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 http://www.battleofmarianna.net/. Read more about the cemetery at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/barrancasnationalcemetery.

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