Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Calhoun County War of 1860 - Part One

One of the most fascinating episodes in Jackson County history took place during the fall of 1860 when the county became entangled in an outbreak of fighting in neighboring Calhoun County. The situation became so severe that Circuit Judge J.J. Finley of Marianna (seen here) declared a "state of insurrection" and ordered out the First Brigade of the Florida Militia.

Over the next few days I will be posting a series of excerpts from my book - The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Year Years - that tell the story of the "Calhoun County War." The book is available at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna or from


(Excerpt from Chapter Twenty-Four: The Calhoun County War)

In the fall of 1860, eleven months after John Brown’s ill-fated raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, a party of “regulators” launched a wave of violence in Northwest Florida that ended only with the intervention of the state militia. Virtually forgotten today, the Calhoun County “Insurrection” of 1860 lasted only three weeks and was quickly overshadowed by the outbreak of the Civil War. Not even a historical marker stands to call to mind the outbreak and there are no memorials to the dead.

Calhoun County, which then included the territory of today’s Gulf County, was a sparsely populated area in 1860. Founded in 1838 when it was widely believed that the coastal city of St. Joseph would emerge as one of Florida’s primary ports and commercial centers, the county never realized its economic potential. Yellow fever and a devastating hurricane spelled an end to the St. Joseph dream and by 1860 the county seat had moved inland to Abe Springs. Although there were a few large plantations near the county seat and along the Apalachicola River, most of the county’s 1,446 residents lived on small farms carved from the wilderness. Among these pre-Civil War inhabitants were the Durdens and the Musgroves.
According to the 1860 census, Jesse Durden was a 31-year-old farmer who headed a household consisting of his wife, Mary, and six children. His farm was near Abe Springs, but his extended family spread across the line into neighboring Jackson County. The same was true of his neighbors, Willis and Larkin Musgrove. Willis was a 36-year-old farmer who ran small farms in both Calhoun and Jackson Counties and was married with three children. His brother, Larkin, also had land on both sides of the county line and was the head of a household that included his wife and five children. Based on their census and tax records, the Durdens and Musgroves were typical of hundreds of other farm families in Northwest Florida. They did not own slaves and lived by the labor of their own hands.
They were set apart from their neighbors in 1860, however, when they became the targets of a large and well-armed band of vigilantes. These men, who dubbed themselves “regulators,” circulated a petition at a fish fry in Calhoun County calling for the removal or extermination of the Durdens. Then, on September 24th, they struck the family with brutal force:

Yesterday a party in Calhoun, styling themselves `Regulators,’ went to the house of one Jesse Durden, and we learn shot him, giving him a mortal wound. They then met and shot Willis Musgrove from his horse, who died instantly, also wounding Larkin C. Musgrove. These are the facts as we have been able to gather them, but it is believed that last night another battle was fought between the Regulators and the Durdens. All this happened near Abe’s Spring Bluff, in Calhoun Co.

The report of the death of Willis Musgrove appears to have been premature, as a man of that name was still alive ten years later in Jackson County. Jesse Durden and Larkin Musgrove, however, were gunned down by the vigilantes and their outraged and frightened families fought back with a vengeance. Neighbors joined them and open warfare spread through the piney woods of Calhoun and southern Jackson Counties.
What led to the attack is not clear. A contemporary Florida newspaper claimed that the Durdens had feuded with another local family several years earlier and that the calls for their extermination resulted from lingering hard feelings from that earlier confrontation. Another report, published in the Augusta, Georgia, Chronicle and Sentinel on October 17, 1860, and apparently written from the point of view of the “regulators,” described the Durdens as “notorious for immorality and crime.”
The “immorality” that so outraged the regulators was never explained, but local legend holds that the two families favored the abolition of slavery. At least one modern historian has asserted that abolition meetings were held at the Durden home, but his cited sources do not verify the claim.
It is clear, however, that many Southerners opposed slavery and there is abundant evidence that individuals with pro-Union or abolitionist views were targeted by regulator gangs in Florida and elsewhere during the months leading up to the General Election of 1860. These bands of outlaws used intimidation to silence opposition as the Southern states hurtled towards secession and civil war.
It is interesting to note that although they farmed more than 400 acres, neither the Durdens nor the Musgroves owned slaves. This was a significant acreage for the time and their operation was among the largest in Northwest Florida that did not make use of slave laborers. It is also interesting to note that there was an escalation of slave disappearances from the plantations of the region throughout the year 1860 and fingers were steadily pointed at Calhoun County.
One of the more widely publicized incidents took place only two weeks before the attack on the Durdens and Musgroves:

We are in the receipt of a letter from Dr. David L. White, of Gadsden County, informing us of an attempt to decoy off two of his negro boys. They were young, and decoyed off about the first of this month. Elias H. Kemp, Esq., of our county, captured one of the boys, and the other returned home. The boys say a white man in West Florida persuaded them off, mounted upon pony horses, and told them as soon as they crossed the Chattahoochee river to leave the telegraph road, which they did. Evidently the man or men who decoyed off these boys resides in West Florida. Let our citizens give an eye to this matter, and soon the thieves will be brought to justice. – There is yet another negro with the thief at the time Dr. White’s negro left, who has not been captured. – The public had better be on the look out.

The report provides pretty solid evidence that someone living west of the Apalachicola River was involved in an aggressive effort to lead slaves away from the plantations of the region.
(End of Excerpt)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Grave of Captain Henry Robinson

This is the grave of Captain Henry J. Robinson, a key figure in the Battle of Marianna.

Born in 1840, Robinson was only 20 years old when Florida seceeded from the Union. He originally served in Company D of the 6th Florida Infantry, a regiment mustered into the Confederate service in the spring of 1862 at the arsenal in Chattahoochee (today's Florida State Hospital).

By 1864, Robinson was a teacher at the academy in Greenwood. As Florida required all male citizens over the age of 15 to enlist in either the regular military or state militia units, he organized the boys who studied under him into a company of cadets known as the Greenwood Club Cavalry.

After completing their lessons for the day, the boys would take part in military drills led by Robinson, who also served as their captain.

On the morning of September 27, 1864, Captain Robinson was notified that a Union force was approaching Marianna and ordered to bring the boys of the Greenwood Club Cavalry to help defend the city. Many of the older men of Greenwood were unwilling to see the teenagers ride off to fight alone, so they mounted up and went with them.

The unit fought bravely at the Battle of Marianna. Francis B. Carter, a 76-year-old Greenwood resident who rode in with the boys, was killed in the fighting at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, as was Dr. M.A. Butler, another Greenwood resident who rode in with Robinson's Company.

John J. Dickson, a 59-year-old wheelwright from Greenwood who also fought with the company, was wounded in the battle by a severe blow to the head and taken prisoner. He died in a Union prison camp in New York.

Three other members of Captain Robinson's company - W.H. Kimball, T.D. Newsome and Hansel Grice - were also captured in the fighting at Marianna.

Captain Robinson was not captured during the battle, but instead was among the Confederate cavalrymen who retreated across the Chipola River. He and his men joined other Southern soldiers in tearing up the planking of the old wooden bridge and holding off Union efforts to drive them away and capture the bridge.

He did not long survive the hard times of the war, but died in 1866 and the young age of 26. He is buried at Hays Cemetery, located west of Greenwood off the Old U.S. Road. To learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Walking in the Footsteps of Marcos Delgado

Spanish Expedition Marched from Sneads to Campbellton in 1686

By Dale Cox

After learning in 1686 that a French settlement had been established somewhere near the mouth of the Mississippi River (the actual location was in Texas), the Spanish governor of Florida sent out an expedition to locate and expel the interlopers.

Headed by Marcos Delgado, the expedition consisted of 13 Spanish soldiers and 40 Native American warriors. Heading northwest from Mission San Luis (now a historical landmark in Tallahassee), the party crossed the Apalachicola River near Sneads and eventually passed out of what is now Jackson County near Campbellton.

