Sunday, December 29, 2013

No Mass Grave at Dozier School Cemetery: Media Falls Silent

Dozier School Cemetery Site
Employees from the University of South Florida (USF) appear to have completed the exhumation of the graves from the Dozier School Cemetery. No mass grave was found.

The cemetery proved to be exactly what former school employees and local residents said it would be, an old cemetery where most of the graves were interred more than 75 years ago.

The media, which covered the beginning of the dig with carnival-like excitement, has vanished.

The university is expected to continue its research at Dozier for another eight months, trying to find a "second cemetery" that some claim must exist at the school. Former employees and local residents say there has not been a second cemetery within the memory of anyone alive in the community. State and Federal maps and plats dating back to the 1930s show only one cemetery, the one that has now been dug up by USF.

Wire from the original cemetery fence.
All of the graves found were inside the old fence line of that cemetery, which the media has sometimes confused with the small memorial erected at the site during the 1960s. In fact, an old wire fence surrounded a somewhat larger area and all of the graves were inside that area. The remains of that fence were visible in the spoil piles left behind when USF used heavy equipment to clear the historic site earlier in the year.

USF has not commented on the results of the dig and all media coverage stopped after the work revealed the bodies interred at the cemetery had been buried in coffins according to standard religious and mortuary practices of the time, not "dumped in holes" as some had claimed. USF employees - before falling silent - said during the first days of the dig that some of the coffins were "quite decorative."

Former employees of the school and local citizens with knowledge of its history had long said that the graves were not hidden or clandestine. They pointed out that people - both students and employees - had died at the school over its more than 100-year history and were known to be buried in the cemetery. They indicated that the bodies were buried in coffins and that funerals were held. A long-time maintenance employee of the school even pointed out that the graves originally had wooden markers, but that time and the elements had rotted them away. They disputed claims that the cemetery was a "dumping ground" for human bodies.  Despite the ridicule they faced in the media and on the internet, they maintained their stand.  In the end, they were right.

Although the university isn't talking for now, one thing is very clear: there were not 150 or more bodies in the cemetery as claimed by some former students of the now closed reform school. One former student told the media on the day that the dig began that there were "at least 100 more bodies up there" than the 50 or so thought by USF employees before the dig began.

The claims of hundreds of bodies in the cemetery received widespread coverage in state, national and international media. There has been no coverage since the claims proved false.

In answer to questions about why he had stopped covering the dig once it became clear that most of the allegations surrounding the cemetery were false, one journalist indicated he was "waiting for the final report because I don't want to report anything that isn't correct." Oddly, such journalistic standards were not at issue before the dig began. Wild stories then included allegations of everything from hundreds of graves in the cemetery to claims that it was a dumping ground for people murdered by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

Attorney General Pam Bondi and the NAACP pushed for the dig, claiming repeatedly that "atrocities" had occurred. A leader with the NAACP even compared Dozier School to the infamous Nazi death camp of Dachau. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson did as well, posturing for television cameras with statements such as, "where there's smoke, there's fire."

More than $600,000 in state and federal tax money funded the dig, but in the end no clandestine mass grave was found.  The USF employees and volunteers have gone back to Tampa to analyze the remains and try to identify bodies for the handful of next of kin they actually found. The media has gone silent.

The little memorial placed decades ago by school employees and students in memory of those buried in the cemetery was destroyed by the dig. The graves it commemorated are gone.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bellamy Bridge Ornament goes on sale Monday

2013 Ornament
A special Christmas ornament commemorating historic Bellamy Bridge will go on sale Monday in Marianna.

Sponsored by Century 21 Sunny South Properties and benefiting Easter Seals in its effort to help children and adults with disabilities, the ornament costs $12.50 and will be available at the Century 21 offices on Highway 90 east and at the historic Russ House.

The ornament features an engraving of the beautiful old structure as it appeared in the early 1960s and includes an insert that tells the history of the historic bridge, which is now the centerpiece of the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail (4057 Hwy 162, Marianna, FL).

To learn more about the bridge and trail, visit or

To purchase your ornament, stop in at either the Russ House or Century 21 starting Monday!  Only 1,000 ornaments were made and they will go quickly, so please help Easter Seals and pick one up soon!

Century 21 Sunny South Properties is located at 4630 Highway 90, Marianna (just east of the Chipola River Bridge).

The historic Russ House is located at 4318 Lafayette Street, Marianna.

Both locations are open during normal business hours.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Death at Dozier School (Part Two: The 1914 Fire)

Dormitory destroyed by fire in 1914.
Note:  This is part two in a series on known deaths at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. The focus is on probable burials at the school's "Boot Hill" cemetery. Please click here to read Part One of this series.

Death at Dozier School

A History of “Boot Hill Cemetery” at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida

by Dale Cox

Part Two: The 1914 Fire

The deadliest single day in the history of the facility later known as Dozier School for Boys was November 18, 1914. Ninety-nine years ago this month, a fire erupted in the “white” dormitory of the school, burning it to the ground and killing seven students and two employees.

