Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 27, 1864: The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Phase One)

Battle of Marianna Monument
The morning of September 27, 1864, dawned clear, blue and cool. The lingering tropical system that had drenched the Florida Panhandle with rain for more than twelve days had pushed on during the night and the citizens of Marianna awakened to their first hint of fall.
It was court day in Marianna. Plantiffs and defendants joined with lawyers and judges at the Jackson County Courthouse, most dressed in their finest in anticipation of having their day in court. Elsewhere around town, people began to open their businesses and childreen and teens started for the community's wooden schoolhouse. Despite the misery that three years of war had brought on the people of the county, it was an idyllic morning for most.

That changed suddenly when the alarm bell at the courthouse began sounding. As the men and boys ran to find out what was wrong, other bells joined in until every citizen of Marianna knew that something serious was taking place. The new struck the community like a thunderbolt. Colonel Montgomery had sent in a rider to alert the people that a large force of Union soldiers was advancing from Campbellton and would likely reach Marianna by midday.

As the men of the Marianna Home Guard ran for their weapons and assembled at the courthouse to await the orders of their captain, local attorney Jesse J. Norwood, the women and slaves loaded wagons and carts with valuables to save from the oncoming raiders. Most of the noncombatants fled the city, crossing the Chipola River and spreading out to the homes of friends in the country. Others, it is said, hid in the caves both beneath the city and at the Natural Bridge Cave in what is now Florida Caverns State Park.

Additional riders went out from Marianna to summon in Captain Henry J. Robinson's Greenwood Club Cavalry, Captain George Robinson's Jackson County Home Guards, Captain Luke Lott's Calhoun County Home Guards and Captain W.B. Jones' Vernon Home Guard. Only the Greenwood unit would make it in time, although a few of Captain George Robinson's men were already in town and took part in the fight.

Old Campbellton Road
Meanwhile, to the northwest of town, Colonel Montgomery and his mounted men fell back ahead of General Asboth's advance. The force with the colonel by this time included Captain Alexander Godwin's Campbellton Cavalry, Captain Wilson W. Poe's Battalion from the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves (Mounted) and Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts from the Alabama State Militia (Mounted).

As Asboth pushed down the Campbellton road past the Waddell, Russ and Webbville (Barnes) plantations, Montgomery realized that he was coming on too fast and that his own reinforcements would not have time to reach Marianna before the Federals themselves arrived in the city. Determined to slow down the Union column if possible, he formed his men into a line of battle on the east side of Hopkins' Branch, a swampy stream about three miles northwest of town.

While the branch is seasonal, it was then flowing well because of the nearly two weeks of rain that had fallen on the area. This meant the swamp would likely be too wet for Asboth's soldiers and would funnel them onto the main road at the point it crossed the branch.

Chipola River near Marianna
As the Federals approached the crossing, Montgomery's men opened fire. The Union soldiers returned the gunshots and the opening encounter of the Battle of Marianna took place. The Confederate colonel's hope that the swamp might present a natural barrier of sorts to the enemy horses was dashed when Asboth swung his own men into a line of battle and charged directly through the muddy water at the Southern soldiers. Armstrong Purdee, an 8-year-old liberated from slavery at the Waddell Plantation, was riding on the back of one of the Union soldier's horses when the man told him to hold fast and not fall. He later recalled how the men were firing their carbines as they charged over fallen trees and logs.

Unable to hold back the larger Union force, Montgomery began a slow retreat for Marianna, fighting as he went. A member of the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry later recalled that his company had approached the city from the northwest, fighting a sharp skirmish with Confederate cavalry.

The fighting finally broke off on the outskirts of town as the Confederates ended contact with the Federals and headed into Marianna while Asboth paused his column briefly to consider tactics and form his men. The main fighting of the Battle of Marianna was about to begin.

I will post more on the Battle of Marianna over coming days, so check back regularly. You can read more in my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida, which can be ordered by clicking the Books section at the upper right of this page. It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and at iBooks.

Read an online overview of the battle at www.battleofmarianna.com.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Thanks for the information about this. My folks live in Marianna so this was really cool to read about this.