Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Battle of the Flowers (Part Two)

Flowers and Confederate Graves at Riverside Cemetery
To read part one of this article first, please visit The Battle of the Flowers (Part One).

The trouble that took place at Marianna in May of 1867 is remembered today as the Battle of the Flowers. It began when local freedmen held a memorial service at the grave of Lieutenant Isaac Adams of the Second Maine Cavalry.

Lt. Isaac Adams, 2nd Maine Cavalry
Adams had been shot during the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864 (Please click here to learn more about the fight: The Battle of Marianna, Florida). An officer in the Union force that attacked Marianna, he had been cared for by local citizens after the raid and then buried in Riverside Cemetery when he finally died from his wounds some time later. His grave, along with those of other Federals killed in the battle, had been placed apart from the sections of the cemetery containing the resting places both of the local white community and the local slave community. Local legend notes that the dead raiders were not considered good enough to be buried either with the whites or blacks of Marianna.

Scene of Heavy Fighting
The raid caused immense hardship for the people of Marianna. The city lost 20% of its male population in a single day. Among the killed, wounded or captured were the circuit judge, county judge, sheriff, constable, county commissioners, lawyers, doctors, dentist, blacksmith, wheelwright, merchants and school boys. Young boys and elderly men were carried away to prison camps in the North and many never returned, having died from pneumonia, tuberculosis and other diseases at Elmira, New York.

The women and children of Marianna were left to fend for themselves. Food ran short and hunger was rampant. Two homes, a church and the town's pharmacy were burned to the ground. The Union raiders carried away all the livestock and food they could get their hands on.

In short, the Battle of Marianna caused enormous suffering in the city and the people were left extremely bitter over the treatment they had received.

J.H. Brett, Killed in the Battle of Marianna
In the Spring of 1866, the Confederate widows and daughters of Florida joined their counterparts in Georgia in declaring April 26th as Confederate Memorial Day. Flowers were placed on the graves of fallen soldiers and other expressions of remembrance were given.

The day of memory was repeated on April 26, 1867, with the ladies of Marianna wearing their mourning attire and placing flowers on the graves of the Southern dead at Riverside and St. Luke's.

Grave of Lt. Isaac Adams
A few days later, a group of former slaves placed flowers on the grave of Lieutenant Adams at Riverside Cemetery. The move probably was done with no ill intentions, but was received by many of the white residents of Marianna like a slap in the face. It did not take long before three young girls removed the flowers from Adams' grave and trampled them in the dirt pathway.

Although one recent writer describes them as "some young white women," all three of the girls were under the age of 16. One had lost a brother in the Battle of Marianna and another had seen a close friend shot down in front of her home. Right or wrong, they were insulted by the sight of the flowers on Adams' grave and removed them.

The action was not illegal, of course, and did not involve any desecration of the grave itself, but it quickly drew the attention of Bureau agent Charles M. Hamilton. He had suggested that the freed people place flowers on the lieutenant's grave and was outraged that three local girls had seen fit to remove them. It was the first real test of his almost unlimited power over the people of Jackson County.

Charles M. Hamilton
Unwilling to let the challenge go unanswered, Hamilton ordered the teenagers to appear before him to "answer the charge of having desecrated the graves of Union soldiers." They did so, but they did not go alone.

Instead of holding a military trial for three trembling young girls, Hamilton suddenly found himself faced not only by the girls, but by their attorney and a group of family members and supporters from the community. The Marianna Courier described the confrontation:

...An investigation was had, in which no reliable evidence was introduced to support the charge, and the young ladies were immediately released from arrest. We would advise our young ladies for the present, at least, to keep out of the way of these "Union soldiers" dead or alive. As there are no headboards, stones, or cenotaphs in the cemetery to guide your steps, it would be better not to go at all, for fear of treading unawares where you hadn't ought to, to spread flowers, or pick one up to decorate, for it might be called another name and you be punished. - Marianna Courier, May 30, 1867.

