Tuesday, March 10, 2015

150th of Battle of Natural Bridge a spectacular success

A four-gun Confederate battery fires during the reenactment.
The 150th anniversary commemoration of Florida's Battle of Natural Bridge drew one of the largest crowds in memory over the weekend.

State park officials estimate that more than 4,000 spectators visited Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park for the event. Sunday afternoon's main battle reenactment saw crowds that stretched from one end of the reenactment field to the other.

Buzz Gifford speaks at the eagle dedication.
The reenactment itself was the largest ever staged on the battlefield. Union and Confederate reenactors from throughout the Southeast attended the battle, which is hosted by the Leon Rifles. Pyrotechnics, barrages of cannon fire and heavy volleys of musketry thrilled the crowd as Union troops relived the charges made by the 2nd and 99th USCT (U.S. Colored Troops) during the real battle on March 6, 1864. Among the units participating was the 2nd USCT reenactment group.

The event was made noteworthy by the dedication of a new sculpted eagle atop the main battlefield monument. The original eagle had deteriorated over time, but a massive effort by the Natural Bridge Historical Society (CSO), the Florida Park Service, the staff of Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park, and others led to the sculpting of a new eagle. It was lifted into place shortly before the weekend and its dedication was an important part of this year's memorial service.

Visitors learn about artillery from Capt. Allen Gerrell
Other activities included a heavily attended memorial service in which the soldiers and casualties of both sides were remembered, a civilian camp recreating life in the town of Newport, demonstrations, a ball and a recreation by Union troops of the seven mile march from the St. Marks Lighthouse through the marshes of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge as they headed for the Battle of Natural Bridge.

The event takes place each year on the weekend closest to the battle anniversary (March 6). For more information on the history of the battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Here are some additional photos from this year's event:

Dale Cox, author of The Battle of Natural Bridge, speaks at the memorial service.
A Confederate line of battle stands its ground.
A battery fires by section during the reenactment.
Column of Union troops takes heavy fire.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fighting in Wakulla County, 150 Years Ago

St. Marks Lighthouse
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of heavy fighting in Wakulla County as Union troops began their march to the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida.

After a myriad of problems caused by storms, shallow water, darkness and unexpected resistance from Major William H. Milton and a handful of men from the 5th Florida Cavalry (CS), Gen. John Newton brought his troops to shore at the St. Marks Lighthouse. The main body of the Union force was comprised of the main bodies of the 2nd USCT (U.S. Colored Troops) and 99th USCT. These were supported by a strong battalion of dismounted men from the 2nd Florida Cavalry (US). The U.S. Navy contributed two 12-pounder howitzers to the expedition along with gun crews to man them. Since Newton had no horses, the guns were dragged by men from the 99th USCT.

The Federals rested briefly on the higher ground near today's Mounds Pool nature trail in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge before starting north along the old road through the marshes to the wooden bridge over East River. A small force of Confederates had taken up the flooring of the bridge and positioned a single cannon on the opposite shore.

East River at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
Lt. Col. George Washington Scott of the 5th Florida Cavalry (CS) commanded the outnumbered Confederates but made a critical mistake by ordering his men not to shell the long Federal line as it advanced through the open marshes. Instead Scott had them extract a shell from the muzzle of his cannon and reload with canister. By the time the artillerymen could complete this dangerous process, the Union troops were approaching East River Bridge in a line of battle.

The Confederates got off only one blast of their cannon as USCT troops stormed the bridge, charging across the stringers despite the absence of the floor planks. Confusion broke out in the Confederate ranks and Scott's line broke in retreat. The Union soldiers captured the colonel's cannon, found the stacked floor planks from the bridge and soon Newton's entire command was across East River.

The Confederate breastworks were on the far bank of the river.
The Confederates fell back rapidly to the St. Marks River where they set fire to one end of the Newport Bridge, tore up the planking from the other end, and took up positions behind earthen breastworks. These defenses had been prepared the previous winter in anticipation of such an emergency.