After spending a few days resting at Mission San Carlos, a Spanish settlement near the west end of the Jim Woodruff Dam, Delgado headed west on September 2, 1686. He arrived at Blue Spring, which he called Calistoble, later that day:
…Departing from the village of the Chacatos to the northwest on the road to Calistoble there is encountered at five leagues a spring of clear water which forms a river that has 48 feet of width. At the spring it is 36 feet in depth and the river below is from one yard to one yard and one-half in depth and is bordered by thickets of large cane about six inches thick.
From Blue Spring the expedition turned to the northwest and crossed the Chipola River somewhere in the vicinity of today’s Bellamy Bridge. He described the crossing place as a “clayey swamp and in its center a stream which has 36 feet of width and a depth of 6 feet.” Once across the Chipola, the explorers began to encounter buffalo for the first time.

Continuing northwest, Delgado crossed Spring Creek near present-day Campbellton and reached the abandoned site of San Antonio. He described it as being roughly 3 miles from the creek, a location that would place it somewhere near the present Alabama line:

…Continuing one league to the northwest we arrived at the chicasa (old town site) called San Antonio which had been a village of the Chacato nation, which has three springs of water within a short distance of each other.
Delgado eventually pushed as far north as present-day Montgomery, Alabama, where he visited with the leaders of Indian tribes that would soon consolidate to become the Creek Nation. The journal of his expedition provides an interesting window into the history of Jackson County.
Note: This account is excerpted from Dale Cox’s recent book, The History of Jackson County: The Early Years. It is available at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna or online at

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Battle of Marianna Casualties buried in Pensacola

By Dale Cox

Pensacola – I had the opportunity this week to spend a few minutes walking through the tombstones at Barrancas National Cemetery. Located on board the Pensacola Naval Air Station at Pensacola, this cemetery contains the graves of men and women who served their country from the War of 1812 up until today.

Among the hundreds of graves there are two that contain the remains of seven men who died as a result of the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864. Three men are buried in one of the graves, four in the other.
These soldiers were among eight Union men killed or mortally wounded when Federal troops led by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth attacked Marianna following a raid that swept through Walton, Holmes and the northwestern corner of Jackson County.
Among them is Lieutenant Ellis Ayer of Company I, 2nd Maine Cavalry. Serving as a staff officer to General Asboth, he was the first man killed in the Battle of Marianna. Eyewitnesses reported that he was shot down as the Union cavalry rounded the curve at today’s intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets. Confederate cavalry had lined up across the intersection and opened fire on the approaching Federals as they came into range. Armstrong Purdee, an 8-year-old liberated from slavery on the Waddell Plantation by a Union soldier, remembered that Ayer had been shot in the chest and was carried back to a small stream on what is now West Lafayette Street, groaning from his wound.
Another of the Union dead, Captain Mahlon M. Young of the 7th Vermont Veteran Volunteers, was the only member of his regiment to fight at Marianna. Newly married, he had just returned to Pensacola from a trip home when the rest of the 7th Vermont was sent home on furlough. He volunteered to join the raid and was shot and killed by members of the Marianna Home Guard in the fighting along West Lafayette Street. Young had earlier sparked an international incident by arresting Confederate officers protected by a flag of truce as they met with the Spanish Consul in Pensacola.
Ayer, Young and the other Union dead were originally buried at Riverside Cemetery in Marianna in graves apart from those of the town’s citizens. In the years after the war, the government hired contractors to locate and exhume the graves of Union soldiers killed during the War Between the States. Seven graves were located at Riverside and the remains inside relocated to Barrancas National Cemetery.
One body, however, is conspicuously absent from the cemetery. The body of Private Nicholas Francis (sometimes written as Francis Nicholas), who served in Company E of the 82nd U.S. Colored Infantry, was apparently neither located nor exhumed. Because of the nature of the times, as an African American soldier he was buried apart from his white comrades. When the others were removed to Barrancas, he was either overlooked or ignored. A marker has been erected in his honor at another local cemetery, but he probably still rests in an unmarked grave at Riverside.

To learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit Read more about the cemetery at