The people of Marianna reasonably believed that Hamilton would have punished the girls had their family and friends not turned out in force to support them. They also considered the agent's attempt to try three teenagers before a military court to be egregious abuse of power and reacted accordingly. News of the incident spread and the "Battle of the Flowers" became the rallying point around which organized resistance of the occupiers began to grow.

Frank Baltzell, the local newspaper editor, had been captured in the Battle of Marianna and had seen his friends Littleton Myrick and Woody Nickels burned at St. Luke's Church. He used the power of his press to heap scorn on Charles M. Hamilton:

"The Sacred Spot"
   If you should at any time desire to walk, or direct your steps towards the cemetery, tell no one of your purpose, and on reaching there look around, and be careful of observation from within and withour, and at all times treat lightly. We have no doubt, on application, Capt. Hamilton would grant permission to plant a tree, shrub or flower, as an ornament to the graves of those you love, especially if not within a respectful distance from the "Sacred Spot."
   Our town authorities should immediately provide another avenue to the burial place of our dead that the "Sacred Spot" be not viewed much less approached, at the peril to the innocent and unsuspecting. - Marianna Courier, May 30, 1867.

In the view of Marianna's former Confederates, the gauntlet had been thrown down by Hamilton and they now prepared to resist him in his further actions. In carrying out a military trial of three teenage girls, the Bureau agent himself ignited opposition in Jackson County. The Reconstruction War had begun.

I will continue to write about the Reconstruction War in Jackson County over coming weeks, so be sure to check back often. To read previous articles on this topic, please visit the main page at

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Battle of The Flowers (Part One)

Charles M. Hamilton
The straw that broke the camel's back with regard to relations between Freedmen's Bureau officials Charles M. Hamilton and William J. Purman and the white residents of Jackson County came in the spring of 1867. It is remembered to this day as "The Battle of the Flowers."

It came as the U.S. Army, per its instructions from Congress, began to tighten its control over the people of Florida. Many of the Radical Republicans in Congress felt that the South had not shown proper repentance for secession and the war and that many Southern leaders had failed to show proper deference to the new order of things. The result was the beginning of what history called "Radical Reconstruction."

It began on April 9, 1867, when Major General John Pope issued General Orders No 1, taking control of the state and people of Florida. Colonel John T. Sprague was ordered to Tallahassee without delay, elections were suspended and the army took control of all functions of government. Local officials were retained in their positions until the ends of their terms, when they would be replaced by military appointees:

Gen. John Pope, U.S.A.
...It is to be clearly understood, however, that the civil officers thus retained in office shall confine themselves strictly to the performance of their official duties, and whilst holding their offices they shall not use any influence whatever to deter or dissuade the people from taking an active part in reconstructing their State Governments, under the act of Congress to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States and the act supplementary thereto. - Gen. John Pope, USA, April 9, 1867.

In other words, the military was suppressing the First Amendment rights of free speech of any person then holding public office in Florida, a list that included almost every influential native Floridian.

Congress had overturned Florida's post-war constitution, which was being ignored by Bureau officials such as Hamilton and Purman anyway. An election was ordered for delegates to a convention that would assemble for the drafting of a new constitution, but anyone who hoped to vote in the election would first be required to take the following oath of loyalty:

     I, _____________, do solemnly swear or affirm, in the presence of Almighty God, that I have resided in the State for ____________ that I am a citizen of the State of Florida; next preceding this day, and now reside in the county of Florida in said State, as the case may be; that I am 21 years old; that I have not been disfranchised for participation in any rebellion or civil war against the United States, nor for felony committed against the laws of any State of the United States; that I have never been a member of any State Legislature, nor held any executive of judicial office in any State, to support the Constitution of the United States and afterwords engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid and comfort to the enemies thereof; that I will faithfully support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, encourage others so to do. So help me God.

Col. John T. Sprague, U.S.A.
The orders from General Pope were followed immediately by General Orders No. 2 from Colonel John T. Sprague, the U.S. Army officer in command of Florida. It was short and to the point: "Martial Law is now in force throughout the State."

To enforce its will on the people of Florida, the Federal army now spread soldiers throughout the state. The Post Return of the Post of Tallahassee, Florida, dated May 1, 1867, shows that by the end of April a detachment of U.S. soldiers was back on duty in Marianna.

