Monday, February 20, 2012

Reconstruction #2 - Sanders and his Raiders

Battle of Newton Monument
This is the second part of a continuing series on the Reconstruction War in Jackson County, Florida. To read part one first, please visit:

While the planned attack on Campbellton by Pittman's raiders was turned back, Jackson County's problems with such groups were far from over. In fact, a second such group took up a position in the swamps of Forks of the Creek between Campbellton and the modern town of Malone.

The outlaws were led by Joseph Sanders, a lieutenant in the First Florida Cavalry (U.S.) who had gone out on a minor raid and then failed to return to Pensacola as ordered. Before the end of the war he and his men attempted a raid on Newton in Dale County, Alabama, but were driven off in a bloody repulse remembered today as the Battle of Newton. Sanders by then was facing an arrest order from General Asboth and finally decided to return to headquarters. He was then dismissed from the army for the "good of the service."

Now out of the military, he came back to Jackson County, raised a party of raiders and once again took up a position in the swamps of the Forks of the Creek, from which he raided homes, farms and communities:

…Sanders, it will be recollected, is an old deserter, and commanded a large squad of “Bush-whackers,” and has now a considerable number of thieves, cut-throats and robbers following him, who commit all kinds of depredations. Where are the authorities, that the fiend of hell isn’t taken up and dealt with? No such a consummate scoundrel should longer be allowed to breathe the balmy air of Florida, or “drink of the waters thereof.”

Major Nathan Cutler
The truth was that the people of Jackson County really had no one other than themselves to depend on in dealing with such outlaws. Federal troops did finally reach Marianna in the early summer of 1865, but they were few in number and rarely seemed to have ventured outside of Marianna. Among the commanders of these units was Major Nathan Cutler, the now 21-year-old Harvard educated lawyer who had been seriously wounded at the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864. He had remained under medical care at the home of Mayor Thomas M. White for months after his wounding and was generally held in high regard by the people of the community. Cutler, however, could do little more than advise them on what course of action he thought the U.S. Government might take regarding them. Even he did not know for sure.
Cutler did sign off on pardon applications for some of the local men, among them Colonel James F. McClellan, and advised both freedmen and whites to maintain the peace as well as possible. All the local people could do was continue to wait and hope for the best.
It was not until June 25, 1865, that the War Department finally began to implement a plan for the military governance of the former Confederate states. Major General J.G. Foster, a well-known pre-war resident of Florida, was named to the command of the state on that day. He was directed to establish his headquarters in Tallahassee.
Marianna in the late 1800s
In Marianna, meanwhile, a meeting convened to discuss what might be done to restore Florida’s allegiance to the Union as quickly as possible. What took place at this meeting and who was involved remains a mystery. So far as is known, no delegates were appointed to meet with Federal authorities on the topic. A newspaper report on the session did not that corn crops were abundant in Jackson County, but that not much cotton was being grown.
It took until August 7th for General Foster to take up his command in Tallahassee and begin the process of organizing affairs in Florida. He issued orders from the capital city on that date assigning General Asboth to the command of the part of the state that included Jackson County:

…The District of West Florida to be commanded by Brig. Gen. A. Asboth, U.S.V., Headquarters at Barrancas; to include all that part of Florida lying West of the Chattahoochie River, excepting ten (10) miles around Apalachicola. The troops in this District will constitute the 31 Separate Brigade.

It was now becoming clear that military law would be the order of the day, at least for the foreseeable future. For the time being county officials continued to see to their responsibilities as well as they could, but they had no idea whether their actions were legal or, in fact, whether they even still held their posts.

I will continue to post on the Reconstruction War over coming days, so be sure to check back regularly. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reconstruction #1 - A War that Never Ended

Historic Baptist Church at Campbellton
This is part one of a continuing series on the Reconstruction War in Jackson County. I will post regularly for the next month on the violent outbreak, following it through from its beginning to its end.

According to most sources, the War Between the States in Florida came to an end on May 10, 1865. That's when Major General Samuel Jones officially surrendered Florida to Brigadier General E.M. McCook of the Union army. In Jackson County, however, the violence was far from over. In many ways here, the war never ended at all.