Additional Confederate troops were quick in coming up. A detachment of C.S. Marines arrived from the gunboat CSS Spray, then stationed at St. Marks. Volunteers from Campbell's Siege Artillery also came up from Fort Ward at St Marks (today's San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park). Although they had no field guns, the artillerymen brought their musket and joined the fight as "red-legged infantry."

St. Marks River at Newport
The troops from St. Marks were joined by a company from the Gadsden County Home Guards of the 1st Florida Militia (CS) and the Cadets of the West Florida Seminary (today's Florida State University). Gen. William Miller arrived on the scene and assumed the command from Lt. Col. Scott.

Seeing the smoke from the burning bridge rise above the treetops, Gen. Newton pushed forward the dismounted men of the 2nd Florida Cavalry (US) with orders to save the crossing. Led by Major Edmund Weeks, they stormed into the open on the east side of the St. Marks River and came under heavy fire from the Confederates on the opposite shore.

Looking up the St. Marks River at Newport.
Gen. Newton soon arrived on the scene. Assessing the situation he ordered his three cannon brought up. His plan was to place one gun to fire directly across the river at the Confederate breastworks while another was positioned upstream slightly in a position from which it could enfilade the left flank of the Confederate line. He then ordered his gunners to cannonade Gen. Miller's forces.

The Confederates had no cannon with which to reply to this bombardment, but clung to their breastworks in the face of the superior fire.

The bombardment did not go as Gen. Newton had hoped. The Federal gunners fired too high so their shells sailed over the Southern breastworks and into the town of Newport itself. Civilians fled or took shelter as cannonballs crashed into houses and exploded in the streets. One shell struck a home in which a number of African American slaves had taken shelter. Seven were killed in the blast.

When the Federals finally stopped firing, however, the Confederates were still in their breastworks. Newton would not be able to force a crossing at Newport.

Old Plank Road at Newport. Confederate troops shadowed
Newton's advance to Natural Bridge by moving up this road.
Pondering his position, he turned his command north up the east side of the St. Marks River and headed for the Natural Bridge. Confederate cavalry under Lt. Col. Scott shadowed the movement on the opposite side of the river. The Battle of Natural Bridge would erupt before dawn the next morning.

The annual reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge takes place this weekend and is expected to be largest ever as the battlefield commemorates the 150th anniversary of the engagement. To learn more about the battle and this weekend's planned events, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

If you would like to read an in-depth account of the battle, please consider my book:

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (Paperback)

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (Kindle)



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Raid on Euchee Anna reenactment this weekend!

Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood in DeFuniak Springs
The 1864 Raid on Euchee Anna will be reenacted in DeFuniak Springs this weekend. The event is sponsored by the Walton Guards, Inc., and the Florida Chautauqua Assembly.

The original raid took place on September 23-24, 1864, when Union troops under Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth struck the village of Eucheeanna (then called Euchee Anna) while advancing to the Battle of Marianna. A small detachment of Confederate cavalry was routed and the community and surrounding areas were severely looted.

Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood
The event is part of this year's Florida Chautauqua Assembly, an event that commemorates and continues the traditions of the famed Chautaqua events in DeFuniak Springs from the late 19th century. Learn more about other planned events and the history of the Florida Chautauqua by visiting http://florida-chautauqua-center.org/home.

The Walton Guards, Inc. will be hosting Civil War camps, living history demonstrations and skirmishes through the weekend. Friday, January 23, will be School Day with special events for school groups from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday will feature encampments, demonstrations and a skirmish at 12:15 p.m. The main skirmish will be Sunday afternoon, January 25, at 1:30 p.m. (Central) by the lake.