The year 1914 was a momentous one in history. An estimated 1,047 people died when the barely-remembered RMS Empress of Ireland went down after colliding with another vessel in the St. Lawrence River, just two years after the legendary RMS Titanic had carried 1,500 to the bottom. Central America witnessed the passage of the first vessel passed through the now famous Panama Canal.  In Sarajevo, a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, sparking World War I, while in Siberia an attempt to assassinate the brutal Rasputin failed. In the United States, Babe Ruth played in his first major league baseball game, Charlie Chaplin appeared in the first feature-length silent film comedy, Ford Motor Company introduced the 8-hour workday and the Federal Reserve Bank opened for business.

In Jackson County, an unexplained series of fires continued on the campus of the Florida Industrial School for Boys (future Dozier School) in Marianna.

Building identical to burned dormitory (at right, notice the tower)
Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Collection
These fires took place with alarming frequency over the first 14 years of the school’s operation. One in February 1906 had killed six mules and three horses and destroyed corn, hay and 32 barrels of syrup. The cause was arson and the suggestion was raised that former guards had been responsible. “It is supposed that the barn was set on fire to spite the superintendent,” reported the Pensacola Journal, “as several guards have been discharged for various reasons.” Tracking dogs brought to the scene, however, failed to detect the trail of the perpetrator.[i]

The fires continued over the next five years with growing frequency and on January 25, 1911, a new brick barn burned to the ground with almost disastrous consequences:

That the school’s loss is not greater is miraculous, as the dormitory for colored inmates is within fifty to seventy-five feet of the barn. None of the livestock or farming implements were lost. This will badly cripple the school as all of the supplies of this kind [i.e. hay and cattle feed] were in this one barn.[ii]

The outbreak of a fire described as “spectacular and fierce” so close to one of the school’s two dormitories alarmed employees, authorities and reporters alike. Damage was estimated at $10,000, a massive figure in that day and age, with 1,000 bales of hay and several tons of cattle feet being destroyed, along with a supposedly “fireproof” barn.[iii]

Newspaper clippings indicate additional fires took place over the next three years, although none resulted in destruction on the scale of the 1911 blaze. All were blamed on an “incendiary” or arsonist.[iv]

The escalating series of fires came to a dramatic end in the predawn darkness of November 18, 1914:

Closeup of building identical to burned dormitory.
The superintendent and older boys escaped through the tower.
Florida State Archives, Florida Memory Collection
W.H. Bell, acting superintendent, has just wired from Marianna that main building white school was destroyed by fire last night, and eight boys and two officers dead. Please call meeting of Board of Managers with least possible delay. Have matter exhaustively investigated and let me have report.[v]

Immediate reports from the scene indicated that the fire had been discovered by a night watchman at around 3:30 a.m. The watchman passed the main dormitory and saw no problems at 3:15 a.m., but when he returned from his rounds fifteen minutes later, a large fire was burning on the ground floor near the base of the main stairway. He began to call out to the boys and employees sleeping on the second and third floors of the building, trying to alert them to the danger.[vi]

The calls of the watchman alerted Severino Gustinez, a student considered so trustworthy by administrators that he had been given employment at the school and assigned to watch over the younger boys who were housed on the second floor of the east wing of the dormitory. Although some media reports of the time claimed that fire drills had never been held at the school, the opposite appears to have been true.[vii]

Realizing the danger, Gustinez called out “fire drill” to awaken the young students under his charge. Sleepily rising from their beds, they immediately formed into the proper lines for evacuating the building. Realizing that he could not take them down the main stairway due to the fire, he led them down the western stairway to safety. Thanks to “Toto,” all of the younger students made it out of the building without incident.[viii]

Leaving the small boys in charge of a guard named Register, Gustinez then went back into the building where he found an older boy nicknamed “Monkey Wrench” lost in the smoke.  Carrying “Monkey Wrench” in his arms, he made his way back to the stairway but found the door now in flames. Risking his own body to bring “Monkey Wrench” to safety, Gustinez leaped through the burning doorway. Both survived, although the heroic rescuer suffered slight injuries.[ix]

Another older student named Walter Tucker made it out, but was unable to find his bunk mate Button Shaw. Desperate to save his friend, he went back into the burning building, found Shaw still in bed, pulled him out and carried him up to the third floor of the building. The tower that rose above the center of the structure had windows that also functioned as skylights. Dragging Shaw up into the tower and through one of these windows, Tucker carried him across the roof and down the fire escape to safety.[x]

The acting superintendent of the school – later claims to the contrary aside – was in the building and asleep when the fire broke out. Making his way up to the tower, W.H. Bell helped most of the older boys escape through a window and then down the fire escape to the ground.[xi]

Having already saved many lives, Bell now joined a desperate effort to save two employees and a student who could be seen trapped inside a locked grate that blocked access to the fire escape from the second floor:

…The office being in flames, he procured an axe and with the assistance of Mr. Allen, one of the guards, he climbed to the landing of the fire escape at the second floor, where three men were trying to make their escape. He succeeded in breaking the locks of the barred grating to the window, but was unable to get the metal frame out of the window. In the meantime, the floors gave way and the inmates were hurried to their doom.[xii]

