Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Old Parramore" - New Book from Dale Cox

I'm pleased to announce that my latest book, Old Parramore: The History of a Florida Ghost Town, is now available.

Parramore was a riverboat port that thrived along the little known Florida section of the Chattahoochee River from around 1885 to 1927. It owed its existence to the beautiful paddlewheel steamboats that once plied the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola Rivers and was a major port for cotton, naval stores, catfish and even gopher tortoises.

Although the town did not grow until after the War Between the States, its history hundreds of years earlier with major Native American settlements of the Kolimoki chiefdom. By the time of the American Revolution, it was the home of William Perryman, a Creek chief who led his warriors into battle in Florida and Georgia on the side of the British. The area played a role in the Florida intrigues of the infamous pirate and adventurer William Augustus Bowles and by 1861 was the scene of riverboat landings and large cotton farms, including one owned by Florida Governor John Milton. A battle was fought near the community between Confederate troops and an organized force of pro-Union "raiders."

During the turbulent Reconstruction era, the Parramore area played a role in the assassination of raider leader Joseph B. Sanders, a former Union officer who terrorized area citizens in the years after the collapse of the Confederacy. It was in this era that the town itself began to grow. Parramore thrived until railroads and modern highways brought about the end of riverboat travel in 1927. Since then it has faded away to become one of Florida's least known but most intriguing ghost towns.

The book explores the history of Old Parramore from its earliest days to the modern area and also features some insights to local culture, a ghost story or two and even details on a legendary monster that some say stalked the woods of the old community.

The book is available from Amazon.com by following the link at the top left of this article.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Origins of Marianna Day

For many years, Marianna Day was observed in cities across Florida to remember the brave defense waged by the outnumbered men and boys at the Battle of Marianna and the lives lost in that engagement.

A total of eighteen men and boys, ten Confederate and eight Union, died in the fighting, most of them on the grounds around St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Four were reported to have been badly burned when the church was set afire by Union troops to drive out Confederates who were firing on them from the steeple. 

The Battle of Marianna had a dramatic effect on the people of Jackson County. In addition to the men killed and the more than 30 others wounded, another 44 local men and boys were carried away to Northern prisoner of war camps, brutal places from which many would not return. The city itself was severely looted and its civilian inhabitants terrorized. Not only were horses, mules, wagons and foodstuffs taken, but residents also saw Federal troops taking valuables, clothes, furniture, books and more. The raid inflicted lasting trauma on the entire community.

Over time, a movement began to remember the fate that had befallen Marianna and its people on September 27, 1864. Originally headed by local women, some of whom had helped care for the wounded or lost husbands and fathers in the battle, the commemoration began to spread across Florida. By the early 20th century, Marianna Day was somberly observed with special ceremonies and events across the state.

Dan Weinfeld, who is doing outstanding work in researching the violent Reconstruction era in Jackson County, has assembled a nice collection of historical accounts of Marianna Day from across Florida. You can read them at http://www.thejacksoncountywar.com/2010/09/celebration-of-marianna-day-in-20th.html

The practice has faded across the state now, but continues and is expanding in Marianna. This year's event, held this past weekend, featured battle reenactments and other events.

You can read more about the Battle of Marianna at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Monday, September 27, 2010

September 27, 1864 - The Battle of Marianna, Florida

The Northwest Florida raid reached its climactic moment at high noon on September 27, 1864.

The Battle of Marianna developed when the Federals launched a two-pronged attack on the Jackson County city, striking the Confederate defenders there from both the front and flank in a standard tactic of the time. The Southern cavalry tried to fight mounted, but were driven through the streets of Marianna to the Chipola River where they made a stand long enough to allow for the removal of the planks from the wooden bridge. At the same time, the Marianna Home Guard and a number of other local volunteers were cornered on the grounds of St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

The fight there was extremely fierce, with hundreds of men battling in an enclosed yard that encompassed little more than an acre. By the time the smoke cleared, 10 of the Confederates were dead or dying, as were 8 of the Federals. More than 30 other men had been wounded.

The town was thoroughly ransacked that night. Union soldiers took away or destroyed food, clothing, fodder, livestock and valuables. Two homes, St. Luke's church and the town blacksmith shop were burned to the ground in the closing moments of the battle and some of the Union accounts seem to indicate that other structures, possibly barns, were fired as well.

The devastation inflicted on the town and the fierce resistance of the outnumbered Confederate soldiers there were memorialized in Florida for many years at annual "Marianna Day" observances. These took place in cities from Pensacola to Miami and Key West. I'll look closer at that in the next post. You can learn more about the battle at www.battleofmarianna.com.

