate camp. Detachments from Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry, and Captain Robert Chisolm's mounted company from the Alabama State Militia (the "Woodville Scouts") were camped at Eucheeanna to enforce the conscription or military draft. Several Northwest Florida ranchers, including William Cawthon and Allen Hart, had come in to negotiate the sale of beef with Confederate commissary agents.

Because heavy rain from a tropical system had been falling across the area, the Confederates at Eucheeanna and elsewhere in the region were in their camps trying to stay dry instead of watching for any movement by Federal forces. As a result, General Asboth was able to leave Pensacola Bay on September 18th and lead a mounted force of 700 men into the interior without detection.

At sunrise on the morning of the 23rd, he ordered Lieutenant Colonel Andrew B. Spurling (shown above) to lead the 2nd Maine Cavalry forward against the small Southern force at Eucheeanna. Spurling took the Confederate camps with a sudden mounted charge. The attack, in fact, came so quickly that the Confederates were able to do little to resist it. A few shots were fired in the skirmish, but so far as is known there were no injuries on either side.

Spurling did succeed in taking a handful of prisoners of war, including Lieutenant Francis Gordon of the 15th Confederate Cavalry. At least 11 others, however, escaped by fleeing north on the road to Geneva, Alabama.

Establishing his field headquarters at the home of a local merchant and sent foraging squads out into the surrounding area to confiscate livestock and supplies and to destroy what could not be carried away. Most of the local men, regardless of age or Unionist sympathies, were brought into the village and temporarily confined in its little log jail. At least sixteen African American men freed from slavery on local farms volunteered to join the Union army and were sent down, along with the Confederate prisoners, to the Quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis which was then at Four Mile Landing on Choctawhatchee Bay supporting the raid.

The Federal force remained in Eucheeanna for the entire day of the 23rd and camped there that night. The devestation they caused resulted in Walton County experiencing one of the greatest economic losses between 1860 and 1870 of any county in Florida. This despite the fact that the county's delegates had opposed secession and many of its residents were well-known Unionists when the war erupted. September 23rd changed many attitudes in Eucheeanna and the surrounding area.

To learn more about the skirmish at Eucheeanna and the Battle of Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is now available at http://www.amazon.com/. You can also read more online at http://www.battleofmarianna.com/

Friday, September 11, 2009

Heritage Trees at Camp Milton Historic Preserve


A unique feature of the walking paths at Camp Milton Historic Preserve in Jacksonville is the large number of trees growing there that came from battlefields and other Civil War related sites across the nation.

The trees are all young and many came from the key battlefields in Virginia, Tennessee and Mississippi. There is an oak growing from a tree associated with Stonewall Jackson and many others of interest. All feature information panels that detail the origin of the trees and their significance.

Walking along the paved walkways of the park is a bit like walking through the history of the Civil War. Each planted tree recalls a different event from the war and helps make even a short walk quite memorable.

The Camp Milton Historic Preserve is a very nice example of what is possible when a local preservation effort gains momentum. The site was destined to become a sludge field for the growing Jacksonville metropolitan area, but preservationists were able to spark enough interest that instead it is now Florida's newest Civil War park. Beautifully designed to create a setting that attracts not only those interested in history, but also those interested in the environment and outdoor recreation, the preserve serves a diverse group of visitors.

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

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Camp Milton Historic Preserve - Jacksonville, Florida


Following the Battle of Olustee in 1864, Confederate forces pursued the retreating Federals back to the outskirts of Jacksonville.

By the time General P.G.T. Beauregard arrived on the scene from South Carolina to take personal command, the Union army had been allowed time to reorganize and take up defensive positions in fortifications around Jacksonville. Disappointed by what he considered a failure of Confederate forces to aggressively follow up on their victory at Olustee, Beauregard designed the most impressive field fortifications ever constructed in Florida to prevent another advance by the Union troops.

Blocking the main road and the railroad leading west from Jacksonville, Beauregard's line was three miles long and consisted of breastworks, stockades, fortified artillery batteries and protective ditches. The batteries were so well-constructed that Union officers later described them as resembling masonry fortifications.

Time and development have obliterated all but a few hundred yards of this extensive line, but what remains has been preserved at the outstanding Camp Milton Historic Preserve in Jacksonville. Located just off Interstate 10 and U.S. 90, the preserve is a fascinating historic park that features a boardwalk leading to the preserved earthworks, interpretive panels, paved trails, a 19th century Florida house, an interpretive barn, a reconstructed Civil War bridge over McGirt's Creek and other points of interest.

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Battle of St. Johns Bluff - Jacksonville, Florida


One of the least known yet most significant battles in Florida took place during the first days of October 1862 at St. Johns Bluff, the key to the city of Jacksonville.

Union troops or the Federal navy had already occupied virtually other key port in the state, leaving only Jacksonville. Confederate engineers had done their best to protect the vital city by constructing batteries and massive earthwork fortifications at St. Johns Bluff on the south side of the St. Johns River and Yellow Bluff on the north side. While the Southern troops never had time to arm the works at Yellow Bluff, the fort at St. Johns Bluff was finished and was bristling with cannon and defenses when the Union fleet appeared off the mouth of the river.

Three Union warships moved up and opened fire on the St. Johns Bluff batteries on October 1, 1862, and the Confederates in the fort responded with determined cannon fire of their own. A spirited artillery exchange continued for some time before the gunboats withdrew. The attack was a test of the Southern defenses and quickly convinced Federal officers that the fort could only be taken by a combined land and sea attack. Troops were landed, but the difficult terrain surrounding the mouth of the St. Johns proved to be an additional natural defense and it took them until October 3rd to get into position to join the attack.

When the Union gunboats moved forward again, however, there was no response from the cannon of the fort. A boat party went ashore and found, to the surprise of the entire Federal force, that St. Johns Bluff had been abandoned. The gateway to Jacksonville was open and the city fell to Union troops just two days later. Confederate General Joseph Finegan called the retreat by the garrison at St. Johns Bluff "a gross military blunder."

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

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park - Jacksonville, Florida


As the Union army and navy tightened its grip on Florida's coastline in 1862, considerable Confederate attention was devoted to strengthening the defenses of the port of Jacksonville.

Southern engineers designed forts at key positions on both St. Johns and Yellow Bluffs, twin positions on the north and south sides of the St. Johns River that commanded the channel between Jacksonville and the mouth of the river. The position at St. Johns Bluff was actually finished and armed, but the Yellow Bluff Fort was still being completed when the Union attack on Jacksonville was finally launched in October of 1862.

According to Federal reports, the earthworks of Yellow Bluff Fort were designed to mount seven heavy cannon. Since the position commanded one of the key anchorages in the St. Johns, it would have been difficult for the Union navy to approach. At the time of the attack, however, it was armed only with 8 field guns.

After nearby St. Johns Bluff fell with barely a fight, the Captain Joseph L. Dunham and the Confederates holding Yellow Bluff Fort realized that resistance was futile. They evacuated the battery before the Union navy could attack. The site was occupied by Federal troops off and on for the duration of the war and was the location of an important signal tower.

Yellow Bluff Fort is now a small state park. Although it has been part of Florida's state park system since the 1950s, little has been done to develop the site. There is a monument placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a couple of picnic tables and an interesting collection of corroded old cannon, but the earthworks of the fort are heavily overgrown and there is no real interpretation at the site.

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