Lake DeFuniak in DeFuniak Springs, Florida
Lake DeFuniak, where the reenactment and other events will take place, was a landmark of note during Asboth's raid. DeFuniak Springs had not been founded in 1864 and the hills where the city stands today were used as cattle range. Local tradition holds that the Union column halted at the lake on the night before the Skirmish at Eucheeanna. The soldiers undoubtedly rounded up and confiscated cattle there.

All events will take place at Lake DeFuniak in the center of historic DeFuniak Springs. The address for the historic Florida Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood building on the lakefront is 1290 Circle Drive, DeFuniak Springs, Florida.

Learn more about the history of the Marianna raid at www.battleofmarianna.com.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Anniversary of Apalachicola Arsenal seizure (Jan. 6, 1861)

Today (1/6/2015) is the 154th anniversary of the seizure of the Apalachicola Arsenal at Chattahoochee, Florida.

Built in 1834-1839, the arsenal was named for the Apalachicola River and served as an important supply depot and weapons repair facility during the Second Seminole War. It was the location of important U.S. Army gunpowder experiments during the 1850s.

The tense but non-violent seizure of the arsenal by the Quincy Young Guards on January 6, 1861, opened the War Between the States in Florida.

To read more about the incident, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/arsenal1.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Battle of Marianna 150th was a massive success!

Union troops fire on approaching Confederates
The 150th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Marianna, Florida, was a huge success.

Thousands of visitors from around Florida, the nation and the world came to see the reenactment, participate in living history demonstrations and take part in guided tours, memorial services, musical performances, a debate between the commanding officers, a wild west show and more.

The Battle of Marianna was fought on September 27, 1864, in the streets of the Jackson County city. U.S. troops from the 2nd Maine Cavalry, 1st Florida Cavalry (US), 82nd U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) and 86th USCT defeated a Confederate force of men and boys from the 5th Florida Cavalry, 1st Florida Infantry Reserves (Mounted), Chisolm's Cavalry (Alabama State Militia), Greenwood Club Cavalry, Campbellton Cavalry, Marianna Home Guards, Jackson County Home Guards, Calhoun County Home Guards and unaffiliated volunteers. Several women also took part in the fighting on the Confederate side.

Please click here to learn more about the history of the Battle of Marianna.

Here are some of the photos from this year's spectacular event:

Battle of Marianna Historical Conference

Chipola Chorus performs after the reenactment on Saturday.

Union flanking party fires on approaching Confederates

Troops fire salute to the audience

Home Guards make a last stand on the Courthouse Square.

Tour group heads into the historic Ely-Criglar house.

Me (Dale Cox) speaking at Union memorial service

Sgt. Major Rosier, 2nd USCT, explains roll of African American troops in the battle. 
Massive crowd meets "ghosts" during "Spirits of St. Luke's"

Gregg Harding from the University of West Florida speaks at the historical conference.

Paige Creel spellbinds school students.

Exhibitors show off historic artifacts to students.

Overflow crowd at St. Luke's Episcopal Church 
Tour group poses in front o f the Ely-Criglar home

Posing for a selfie with a young visitor from Ukraine.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Battle of Marianna events set for today (Saturday, Sept. 27)

Sgt. Major Rosier of the 2nd USCT explains the bayonet
charge carried out by African American soldiers during the
Battle of Marianna, Florida.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna, Florida.

The battle took place in the streets of the Northwest Florida city on September 27, 1864, and was remarkably fierce and bloody for an action of its size.  You can learn more about it at www.battleofmarianna.com.

A number of commemorative events are planned today for the 150th anniversary.  Here is the full schedule:

Saturday, Sept. 27

8:30 a.m.
Weapons Inspection for Reenactors
The weapons inspection for the reenactment will take place at 8:30 a.m. on Courthouse Square.

9:00 a.m.
Union Memorial Service
A memorial service for Union soldiers will take place at 9 a.m. at Riverside Cemetery. It will be free to attend and the public is invited!