As should have been expected, a wave of outrage rolled quietly through the towns and cities of the South, including Marianna. The people had been stripped of their Constitutional rights, placed under martial law and threatened with military force after two full years of trying to live as good citizens following the end of the Civil War. 

Abraham Lincoln
The new policy was a slap in the face not just to the people of the South, but to the beliefs of the late President Abraham Lincoln. He had believed that the secession of the Southern states was illegal and that bringing them back to their places in the Union should be as simple as having them declare an end to slavery and renounce their Confederate debts and loyalty. In other words, he saw the restoration of the Union as an easy thing to accomplish once the fighting was over and believed it could be done with mercy and peaceful intent. He had expressed his views in his second Inaugural Address:

...With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. - Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865.

President Lincoln, who believed that the South had never really seceded at all, could not have imagined that two years later, Congress would place the Southern people under martial law and the army would enforce its will on peaceful people at the point of a bayonet. His dream of Reunion disappeared into the nightmare of Radical Reconstruction.

Martial law and the almost unlimited power granted to men like Hamilton and Purman boiled over in Jackson County in May of 1867 when the Bureau agents targeted not former Confederates or "unrepentant rebels," but three teenaged girls.

To continue to the second part of this article, please click here: The Battle of the Flowers (Part Two). To read other parts of my coverage of Reconstruction in Jackson County, just go to

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Secret Meetings, Night Riders & the Lincoln Brotherhood in Jackson County

William J. Purman
Library of Congress
In the early summer of 1866, Charles M. Hamilton was reinforced at the Freedman's Bureau in Marianna by another Federal appointee, William J. Purman.

Few Reconstruction era officials would generate as much outrage as this Pennsylvanian did among the people of Jackson County. And white citizens were not alone in objecting to Purman's tactics and operations. John Wallace, for example, was an educated freedman who served as a state legislator in Florida during Reconstruction. He linked Purman's arrival in Marianna to what he called,"The Purman-Hamilton Reign of Terror in Jackson County."

Wallace left no doubt of his opinion of Purman and Hamilton, saying of them that, "Every device was resorted to by these agents to embitter the colored man against the white man." In fact, Wallace corroborated the claims of many white citizens who accused the two Bureau officials of operating Jackson County like their personal fiefdom:

Fancified Northern Artist's View of a Brave Bureau Agent
Library of Congress
...What incendiary harangues failed to accomplish they sought to do by exhibitions of their power over the whites, which they displayed in frequent acts of the grossest tyranny. They set at defiance the orders and decrees of the courts of justice when the matters involved were mere questions of right between two citizens, neither of whom were freedmen. They arrested and imprisoned peaceable citizens without any real cause, and refused to furnish them or their counsel with the charges upon which they were held. - John Wallace, Carpet bag rule in Florida,

John Wallace
Critic of Purman & Hamilton
Purman, according to Wallace, was a key supporter of a shadowy organization that Bureau officials organized among the freed slaves of Florida. With rituals based upon corruptions of those of the Masonic Lodge, the organization conducted its meetings in the dark of night and was called the Lincoln Brotherhood. Its presence in Florida was well known long before anyone heard the term "Ku Klux Klan."

Wallace himself was familiar with meetings of the Brotherhood near Tallahassee and there is no doubt that the sessions in Jackson County were very similar:

...The freedmen considered this league a great thing, and their meetings at the church were carefully guarded by armed sentinels, who halted any one who came into the vicinity of the church, requiring the countersign under the penalty of the contents of the old musket. Auxiliary lodges were formed in every part of the county and throughout the State. The regular meetings of these lodges were held every Thursday night, in the most secret places to be secured. - John Wallace, Carpetbag Rule in Florida,

The Lincoln Brotherhood
John Wallace said many Brotherhood members believed they
became true brothers of Abraham Lincoln when they joined the group.
Wallace went on to describe how applicants to the Brotherhood were forced to swear on a human skull they were told was that "of a brother who had been recreant to his trust, had broken his oath and exposed the secrets of this league." Anyone who did so, they warned, would share the man's fate.