On May 10, 1865, the same day that  the Confederate flag was lowered over the posts at Tallahassee, Quincy and Marianna, a young woman named Angelina Hart Mercer was raped "with force and arms" by a newly freed former slave (or freedman) named Thomas Alexander. He would remain at large for more than one year before being arrested by Deputy Sheriff T.B. Bond. He would then claim that the crime had been an act of the war and was pardoned by an 1866 act of the General Assembly of Florida that forgave all acts committed during the war.

The attack on Angelina Mercer was the first act in a time of violence that would continue for years to come. In 1865 and 1866, much of this violence came at the hands of roving gangs, some allied with the Union and some with the Confederacy, that continued to operate in and around Jackson County long after the supposed end of the War Between the States.

Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA
General Alexander Asboth, who had led Union forces at the Battle of Marianna in 1864, recognized the danger posed by some of these groups on May of 1865 when he reported their continuing activities:

…There are, however, still several mounted bands of rebel desperadoes this side of the Choctawhatchee River, who, although included in Dick Taylor’s surrender, continue in arms against the United States Government, with their principal camps near Marianna, Fla., and Elba, Ala.; and to compel these rebels to lay down their arms, also to relieve the interior of West Florida from lawless bands of deserters from our army, robbing indiscriminately the people of both parties, I would respectfully renew my request for the return of the mounted portion of the Second Maine and First Florida Cavalry, or if that should be impossible, I would request that another small cavalry force be ordered here for the purpose of pacifying fully this portion of the country. - Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA, May 15, 1865.

Asboth also issued orders for the arrest of Lieutenant Joseph Sanders and a detachment of men from the First Florida Cavalry (U.S.). They had been sent out from Pensacola in the spring of 1865 to operate behind Confederate lines but had failed to return and were now engaged in robbing and looting.

Hon. George S. Hawkins of Marianna
On May 17, 1865, two days after Asboth wrote the report quoted above, his warning about the lawless raider gangs was almost realized at Campbellton:

...The raiders, under a man by the name of Pittman, who was styled a lieutenant, made a demonstration upon Campbellton on Wednesday last; numbers about 100. They were met by some forty armed citizens at the above place, but no collision. The raiders retired to their homes, learning they would be fought, with promises to be quiet. - Hon. George S. Hawkins of Marianna to Gen. Edwin McCook, USA, May 20, 1865.

The man named Pittman mentioned by George Hawkins of Marianna, a former U.S. and Confederate congressman, was Sergeant Thomas H. Pittman of Company F, First Florida Cavalry (U.S.). He was from Jackson County and had served as a lieutenant in the Confederate army (Co. I, 6th Florida Infantry) until he deserted in 1864 and joined the Union army at Pensacola. He applied for a commission as a lieutenant in the First Florida Cavalry (U.S.), but it never was granted.

While Pittman and his men withdrew when faced by armed citizens in Campbellton (probably the men of Captain A.R. Godwin's Campbellton Cavalry Home Guard), the activities of such raiders in Jackson County were far from over. 

I will continue to post on the Reconstruction War in Jackson County soon, so be sure to check back often. If you would like to learn more about the events of the just ended Civil War in the county, please consider my book: The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Civil War Years ($19.95).

It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle: The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Civil War Years ($9.95).   

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Reconstruction War in Jackson County, Florida

Charles M. Hamilton
Head of Freedman's Bureau in Jackson County
Between 1865 and 1876, a group of people in Jackson County waged the only successful rebellion against the U.S. Government in American history.
The Reconstruction War, sometimes called the Jackson County War, developed as a response to policies implemented by a handful of Northern officials who arrived in the county following the end of the Civil War. Although it has been claimed by some that 168 or more people were killed in the uprising, it was nowhere near that bloody.

The discovery of a huge quantity of "lost" case files from the county and circuit courts of Jackson County from the time of the Reconstruction War has provided a wealth of new information on the conflict. These files, found piled in boxes in the old county jail, are pushing back the mists of time to clarify the details of the uprising.

William J. Purman
Served as State Senator without living in Jackson County
They prove, for example, the long held local contention that Northern (Carpetbagger) officials were profiting greatly from their positions in Jackson County. They also prove that local courts did consider cases involving both white citizens and former slaves, repudiating the contention by some writers that freed slaves were unable to obtain justice for crimes committed against them.

In 1866, for example, a former slave named Robin filed a petition with Circuit Judge Allen H. Bush seeking a writ of habeus corpus. He was being held in the Jackson County jail and sought his release on the grounds that the charges against him were false. Judge Bush, who had served as an official under the Confederate government, considered the case and agreed with Robin's claims. He ordered the man released from jail after determining that Robin was being held "without any charge against him."