Two of the men who died as Bell and Allen tried to save them were Bennett Evans, the school carpenter, and Charles M. Evans, his son who was employed as a guard. Charles had made it out of the building, but was unable to find his father and went back inside to save him. He found Bennett looking for him in the smoke and tried to bring him and a student they found lost in the smoke to safety, but found their escape barred by the locked grate. All were killed when the floor collapsed beneath them.[xiii]

Despite folklore repeated second hand by researchers from the University of South Florida, there was no mention of any kind in the eyewitness accounts of the fire, let alone any actual evidence, that any of the students were chained to their bunks or that they had to break locks to get out of the building. In fact, original reports indicate that all who died were moving freely inside the building, that the western stairway was open and that the fire escape could be and was accessed via the roof of the building. Reporters noted that had some students not panicked, all could have escaped.

The Tampa Tribune, for example, reported that most of the dead were in the west wing of the building farther from the fire than the smaller boys who were led to safety by Severino Gustinez. They became “panic-stricken” the newspaper reported, and lost their lives as a result.[xiv]

According to the Tribune, the guard named Register went back into the building after getting the smaller boys to a safe place. He found a group of older boys still inside and led them to a stairway by which escape was still possible. Frightened by the smoke that filled the stairwell, however, they panicked and went back deeper into the building to a locked window that opened onto the fire escape. They lost their lives as a result. 

The windows had been locked to prevent boys from using the fire escape to run away during the night. The school grounds were not fenced at the time and escapes had been a problem for the staff, which had been overwhelmed by judges around the state with many more students than the facility was designed to handle. The stairways and doors were not locked, nor was the entrance to the fire escape from the top of the building, but the windows opening onto it had been secured.

Within thirty minutes of the time the fire was discovered, the “white dormitory” of the Florida Industrial School for Boys burned to the ground. By the time the sun rose over the horrible scene, only the ruined sections of walls could still be seen.

Although researchers from the University of South Florida have made questionable claims that as many as twelve people died in the fire, initial reports from the scene placed the number at ten (two employees and eight students). Subsequent investigation revealed that the actual number was somewhat lower.  

I will provide more information on the true number of deaths from the fire and some of the controversy surrounding it in my next post in this series.  Be sure to check back regularly at

[i] “Fire at State Reform School,” report from Marianna dated February 28, 1906, Pensacola Journal, March 1, 1906, p. 1.
[ii] Pensacola News, January 1911, clipping in Singletary Collection.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Clippings from the Marianna Times-Courier, 1911-1914, Singletary Collection.
[v] Gov. Park Trammell to Hon. W.H. Milton, President of the Board of Governors, November 18, 1914, Singletary Collection.
[vi] “Heroic Tampa Boy saves many lives at Marianna Fire,” datelined Marianna, November 20, 1914, Tampa Tribune, November 21, 1914, p. 1.
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Anonymous, “Ten Lives Lost When Florida Reform School Burns at Marianna,” November 18, 1914, report reprinted in numerous newspapers across the United States.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Ibid.
[xiv] “Heroic Tampa Boy saves many lives at Marianna Fire,” datelines Marianna, November 20, 1914, Tampa Tribune, November 21, 1914, p. 1.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bellamy Bridge Ghost Walks set for this weekend!

Photo of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge
Taken during last year's Ghost Walks.
The annual Bellamy Bridge Ghost Walks will take place this weekend on the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail!

The tours begin on Thursday night and continue through Saturday night.  Shuttles for this year's tours will leave from Citizens Lodge on Caverns Road in Marianna.  The cost to ride the shuttle is $2, but the tour itself is free!  (Donations are welcome!).

The tours take participants down the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail for after dark history lessons and ghost stories!  On Saturday night, participants will also be able to join in with the Emerald Coast Paranormal Concepts team as they search for scientific evidence of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge!

To reserve your spot on the tours, please call the Jackson County Tourism Office at (850) 482-8061 or email them at

You can learn more about the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge at

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Death at Dozier School (Part One: 1900-1913)

Memorial Crosses at Boot Hill Cemetery
Dozier School for Boys - Marianna, Florida
Note:  What follows is the first installment in a series I plan to post on the history of deaths and probable burials at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida.To check for additional posts in this series, please check back regularly at

Death at Dozier School
A History of “Boot Hill Cemetery” at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida

by Dale Cox

Dozier School for Boys, originally known as the State Reform School, was a facility for juvenile offenders that operated for more than 100 years in Marianna, Florida. During the course of that long history, a number of students and employees of the school died from a variety of causes. Many were buried in the school cemetery, which is known locally and by former students and staff members alike as “Boot Hill.”

The cemetery is now the focus of a controversial research project by Dr. Erin Kimmerle and a team from the University of South Florida (USF). They are exhuming graves from the cemetery, which has been a known part of the local landscape for some 100 years.

Groups of former students claim that murder of juvenile offenders by staff members was common at the facility, even though no documentation or evidence has surfaced thus far.  The matter was investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which determined there were no grounds for criminal charges against former employees of the school and that the graves in the cemetery should not be exhumed.

