Sunday, February 24, 2013

Natural Bridge Commander's connection to the Immortal Six Hundred

Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones, CSA
The Immortal Six Hundred were Confederate prisoners of war who were subjected to intentional starvation and deliberate torture by the U.S. Army during the final year of the War Between the States.

Their story has been forgotten by most people, even in the South. This is particularly sad because The Immortal Six Hundred exemplify honor and courage, while also providing a cautionary tale of the horrible cruelty that people can inflict on each other during times of war.

For those unfamiliar with their story, it began in Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederate commander there watched helplessly as Union artillery rained fire down on civilian areas of the city. The homes and shelters of women, children and other noncombatants were made targets of a Union army determined to conquer the city where the war had started with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861.

Maj. Gen. J.G. Foster, USA
Major General Samuel Jones, the Confederate commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, finally resolved on a desperate measure to stop the ruthless attack. He warned the Union commander in the vicinity, Major General J.G. Foster, that 50 Union prisoners of war would be housed in the civilian areas of Charleston. There were no Confederate military installations in these areas and Jones warned Foster that if he continued the bombardment, he would be targeting not only women and children but Union officers as well.

In truth, General Jones seems to have been making a point and never actually placed Union prisoners of war in harm's way, as they verified in a letter he sent across Charleston Harbor to General Foster. He even offered to exchange them if the Federal commander so desired.

Foster and other officers in the U.S. Army, however, were outraged and decided to retaliate by placing 50 Confederate prisoners of war in front of the walls of their batteries to serve as human shields against Confederate counter-fire. The number of prisoners sent to Morris Island for this purpose grew from 50 to 600 and hence the "Immortal Six Hundred" came into being.

Dungeon of the Immortal Six Hundred at Fort Pulaski
The prisoners were kept on Morris Island for a time and used as a human shield in front of Union batteries to prevent Confederate gunners from firing on them. After about six weeks they were moved to Fort Pulaski in Georgia where they were subjected to an intentional starvation diet of 10 ounces of cornmeal and one-half pint of onion pickles every 24 hours. They were denied blankets, warm clothing, shoes and even fires to warm by during a freak snowstorm that left 4 inches of snow on the parade ground of Fort Pulaski. Many of them died (Read more about the Immortal Six Hundred at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/immortal600).

Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park
It is a little known fact in Florida that Major General Samuel Jones, the officer who tried to protect the women and children of Charleston in 1864, was the Confederate commander in Tallahassee in March 1865 when the city was threatened by the advancing Union command of Brigadier General John Newton.

Jones, with assistance from Brigadier General William Miller, coordinated the massive movement of troops from all over North Florida that blunted Newton's raid and he was in overall command of the Confederate forces at the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1864. One eyewitness described how General Jones placed and personally aimed the Confederate cannon that took such a horrible toll on the attacking Federal troops.

The Battle of Natural Bridge is considered by many to have been the last significant Confederate victory of the War Between the States. Newton had intended to take not only St. Marks, as he later claimed, but Tallahassee and even Thomasville, Georgia, as he had told reporters and naval officers prior to departing on his expedition.

You can learn more about the engagement in my book:

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee (Book)

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (Kindle)

You also can learn more at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Natural Bridge Reenactment set for March 2 & 3, 2013

Monument at Natural Bridge Battlefield
The annual reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge will talk place on March 2 & 3 at Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park south of Tallahassee.

One of the last significant Confederate victories of the War Between the States, the battle was fought for control of a vital crossing of the St. Marks River. The winning side would maintain control of Tallahassee and the Big Bend region of Florida as well as parts of Southwest Georgia.

The actual engagement took place on March 6, 1865. Having been prevented by a small Confederate force from forcing a passage over the river via the wooden bridge at Newport, Union general John Newton turned his invading force up the east side of the St. Marks hoping to reach the Natural Bridge before Southern forces could move into position to defend it. The water was high and Union soldiers noted in their diaries and letters that they waded through water and dragged their cannon by hand as they marched north up the narrow road to the geological oddity.

Natural Bridge of the St. Marks River
Scouts from the 5th Florida Cavalry (CSA) unveiled the movement, however, and Confederate generals Samuel Jones and William Miller were able to move their force of infantry, cavalry and artillery to the Natural Bridge ahead of Newton. Taking position of the elevated ground on the west side of the crossing, the Confederates formed a horseshoe line into the mouth of which the Union soldiers would be forced to charge.

Over the hours that followed, the two sides shelled each other with cannonfire that could be heard in Tallahasse and as far east as Monticello and Madison. Eight different times the soldiers of the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Troops charged the Confederate lines and eight different times they were repelled. The Confederates finally counterattacked, but also were thrown back.

In the end, though, General Newton knew the battle was lost and evacuated the battlefield, leaving his dead and a number of his wounded in Confederate hands. Tallahassee and the nearby city of Thomasville, Georgia, were saved for the South and the last major Union offensive in Florida was defeated.

The annual reenactment commemorates the battle and takes place on the ground where it actually was fought. To learn more about the battle, obtain directions and see a schedule of events, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Olustee Festival & Battle Reenactment set for February 15-17

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
The annual Olustee Festival and Olustee Battle Reenactments will be held next weekend, February 15th - 17th. The events commemorating the largest Florida battle of the War Between the States.

The Battle of Olustee, also called the Battle of Ocean Pond, was fought on February 20, 1864, when a Union army of more than 5,000 men marched inland from Jacksonville and was defeated in a stand up fight in the open pine woods by a Confederate army of similar size. The site is preserved at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park.  To learn more about the battle itself, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

The Olustee Festival gets under in Lake City on Friday (2/15) at 9 a.m. with a memorial service at Oaklawn Cemetery on West Franklin Street.   There will then be arts, crafts, collectibles, entertainment, food and more on both Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in downtown Lake City.

Events will take place at the battlefield itself on both Saturday and Sunday with the main battle reenactments taking place on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

You can check out the full schedules of events at www.olusteefestival.com.

Lake City is located at the intersection of US 90 and I-75.  It is 64 miles west of Jacksonville, 105 miles east of Tallahassee, 46 miles north of Gainesville and 104 miles north of The Villages. The Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is roughly 20 minutes east of downtown Lake City on U.S. 90.  It can also be accessed from Exit #324 (Sanderson/Olustee) on I-10.