September 24-26, 1864 - The Prospect of a Winter of Hunger

As the Union troops continued their way through Northwest Florida on September 24-26, 1864, they inflicted severe damage on the communities, farms and homes they encountered. Doing such damage had become a key objective of all Federal raids by this point in the war and Asboth's expedition to Marianna was no exception.

The total extent of damage done is not known. Eyewitness accounts reported that livestock was confiscated, forage taken or destroyed and barns burned. Two women were sexually assaulted in Walton County before the troops left there on the 24th, turning north along the Geneva Road into Holmes County. Passing Ponce de Leon Springs, now a beautiful state park, they "broke up" the inn that operated by the spring and moved on up to the community of Cerrogordo, then the county seat of Holmes County.

The Federals crossed the Choctawhatchee with no resistance, successfully clearing the only major natural barrier that barred them from their ultimate destination of Marianna. With the river running high and only a single ferry flat to use in crossing, Confederate troops probably could have ended the raid then and there had they been aware that the crossing effort was underway. They did not know, however, and by the evening of September 26, 1864, Asboth was at Campbellton in Jackson County, ready to move on Marianna the next morning.

A comparison of data from the 1860 and 1870 census reports indicates that the people of Walton, Holmes, Jackson and Washington Counties suffered the greatest economic losses in Florida during the decade of the War Between the States. A good idea of what happened has been handed down in the tradition of the Watford family.

Nelson Watford was a farmer who lived in the Galilee Community, just south of the modern Jackson County city of Graceville. Mr. Watford was away in the war, but his wife and their numerous children were home. Union troops arrived at the farm and quickly cleaned it out. Except for some livestock that the slaves had hidden in a nearby swamp, the Federals took all of the horses, mules and cattle on the place. The chickens were shot. The forage was taken. Even the molasses barrel was dug from the ground and poured out. By the time the soldiers left, the farm had been devastated.

As the raid was made in late September with the growing season over and the first frost approaching, the families along its route faced the prospect of starvation during the coming winter. While the accounts of the Union soldiers indicate they viewed this part of the raid as something of a picnic or lark, the families they looted - both white and black, slave and free - faced a winter of hunger and sickness.

I'll discuss the Battle of Marianna itself in the next couple of posts. You can always learn more about the Marianna raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 23, 1864 - New Account of the Skirmish at Eucheeanna

Northwest Florida in 1864
As General Alexander Asboth and his command of 700 Federal troops pushed deeper into Northwest Florida on their way to Marianna, they reached the town of Eucheeanna in Walton County at dawn on September 23, 1864.

Then the county seat of Walton County (Defuniak Springs had not yet been established), Eucheeanna was a small community made up of a courthouse, jail, several stores and a scattering of houses and plantations. It was also the setting for a conscription (draft) camp then occupied by detachments from Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry, and Captain Robert Chisolm's Cavalry Company of the Alabama State Militia (then based at Marianna).

Few details have survived of the skirmish that took place at Eucheeanna on the morning of the 23rd when Asboth's troops attacked the village. A new eyewitness account, recently discovered in the November 1864 edition of The Northern Journal and Maine Military Record, adds much to what is known of the encounter:

After marching 100 miles through a barren region, they came to the town of Euchelia, county-seat of Holmes county. At this place there was stationed a detachment of Chisam’s famous rebel cavalry. A charge was ordered. Lieut-Col. Spurling led the charge with the 2d Maine cavalry yelling like demons, frightening the inhabitants and taking the camp by surprise on the morning of the 23d. A lieutenant and some 25 men were taken prisoners, with arms and equipments, camp equipage, horses, mules, and stores.

The rest of the Confederates at Eucheeanna were able to mount their horses and get away, fleeing north on the road to Geneva, Alabama. One member of the Second Maine Cavalry wrote that the Southern troopers were able to escape because their horses were fresh, while those of the Northern unit were jaded from having been ridden all night without grain or forage.

The fighting over, the Union troops spread out through the community, taking what they wanted and doing as much damage as possible to the local farms and plantations. One member of the Second Maine described it as something of a picnic:

...we got our horses some corn and dug some sweet potatoes and shot some pigs, cows, ducks, geese, hens and anything that we wanted and as many sweet potatoes as we wanted and that was some considerable many. I tell you we got all we wanted to eat while we stayed there and when we went away we took all we wanted with us and had a good time. Stayed their 2 days. 

For the local citizens, however, it was no picnic. Many families were left without a piece of bacon or kernel of corn to feed themselves through the coming winter. More on that in the next post.

