Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jackson County's "Other" Civil War Battle

The Battle on the Upper Chipola

by Dale Cox

While the story of the Battle of Marianna is pretty well known in Jackson County, few people are aware of a second engagement that took place in the swamps of Forks of the Creek between Campbellton and Malone during the summer of 1863.

The area of swamps and wetlands along the Alabama line is formed by Cowarts and Marshalls Creeks as they flow south into Jackson County to a confluence or “forks” that marks the head of the Chipola River. In 1863 this was an almost impenetrable area that had become the hiding place of a large band of Confederate deserters and Southern Unionists. Made up of men from both Alabama and Florida, the group taunted authorities on both sides of the state line and occasionally ventured forth to raid for food, supplies and valuables.
Pleas for help went up to Governor John Gill Shorter of Alabama from residents living along the Alabama side of the line and, noting that the hiding place of the raiders was reported to be in “the swamps of the Chipola River and its tributaries,” he ordered Captain W.T. Armstrong of the 6th Alabama Cavalry to proceed to the area. Armstrong was ordered to assist 2nd Lieutenant G. Newman of General James Clanton’s staff in arresting the men and was authorized such force from his own company and the mounted militia company of Captain Robert J. Chisolm as he felt necessary to conduct the operation.
Armstrong and Newman launched their campaign in late July of 1863 and penetrated deep into the swamps of the Forks of the Creek area. They succeeded in capturing 6 or 7 of the refugees, but were unable to locate the main body of the raider band. Likely this was because the raiders were busy laying a trap for the Alabama troops.
The Confederate officers detached a small body of men to escort the prisoners back to Alabama for safe-keeping, but instead the soldiers of this detachment walked into an ambush laid for them by the raiders. Fighting broke out and one of the Alabama soldiers was wounded, but the heavily wooded nature of the terrain prevented additional casualties. All of the prisoners, however, were released.
The exact location of the skirmish is not know, but it took place somewhere between the confluence of Cowarts and Marshalls Creeks and the Alabama state line. The danger of additional ambushes prompted Armstrong and Newman to withdraw into Alabama and Governor Shorter soon appealed to General Howell Cobb in Quincy for help in rounding up the raiders. Cobb appealed to his commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard in Charleston, for men as well as for permission to set an example by hanging a few of the raiders. “If authority can be had to hang a few of these traitors,” he wrote, “we will soon hear no more complaints of the kind.”
Cobb also promised to investigate allegations by Governor Shorter that soldiers from Companies C and F, 11th Florida Infantry, were not only communicating with the deserters, but were also providing them with arms and ammunition. The two units were then camped at Campbellton and, in support of Shorter’s allegations, records reveal that 22 men from the companies deserted in July and August of 1863.
The raider band was never rooted out of the swamps and, with several other similar organized groups, continued to harass the residents and authorities in Northwest Florida and South Alabama until the end of the war.

Friday, March 13, 2009

International Military Delegations Tours Marianna Battlefield

Improved recognition of the national and even international significance of a local Civil War event is drawing growing numbers of tourists to Jackson County. They are coming to see the site of the Battle of Marianna, but are also visiting local hotels, restaurants and business.

For example, a group of more than 60 military officers from around the world recently visited Marianna to learn about the tactics of the 1864 battle and see sites associated with the fighting. It was the second time Fort Rucker has arranged for a large group to visit the battlefield within the past year and countries ranging from Canada and Mexico to Germany and even the Philippines were represented.

U.S. officials indicate that part of their goal in hosting officers from around the world is to provide them examples for the futures of their own country by illustrating how the United States has developed into a great nation from a time of great division and conflict during the War Between the States.

The military contingent was just one of many groups, large and small, that have been making their way to Jackson County to learn about the battle.

The group aheard from Commander Robert Daffin of the Theophilus West Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and had an opportunity to visit with men and women portraying citizens of the era. The tour was coordinated by SCV member Ashley Pollette.

In just the last six months I’ve visited with an amazing variety of people wanting to learn more about the Battle of Marianna. There have been visitors from as far away as Texas, Kansas and Maine in addition to the military groups. There is so much about this battle that has been traditionally overlooked, from the fact that a Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded for an incident during the fighting to the role of women and even children in the battle.

The Battle of Marianna involved both white and black troops and that more than 600 Jackson Countians held in slavery gained their freedom as a result of the engagement. For most of the local participants, though, it was about defending their homes and families.

Although it was small in size, the battle was of enormous significance. Jackson and three nearby counties sustained more economic damage as a result of the raid on Marianna than any other area of Florida, South Georgia or South Alabama. The expedition to Marianna, in fact, covered more ground than Sherman’s March to the Sea.

