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

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