You can learn more about the Marianna raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.
 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 21, 1864 - The Hungarian Connection

Colonel L.L. Zulavsky, 82nd U.S.C.T.
At 6 a.m. on the morning of September 21, 1864, General Alexander Asboth and his force of 700 men turned inland along the Ridge Road to begin the main phase of their raid on Marianna.

Over the next week they would inflict severe damage across a large area of Walton, Homes, Jackson and Washington Counties. On this day, however, they just road for mile after mile through giant old growth pines. Rain continued to fall.

The raid's connection to a war fought more than fifteen years earlier is quite remarkable. The commanding officer, Brigadier General Asboth, for example, had served as a colonel in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. A close confidante of the famed Hungarian governor Kossuth, Asboth was a trained engineer who left the Austrian army and took up arms with his fellow Hungarians as Kossuth led an effort to establish an American-styled democratic republic in Hungary.

For a time it seemed that they might succeed, but the Tsar of Russia intervened on the side of the Austrians and the revolution was crushed. Kossuth fled the country, with Asboth as the only other occupant of his carriage. Other leaders, however, were captured and executed. Still others, including the Zulavsky brothers, managed to escape.

Although it is virtually forgotten in the United States today, American citizens of that era followed the Hungarian war with great interest. They were anxious to see if the seeds of American freedom could take root and grow in Hungary. When the revolution failed, the President (with the approval of Congress) sent the warship U.S.S. Mississippi to Turkey to rescue Kossuth and other Hungarian leaders, Asboth among them.

They were brought to New York and Kossuth's subsequent tour of the country drew massive crowds in both South and North. Although the governor himself returned to Europe, many others stayed behind. And many of these ultimately took up arms in the cause of the Union. Although they are often described as "mercenaries," they were not. Asboth, for example, was a naturalized citizen by the time of the War Between the States.

As the long column of mounted men wound its way along the Ridge Road through the Florida pines on September 21, 1864, many of the officers undoubtedly thought back to similar rides during the Hungarian Revolution. In addition to the general himself, there was Colonel L.L. Zulavsky of the 82nd U.S. Colored Troops (a nephew of Kossuth and Asboth's second-in-command), and Major Albert Ruttkay and numerous other officers scattered through the ranks of the First Florida U.S. Cavalry. The number who had assembled under Asboth's command at Pensacola is remarkable, but by and large they seem to have been dedicated soldiers who fought diligently for the Union cause.

To learn more about the Marianna raid, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 20, 1864 - At Camp in Okaloosa County

General Asboth and his 700 Union troops remained at the Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound in what is now Okaloosa County on October 20, 1864, making final preparations before turning inland to begin the raid through Walton, Holmes and Jackson Counties to Marianna.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the camp was in the area that is now Fort Walton Beach. While most visitors think of the city as one of the major gateways to the beautiful white sand beaches of the Gulf Coast, it also has a fascinating history and has one of the nicest heritage park areas in Florida.

The city's Heritage Park and Cultural Center is located in the heart of downtown and centers around the famed Fort Walton Temple Mound. In addition to the mound and adjacent Indian Temple Mound Museum, which features a remarkably variety of artifacts, the park also includes the carronade from Camp Walton, the historic Camp Walton schoolhouse and the Garnier Post Office. Both of the latter structures have been beautifully restored and date to before 1920.

The complex is a great place to explore coastal history, from prehistoric times to the early settlement of the area and development of its beautiful coastal areas. It is also a good place to view the general area of Asboth's camp. Here the day of the 20th was spent taking on additional supplies from the Lizzie Davis and preparing for the march to begin the next morning. The men prepared cooked rations and all was put in place for the real raid to begin.  According to individual soldiers in the Union ranks, heavy rain continued.

To learn more about Fort Walton's Heritage Park and Cultural Center, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortwaltonbeach.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

September 19, 1864 - The Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound

On September 19, 1864, as it continued its long ride to Marianna, the main body of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth's Union command reached a place then called the Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound.

A major 19th century landmark on the Gulf Coast, the Narrows can be recognized today as the city of Fort Walton Beach. The name comes from the fact that the width of Santa Rosa Sound dramatically narrows at the point where it intersects with Choctawhatchee Bay.

The locale has been of noted importance since prehistoric times. A massive ceremonial center was built here during the Mississippian era (A.D. 900 - A.D. 1540), the central platform mound of which still survives in the heart of downtown Fort Walton Beach.

During the decades leading up to the Civil War, the Narrows became an important navigational landmark. Commerce moving down the Choctawhatchee River or from other points around Choctawhatchee Bay was  moved by steamboats, schooners and barges from the bay through the sheltered waters of Santa Rosa Sound to Pensacola. The channel provided a way for small boats to move safely without entering the open Gulf.

