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

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