The activities of the Lincoln Brotherhood played a significant role in the violence that took place in Jackson County during the Reconstruction era. In fact, local freedmen later would testify before the U.S. Congress that they had been threatened by what they called the "Black Klan." This, they said, was a Klan-like organization, but made up of black men instead of whites. The reference, undoubtedly, was to the Lincoln Brotherhood.

Not all of the targets of the Brotherhood were freedmen, as two Jackson County families soon would learn. I'll detail the group's raids on the McKay and Watson farms in coming posts. But first, in the next of this continuing series on Reconstruction in Jackson County, I'll focus on an event remembered in Marianna to this day as the "Battle of the Flowers." Check back on Thursday for that!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Attack on Sarah Jane Bryant (July 8, 1866)

The road along which the Bryant girls were walking.
It was dirt at the time. The attack scene is just north of Cottondale.
The event considered by many Jackson County residents to have been the first unprovoked sign of tension between the races during the Reconstruction era was an alleged attack on Sarah Bryant by two freedmen, Henderson and Lewis White. (Note: The family name is spelled Bryan on some documents, Bryant on others).
Although she was described by one recent writer simply as a "white woman," Sarah Jane Bryant in reality was still a young girl. The teenage daughter of a poor laborer named James Bryant, she was one of at least nine children raised by a man credited on the 1860 census with a personal worth of only 75 cents.

These were not wealthy people. They were not politically involved. They had not owned slaves. They worked hard and struggled to survive. There is no indication in the county's records that they were anything other than law abiding people. And in the hard times immediately after the War Between the States, they undoubtedly were suffering far more than they had during the years before the war.

Sarah and her nine year old sister had gone to visit her brother, who lived nearby. It was a Sunday afternoon and the two girls stayed until an hour before dark and then started walking the two miles back their home along the old Campbellton Road. When they were within one-quarter mile of their own house, they saw two black teenagers approaching them. They had never seen them before.

Old tree near the scene of the attack.
In her testimony given in open court on October 31, 1866, Sarah described what happened next. The testimony was written out by hand as the girl spoke:

...It took place a quarter of a mile from home in an old field. They was very close when she first saw them. Prisoner [i.e. Henderson White] first stood and begged, then caught hold of her. They were black and ragged. He exposed part of his person, came in contact. She tried to keep from it. Prisoner didn't do any thing till the other threw her down.

Sarah identified both Henderson and Lewis White in court and pointed out Lewis as the one that had thrown her down. Both, she said, then raped her. Her mother, Margaret, testified that she heard Sarah "crying and moaning before she entered the yard." She also told the jurors that her daughter had been "in delicate health for two years past and sickly."

Word of the attack spread through the community and an immediate search was launched for the assailants. The victim's brother, John H. Bryant, found the suspects at a nearby farm. He tried to question them, but Henderson White refused to say anything. John then went to the Justice of the Peace with his father, who signed an affidavit swearing that his "daughter, 14 years, was caught on the 8th day of this month and ravished and that he has good evidence that Henderson White and Luis White... did commit the offence there."

With a warrant in hand, the two men went back to try to arrest Henderson and Lewis, but the former refused to go with them. According to John's testimony, Henderson told him that, "They had no body to prove he had done the act." They then summoned Captain Alexander R. Godwin, who lived nearby. He had commanded the Campbellton Cavalry, a home guard unit, during the war and was generally regarded as the leading man in the community. Godwin examined Henderson himself and testified against him before the Jackson County Grand Jury a few days later.

Before the grand jury could act and he could be taken into custody, Henderson White was accused of raping another teenage girl.
George S. Hawkins
Defense Attorney for Henderson and Lewis White

The trial of the two teenaged freedmen was held in Marianna on October 31, 1866. They were defended by one of the most prominent attorneys in Florida, former U.S. Congressman George S. Hawkins. Testimony was heard from three prosecution and three defense witnesses and the case then went to the jury.

Henderson White was found guilty of rape and sentenced to hang, but Hawkins had been able to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors with regard to Lewis White and he was acquitted.