Because the Narrows provided a choke point for commerce entering or leaving Choctawhatchee Bay, the Confederates quickly realized it was the key to defending the bay from Union naval raids. As a result they built Camp Walton, the military establishment that is the source of today's Fort Walton name. The "Walton" part of the name comes from the fact that the area was then in the part of Walton County that has since been carved away to create Okaloosa County.

The Walton Guards, who became part of the First Florida Infantry, took up a position overlooking the Narrows. The Union navy never threatened a raid up Santa Rosa Sound, but the Union army did send a force up Santa Rosa Island from Fort Pickens.

On April 1, 1862, Captain Henry Closson of the First U.S. Artillery responded to a minor skirmish between the Confederates at Camp Walton and a U.S. blockading vessel off shore by moving a rifled cannon into position opposite the fort under cover of darkness. He opened fire at first light, forcing a temporary evacuation of the Southern position before returning up the island to Fort Pickens.

In response to the attack, General Braxton Bragg sent an 18-pounder carronade (a short naval cannon) from Pensacola to Camp Walton. The Confederates there dug an emplacement into an Indian mound. The camp was soon abandoned, but the cannon is still at Fort Walton Beach to this day.

Asboth's command of 700 men reached the site of Camp Walton on September 18-19, 1864. Members of the Second Maine Cavalry, three battalions of which provided the main fighting force of the Union force, wrote in their diaries and letters home that it rained all night. The general himself confirmed this when he reported that his troops were in good spirits, although they had been exposed to continual rains. The Narrows would serve as the jump-off point for the inland movement that would culminate at the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864.

To learn more about Camp Walton, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortwalton. You can read about the prehistoric Fort Walton Temple Mound at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortwaltonmound. And you can always learn more about the 1864 raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

September 18, 1864 - Along the old Jackson Road

The raid on Marianna passed through the Naval Live Oaks Reserve on September 18, 1864, following an old trail that some by that time called the "Old Jackson Road" even though it was never used by Andrew Jackson.

The section of trail followed by the Union troops as they left Gulf Breeze still exists today and probably looks remarkably like it did in 1864. It is located north of the highway in the Naval Live Oaks Area of Gulf Islands National Seashore and can be followed on foot through the national park area.

The Naval Live Oaks were originally set aside as a national preserve for the U.S. Navy. The massive oak trees provided ideal timbers for use in the construction of wooden ships. The age of wooden fighting ships eventually passed and today the beautiful preserve is part of the national seashore and offer stunning scenery along both Pensacola Bay and Santa Rosa Sound, hiking trails, picnic areas and a visitor center with historical exhibits.

The Jackson Trail itself is actually a section of the old Federal road, built in the 1820s to connect Pensacola and St. Augustine. This section follows an older Indian trail. Funded by the U.S. Congress, the road was the first built by the United States after it took possession of Florida to connect the east and west coasts of Florida.

Accounts of the 1864 raid indicate it had been raining heavily as the soldiers in Asboth's column made their way east up the old road. Much of the route was muddy and portions were underwater.

You can learn more about the preserve at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/navalliveoaks and more about the Marianna raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.

Friday, September 17, 2010

September 17, 1864 on Pensacola Bay

September 17, 1864, was one of the busiest days of the war on the waters of Pensacola Bay.

The Quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis, a former Confederate blockade runner captured off Mobile Bay earlier in the war and on loan from the U.S. Navy, began the process of transporting 700 men and their horses across the bay from Barrancas to Navy Cove at what is now the city of Gulf Breeze. It was the first stage of a raid that would occupy the last two weeks of September and cover more miles than Sherman's famed March to the Sea.

Asboth's Raid was one of the most significant episodes of the Civil War in Florida. It involved skirmishes at  Eucheanna, Campbellton and Vernon as well as a fierce encounter remembered today as the Battle of Marianna. By the time he returned to Pensacola Bay, bleeding from severe wounds, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth would inflict the worst economic devastation of the war experienced in Florida on Walton, Holmes, Jackson and Washington Counties. Not only that, his raid resulted in the capture of 81 Confederates, many of them young boys or men over military age taken prisoner at Marianna; the liberation of 600 African American slaves, the largest such mass liberation in Florida during the war; the capture of hundreds of head of horses, mules and cattle, and the destruction of barns, homes, farms and a church.

I retraced the route and events of the raid last year (check the archives for September 2009), so this year I thought I would feature some of the other stories associated with Asboth's raid. Hopefully you will find them interesting.  Check tomorrow evening for the first.

You can always read more about the raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.