Overflow crowd fills St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marianna
on Friday night for "Spirits of St. Luke's"
10:00 a.m.
Confederate Memorial Service
A memorial service for Confederate soldiers will take place at 10 a.m. at the Battle of Marianna monument in Confederate park downtown. It will be free to attend and the public is invited!

11:00 a.m.
Tolling of the Bells
The church bells of Marianna will sound 18 times for each man of both sides killed in the Battle of Marianna.

11:05 a.m.
Reenactment
The "Fight at Courthouse Square" phase of the Battle of Marianna will be reenacted on Courthouse Square in downtown Marianna. It is free to attend. Viewing areas are on Madison and Jackson Streets on the east and south sides of Courthouse Square.

11:30 a.m.
Music, living history demonstrations and more at Madison Street Park on Madison Street in downtown Marianna. The events are free to attend

Visitors on a guided battlefield tour pose in front of
Marianna's historic Ely-Criglar Mansion. The home was
struck by hundreds of bullets during the Battle of Marianna.
12:00 noon
Tour of Homes
A number of Marianna's antebellum and historic homes will be open for tours. Information is available at the historic Russ House & Visitor Center on West Lafayette Street in Marianna, one of the structures on the tour.  The tours are free and open to the public.

12:30 p.m., 1:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:00 p.m., 2:30 p.m.
Guided Battlefield Tours
Guided walking tours of key areas of the Marianna Battlefield will leave from the historic Russ House & Visitor Center on West Lafayette Street in Marianna. The tours are free and the public is encouraged to join!

2:00 p.m.
Civil War Surgery Demonstration
Catch an authentic Civil War surgery demonstration at the historic Davis-West House in Marianna (intersection of Madison & Putnam Streets). It was the home of Dr. Theophilus West a surgeon on the Army of Northern Virginia.  Free to attend and the public is welcome!

3:30 p.m.
Battle of Marianna Documentary
The new Battle of Marianna documentary will be premiered at MacKinnon Hall, St. Luke's Episcopal Churh on West Lafayette Street in Marianna.  Free and the public is welcome!


Sunday

All Day - Florida Caverns State Park will be observing National Public Lands Day with events and exhibits.

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

For information on hotels, restaurants and more in Marianna, please visit www.visitjacksoncountyfla.com.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Battle of Marianna 150 Events for 9/26-9/28

Battle of Marianna Monument
Major events are underway for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna, Florida.

The small but bloody battle was fought on September 27, 1864. It culminated the deepest penetration of Florida by Union troops during the War Between the States (or Civil War) and was the bloodiest day of the war for the 2nd Maine Cavalry.  Please click here to learn more.

Marianna Main Street and the Jackson County Tourist Development Council are heading this week's commemoration of the battle's 150th anniversary with events including guided walking tours, living history exhibits, a reenactment, tour of homes and more!  Here is this the schedule of key events from today through Sunday.  All times are CENTRAL time:


St. Luke's Episcopal Church
Friday, Sept. 26

9:00 a.m.
Demonstrations for the Schools
School students will learn more about life during the Civil War era.

2:30 p.m.
Guided tour of the Marianna Battlefield
Historian Dale Cox, author of The Battle of Marianna, Florida will lead a free guided walking tour of key areas of the Marianna Battlefield. It begins from the historic Russ House & Visitor Center on West Lafayette Street.

4:00 p.m.
Historical Conference
Historians, writers and others from across Florida will speak on a variety of topics related to the Civil War in Florida. The conference is free to attend and the public is welcome!  It will take place in the MacKinnon Hall at St. Luke's Episcopal Church on West Lafayette Street in Marianna.

6:00 p.m.
Memorial Service
The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) will host a memorial service for the dead of the Battle of Marianna at Riverside Cemetery in Marianna. It is free to attend and the pubic is welcome.

7:00 p.m.
"Spirits of St. Luke's"
The public will be able to meet many of those buried in St. Luke's Episcopal Church cemetery in this unique event.  It will begin with a performance of Civil War music by the Chipola College Chorus. The event is free to attend and will take place at St. Luke's Episcopal Church on West Lafayette Street.


