Sunday, April 25, 2010

History Channel missed the boat on "America: The Story of Us"


This is not particularly Civil War related, but it is of historical interest and definitely affects the national and world perception of Florida history. For all of its promotion and special effects and star commentary, I was extremely disappointed with the first night of  The History Channel's new series, "America: The Story of Us."

Let me tell you why. First, as most Floridians know and it seems like few television producers or national historians know, the first permanent European settlement in what is now the continental United States was at St. Augustine. In 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles led Spanish settlers and soldiers ashore to establish a fort at a Timucuan Indian village on a tributary of Matanzas Bay. The toe-hold he established in the New World survives and prospers to this day.

Not only is St. Augustine the oldest continually occupied city in the United States, it boasts an impressive array of other firsts. It is the site of the first stone house in the United States, the first public park in the United States, the first settlement for free African Americans in the United States and also boasts the oldest masonry fort in the United States, the site of the oldest lighthouse in the United States, the site of the oldest church in the United States, the oldest known public well in the United States and a host of other historic sites and points of interest.

Sadly, the producers of "America: The Story of Us" did not seem to consider the Spanish who settled in Florida to be real people. Their struggles and successful establishment of the first city in the continental United States was completely ignored. While I certainly respect and admire the struggles and successes of the settlers who founded Jamestown in 1607 and Plymouth in 1620, don't the early Spanish settlers and soldiers who founded St. Augustine in 1565 deserve at least a mention? After all, they had made homes for themselves in the New World fifty-five full years before the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower.

Surely Florida is part of America?

Perhaps the producers and writers who did this show for The History Channel should have taken a history class or two of their own?

To learn more about beautiful and historic old St. Augustine, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/staugustine1.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Thoughts on Confederate History Month

I've just posted my thoughts about Confederate History Month on my Southern History blog

Because they relate to Florida and to my Floridian ancestors who took up arms in defense of their families, homes, state and country, I thought the posting might be of interest to the readers here.

It focuses on the controversy that seems to now be an annual event surrounding the usually quiet observance of Confederate History Month across the South and my own thoughts about why the month is important and a matter of personal honor to Southerners.

I'll also be spending the rest of April posting on that blog about War Between the States related historic sites and points of interest from across the South. If you are interested in learning more about many of the places that can be visited today to remember the brutal conflict that ravaged the land between 1861 and 1865, be sure to check in regularly to learn about places of interest. Some are well known but others are "off the beaten path" and could be new discoveries for you.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park - Homosassa, Florida

Just 3 miles from Florida's popular Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park stand the ruins of one of the state's Civil War era landmarks.

The Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins are all that remain of the 5,100 acre Margarita sugar plantation of U.S. Senator David Levy Yulee. One of Florida's most prominent businessmen, industrialists and political leaders, Yulee owned tens of thousands of acres across Central and North Florida. After finishing a term as Florida's first U.S. Senator, however, he was not reelected in 1850 and by 1851 had relocated to Margarita on the Homosassa River just up the Gulf Coast from Tampa.

The rich lowlands along the river were ideal for growing sugar cane, a crop that had been replaced by cotton in the northern regions of the state, and Yulee went heavily into the sugar business. Equipment was ordered from New York and brought in by ship and 69 slaves worked with cut limestone, brick and wood to build a sugar mill that soon was turning out barrels of Florida sugar for export to ports all along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts of the United States and beyond.

Yulee's home on nearby Tiger Tail Island was "accidentally" burned by the Union Navy during the Civil War, but the plantation and mill remained in full operation through most of the conflict. The Yulee Sugar Mill was a major source of sugar for the Confederate army.

The ruins of the mill still stand today at the center of a small Florida State Park. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/yuleesugarmill.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Battle of Bayport, Florida - A Civil War action in Hernando County

On April 3, 1863, a flotilla of small boats from three Union warships attacked the Confederate harbor of Bayport in Hernando County, Florida. Although the resulting action has often been overlooked, it should rightfully be called the Battle of Bayport.

Bayport was a small but bustling commercial port during the years before the War Between the States. Located along the Florida coast north of Tampa Bay, the small harbor could not handle large ships, but could be navigated by the small schooners and sloops then common in Florida waters. When the war began and the Union blockade became reality, Bayport was converted into a port for the blockade runners that operated from the various small inlets along Florida's Gulf Coast.

By early 1863, Union warships were on station at Tampa Bay, Cedar Key, St. Marks, Apalachicola, St. Joseph Bay, St. Andrew Bay and Choctawhatchee Bay. With these larger harbors all but closed to Confederate commerce, the captains of blockade runners turned their attention to points such as Bayport.

