Monday, May 26, 2014

#74 The Battle of the Flowers (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Azaleas in bloom at Riverside Cemetery
The bloodless 1867 confrontation remembered today as the "Battle of the Flowers" is #74 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

We observe Memorial Day each year as a day of peace in which we honor and remember our nation's fallen soldiers. The custom was started in the South, where the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of fallen Confederate soldiers gathered to maintain and "decorate" the graves of their loved ones with flowers. The families and comrades of Union soldiers soon adopted the practice as well and it eventually became a National Holiday.

In the Spring of 1867, however, this practice of memorializing the fallen ignited a bloodless uprising against oppression. The "Battle of the Flowers" was led by three young girls and became a landmark event in the history of Jackson County.

Col. John T. Sprague, U.S. Army
National Archives
The incident took place against the backdrop of the sudden and brutal suspension of Constitutional rights in the South. For two years after the end of the War Between the States (or Civil War), the people of the South for the most part tried to accept the outcome of the conflict. General Robert E. Lee had urged them to remain good citizens and they tried. Slavery was abolished, new state constitutions were drafted, elections were held and the long, difficult task of recovering from the destruction of war became the focus of Southern people of all races.

The U.S. Congress - forgetting President Lincoln's promise of "malice toward none, with charity for all" - decided in 1867 that the South had not been sufficiently "punished" for its role in the war. Military rule was implemented in the South and in April of that year Colonel John T. Sprague of the U.S. Army declared martial law in Florida.

To enforce its will, the government spread troops throughout the state and by May 1 a detachment of armed soldiers patrolled the streets of Marianna. The U.S. Constitution was suspended and the rights to speak freely, peacefully assemble and hold and bear arms were outlawed.

Grave of Lt. Isaac Adams at Riverside Cemetery
In Jackson County, opposition to this new policy manifested itself at Memorial Day when three young girls engaged in a now illegal protest.

On April 26, 1867, the ladies and girls of Marianna had observed Confederate Memorial Day by wearing their mourning dresses and placing flowers on the graves of Southern dead at Riverside and St. Luke's cemeteries. A few days later, in a move that probably was not intended to provoke controversy, a group of former slaves placed flowers on the grave of Lieutenant Isaac Adams at Riverside Cemetery.

Lt. Isaac Adams
Second Maine Cavalry
Adams, an officer in the 2nd Maine Cavalry, had been killed during the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864. The city had lost 20% of its male population that day, with the list of killed, wounded or captured including boys as young as 12 and men as old as 76.

Many Jackson County residents were still extremely bitter about the human losses suffered by the community in that battle, but they had said nothing when the family of Lieutenant Adams erected a stone monument at his grave. In May 1867, however, the community was alive with outrage over the suspension of the Constitutional Rights of former Confederate soldiers and their families. The adults of the community said little - at least in public - but three young girls carried out a brief protest to express their opinion of the U.S. Government and its soldiers.

The girls - one of whom had lost a brother in the Battle of Marianna and another of whom had seen a close friend shot down in front of her home - removed the fading flowers from Lieutenant Adams' grave and trampled them in the pathway. In normal times, such an action would not have been against Federal law and likely would have been upheld as an expression of free speech. 1867, however, was not a normal time.

Charles M. Hamilton
Library of Congress
Charles M. Hamilton, an agent of the U.S. Government's Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees & Abandoned Lands, ordered the three teenagers to appear before him to "answer the charge of having desecrated the graves of Union soldiers." Since agents of the "Bureau" were officers in the U.S. Army, Hamilton's order subjected civilians to a military trial, a clear violation of the United States Constitution.

The three teenagers did appear before Hamilton, but to his surprise they were accompanied by their attorney, their families and a huge crowd of supporters. The Marianna Courier described the results of 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 punished. - Marianna Courier, May 30, 1867.

