Thursday, September 26, 2013

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

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