Other cases that have emerged so far from the newly discovered files show that for the first time in the county's history, black women began receiving justice - from former Confederate officials - for crimes committed against them, including rape and assault and battery.

Everything changed, however, when an array of former Union officers arrived to take control of political affairs in Jackson County. These included Charles M. Hamilton, W.J. Purman and John Q. Dickinson. From 1866 to 1871, they ruled Jackson County with fists of iron. Local citizens, the files reveal, were kidnapped from their homes, threatened with death and held against their will and without charges.

John Q. Dickinson
From Bankruptcy to Wealth in Three Years of Office
Other files show that Carpetbagger officials, including John Q. Dickinson, profited greatly from their official positions. Dickinson, for example, arrived in Jackson County after having declared bankruptcy in Escambia County. In just three years he accumulated more than 1,800 acres of land, including numerous city lots in Marianna. The documents also show that he was profiting greatly from fees he charged citizens - both white and black - by holding multiple positions at once in violation of the Florida Constitution.

Long-held claims that the Northern officials ran up assessed values of land owned by their political enemies have also been verified by way of the newly discovered documents. An audit ordered by the County Commission in 1871 revealed that a large number of land owners in Jackson County were being double taxed and that the land owned by the men who opposed the Reconstruction rule of the county by Hamilton, Purman, Dickinson and others had been appraised at much higher levels than were the norm in the county at the time.

The wealth of new documentation is telling a new and clear story about what happened in Jackson County during the Reconstruction era. Over coming days I will be sharing some of the discoveries with you, so be sure to check back regularly. I think you will find it interesting.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Another Account of the Killing of Maggie McClellan

Jackson County Courthouse, late 19th Century.
A few days ago I posted a moving account of the 1869 murder of a young woman named Maggie McClellan in Jackson County. Please click here to read that post.

She was sitting on the porch of Mrs. Caroline Attaway's boarding house with her father, Col. James F. McClellan, two of her friends and a friend of her fathers, Col. James P. Coker. The men were smoking and the group was enjoying the cool of the evening and chatting after dinner.

Two shots rang out from the dark. One struck Col. McClellan in the shoulder. The other hit Maggie in the center of her chest. She slumped into her father's arms and died just a minute or two later.

Downtown Marianna Today
The incident was one of the most notorious of the Reconstruction War in Jackson County. It was a time of violence - how much violence is debatable - and the death of the young woman sent shockwaves through a county that was already tense and on the verge of all out war against the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags then in control of virtually all aspects of life there.

It was generally believed that the county constable, Calvin Rogers, was responsible for the shooting and, in fact, he was indicted on murder charges. Rogers disappeared at the time of Maggie's killing, however, and despite a widespread search could not be found. A second man, Alex Dickens, was arrested and charged with accessory to murder after the fact for helping Rogers to escape and hide. He was put on trial in 1870 and the newly discovered records of that trial reveal much about the shooting of the young woman and subsequent events.

John Q. Dickinson
Clerk of Court, 1871
One of the more interesting pieces of testimony found in the long lost case fill is that of Col. James P. Coker, who was a few feet from Maggie when she was shot:

...Was present at the time Miss McClellan was shot - was within two or three feet of her. I saw Calvin Rogers a few minutes before the shooting occurred. He was passing the house at the time.... Rogers soon returned by the house and turned his head toward the house passing up the street and very soon after the shooting occurred, not more than two or three minutes afterwards. I am positive it was Calvin Rogers. It was after dark. He was gone some thirty seconds. I heard a word but not distinctly. There were two reports - very nearly at the same time.... It is hard to deceive me with the gait or carriage of anybody in town. I can personally tell them. I recognized him  by his appearance - his carriage and gait - No one was with him. - Col. James F. McClellan, Testimony recorded on May 21, 1870.

I will post more about the Reconstruction War in my next post. It will include an overview of what the war was about, how long it lasted and how violent the situation became. Be sure to check back soon for a look inside the legend to learn about this horrible time in Jackson County history.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Killing of Maggie McClellan - A Reconstruction Tragedy in Jackson County

Col. James F. McClellan
The years after the Civil War were the most turbulent in Jackson County's nearly 190 year history.
A Reconstruction war broke out in the county when local residents took up arms against Carpetbagger rule and, in essence, issed a silent declaration that they would only answer to such federal and state authority that they considered just and reasonable.

