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).   


Kathy S. Johnson said...

Thank you for your extensive research and for your writings. Excellent!

Dale Cox said...

Kathy, Thank you so much for the comment. Dale