After the Union navy learned that a surprising number of Southern sloops and schooners were operating out of the port, a decision was made to attack. On the night of April 2, 1863, boats set out from three warships operating offshore and at 9 a.m. the next morning, the attack began. Six blockade runners were in port at the time of the raid and since Bayport was defended by an artillery battery and Confederate infantry, it did not take long for fighting to break out.

Confederate artillery from the Bayport battery opened fire with solid shot from 900 yards and the Union boats returned fire with their howitzers once they closed to within 400 yards. For the better part of an hour, the two sides blasted away at each other, but casualties and damage were minimal. At the same time, the Confederate infantry opened fire with rifles from various points around the channel. It was long range firing, but two of the Union sailors were wounded.

The Battle of Bayport ended with two of the blockade runners on fire, one burned by the Federals and the other burned by the Confederates to prevent her capture. It was a partial success for the Union, but the sailors did not achieve what they had hoped and finally rowed away under fire from a rifled field piece brought up by the Confederates.

I have to say that I was stunned when I searched out Bayport. It is now the site of a recreational park that is simply one of the most beautiful in Florida. The very nice pier gives a panoramic view of not only the inlet at Bayport, but the Gulf of Mexico beyond and the coastal marshes and channels that were used as hiding places by blockade runners during the Civil War. The park is less than fifteen minutes from Florida's famed Weekiwachee Springs. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bayportbattle.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Battle of Station Four - Cedar Key, Florida


One of the most interesting of the sharp military encounters that took place along Florida's coastline during the War Between the States was the battle that took place at Station Four near Cedar Key on February 13, 1865.

The Battle of Station Four took place at the end of a Union raid into Levy County that penetrated as far as Clay Landing on the Suwannee River and the community of Levyville. Headed by Major Edmund C. Weeks of the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, the Federal column composed of 186 men from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry and 200 men from the 2nd U.S. Colored Troops had seized 100 head of cattle, several wagons, 13 horses and five prisoners of war. The Union troops also liberated around 50 slaves.

As the raiders began to withdraw from Levyville, however, they were attacked by a small detachment of Confederate cavalrymen, the advance guard of a force of 146 men being hurried forward by Captain J.J. Dickison. The famed "Swamp Fox" of Florida, Dickison had been ordered to pursue the Federals and despite the fact that his men and horses were exhausted from a just concluded operation in eastern Florida, he did so with enthusiasm.

The Battle of Station Four opened at 7 a.m. on February 13, 1865. The Federal column had made its way back to Station Four, a railroad stop just across Number Four Channel from the cluster of islands that made up the Cedar Keys. There they camped for the night, apparently unaware that they were being pursued by Dickison's command. At 7 a.m., however, Union pickets spotted the Confederates approaching and opened fire. The Confederates responded with the fire of 120 rifles (26 men were positioned behind the lines to hold the horses) and a 12-pounder field gun.

The battle lasted for roughly four hours, with both sides taking casualties and both sides over-estimating the size of their opponent. The Confederates finally ran short of ammunition and fell back slightly, a move that also gave the Federals a chance to fall back across the trestle into Cedar Key. As a result, both sides claimed victory.

The site of the battle is now marsh and woods along the shores of Number Four Channel near the modern Highway 24 bridge which links Cedar Key to the mainland. To learn more about the battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stationfour.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

New Battle of Marianna Rosters now Online


I've added two more unit rosters to my Battle of Marianna site.

Captain Wilson W. Poe's unit was officially designated Company C, 1st Florida Reserves, but according to Confederate reports was actually a full battalion. Formed at the conscript camp in Marianna during May of 1864, Poe's battalion included enough men to make two full companies, but for unclear reasons was kept intact as a single command. The company fought at the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864, and was otherwise involved in chasing deserters, skirmishing with "raider gangs" that hid out in the swamps of the area and guarding against Union raids.

Captain Alexander R. Godwin's Campbellton Cavalry was a militia unit formed at Springfield near Campbellton in northwestern Jackson County during the summer of 1864. The pension applications of members of Godwin's company indicate that the unit was formed prior to Governor John Milton's 1864 executive order requiring all of Florida's men and boys not already serving in the military to form themselves into home guard companies. The company skirmished against Brigadier General Alexander Asboth's Union column as it entered Jackson County on September 26, 1864. It then fought in the action at Hopkins' Branch and the Battle of Marianna the next day. After the battle, the company remained in service although at least some of its members were incorporated into the 5th Florida Cavalry.

To check out the available rosters of these companies and to learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit http://www.battleofmarianna.com/ and check out either the Order of Battle section or the links on the right hand side of the page.