It was a time when almost all local officials of any consequence were appointed by the governor, when whites and freed slaves were trying to adjust to the new order of things, when crop failures and a bleak economy caused hunger and suffering, and when U.S. soldiers often marched the streets and roads of the county, enforcing the will of the appointed officials in control of local affairs.

In the midst of this situation, a tragedy took place that electrified Jackson County residents, both white and black, and ignited a violent outbreak that eventually assumed legendary status in the county's history. On the evening of October 1, 1869, shots rang out from the dark and a young woman named Maggie McClellan was shot and killed while sitting on a boarding house veranda. Her father, who was also wounded in the attack, held his daughter in his own bleeding arms and watched her breath her last.

Jackson County Courthouse, late 1800s
The boarding house attack has been shrouded in a degree of mystery for more than 140 years, but the discovery two weeks ago of a treasure trove of records from the Reconstruction era has shed dramatic new light on the incident. Among the documents found as the old Jackson County Jail is being demolished was the case file and testimony from the trial of Alex Dickens. He was arrested, tried and convicted on charges that he was an accessory to the murder.

Included in that file is a transcript of the testimony of Maggie's father, Colonel James F. McClellan:

Lafayette Street in Marianna, late 1800s
  James F. McClellan being duly sworn says that on Friday evening, Oct. 1st, 1869, between half past seven and eight o’clock (an hour in the night at least) at the Hotel (Mrs. Attaway’s) in town, my daughter Margaret Y. McClellan, James P. Coker, Miss Mary Ann Tillinghast, Miss Mollie Attaway and I were sitting in the front piazza, and were talking at the time. Am confident I was talking at the time. I was sitting near the right hand pillar as you pass in to the parlor. Col. Coker was at my left and the rest of the company also. I heard a slight noise near the fence which at the moment I supposed to be a calf or other animal. Immediately after I heard in a low but very distinct whisper the word “fire” which I recognized as the voice of Calvin Rogers. Instantaneously following the word fire was the report of two guns. They were just enough apart to distinguish that they were two guns fired very near to me. I felt the concussion. The charge of one of the guns hit me in the shoulder, passing out in the muscle of the arm. Either the same charge, or the other, hit my daughter immediately in the breast with four or five shot. I saw that she was hit from the fall of her head on her breast. The load that hit me produced some concussion to the nervous system but I soon recovered, and I said to the company to go into the house. I found my arm around my daughter and carried her into the passage where she slipped out of the chair and was carried into the room where she died a few moments after. She breathed I think but twice after being laid upon the bead. This occurred in Jackson County. The order to fire was in a suppressed tone but was very distinct. At first I thought I heard a hog or calf or something like a shuffle on the pavement. It was in a low tone, but very distinct. I know Calvin Rogers very well. I remember once to have heard him prompt a witness in a whisper before going before a Justice of the Peace. It was a distinct whisper. I have never had any doubt that it was the voice of Calvin Rogers. His enunciation was very distinct whether whispering or speaking. More so than other persons. I have never seen him since until the 27th of January. He was then dead. His residence was at that time in this place, and he was in Marianna almost daily. From the time of the killing, although diligent search was made, I have never been able to found out his exact whereabouts, was alleged he was in the county. The next morning I sued out a warrant for him. I think not later than nine o’clock. He was not arrested on that warrant, but was taken. I sued on another warrant. On the morning after the killing I made affidavit before Justice Dickinson of the murder of my daughter, Margaret Y. McClellan, against Rovers, on which, I believe, a warrant was issued. On the Tuesday or Wednesday afterwards I made affidavit before Adam McNealy, Justice of the Peace, charging Rogers with the same murder, and had seven or eight warrants issued and placed in the hands of the parties deputized. When Mr. West was appointed Sheriff, I had a warrant placed in his hands. After an indictment was made against him I consulted with Mr. West and with Mr. Davis as to the best means of capturing him believing that he was still in the county.

John Q. Dickinson
Clerk of Court during Dickens Trial
  An indictment was found against him at the next term of the Court. A public meeting was held nine or ten days after the murder at which a thousand dollars was offered for his capture. I subsequently published in the “Courier” a statement guaranteeing this reward. A large reward was offered by the Executive for the apprehension & conviction of the murderer of my daughter. Am uncertain whether Rogers’ name is in proclamation or no.