The people of Marianna believed that Hamilton would have punished the girls had their family and friends not turned out in force. They also considered the agent's attempt to try the three teenagers before a military court to be an egregious abuse of power. The Courier heaped scorn on the agent and suggested that town authorities "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."

The Battle of the Flowers was the final straw for many citizens of Jackson County, Florida. The nonviolent protest by the three girls led former Confederates across the county to end their peaceful cooperation with the U.S. authorities who controlled the county. Over the years that followed, these men would stage a successful rebellion against Hamilton and his cohorts. Much blood would be shed in what would be called the "Reconstruction War" or "Jackson County War," but by the time it ended U.S. troops no longer patrolled the streets of Marianna and control of the local government had been returned to the local people.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

#75 The Headless Indian Chief of Sneads (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Looking across to Jackson County on a foggy day.
The bizarre and tragic legend of the Headless Indian Chief of Sneads is #75 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the entire list as it is unveiled.

There is an old legend told by people who fish in the Apalachicola River between Sneads and the neighboring Gadsden County city of Chattahoochee. When conditions are just right and fog rises from the river to fill the vast swamp on the Jackson County side, the ghostly figure of a headless American Indian chief appears on the riverbank. He stands there in silence, as if in mourning over the disappearance of his people.

I first heard this ghost story when I was a child but never knew until about 10 years ago that there is a stunning true story behind it.

American Indian village of the 1830s.
The roots of the legend can be traced to the Creek War of 1836. In the spring of that year a portion of the Creek Nation rose up against white settlers in Alabama and Georgia in a final desperate attempt to halt plans to remove the entire nation to new lands west of the Mississippi. The odds against the warriors were overwhelming and they fought even knowing that they stood no real chance.

The war quickly went against them as U.S. troops and state militia forces from Alabama and Georgia moved in on the Creeks from all directions. As the fighting came to an end, soldiers forced the Creek men, women and children from their homes and into "emigration" camps to be forcefully removed from their homes and sent west on the Trail of Tears. Some warriors were arrested and tried for taking part in the war. Among them were three of my Yuchi Creek ancestors who were hanged at what is now Phenix City, Alabama.

Among the Creek chiefs at this time was a respected man named Coa-hadjo (not to be confused with the Seminole leader of the same name). As his people were disarmed and forced into an emigration camp, they were set upon by an outlaw group of militia soldiers who assaulted women, robbed people of jewelry and other valuables and generally terrorized the people of Coa-hadjo's band. Infuriated, he led his people out of the camp during the night and into the swamps of the upper Pea River.

They were driven from there south into what is now Walton County, Florida, where they engaged in a series of fights with white settlers and Florida militia troops. They eventually wound up making their way east through what is now Bay County. Desperate to prevent them from carrying out additional attacks, the interpreter Stephen Richards left Ocheesee Bluff and sought them out. Through his intervention they were convinced to surrender.

Seminole town in Jackson County, 1838
Richards brought them into Jackson County to Walker's Town, a village of Apalachicola Seminoles that stood just south of U.S. 90 on the high ground back from the Apalachicola River near today's Sneads. John Walker, the chief of the town, agreed to let them live among his people until the government provided transportation for them to all move west together.

Coa-hadjo, however, was stabbed to death by one of Walker's warriors. The people of the town prevented a war between the two bands by executing the murderer. When the people of Walker's town began their long journey west on the Trail of Tears, the graves of their ancestors and friends were left behind. One of these was that of Coa-hadjo.

One year later, Dr. Joseph Buchanan of Cincinnati, Ohio, wrote a letter from Pensacola in which he noted that he had obtained the skulls of Coa-hadjo and his murderer, a warrior named Lewis, as well as that of the long dead chief Mulatto King. Whether he dug them up himself or paid someone to steal them for him is not known. The bodies of the three men were left behind as Buchanan was interested only in their heads.