St Luke's Cemetery
Scene of heavy fighting.
Saturday, Sept. 27

8:30 a.m.
Weapons Inspection for Reenactors
The weapons inspection for the reenactment will take place at 8:30 a.m. on Courthouse Square.

9:00 a.m.
Union Memorial Service
A memorial service for Union soldiers will take place at 9 a.m. at Riverside Cemetery. It will be free to attend and the public is invited!

10:00 a.m.
Confederate Memorial Service
A memorial service for Confederate soldiers will take place at 10 a.m. at the Battle of Marianna monument in Confederate park downtown. It will be free to attend and the public is invited!

11:00 a.m.
Tolling of the Bells
The church bells of Marianna will sound 18 times for each man of both sides killed in the Battle of Marianna.

11:05 a.m.
Reenactment
The "Fight at Courthouse Square" phase of the Battle of Marianna will be reenacted on Courthouse Square in downtown Marianna. It is free to attend. Viewing areas are on Madison and Jackson Streets on the east and south sides of Courthouse Square.

11:30 a.m.
Music, living history demonstrations and more at Madison Street Park on Madison Street in downtown Marianna. The events are free to attend

12:00 noon
Tour of Homes
A number of Marianna's antebellum and historic homes will be open for tours. Information is available at the historic Russ House & Visitor Center on West Lafayette Street in Marianna, one of the structures on the tour.  The tours are free and open to the public.

12:30 p.m., 1:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:00 p.m., 2:30 p.m.
Guided Battlefield Tours
Guided walking tours of key areas of the Marianna Battlefield will leave from the historic Russ House & Visitor Center on West Lafayette Street in Marianna. The tours are free and the public is encouraged to join!

2:00 p.m.
Civil War Surgery Demonstration
Catch an authentic Civil War surgery demonstration at the historic Davis-West House in Marianna (intersection of Madison & Putnam Streets). It was the home of Dr. Theophilus West a surgeon on the Army of Northern Virginia.  Free to attend and the public is welcome!

3:30 p.m.
Battle of Marianna Documentary
The new Battle of Marianna documentary will be premiered at MacKinnon Hall, St. Luke's Episcopal Churh on West Lafayette Street in Marianna.  Free and the public is welcome!


Sunday

All Day - Florida Caverns State Park will be observing National Public Lands Day with events and exhibits.

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

For information on hotels, restaurants and more in Marianna, please visit www.visitjacksoncountyfla.com.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

150th Anniversary of the Skirmish at Eucheeanna, Florida (9/23)

Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church
Walton County, Florida
Federal troops had been on the move for five days when they arrived outside Eucheeanna, Florida, during the darkness just before dawn on the morning of September 23, 1864.

The community was then the county seat of Walton County. Located three miles southeast of the modern county seat of Defuniak Springs, it was a small village located in the rich lands of the Euchee Valley. Most of Walton County's population was centered there, as were its best farms and few plantations.

The Union raid had been underway since the 18th when Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth led 700 mounted troops east from Pensacola Bay on the old Federal Road. Torrential rains from a stalled tropical system had drenched the soldiers for five days and continued to fall on the morning of the 23rd as they arrived outside Eucheeanna.

Lake Defuniak
Probably from a few prisoners - Confederate soldiers on leave - captured the previous day without the firing of a shot, Asboth had learned that two small detachments of Confederate cavalry were at Eucheeanna, "enforcing the conscription" (i.e. enforcing the draft). The general decided to strike before these troopers learned of his presence and moved his men through the night from near Lake Defuniak to the environs of Eucheeanna.

The 2nd Maine Cavalry was moved into position under Lt. Col. Andrew Spurling and as the first signs of daylight tried to show through the rain and clouds General Asboth gave the order to strike.