The testimony from the case was included in thousands of lost documents from the Reconstruction era recently discovered in Jackson County. It reveals that despite the heinous crime committed against their daughter, the Bryants tried to follow the law and allow the judicial system to function. The suspects were provided with an attorney. In fact, they were provided with the services of one of Florida's most notable attorneys and the testimony reveals that he waged a strong defense on their behalf.

Although they were tried by an all white jury, it is significant that the testimony of the three black witnesses was carefully considered and Lewis White, who like Henderson had been charged with raping a white victim, was acquitted. He was still living in Jackson County years after the trial.

Sentenced to hang, Henderson White was granted a temporary reprieve by Florida's federally-appointed governor. That reprieve expired in March of 1867 and he was executed by hanging in Marianna.

The Bryant family left Jackson County after the trial and moved to to Clarke County, Alabama, where by 1870 James Bryant was farming and still trying to provide for his large family.

The trial itself is especially significant because it was the first time freedmen faced a post-war jury in Jackson County. The trial took place while local residents still had control of the judicial system and the outcome clearly demonstrates that they tried very hard to be fair and that the testimony of black witnesses was heard with the same consideration as that of white witnesses.

Control of the local courts soon would be ripped from the hands of the people of Jackson County and the Federal government would seize control of affairs in Florida and the county with an iron grip. The newly discovered records, however, raise serious questions as to what might have happened and, more importantly, what might have been avoided had Florida's citizens been allowed to continue their peaceful efforts to adapt their society to the new order of things in the years after the Civil War.

I will continue to post on the Reconstruction era in Jackson County soon, so be sure to check back often.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Freedmen, Crime and the Courts in the Summer of 1866

Jackson County during the Reconstruction era
The railroad was merely projected at that time.
Continuing with my discussion of the Reconstruction era in Jackson County, the summer of 1866 was a time of growing discontent among the people of all classes.
The old establishment, still embittered from the war, reacted with resentment to the arbitrary decisions of Bureau Agent Charles M. Hamilton, particularly his invalidation of all labor contracts in the county. In striking down all existing contracts, Hamilton overruled not just the local courts, but the legislature and governor of Florida. Then by requiring both landowners and freedmen to pay him for document stamps he further infuriated them and speculation grew that he was lining his pockets at the expense of the people.

The middle class and poor whites were desperate. Hard currency had all but disappeared and the number of civil suits filed in the local court soared. Financing for agriculture and small business had dried up. Many of the women of this class were war widows and many of the surviving men had come home from the war either sick or disabled or both. The terrifying spectre of hunger stalked across the land.

Col W.D. Barnes
19th century lawyer

Among the freedmen, there was a mixture of sentiments. Some had continued to believe they would be given land by the government. They had been warned against these beliefs by the governor himself, but the dream had continued. As a result, many had not entered into labor contracts and now were hungry and destitute. Others wanted nothing to do with further labor and retreated into the pine woods where they established homes for themselves and barely survived.

These tensions, along with the increasingly heavy hand of the Federal government and the all but total inability to understand what the future might hold, led to increasing violence. The local courts, then still operating as they had during and before the war, tried to deal with the situation.
Anderson Baker (left)
A freedman still living in Jackson County in the 1900s

On June 19th, a freedman named Philip Boggs assaulted Mary J. Coley with "force & arms." Initially charged with Assault & Battery, he entered a guilty plea to simple assault and was fined $100. He was found carrying a pistol and pocket knife at the time of his arrest and additionally was charged with secretly carrying weapons. He entered a guilty plea to those crimes as well and was sentenced to spend one hour in the pillory.

Despite the fact that he entered guilty pleas to both crimes, Boggs would be pardoned by the state's Reconstruction governor the next year.

The most brutal crime of the summer, however, came on July 8th.

Two young girls were walking along a road not far from where today's town of Cottondale stands. The oldest was 14 and the youngest was nine. Two freedmen named Henderson White and Lewis White approached from the other direction.

