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.

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