Lt. Col. Andrew Spurling
2nd Maine Cavalry
The troopers in blue surged forward in a line of battle, sweeping through Eucheeanna and catching the Confederates by surprise. The two detachments of Southern horsemen numbered around 15 soldiers each and were from Captain W.B. Amos' Company I, 15th Confederate Cavalry, and Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts of the Alabama State Militia. Neither captain was present and each of the small detachments was lead by a lieutenant.

The Confederates were hunkered down trying to stay dry when Spurling stormed the community. They got off only a scattering of shots to which the Maine Cavalry responded ineffectively. No one was was killed or wounded on either side although 9 of the Confederates were taken as prisoners of war. The rest managed to get to their horses and get away in the chaos.

The highest ranking Confederate taken prisoner at Eucheeanna was 2nd Lt. Francis M. Gordon of the 15th Confederate Cavalry. The other prisoners of war included 5 soldiers from Gordon's detachment and 3 from Chisolm's company.

Florida's oldest Confederate monument once stood on
the grounds of the Eucheeanna Courthouse. It can be seen
today in Defuniak Springs.
Also taken in the camp were 6 political prisoners including William Cawthon, Sr., Allen Hart and W.H. Terrence. Cawthon was the scion of a large family and one of Florida's leading cattle ranchers. Hart was a beef contractor. Terrence had served in the Alabama militia back during the Creek War of 1836 and was buying provisions for his state.

The political prisoners were released before Asboth left Eucheeanna, but the military captives were sent down to Four Mile Landing at Freeport to be placed aboard the quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis. With them went 16 African American recruits liberated from slavery.

Brig. Gen. Asboth
Horses and cattle were driven from local farms, corn was loaded into wagons and carried away, fodder was taken or destroyed and as much damage as possible was done. Typical was the experience of Mrs. Abigail McDonald, who could do nothing but watch as the Federal troops made off with her horse, mule, steer, 3 sheep, 20 hogs, 20 turkeys, 24 chickens, 75 bushels of potatoes, 100 bushels of corn and 500 pounds of fodder. It was all that she owned.

The 150th anniversary commemoration of the 1864 raid is now underway. The next event will be a debate between the two commanders - Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth (US) and Col. A.B. Montgomery (CS) - at the Jackson County Public Library in Marianna tonight (9/23) at 6:30 p.m. Central.

To learn more about Asboth's raid and the Battle of Marianna, please consider my book:

(Book) The Battle of Marianna, Florida 

(Kindle E-book) The Battle of Marianna, Florida
 (Just $4.95!)


You can also learn more online and see the schedule of events for this week's commemoration at www.battleofmarianna.com.

To learn more about accommodations and restaurants in Marianna, please visit www.visitjacksoncountyfla.com.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Civil War commanders return from the grave tomorrow night in Marianna, FL

Col. A.B. Montgomery (CSA)
(Left of photo)
Brigadier General Alexander Asboth (US) and Colonel A.B. Montgomery (CS) are set to return from the grave tomorrow night to join in the week-long commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna.

Fought on September 27, 1864, in the streets of the Northwest Florida city, the battle was brief, fierce and bloody. It was the deadliest day of the war for the 2nd Maine Cavalry and 20% of Marianna's entire male population was either killed, wounded, captured or went away voluntarily with the Federal troops following the battle.

Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth (USA)
Actions attributed to the two commanders have generated intense and often heated criticism over the years so tomorrow night they will return from the beyond to defend their tactics and lives.

The two are scheduled to take part in a moderated debate tomorrow night (9/23) at the Jackson County Public Library on North Green Street in Marianna. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. with light refreshments and music. The main event will start at 7 pm. (Note:  All times are Central).  It will be free to attend.

To learn more about the Battle of Marianna and events planned for this week's 150th anniversary commemoration, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

For information on hotels, restaurants and points of interest in Marianna, please visit www.visitjacksoncountyfla.com.