Dr. Theophilus West
Jury member during Reconstruction
According to what the girls told their father when they finally made it home, the two men grabbed the older of the two and dragged her off the road into an adjacent field. Then they took turns raping her as the younger girl watched in fear nearby. By the time the girls made it home, the 9 year old was badly frightened and the 14 year old was badly injured.

Their father went immediately to the proper authorities and swore out a complaint against Henderson and Lewis White. Before they could be arrested, however, Henderson was accused of raping another girl, this one 16 years of age.

The two eventually did stand trial and Henderson White was convicted. On October 17th he was sentenced to hang for his crimes, but the governor intervened and gave him a temporary reprieve.

(Note: I will take a closer look at the case against Henderson and Lewis White in my next post).

Many claims have been made about how freedmen were treated while the courts were still in the hands of the local people. Some have asserted that the former slaves could not obtain justice. A case that developed in July of 1866 provides interesting perspective on the matter.

Benjamin Harrison Neel
Justice of the Peace, 1866
A freedmen identified only as "Robin" was arrested on a warrant issued by Benjamin Harrison Neel, a Justice of the Peace in eastern Jackson County. The alleged crime involved default of bail in another case and Sheriff W.H. Kimbell placed Robin in the Jackson County Jail. On August 11th, however, the freedman petitioned Circuit Judge Allen H. Bush for a writ of habeas corpus.

A former member of the Marianna Home Guard, Judge Bush had been taken prisoner during the Battle of Marianna and carried away to a prison camp in Elmira, New York. He was part of the Confederate leadership of Jackson County and returned from Elmira particularly embittered against Northerners and the North in general.

Robin's petition was prepared and witnessed by Justice of the Peace Jno. F. Hughes:

The petition of Robin a freedman respectfully showith that your petitioner is confined by W.H. Kimbell unjustly (as he apprehends) in the jail of the County of Jackson in the State of Florida for some criminal or supposed criminal matter, which confinement is illegal & wrong.

Judge Bush agreed and on August 14th ruled that "said Robin [is] retained without any charge against him." The freedman was ordered to be released without delay.

The case is interesting in that it proves that freedmen such as Robin could receive fair treatment and beneficial rulings in the courts of Jackson County, where the sitting circuit judge was widely recognized for his pro-Confederate sympathies.

Emanuel Fortune
Freedman and State Representative from Jackson County
This ability by the freedmen to obtain justice in the local courts was demonstrated by other cases that summer. A freedman named William Beedy, for example, was indicted on charges of Assault & Battery and Carrying Secret Arms. Two of the men sitting on the grand jury that returned the indictment against him were not citizens of Jackson County and the case against Beedy was dismissed.

Boxes of newly discovered case files from the Reconstruction era also show that African American women began receiving justice through the courts during the time when the judicial system in Jackson County was still under local control. For the first time ever, cases were made against suspects on charges of assault, battery, rape and theft in which the victims were women who had once been held in slavery.

Freedmen were not yet allowed to serve on juries, but their testimony regularly was heard in court. In addition, the newly discovered records show that both judges and juries tried to be fair and honorable in their application of the law. Freedman convicted of Assault & Battery, for example, generally were fined between $50 and $100. White men convicted of Assault & Battery were fined the same. There were occasional exceptions, but fines, fees and jail terms were remarkably consistent.

The newly discovered files show that the courts of Jackson County made remarkable progress in the short time that former Confederates were in control during the first two years after the end of the War Between the States. A dark cloud, however, was looming on the horizon.

In my next post, I'll discuss in more detail the case that led to the hanging of Henderson White.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The First Signs of Violence in the Jackson County Reconstruction War

Marianna before 1900
There had been occasional incidents of violence in Jackson County following the 1865 end of the War Between the States, but none really rose to the level of "outbreak." In early 1866, however, things began to change.

The spark, as was noted in my last post, was the arrival of Charles M. Hamilton in the county (see His name that sat on him was Death...). A Union military officer, Hamilton was sent to Marianna as the agent of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, or as it was commonly called, "The Bureau."

Charles M. Hamilton
Library of Congress
Hamilton's decision to vacate all of the labor contracts reached between local farmers and the former slaves or Freedmen living in the county and the mandate that all such agreements be approved by him was in violation of Florida law and created tension in Jackson County. That tension soon led to problems.