The three-member Florida Cabinet subsequently overruled FDLE, the circuit judge of the 14th Judicial Circuit, the State Archaeologist and the Secretary of State and authorized USF to begin a project to exhume the graves. That project is underway at this time.

The purpose of this series is to present a documented history of known deaths at the school, with a focus on probable burials in the school cemetery.


The earliest known deaths at what would become Dozier School for Boys were not included in “Documentation of the Boot Hill Cemetery”, the interim report prepared in 2012 by Dr. Erin Kimmerle and other researchers from the University of South Florida (USF).[1]  

According to an October 1906 article written for the Marianna Times-Courier by Frank McDonald, two deaths took place at what was then the State Reform School during its first six years of operation:

The inmates are rosy-cheeked and robust, and their health is and has been excellent. There have been but two deaths since the institution was started, and of these one came to the school with organic disease of the heart, while the other was recaptured escape, who succumbed, notwithstanding the best of care and medical attention, from the inroads of long exposure at an inclement season.[2]

The identities of the students were not included in McDonald’s article, in which he noted that the population at the school then consisted of 39 boys and 4 girls. In the six years that had passed since the opening of the reform school, he reported, 171 juveniles had been received there and 128 discharged. Several of those discharged were escapees who were recaptured and sent on to other correctional facilities.[3]

The earliest records of the school were destroyed when the dormitory that also contained the superintendent’s office was destroyed by fire in 1914, so nothing else is known at this time about the two student deaths mentioned by McDonald. It is not known whether they were buried at the school or returned home for burial.[4]

USF researchers evidently did not locate this article while preparing their interim report for the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

Dr. Kimmerle, the head of the university’s research team, was invited by State Archaeologist Mary Glowacki to attend a meeting in Marianna on April 15, 2013, the purpose of which was to discuss concerns over the nature of the research at the Dozier School Cemetery and to improve communication so documentation could be presented to the USF team. Although Dr. Glowacki attended the meeting, as did I and Julia C. Byrd of the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, Dr. Kimmerle did not show, indicating that she was having lunch with her team members instead.[5]

Ms. Byrd subsequently requested that I continue to maintain an open stance with regard to sharing information with Dr. Kimmerle and her team. I notified her on April 16, 2013, that I was open to doing so. In the six months that followed, I received no contact from them and my only attempt to contact the school was referred to USF’s legal team.[6]

Believing that all information regarding deaths and potential burials at the school should be of significance to a team researching deaths and potential burials at the school, I sent the article quoted above to Gerard Solis, of the Office of General Counsel for USF. He has been cordial in his communications with me and informed me by email on September 24, 2013 that he had forwarded my email to Dr. Kimmerle.[7] 

The next known deaths at the State Reform School took place in 1914, but it is certainly possible that others occurred between October 1906, the date of the article quoted above, and November 1914, the date of the fatal fire that destroyed a dormitory and the school’s records. Future research in newspaper archives may reveal information on additional deaths that may have taken place in this 8 year time period.

The next installment in this series details the facts of the deadly fire that took place at the school in 1914. To continue to it, please visitDeath at Dozier School (Part Two: The 1914 Fire).

[1] Kimmerle EH, Estabrook R, Wells EC, Jackson AT. 2012. Documentation of the Boot Hill Cemetery (8JA1860) at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, Interim Report, Division of Historical Resources, Permit No. 1112.032, December 10, 2012.
[2] McDonald, Frank, “History and Progress of State Reform School,” Marianna Times-Courier, October 1906, reprinted in The Pensacola Journal, October 24, 1906, p. 4.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Ten Lives Lost when Florida Reform School Burns at Marianna,” Tampa Tribune, November 19, 1914, p. 1.
[5] Julia C. Byrd, Bureau of Archaeological Research, to Dale Cox, April 12, 2013; Dale Cox to Julia C. Byrd, Bureau of Archaeological Research, April 15, 2013; Julia C. Byrd, Bureau of Archaeological Research, April 16, 2013; Mary Glowacki, State Archaeologist, to Dale Cox, April 16, 2013.
[6] Julia C. Byrd, Bureau of Archaeological Research to Dale Cox, April 16, 2013; Dale Cox to Mary Glowacki, State Archaeologist, April 16, 2013.
[7] Dale Cox to Gerard D. Solis, Office of General Counsel (USF), September 22, 2013; Gerard D. Solis, Office of General Counsel (USF), to Dale Cox, September 24, 2013.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

USF Researchers refuse to examine Dozier documents

One of the boxes of documents that USF researchers
refused to examine while "researching" Dozier School.
While claiming they are researching the "truth" about the small cemetery at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, scientists and students from the University of South Florida (USF) today refused to even look at thousands of pages of documents about the school.

The awkward situation developed when a representative of a local historic preservation group contacted me to indicate they had been asked by USF researcher Antoinette Jackson to meet and discuss any documents relating to Dozier that might be in their collection.  Since the organization does not have any Dozier-related documents, its representative asked me if I would be willing to make my collection of thousands of pages of Dozier material available to the researchers.