Jackson County shore as seen from Chattahoochee Landing
Buchanan was a phrenologist. This now extinct term referred to a scientist who believed he could determine the intelligence and personality of a person by examining the shape of their head. It was quack science and the exhumation of the graves of Coa-hadjo, Lewis and Mulatto King was a sacrilege.

The heads of the three American Indians were added to Buchanan's vast collection and what became of them is not known to this day. It was from this incident, however, that the legend of the Headless Indian Chief appears to have grown.

Does one of the three men appear on the banks of the Apalachicola in ghostly form to mourn the disappearance of his people on the Trail of Tears? I can't answer that question. I can say that each time I visit Chattahoochee Landing across the river on a foggy or rainy day, I always feel a bit of a chill run down my spine as I look across to the Jackson County shore and wonder if the headless chief will appear.

While the story is based on tragic events, the legend is an important part of the American Indian culture of our area and for that reason it is one of the 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

The story of the Headless Indian Chief of Sneads is one of the ten additional stories included in my book, The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge. It is available from Amazon in either book or Kindle format:

(Book) The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge: 10 Ghosts & Monsters from Jackson County, Florida

(Kindle) The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge

Sunday, May 11, 2014

#76 Chuck Hatcher (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Chuck Hatcher
Photo courtesy of Patte Nettles Hatcher
This list consists primarily of places and stories, but the work Chuck Hatcher has done for our county is deserving of recognition. He is #76 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Click here to see the complete list as it is unveiled.

As Director of the Jackson County Parks & Recycling Department, Chuck Hatcher has supervised the most dramatic program of improvement of a local park system that I have ever seen. My career took me all around the country and I've seen great local parks and some that were not so great. Jackson County has always been blessed with beautiful scenery, but our park system has often fallen short of its potential. That has changed under Chuck's leadership and in a remarkable way.

Blue Springs
Blue Springs is the crown jewel of Jackson County's park system and under Chuck's leadership it has become a focal point for visitors from around the world. The agreement between the county and Cave Adventurers has turned Blue Springs into a major destination for divers and with his ability to write successful grant applications, Chuck has obtained the thousands of dollars in grant money needed to make Blue Springs a first class facility. Diving has become a major part of Jackson County's tourism effort and the visitors who come to take part are adding millions of dollars to the local economy each year.

If you haven't been lately, drop by after they reopen on Memorial Day weekend. The park is clean, nicely landscaped, the facilities have been dramatically improved, the summer employees are bright and energetic. You will find that under Hatcher's leadership, Blue Springs has become a world class park and attraction.

Chuck Hatcher at Bellamy Bridge
Chuck Hatcher has also been a leader in the effort to reopen historic Bellamy Bridge to the public. Through his own labors, those of his associates, inmates from the Jackson County Correctional Facility and volunteers, he supervised the building of the new Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail, parking lot, fencing, informational kiosks and soon the much-needed footbridges. All of this was done without using a dime of property tax money.

Spring Creek Park, another facility that draws thousands of visitors from all over the region, features beautiful boardwalks, stunning views and a great launch facility for those who come to enjoy tubing, canoeing and kayaking on the cold clear waters of Spring Creek and the Chipola River.

Chuck Hatcher leading at lantern light tour at Bellamy Bridge
Other projects he has spearheaded include improving public access to Compass Lake, the dramatic improvement in maintenance for the parks along Lake Seminole, the development of Citizens Park into a major recreational and meeting facility for the people of Jackson County and more. Projects on the drawing board are equally exciting and will continue the progress that Jackson County has made in making clean, beautiful and safe recreation areas available for our citizens and visitors.

Sometimes our best citizens and public employees "fly below the radar" and do not receive the recognition they deserve. Chuck Hatcher and his employees have done more to improve life in Jackson County than anyone I know. In recognizing him I recognize them all as #76 on my list of the 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

#77 Armstrong Purdee's Ride (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

Purdee rode with a Union soldier
Photo courtesy of Ashley Pollette
Armstrong Purdee's Ride is one of the most fascinating episodes of the Battle of Marianna and is #77 on my list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Armstrong Purdee was born into slavery on the plantation of John R. Waddell on March 16, 1856. He would rise from slavery to become Jackson County's first African American attorney, but first he lived one of the greatest adventures ever experienced by any child living in the county.

