Monday, January 18, 2010

Sylvania, Plantation of Governor John Milton - Jackson County, Florida


In the beautiful farm country northeast of Marianna and southwest of Two Egg can be found the site of what once was Sylvania, the plantation of Florida's Confederate governor.

John Milton, the son and grandson of Revolutionary and War of 1812 veterans and a descendent of the famed poet of the same name, was elected Governor of Florida during the election of 1860. It is a little known fact that he was actually the legal governor under the laws of both the United States and the Confederacy, as he was elected prior to Florida's secession from the Union but did not take office until October of 1861.

Because Governor Madison Perry was unable to do so, it was Governor-elect Milton who read the Ordinance of Secession to the assembled crowd at the Old Capitol in Tallahassee in January of 1861. A fierce advocate of secession, Milton had been an outspoken advocate of the Southern position of states' rights for nearly 30 years.

The land that became eventually became Sylvania Plantation was first cleared by the slaves of the Robinson family, to which the governor was related through his mother. After living and practicing law in Columbus, Georgia; Mobile, Alabama; and New Orleans, Louisiana, he acquired the property in Florida following a terrible steamboat accident on the Mississippi River in which he suffered severe burns.

Under Milton's guidance, Sylvania became one of the largest plantations in the South. By 1855 it encompassed more than 6,330 acres and over the next five years he began work on a second plantation near today's Parramore community in eastern Jackson County.

It was also at Sylvania that Milton took his life on April 1, 1865, having told friends that death was preferable to defeat at the hands of the North.

To learn more, please visit www.twoeggfla.com/sylvania.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Moss Hill Methodist Church - Washington County, Florida


One of the most hauntingly beautiful Civil War era structures in Florida is the old Moss Hill Methodist Church in Washington County.

Built in 1857 to replace an earlier log structure that had doubled as a blockhouse and fort during the Second Seminole War, the church was reputedly the second building in Washington County to have glass windows. Located atop Moss Hill, a ridge overlooking Holmes Valley, the church was a permanent outgrowth of the Holmes Valley Methodist Mission which is thought to have been operating as early as 1823.

In an interesting footnote of history, the land patent for the 40 acres on which the church had been built was signed on December 4, 1861, by President Abraham Lincoln. Florida was then, of course, part of the Confederacy and was at war to break away from the old Union led by President Lincoln.

Like many congregations in Northwest Florida, the Moss Hill group sent most of its men and boys to serve in the Confederate army, although some also slipped through the lines and joined the Union forces. Several served in the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry and in September of 1864 came to war against their former friends and neighbors when General Alexander Asboth led his raid on Marianna.

A number of members of Moss Hill Methodist Church served in Captain W.B. Jones' Vernon Home Guard and were involved in a sharp skirmish with Asboth's column as it was making its return march to the coast following the Battle of Marianna. Jones unit was demolished and the captain and a number of his men were taken prisoner. Some died in Northern prison camps and never returned, but are memorialized today by markers in the Moss Hill cemetery.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/mosshill1.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Explosion on the C.S.S. Chattahoochee - Blountstown, Florida

Florida's deadliest naval accident of the Civil War took place on May 27, 1863, when an explosion ripped through the Confederate warship C.S.S. Chattahoochee in the Apalachicola River at Blountstown.

The Chattahoochee was the most powerful warship to operate on the Apalachicola River during the war. Built in Early County, Georgia, and commissioned on January 1, 1863, she operated from a home port at Chattahoochee. The plan seems to have been for the vessel to steam down the river to Apalachicola Bay, break the blockade there and then engage in commerce raiding on the Gulf of Mexico.

Instead, shipbuilding delays put the launching of the vessel far behind schedule and by the time she was ready for action, the Confederate army had placed heavy obstructions in the river. The obstructions were designed to prevent the Union navy from steaming up the river, but they also prevented the Chattahoochee from reaching the bay.


In May of 1863, however, Lieutenant J.J. Guthrie aboard the Chattahoochee learned that a Union boat party had entered the lower Apalachicola River and captured the schooner Fashion which was being prepared for an attempt to run the blockade. Guthrie steamed the Chattahoochee down to Blountstown, but shallow water forced him to halt the trip. He went down in a small boat to see if there was anyway to get the vessel through or around the obstructions, but by the time he came back a rare early hurricane was blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico. With no other option available, Guthrie ordered the ship to raise steam and return to its port at Chattahoochee.

As the engineers prepared to follow his orders, however, an explosion ripped through the ship. Super-heated steam scalded 16 men to death where they stood and others were injured. Panicked that the gunpowder in the Chattahoochee's magazines might explode, the crew pulled the bilge plugs and the ship sank to the bottom of the muddy Chattahoochee. It was a horrible accident, magnified in humanitarian terms by the severe storm sweeping across the area.

To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/csschattahoochee. You can also read more about the Chattahoochee in The Early History of Gadsden County.