On February 22, 1866, for example, James and Eldridge Bates (father and son) became involved in a confrontation with a freed woman named Elizabeth Dozier. The said that she had used abusive language to James Bates' wife and when they told her to leave their property, she refused. This led to a violent confrontation and both men were charged with Assault and Battery.

Jackson County had no courthouse at the time. The most recent one had burned in January of 1865 when fire swept through downtown Marianna, so local stores doubled as offices and courtrooms. In one of these, separate trials were held for the two Bates men.

One of the juries, uniquely, included Samuel Fleishman, a local merchant and Unionist who had left Jackson County during the recent war. He had returned after the conflict ended and resumed his place in the local business community. He later would lose his life in the Jackson County Reconstruction War, but in early 1866 was accepted as just another member of the community and there is no indication of trouble of any kind between him and his neighbors.

After deliberating, the juries in both cases found the men not guilty.

During the confrontation at the Bates farm, a freedman named John Dozier had gone to the assistance of Elizabeth Dozier. Eldridge Bates faced an additional charge of Assault and Battery for attacking him. Based on the testimony of a witness named Bob Blackshear, also a freedman, Eldridge was found guilty and was fined $75, a fairly standard fine in assault and battery cases of the time.

The trial proved several points that have been questioned by some writers. First, it showed that in 1866, when the judicial system was still in the hands of local residents, the freed people of Jackson County could get justice in the courts. The newly discovered records of the Eldridge Bates trial also show that former slaves were accepted as witnesses in court and that their words were given due consideration by local juries.

In the case involving Elizabeth Dozier, a not guilty verdict was returned, but in the case involving John Dozier, the testimony provided by Blackshear was considered conclusive and Eldridge Bates was found guilty.

While the Bates case was making its way through the local courts, a more direct attack on the occupation authorities themselves took place. Jack Myrick and James Finlayson became involved in a physical altercation with a soldier from the 7th U.S. Infantry.

The regiment then maintained a small garrison in Marianna to enforce the edicts of Bureau agent Charles Hamilton and the sight of blue-coated soldiers walking the streets was a difficult one for some of the former Confederates, particularly those who had suffered greatly during the war.

St. Luke's Episcopal Church
This structure replaced the one burned during the Battle of Marianna but
was of similar design and construction.
Jack Myrick (John T. Myrick, Jr.) was one of those who had suffered enormously at the hands of Union soldiers during the war. On September 27, 1864, he had turned out with the local home guard to fight in the Battle of Marianna. Jack, his brother Littleton and their friend Woody Nickels all had taken up stations in St. Luke's Episcopal Church during the battle. When Federal troops set fire to the structure to dislodge the Confederates inside, they tried to come out and surrender.

Of the three, only Jack survived. Littleton Myrick was shot down in the church door and allowed to fall back into the flames and burned to death. Woody made it out, but was shot by a Union soldier. As he tried to crawl away from the intense heat of the burning church, he was killed when a Union soldier bashed in his head with a musket butt. Jack nearly suffered the same fate, but was taken prisoner instead.

Even though he was only 15 years old, he was sent north to spend a brutal winter in the icy hell of the Elmira Prison Camp in Elmira, New York. Elmira was a deadly place and more than half of the Marianna prisoners sent there never came back. Those who did survive had suffered from a winter of disease, cold, malnutrition and abuse.

Jack Myrick came home a year older and a lifetime more embittered. With no prospects for any kind of future, he began to associate with a group of friends, most of whom were of the same age: Billy Coker, Pete Alderman, James Finlayson and others.

Capt. Richard Comba
7th U.S. Infantry
Captain Richard Comba, the officer in charge of the detachment of soldiers at Marianna, took Jack and James into custody following their alleged attack on the soldier from his unit. He wanted both tried before a military tribunal, but higher ranking officers decided instead to let the local courts deal with the two. They remained in the system for some time, but ultimately never were brought to trial.

Other incidents took place as well. The number of assault and battery cases in the county started to grow, a local school teacher was threatened, but the real violence was yet to come.