The first known written record of him is the slave schedule of the 1860 U.S. Census. He appears there as one of two unnamed 4 year old male children living among the 39 African American slaves on the Waddell Plantation, the name of which is preserved today by Waddell's Mill Pond and Waddell Mill Creek between Marianna and Campbellton.

Waddell's Mill Pond is all that remains of Waddell Plantation
On the morning of September 27, 1864, the day of the Battle of Marianna, Armstrong was an eight-year-old child living on the Waddell Plantation when news came that Union troops were advancing from Campbellton on the Old Campbellton Road (today's Union Road). Purdee later told the story himself, remembering that the Union column halted near the Waddell gate for 40-50 minutes while scouts were sent out:

During the time that they halted, a Yankee white soldier said to me, "Boy, does you want to go?" I said to him, "Yes, sir." He moved one of his feet out of the stirrup and said "Put your feet in there," which I did. At the same time he reached for my hand and pulled me up on the horse, and placed me behind him and placed my hands about him, and said "Hold on; do not fall off." (Armstrong Purdee, June 1, 1931)

Union Road at Webbville
The troops followed this road on their way to the Battle of Marianna.
When the Union column moved out, 8-year-old Armstrong Purdee went with it, riding away on the back of a Northern soldier's horse. The route charted by Union Brigadier General Alexander Asboth took the soldiers down today's Union Road from the Waddell Plantation past the farm of Joseph W. Russ and across Russ Mill Creek to Webbville. 

Once a prosperous town that had vied with Marianna in a bitter battle for the title of county seat, Webbville by 1864 had faded away. The name was preserved in Webbville Plantation, the farm of W.D. Barnes, which stood on the site of the former town. Barnes was the lieutenant colonel of the 1st Florida Reserves in 1864-1865, but was on duty in eastern Florida when the Marianna raid took place.

Gen. Asboth leads mounted troops
War-time sketch. His dog always accompanied him.
Purdee remembered passing Webbville, which stood just north of today's intersection of Union Road and State Highway 73, as the long Union column continued its ride to Marianna. From there the troops swung below today's Highway 73 along now abandoned sections of the Old Campbellton Road to strike the plantation of Marianna Mayor Thomas White at the Whitesville community.

Thus far the ride must have seemed like a picnic or holiday for Armstrong Purdee, but that changed when the head of the Union column reached Hopkins' Branch about three miles northwest of Marianna. There, in position behind the swampy stream, the Federals found Confederate Colonel Alexander Montgomery waiting for them with three companies of mounted Southern troops. 

Purdee later recalled hearing and seeing the first shots of the Battle of Marianna as fighting broke out at Hopkins' Branch:

Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth
When reaching the Hopkins Branch about three miles from the city of Marianna, soldiers were again sent out on each side of the road. Firing of the little short guns were made at Hopkins Branch...The Yankee that I was riding behind left the road and said to me: "Hold fast; do not fall!" They did not go around anything; they jumped their horses over fallen trees or logs, or anything."

Purdee's description is a vivid memory of a cavalry charge. The "little short guns" he remembered seeing were the Burnside breech-loading carbines carried by the troopers of the 2nd Maine Cavalry. Modern weapons for the day, they allowed the Union soldiers to reload and fire at a much faster rate than the Confederate defenders.

As the Confederates fell back to Marianna, continuing to fight as they went, the Union troops followed. As they reached Ely Corner (today's intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets), Purdee remembered that the Northern soldiers once again collided with the outnumbered Confederate cavalrymen.