Col. McClellan's testimony was taken on May 21, 1870, and offers a heartbreaking description of the death of his daughter.

Her murder led to a region-wide manhunt for the suspected assassin, a former slave of mixed race named Calvin Rogers. He was the constable of Jackson County at the time of the attack. In coming days, I will post more from the newly discovered case file that includes eyewitness accounts and a wealth of new information on Maggie McClellan's murder and the subsequent manhunt for and killing of Calvin Rogers.

To read an account of Maggie's murder by another eyewitness, please click here:
Be sure to check back regularly!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Searching for Mission San Nicolas - Jackson County, Florida

Historic Rock Cave - Site of Mission San Nicolas?
My previous post on the site of Mission San Carlos at Sneads (see Mission San Carlos)generated a lot of email and interest, so I thought you might enjoy learning about another likely Spanish mission site in Jackson County.

Of the three Spanish settlements thought to have been located in Jackson County, Mission San Nicolas was the oldest. Located in the secondary town of the Chacato Indians, San Nicolas was established by Franciscan friars in 1674, more than 336 years ago. It was the location of the first Christian church and the first known European home between Pensacola Bay and the Apalachicola River.

Trace of the real "Old Spanish Trail"
The Chacato were one of the most enigmatic tribes in Florida history. Also called the Chatot or Chacto and often incorrectly confused with the Choctaw tribe, they arrived in western Jackson County late in the Mississippian era (A.D. 900 - A.D. 1500). During the prehistoric era their settlement was concentrated around the Waddell Mill Pond site, a fortified village and mound group between Marianna and Campbellton. By the 1600s, however, they had abandoned that site and dispersed to three large and a number of smaller villages scattered through western Jackson County and eastern Washington County.

The largest of their towns was located somewhere in the vicinity of Falling Waters State Park in northeastern Washington County, although the site has not been located to date. The secondary town was west of the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River on the old trail leading from Blue Spring across the Natural Bridge to a forks between today's towns of Cottondale and Campbellton. The third largest Chacato town was near Campbellton.

Historic Rock Cave Entrance
When they were first encountered by the Spanish, the Chacato were extremely warlike. In 1639, when the Governor of Florida negotiated a peace treaty between them and the Apalachee and other tribes living in the Big Bend region, he noted the accomplishment was extraordinary because the Chacato had "never had peace" with any other tribe. It would take another 35 years, however, before the Spanish finally ventured to send missionaries west to the Chacato province.

The first mission, San Nicolas, was established at the secondary Chacato town in 1674 by an expedition that included soldiers, missionaries and Christian Apalachee Indians. Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda became the village friar and was left there alone to live among the Indians when the men making up the main expedition returned to Mission San Luis at what is now Tallahassee.

Historic Rock Cave
The mission, according to Barreda and other Spanish writers, was located at a cave so large it could hold 200 people. Inside the cave, he wrote, was a spring of water that flowed from "the living rock." The friar's home was located on the bluff above the cave while the church was located nearby. Surrounding this small group of structures was the Chacato village itself.

Mission San Nicolas was temporarily successful and an estimated 100 of the village's inhabitants converted to Christianity. The success, however, did not last. Less than one year after the mission was established, a portion of the Chacato rose in revolt against the Franciscans. One of their chiefs was outraged because a friar, probably Barreda, had told him that to be a good Christian he must give up his multiple wives and live only with the first woman he had married.

Fray Rodrigo de la Barreda was wounded in the head by a blow from a stone axe but managed to escape to safety at Mission Santa Cruz de Sabacola in what is now Seminole County, Georgia. Mission San Nicolas was destroyed.

The exact site of Mission San Nicolas has never been identified, but there is a strong probability that it was located at the historic Arch Cave northwest of Marianna. Of all the caves along the route of the old trail followed by the Spanish, it is the only one that closely matches the descriptions given by the Spanish writers. Not only is it large enough to hold a large number of people, it holds a natural spring that flows from one of the walls. The cave is protected and is on private property. The photographs seen here were taken with the permission of the owner.

To learn more about the early Spanish settlements of Jackson County, please consider my book: The History Of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years. ($19.95)

It is also available as an instant download for your Amazon Kindle reading device or free Kindle software: The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years. ($9.95)