Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Tropical Storm played a major role in 1864 Florida Raid

St. Luke's Episcopal Church
Scene of heavy fighting in Battle of Marianna
With Tropical Storm Debby hovering off the Florida Coast, I found myself thinking today of Gen. Alexander Asboth's Marianna Raid in 1864 and how another tropical system played a major role in the success of that expedition.

U.S. Navy ships in the southern Gulf of Mexico had reported encountering a tropical storm during the weeks prior to the Northwest Florida raid. By the time Asboth began moving 700 men with their horses, supplies and artillery across Pensacola Bay on September 15, 1864, the rains of that storm had reached the Panhandle coast. Rain would continue to fall across Northwest Florida for the next eleven days.

1864 Map of Asboth's Raid
The mud, water and rain of the storm slowed the progress of the raid and caused miserable conditions for the Union soldiers of the general's command. Conditions also served, however, to mask the movement of the column and to keep Confederate pickets and cavalry scouts close to their tents.

The result was that when Asboth struck the Walton County community of Eucheeanna in a dawn attack on September 23, 1864, the Confederates there had not even been aware that he was coming. Thanks to heavy rain, he had stolen a five day march on them and moved 90 miles into Confederate territory without being spotted by a single picket.

The Confederate cavalry camp at Eucheeanna was occupied by detachments from Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry and Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts, Alabama Militia Cavalry. The overrunning of the camp on the morning of the 23rd played a major role in how the raid played out over the next four days.

Battle of Marianna Monument
Although a cavalryman from the camp made it back to Marianna by nightfall, he could only report there had been an attack in Walton County. Colonel Alexander Montgomery, the C.S. commander in Marianna, had troops along both of the key roads leading from the west into Marianna. On the main road, which ran from Marianna to Eucheeanna by way of the Washington County communities of Vernon and Orange Hill, he had Captain William A. Jeter's Company E, 5th Florida Cavalry, and Captain W.B. Jones' Company, Florida Militia (Washington County Home Guard). On the other road, which led from Marianna northwest to Campbellton and then west to Cerrogordo on the Choctawhatchee River in Holmes County, he had Captain Alexander Godwin's Campbellton Cavalry, then operating as part of Captain W.W. Poe's Battalion of the 1st Florida Reserves, and Captain Sam Grantham's Company, Florida Militia (Holmes County Home Guards).

The troops along the main road saw no sign of the Federal column, but remained in position in case they appeared. Along the Cerrogordo Road, however, weather again came into play to hamper Confederate defensive efforts.

Ely-Criglar Home
Damaged during Battle of Marianna
Captain Grantham and his men in Holmes County were not out patrolling the road, but instead took shelter from the rain in their homes and were still there when Asboth arrived in their midst. They never had time to muster their company and, accordingly, never turned out to fight and never sent word of the danger back to headquarters in Marianna.

It was not until the morning of September 26, 1864, three days after the attack on Eucheeanna, that Captain Godwin learned there was trouble in neighboring Holmes County. Raiders were reported by citizens to be destroying farms. He mustered his company and rode west to investigate, quickly coming up with and beginning to skirmish the vanguard of Asboth's oncoming column.

Godwin followed orders and sent word of the danger to headquarters in Marianna. The rain would clear the next morning just before Asboth attacked that city and the Battle of Marianna would be fought under a beautiful blue sky. The tropical storm, however, had served as a powerful ally of the Federals by preventing Colonel Montgomery from assembling his full force in time for the fight.

To learn more about the raid, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Expanded Edition). It is available at www.amazon.com in both book form and as a Kindle instant download.

You can also read more at www.battleofmarianna.com or looking back through the older posts here at http://civilwarflorida.blogspot.com.