I agreed to do so and boxed up a wealth of Dozier documentation from my collection and carried it to Marianna so the USF researchers could access it more easily.  After waiting nearly 2 hours, I was told that Jackson and her team members refused to even so much as look at it.

Obviously, they didn't want to so much as breathe the same air as me, even if that meant ignoring thousands of pages of material that sheds considerable light on the truth about the deaths and graves at the former Marianna reform school. 

Not only is this sad, it is silly. It is hard for me to imagine that any serious researcher would turn down the chance to view a collection containing thousands of pages of documentation on a topic of such interest to them.  But, sadly, that is the case with USF. 

The school apparently would rather remain in the dark than so much as talk politely with someone who disagrees with them and their tactics.  Perhaps the researchers would do well to learn that people can be polite, even though they disagree with you. 

Since $600,000 in taxpayer money is being spent on this fiasco, I would have assumed that they would want their research to be as accurate as possible.  I guess I assumed wrong.

The school (USF), as you probably know, is in the process of exhuming graves from the small, known cemetery at Dozier School, even though 80% of the families with loved ones buried there have not been contacted. So far they have found between 30 and 40 humans buried in coffins according to standard mortuary and religious practices of the early 20th century, along with a dog buried in an old cooler.

They have reported finding no graves outside of the traditional cemetery limits, despite often wild claims by a group of former students seeking large payments from the state.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

New Book - Milly Francis: The Life & Times of the Creek Pocahontas

I'm pleased to announce the release of my new book, Milly Francis: The Life & Times of the Creek Pocahontas.

While this book does not deal in specific with Jackson County, it does include a great deal of information on surrounding locations including the Apalachicola River, Fort Gadsden Historic Site, the Choctawhatchee River, Wakulla Springs and St. Marks.

Milly Francis was a Creek Indian woman who was born in the Alabama (Alibamo) villages of the Upper Creeks in around 1803. She spent her early childhood on the Alabama River not far from today's Montgomery, Alabama.

Milly was the daughter of Josiah Francis, a man also known as the Prophet Francis or Hillis Hadjo ("Warrior of Crazy Medicine"). He ignited a religious movement among the Creek Indians in 1812-1813 that resulted in the outbreak of the Creek War of 1813-1814.

19th century image of Milly saving Duncan McCrimmon
The Red Sticks, a name given to the followers of the Prophet Francis because they displayed red war clubs in their towns, were defeated by Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the survivors either surrendered or fled south to Spanish Florida.  Milly and her family were among those who fled.

By the time she was 15, in fact, Milly Francis had survived three wars and a desperate flight to refugee camps in Florida.

Despite the hardships she had endured, in 1818 she saved the life of a young American soldier named Duncan McCrimmon (sometimes spelled McKrimmon). He had been captured by warrior's from the Prophet's new town on the Wakulla River in Florida and was about to be executed when Milly intervened and pleaded for his life. In a true Pocahontas like incident, the warriors relented and spared McCrimmon.

Another 19th century image of Milly saving McCrimmon
The soldier later offered to marry Milly in a demonstration of his gratitude, but she refused, telling him that she would have done the same for anyone else in such a circumstance.

The story of how Milly Francis saved Duncan McCrimmon was picked up by newspapers across the United States and in Europe. She became known far and wide as the "new Pocahontas" or "modern Pocahontas." Parents across the United States named their newborn daughters Milly in her honor throughout the 1820s and 1830s.

But Milly's story was far from over. With her children she walked through miserable conditions and freezing cold on the Trail of Tears when the Creeks were driven west to what is now Oklahoma by the U.S. Army. There she lived out her life in a humble cabin on the outskirts of the modern city of Muskogee. In the final days of her life, the United States finally awakened and remembered the debt of gratitude owed her.

Milly Francis subsequently became the first woman ever to be awarded a special medal of honor by the U.S. Congress.

To read her story and the story of her times, please consider the new book. You can order it through by following these links:

Paperback - Milly Francis: The Life & Times of the Creek Pocahontas ($19.95)

Kindle - Milly Francis: The Life & Times of the Creek Pocahontas ($7.99)

You can read a brief version of her story at

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Battle of Marianna, Florida - 149th Anniversary

Battle of Marianna Monument
Today marks the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna.

Fought on September 27, 1864, it was the climax of the deepest invasion of Florida by Union troops during the four years of the War Between the States. On their way to and from Marianna, the soldiers in blue covered more miles than Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's men did on their infamous March to the Sea.

Fighting had erupted as the Federal column of Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth pushed into Jackson County the previous afternoon (see Skirmish near Campbellton). Despite resistance by the outnumbered men of Captain Alexander Godwin's Campbellton Cavalry, the Union troops reached Campbellton on the evening of the 26th and camped there for the night.

Early they next morning they continued their advance on Marianna, following the Old Campbellton Road, a portion of which followed today's Union Road. Along the way the did as much damage as possible to small farms as well as the large Waddell, Russ, Barnes and White plantations.

