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. 

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