Saturday, September 26, 2009

145th Anniversary of the Battle of Campbellton


Today, September 26th, marks the 145th anniversary of the 1864 skirmish remembered in Jackson County as the "Battle of Campbellton."

The encounter took place as Union troops crossed Holmes Creek about halfway between Graceville and Chipley (neither of which then existed) on their way to the Battle of Marianna. As they entered Jackson County, the Federal soldiers began to do as much damage as possible to the farms and plantations they encountered.

At the Nelson Watford farm in today's Galilee Community area, for example, they drove off the livestock, took or destroyed the forage, collected all the foodstuffs they could find and even dug up the syrup and lard barrels from the ground and poured them out. Such actions were part of the North's concept of "total war," designed to bring the Confederacy to its knees by destroying anything that might be used to support the Southern armies while also creating so much hardship on the homefront that Confederate soldiers would give up the fight to go home and take care of their families.

As the raiders slowly moved forward, news of their presence spread like lightning through the northwestern corner of Jackson County and the men of Captain Alexander Godwin's Campbellton Cavalry, a "home guard" unit of citizen soldiers, began to assemble on the town square in Campbellton. When Governor John Milton had issued his executive order forming the state's home guard companies during the summer of 1864, he had specified that they were to move immediately to oppose any enemy incursion or raid, while at the same time sending a courier to the nearest Confederate headquarters to summon reinforcements.

This is what the Campbellton men did on the morning of September 26th. As their courier started down the road to Marianna, the men rode out under Captain Godwin to locate the Federal troops and find out what was happening.

Exactly what happened near Campbellton that day is not known. Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, the commander of the Union force, simply reported that "rebel troops" hovered around his column and engaged in "frequent skirmishes" with his vanguard. Surviving records also indicate that two men serving under Captain Godwin were captured that day. Otherwise, no written accounts of the fighting have been found.

Local tradition, however, holds that Godwin and his men fought the oncoming Federals even though they were outnumbered by more than 12 to 1. As Asboth's account indicates, they probably found in the partisan style of their ancestors who had served under such men as the "Swamp Fox" Francis Marion during the American Revolution. Riding up to within range of the enemy, they would fire and then fall back to reload and wait for another opportunity.

The fighting slowed but did not stop the Federals and by nightfall on the 26th they had reached Campbellton and were camped throughout the community. The town square and nearby Campbellton Baptist Church are mentioned by tradition as sites where Union soldiers bedded down for the night. The Battle of Marianna would take place the next day and I will have more on that in the next post.

If you would like to learn more about the raid and the Battle of Marianna, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available through www.amazon.com or locally at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna (on the same block as the Gazebo Restaurant). You can also visit www.battleofmarianna.com for more information.

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