Russ House at Ely Corner
Built decades after the battle, the home is Jackson County's Visitor Center.
As Major Nathan Cutler's battalion of the 2nd Maine Cavalry approached the intersection via today's West Lafayette Street, they rounded the curve where the historic Russ House stands today and charged headlong into a volley of fire from the Confederate horsemen. The charge was driven back and Purdee remembered seeing two wounded Union soldiers on the ground by the small stream that then trickled behind today's Russ House (which was not built until years after the battle). "One was shot in the right breast," he wrote, "my attention being attracted by his groans and calling for water."

St. Luke's Episcopal Church
Major Eben Hutler's battalion, also from the 2nd Maine, then charged and drove the Confederates up the street only to be ambushed in turn by the Marianna Home Guard and a number of volunteers that had taken up hidden positions behind the trees, shrubs and fences that lined the street. Heavy fighting exploded, with a portion of the men being pushed back into the cemetery at St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

Armstrong Purdee witnessed the brutal and frenzied fighting at St. Luke's from the back of the unnamed Union soldier's horse. His most vivid memory was of the burning of the church:

Another view of St. Luke's Episcopal Church
All of the soldiers were off their horses. Orders were given to fire the church. Three men, two with long poles, and one with what seemed to me to be a can, threw something up on the church and the other two having something on the end of their poles, seemed to rub it as high as the poles would reach, after which something like twisted paper was lighted and placed to whatever was put on the church and it blazed up. Men were shot down as they came out of the building.

Woodbury "Woody" Nickels
Shot and beaten to death at St. Luke's Episcopal Church
One of the men that Purdee saw "shot down" was 15-year-old Woody Nickels, who was shot through the leg as he tried to escape the burning church. Severely wounded, he crawled to the nearby monument of Major Jesse Robinson which can still be seen in front of the church today. There he wrapped his arms around the monument, so close to the intense fire that he was being cooked alive. A Union soldier rushed forward and killed him by crushing his skull with a musket butt.

Armstrong Purdee never forgot the scene at St. Luke's. Years later, as Jackson County's first African American attorney, he helped some of the local men who were there that day file for their state Confederate pensions.

Purdee rode away with the Union column the next day. He rode behind the soldier that had taken him along from the Waddell Plantation all the way to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island and was among the more than 600 newly freed African Americans who arrived there hungry and cold. Sergeant A.J. Bedford of the 25th U.S. Colored Troops saw them arrive:

Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida
...As soon as they came to the Fort, we, the 25th boys, gave them our tents, and they put them up in our old camping place, and at night, all the companies, B, H, E, and C, made them three kettles of coffee apiece, twelve in all, by authority of our noble Major Risinger, of the Fort. (Sgt. A.J. Bedford, 25th U.S.C.T., November 7, 1864)

Armstrong remained at Pensacola until the war ended eight months later. His father then came to Pensacola from Jackson County to carry him back home. The two left Pensacola aboard ship and went to Apalachicola from where they made the long walk back to Jackson County.

Battle of Marianna Monument
Purdee later attracted the attention of former Confederate Major William Henry Milton, the son of Governor John Milton. A local attorney, he took the young freedman (as the former slaves were then called) under his wing and taught him the practice of law. Not long after the end of Reconstruction, Armstrong Purdee passed the bar exam and was admitted to the practice of law as the first African American ever to achieve such distinction in Jackson County.

His life stands as a remarkable story of accomplishment, but it is the tale of his long ride in 1864 that continues to fascinate all who read it.

In an interesting side note, Purdee's daughter Mrs. Sarah Spires recently marked her 100th birthday! Please click here to read coverage of the celebration from the Jackson County Times.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Marianna and Armstrong Purdee's ride, please consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available at Chipola River Book & Tea in downtown Marianna or you can order through Amazon here:

Book:  The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition

Kindle:  The Battle of Marianna, Florida

A major event commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna is scheduled for September 26-27, 2014. Read more about the battle at and check the schedule of planned events at