To learn more, please visit http://www.battleofmarianna.net/. Also please consider my 2007 book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available in Downtown Marianna at Chipola River Book and Tea or online at http://www.amazon.com/.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Three Rivers appears likely to remain a state park!

Outstanding news today from Tallahassee. Governor Charlie Crist has recommended that all Florida State Parks, including Three Rivers State Park in Jackson County, remain open!

There had been a proposal from the Department of Environmental Protection to close a number of Florida's state parks as a cost saving measure, despite the fact that the state's budget has more than doubled in just the last ten years alone. Three Rivers was one of two parks that the state was considering closing permanently and turning over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps had indicated that it did not have money to operate the facility and would likely lock the gates.

But in his new budget, Governor Crist has recommended keeping all of the state parks open. This will likely save Three Rivers for enjoyment by present and future generations of Floridians. A spokesperson for the governor indicated that the public support for keeping the parks open did play a role in the decision.

Three Rivers is located on River Road just north of Sneads and, for a cost of less than $200,000, pumps more than $1,000,000 into the local economy each year and also offers outstanding recreational opportunities along the shores of Lake Seminole.

To learn more about the park, visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/threerivers.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Battle of Natural Bridge Anniversary

Today is the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida.

Fought on the St. Marks River south of Tallahassee on March 6, 1865, the battle was the last significant Confederate victory of the War Between the States and preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not conquered by Union troops.

Men and boys from Jackson County played an important role in the fighting. Major William Henry Milton, a Marianna lawyer, son of Governor John Milton and an officer in the 5th Florida Cavalry, commanded the right wing of the Confederate lines during the battle. Lieutenant Colonel W.D. Barnes, of Webbville, assumed command of the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves in the fighting following the wounding of the regiment's colonel, J.J. Daniel.

Others from Jackson County who took part in the fighting included John Milton (Jr.) and several other boys who fought as members of the Corps of Cadets from the West Florida Seminary (today's Florida State University). Company G of the 5th Florida Cavalry was heavily engaged at Natural Bridge and was largely from Jackson County. There were also Jackson County men in the 2nd Florida Cavalry, Company E of the 5th Florida Cavalry and in the various artillery units on the field.

The annual Natural Bridge reenactment will take place this weekend at the battlefield, which is now a state park near Woodville, a small town south of Tallahassee. The main events will take place on Sunday with a memorial service at 1 p.m. (Eastern time), followed by the primary battle reenactment.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Natural Bridge, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Old U.S. Road played a key role in Jackson County's history

By Dale Cox

The “Old U.S. Road” and a second road that followed the route of modern State Highway 2 west from Campbellton to the Choctawhatchee River were created by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on July 2, 1836. Leading south from Daleville, Alabama, by way of the modern community of Cottonwood, the new road ran through the rich farmland east of the Chipola River. Highway 167, still known as the “Old U.S. Road,” follows the route of this early wagon trail from the Alabama line to the outskirts of Marianna.

The original road entered Marianna via the bridge then located at the foot of Jackson Street. It then led south to Apalachicola by way of the new and booming coastal city of St. Joseph (on the site of today’s Port St. Joe).
On March 3, 1837, the President signed a second appropriation for the project, designating $20,313 for use in continuing the construction of the road. Despite the violence that had erupted between the United States and many of the warriors of the Creek and Seminole Nations, the work went forward.
The primary purpose for Federal involvement in the construction of the new road was to provide a reliable route for the delivery of mail to Marianna, St. Joseph and Apalachicola. Bids for delivery were let by the postal service in 1836 and the contractor was required to have his route up and running by February 1, 1837. Under the provisions outlined by the postal service, mail would be carried from Marianna to Daleville, an estimated distance of 60 miles, once each week. A second tier of stages would provide mail delivery between Marianna and St. Joseph twice each week, an estimated distance of 90 miles.
A second contract was let at the same time to provide mail stage service from Campbellton to Pensacola on a weekly basis. The distance, by way of Pittman’s Ferry on the Choctawhatchee and Floridatown, was estimated to be 120 miles.
The fact that the Postmaster General expected the new routes to be in service by February 1, 1837, is an indication that progress on the construction of the new roads was believed to be going well. It took somewhat longer than expected to get the mails running, but by November the Tallahassee Floridian was able to report that the speed of communication with St. Joseph would soon be running “from three to four days earlier.”
The new U.S. Road was finished by 1838 and became part of a growing transportation network in Jackson County.
Note: This article is excerpted from the book The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years. The book is Volume One of a planned three volume set. It is available locally at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna or online at www.amazon.com.