Col. Alexander Montgomery (left)
Photo taken late in his life at Rome, Georgia
As the troops advanced, they were watched by three companies of mounted Confederates. Col. Alexander Montgomery had arrived from Marianna late on the 26th to reinforce the Campbellton men with Company C, 1st Florida Reserves (mounted) and Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts (mounted) of the Alabama State Militia.

When it became evident that the Union column was heading for Marianna instead of the crossing of the Chipola River at Bellamy Bridge, Montgomery sent couriers to Marianna and Greenwood to order out the citizen soldiers of the home guards. Other riders headed for Washington and Calhoun Counties to alert other companies and call them to Marianna. The telegraph operator in Marianna sent pleas to Quincy and Tallahassee for help, but despite the flurry of activity only the Greenwood company would reach town in time for the battle.

Battle marker on Courthouse Square
The Marianna Home Guard, headed by Captain Jesse J. Norwood, gathered at the courthouse. It was court day in Marianna and the sheriff, judge, lawyers, plaintiffs, defendants and even prisoners from the county jail took up arms to help in the defense of the town. They were joined by the boys from the Marianna Academy and every other man or boy in town capable of bearing arms.

The Greenwood Club Cavalry, a company made up of the school boys from the academy in Greenwood, arrived at mid-morning under the command of their teacher, Captain Henry Robinson. Many of the older men of Greenwood had joined them as they rode for Marianna.

Gen. Alexander Asboth
At about the same time, Col. Montgomery and the three companies of Confederates watching Asboth's approach turned on him at Hopkins' Branch, a swampy stream three miles northwest of downtown Marianna. A sharp skirmish broke out, with the Union troops forming into a line of battle and charging through the woods and swamps at the resisting Confederates. Montgomery was forced to fall back, but Union soldiers wrote that his men continued to fight as they went.

When the retreating Confederate horsemen reached the edge of Marianna, they took a logging road (today's Kelson Avenue) around the northern edge of town and then followed Caledonia Street into the city. Montgomery and a couple of his officers remained west of town to watch and see what the Federals would do.

As the three companies arrived in town, they joined all of the gathered home guards and volunteers in a general advance through the center of town along Lafayette Street to the west side of Marianna. A barricade of wagons and debris was placed across the street in the area of today's Pizza Hut to slow any charge down the street by Union soldiers. The mounted men formed in a line at the intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets, while the men with no horses took up positions in houses and buildings and behind fences, trees and shrubs on each side of Lafayette Street from the barricade back to the area of St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

Grave of Arthur Lewis, killed in the battle.
From his position west of town, Col. Montgomery watched as the Union troops divided into two columns. One thundered along the old logging road (Caledonia Street) in pursuit of the retreating Confederate cavalry, while the other headed straight for town along what is now Lafayette Street. Realizing that he was going to be flanked and attacked from front and rear at the same time, the colonel galloped up to his mounted men at the intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets and ordered them to retreat.

Not realizing the danger, the men objected. Montgomery was trying to explain the situation when Major Nathan Cutler's battalion from the 2nd Maine Cavalry came around the curve on Lafayette Street and red headlong into the mounted Confederates spread across the street in front of today's Russ House. The Confederates opened fire and drove them back.

Ely Mansion in Marianna
Infuriated at his men for retreating, Gen. Asboth yelled "For shame!" at them and ordered Major Eben Hutchinson's battalion from the 2nd Maine to follow him forward. The Confederates had not had time to reload and fell back up the street with the Federals in hot pursuit. During this stage of the fighting, the front of the beautiful old Ely Mansion was showered with bullets and a cannon shot passed through its attic.

The Confederates passed the barricade with the Union troops hot on their heels. Just as the head of the Federal column rode over the line of wagons, however, the Marianna Home Guard and other volunteers ambushed them from both sides of Lafayette Street. Asboth fell wounded from two bullets and nearly 30 men from the 2nd Maine Cavalry fell killed or wounded. It was the bloodiest day of the war for the regiment.

Grave of a Union officer killed in the battle.
The flanking party sent around what is now Caledonia Street had entered town behind the Confederates, however, and the situation rapidly deteriorated. Colonel Montgomery and the mounted men tried to cut their way through. The colonel was thrown by his horse and captured on the southeast corner of Courthouse Square, but most of his horsemen made it to the Chipola River Bridge (then at the end of Jackson Street) where they tore up the floorboards and made a stand, fighting with Union soldiers as they tried to approach the bridge.

The Marianna Home Guard and some of the volunteers, meanwhile were penned up at St. Luke's Episcopal Church. The church then was surrounded by a board fence, which they used as a makeshift fort as Union troops closed in on them from all directions. Severe fighting followed which included a bayonet charge over the fence by black Union soldiers from detachments of the 82nd and 86th U.S. Colored Troops.

St. Luke's Cemetery, scene of heavy fighting.
St. Luke's and two adjacent homes were burned to the ground, along with the doctor's office and drugstore of Dr. R.A. Sanders. The men of the Marianna Home Guard fought until they ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed. Four men died in the burning church rather than surrender.