I will continue to post on Jackson County's Reconstruction War over coming weeks, so be sure to check back often.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"...His name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him."

Charles M. Hamilton
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. - Revelation 6:8.

The Reconstruction era in Jackson County took an ominous turn early in 1866 when a Union officer named Charles M. Hamilton arrived in Marianna. To quote the verse from the Book of Revelation, "Hell followed with him."

Hamilton came to Marianna to head up the local office of the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedman's Bureau). This was the organization tasked by the U.S. Government with overseeing the transition of the former slaves into their new roles as citizens of the country. In most areas of the South, the Bureau's work without violence. In Jackson County, that would not be the case and Hamilton himself was the cause of much of what followed.

When he first arrived in Jackson County, Hamilton was surprised to find that the local whites were "pretty well disposed to the freedmen" and that no significant problems were taking place. This was because the people of both races, after hearing from the governor the previous fall, had moved forward with making arrangements to get the county's farms back into operation.

Gov. William Marvin
Governor William Marvin, the appointed military governor of Florida, had addressed public meetings in Marianna on September 16 and 17, 1865, explaining to the freed people what it meant to be free:
…You must be contented with having your freedom, and what else you have you will have to get by work. And when you shall have made it by hard work, you will know how many days of hard toll it cause you to get it, and then you will rightly value it, and take care of it. You now are at liberty to go to work for yourselves; you have none other to work for. You belong now to no man; you have ceased to be property; you never will be sold again; and if you will struggle hard and do right, live as good men and women, and you will prosper, if not, you will suffer.- Gov. William Marvin, September 17, 1865.

The governor had urged all of the county's citizens, both white and white, to cooperate and do what they could to begin producing badly needed food as quickly as possible. And the citizens had responded. Per the governor's instructions, they entered into hundreds of contracts.

These contracts basically were sharecropping agreements. Few of Jackson County's landowners had any real money left after the war, so they offered a share of the crop plus housing, food and other supplies to the freedmen in exchange for them helping to return the farms to production. Surviving examples of these contracts show that they were well done and that the landowners tried to be fair.

Charles M. Hamilton
When Charles Hamilton arrived in early 1866, before even the first post-war crop could be planted, he immediately and illegally invalidated these contracts.

Under Florida law, the labor contracts were under the regulation of the county judge and nothing in either state or federal law gave the Freedman's Bureau any control over existing agreements. Hamilton, however, overruled the law and assumed responsibility for the contracts himself.

Not only did he require that all agreements be made using a printed form he prepared himself, he also required that both landowners and freedmen pay him fees for stamps to be placed on the documents. It was the first step in an assumption of power by the Bureau that far surpassed anything attempted anywhere else in Florida.

The consolidation of power by Hamilton and the Bureau was the spark that soon led to the first outbreaks of violence in Jackson County. The agent's arrival in Marianna, in fact, reasonably could be called the first "shot" in Jackson County's Reconstruction War.

This was the opinion of John Wallace, himself a freedman, who had served in the Second U.S. Colored Troops and fought on the Union side at the Battle of Natural Bridge during the Civil War. He went on to become a teacher and legislator in Florida after the war and summed up his opinion of the cause of the violence in Jackson County as follows:

...The two races became arrayed against each other in deadly hostility, which led to frequent occurrences of violence and bloodshed. This state of things was not due to the enmity of the whites to the blacks, nor their opposition to the new law enfranchising the latter - though they were opposed to it, of course - nor was it due to any natural bad temper or hatred of the whites on the part of the colored people, for under ordinary circumstances there are no more peaceable people in the world than the inhabitants of Jackson County, of both colors, and they would have passed through the ordeal of reconstruction without a jar or disturbance, had it not been for the evil influence of the very men who were delegated to preserve peace, to administer justice, and to promote good fellowship and kindly relations between the freedmen and their former owners. - John Wallace, Freedman and State Legislator.

It did not take long after Hamilton's arrival for things to begin to change in Jackson County.  I'll continue to post on the Reconstruction War in coming days and weeks, so be sure to check back often.