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

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