It was one of the most severe small battles of the war and is remembered today with Marianna Day observances each year. This year's memorial service will take place tomorrow (Saturday, Sept. 28th) morning at 9 a.m. at Confederate Park in downtown Marianna.

St. Luke's Episcopal Church and Cemetery will be open for tours from 10 a.m. until 12 noon.  I will be there at 9:45 to talk about the battle, so be sure to come if you would like to learn more!

Also, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available in both print and Kindle format at or you can buy it locally at Chipola River Book & Tea in downtown Marianna. I will be there from 2 until 4 this afternoon (Friday, Sept. 27th) to sign copies.

Also be sure to visit

Skirmish near Campbellton took place 149 years ago today (September 26, 1864)

Campbellton Baptist Church
Occupied by Union troops on September 26, 1864
Word traveled fast as the horsemen approached the creek and by the late morning of September 26, 1864, Campbellton was alive with rumors that "something was up" in Holmes County. The town was home to one of Jackson County's three home guard companies.

Organized by order of Governor John Milton, the Campbellton Cavalry was a mounted unit of around 30 citizen soldiers. The men were farmers, laborers and merchants from throughout western and norther Jackson County. Their captain, Alexander Godwin, owned a large plantation north of what is now Cottondale. By September 1864 they were operating as part of a mounted battalion organized by Captain W.W. Poe of the 1st Florida Infantry Reserves.

Gov. John Milton
On the morning of September 26th they were called to arms as rumors reached Campbellton that Union soldiers were advancing east through Holmes County. One member recalled that they formed in town and road southwest on the road to Holmes Creek.

Graceville had not been founded in 1864 and the road followed by the Campbellton Cavalry as it rode for Holmes Creek followed the route of today's Highway 273 to the Galilee Community and from there along a series of roads - some still in use, some not - to the Marianna ford over Holmes Creek near today's Tri-County Airport.

The Campbellton men waded their horses across the creek and before long saw the head of the Union column advancing in their direction along the same road. As the Federal vanguard moved toward them, they fell back across the creek into Jackson County.  The Union troops followed.

Gen. Alexander Asboth
Asboth's men struck at homes and farms all along the route to Campbellton. At the Nelson Watford farm near Galilee, they took everything they wanted and destroyed what they couldn't take with them. Even the big molasses barrel was dug up from the ground and its contents poured out at spoiled. At the home of Captain Henry Grace, who would later help found Graceville, they terrorized his wife and daughter, taking their food, livestock and anything else they could find.

At some point during the afternoon, however, the 30 or so men of the Campbellton Cavalry advanced on the head of the 700 man Union column. Exactly what happened remains something of a mystery, but three of the Confederates were captured that afternoon. Asboth reported that "rebel troops" were constantly in the vicinity of his column as he marched from the Choctawhatchee to Marianna, fighting with the men forming the vanguard at the head of his command.

Wartime Sketch of Asboth on the Move
His dogs always accompanied him.
Because they were so severely outnumbered, the Confederates of Captain Godwin's company did not try to make a stand against Asboth's column. Instead they followed tactics their ancestors had developed during the American Revolution. They would ride up to within range of the Federals and fire, then fall back until they could reload and make another advance. This style of fighting was used successfully in Georgia and the Carolinas during the American Revolution and the men of the Campbellton Cavalry used it effectively on the afternoon of September 26, 1864.

Where Union troops camped on the night of the 26th
The hit and run resistance slowed the advance of Asboth's column, forcing him to halt for the night when he reached Campbellton instead of advancing on to Marianna. His men camped in the town itself, in camps that reached from the town square area east along what is now SR 2 to Campbellton Baptist Church.

A courier sent to Marianna by Captain Godwin, meanwhile, arrived in town and alerted Colonel Alexander B. Montgomery that Union troops were in Jackson County. He immediately mounted up with the two companies available to him - Company C, 1st Florida Reserves (Mounted) and Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts, Alabama State Militia - and rode north up the Campbellton road to assess the situation.

The Battle of Marianna would be fought the next day.

To learn more about the Raid on Marianna, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available on the right side of this page or from or your favorite online bookseller. It is also available at Chipola River Book & Tea in Downtown Marianna and I will be there tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 27th) afternoon signing copies.

Also be sure to check out my website on the battle at

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yankees in Holmes County as Marianna Raid continues (149 years ago)

Cerrogordo in Holmes County, Florida
149 years ago today on September 25, 1864, the Union column of Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth crossed the Choctawhatchee River in Holmes County, Florida.

Water was high as the rain from a stalled tropical system had been falling for at least seven straight days, so the crossing was difficult, perilous and slow. The soldiers moved over in detachments aboard a small barge that local people used as a ferry, while the horses swam across the muddy river. Gen. Asboth described the boat as a "small scow," which in his terminology meant it was a flat-bottomed boat with a blunt bow.

Choctawhatchee River where Asboth crossed
The crossing took place at Cerrogordo, then the county seat of Holmes County. Located around five miles north of today's Westville, the community in 1864 consisted of a small courthouse, a jail, one store and a scattering houses. The total population numbered around 25 people.

The 700 Union soldiers had spent the night of September 24th in Cerrogordo after moving north from Eucheeanna in Walton County (see First Fighting of the Marianna Raid) by way of Ponce de Leon Springs. Although a skirmish had been fought at Eucheeanna, the only casualty of the raid so far had been sustained at Ponce de Leon when a Union soldier was wounded in an accidental shooting.

Asboth practiced Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's concept of "total war." As he advanced, his men did as much damage as possible to the businesses and farms they encountered. The objective was to inflict so much suffering on the civilian population that Confederate soldiers in the main armies would desert to go home and care for their families.

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park
n Walton and Holmes Counties, barns were burned, livestock stolen or killed, foodstuffs taken or destroyed and a population made up primarily of the elderly, the disabled, women and children was left with little food or anything else with which to survive the coming winter. The log hotel or inn at Ponce de Leon Springs was "broken up" by the soldiers. The store, homes and courthouse at Cerrogordo were damaged.

The crossing of the Choctawhatchee moved slowly and it took all of the rainy day of September 25, 1864, for the soldiers to get across. They camped for the night in the mud on the east bank of the river, within view of their campsite of the previous evening at Cerrogordo across the water.

Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth
They would continue their advance on Marianna the next day, moving first on Campbellton. The Battle of Marianna was now just two days away.

A memorial service commemorating the 149th anniversary of the battle will be held in Marianna on Saturday, September 28th. The commemoration will begin at 9 a.m. (central) at Confederate Park in downtown Marianna (intersection of Lafayette and Caledonia Streets). The public is encouraged to attend. Historic St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where heavy fighting took place during the battle, will be open from 10 a.m. until 12 noon, with young people from the church and the Blue Springs Society of the Children of the American Revolution as hosts.

To learn more about the Marianna Raid, please consider my book - The Battle of Marianna, Florida - which is available on the right side of this page, through your favorite online bookseller or from the Walton County Historical Museum in Defuniak Springs, the Washington County Historical Museum in Chipley and Chipola River Book & Tea in Downtown Marianna.

You can read more anytime at

Monday, September 23, 2013

First Fighting of Marianna Raid was 149 Year Ago Today

Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church in Eucheeanna
It was 149 years ago today on September 23, 1864, that the first fighting of the Marianna Raid took place.

Having left Pensacola Bay on September 18, 1864, Union troops led by Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth reached the outskirts of the small community of Eucheeanna in Walton County during the pre-dawn darkness of September 23rd.

Aware that two detachments of Confederate cavalry were camped in the village, which was then the county seat of Walton County, Gen. Asboth ordered the 2nd Maine Cavalry to form a line of battle and charge. Led by Lt. Col. Andrew Spurling, the Maine cavalry hit Eucheeanna at daybreak, taking the Confederates there completely by surprise.

Church and Cemetery in Eucheeanna
The brief skirmish at Eucheeanna, in which no one was reported wounded on either side, was the first clash of Asboth's Raid on Marianna, an expedition that would culminate on September 27, 1864, at the Battle of Marianna.

Eucheeanna, Florida
The Confederates at Eucheeanna consisted of two detachments of cavalry. One, from the Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry, had come over from the large Confederate post in Pollard, Alabama.  The other, from Captain Robert Chisolm's Woodville Scouts of the Alabama State Militia, had been sent from Marianna. Both detachments were "enforcing the conscription." In 1864 terminology, "enforcing the conscription" meant the same thing as drafting soldiers would mean today.

The detachments escaped via the Geneva Road, although several prisoners were taken by the attacking Federals. Among those captured was Lt. Francis Gordon of the Fifteenth Confederate Cavalry. Several civilians also were captured during the attack, among them William Cawthon, Allen Hart and Col. William Torrance. Cawthon and Hart were cattle ranchers with large herds in the Walton County area. Torrance was a former officer from the Alabama State Militia who had been sent down to purchase beef for his state's troops.

Historic Marker at Euchee Valley Presbyterian Church
The Union troops also captured 46 horses, 8 mules, 26 stand of arms and a quantity of bar lead bearing the stamp of a factory in Baltimore, Maryland. They also helped themselves to all the corn, hogs, chickens, smoked meat and anything else of value they could find in the homes of the little community. Many families were left without a scrap of food and no way of getting any when the soldiers left Eucheeanna the next morning.

One of the Union soldiers also raped a woman and her teenage daughter after finding them at home alone in a remote area just outside the village.

The county seat of Walton County has since been moved to DeFuniak Springs, but the little community still exists and can be found about three miles southeast of DeFuniak Springs. The historic Euchee Valley Presyterian Church and Cemetery predate the War Between the States.

I will post more about the Marianna Raid and the Battle of Marianna over coming days, so be sure to check back often.  Until then you can read more at

If you haven't read it, be sure to check out my book - The Battle of Marianna, Florida.  It is available through or your favorite online book seller as well as at the Walton County Heritage Museum in Defuniak Springs, the Washington County Historical Museum in Chipley and Chipola River Book & Tea in Downtown Marianna. If you prefer, you can order it by clicking the book cover on the right side of this page.