Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Bloody Affair in Florida" - The 1865 gunfight at Neely's Store in Campbellton

Jackson County as it appeared during the late 1800s.
Campbellton is at the upper left.
The months after the close of the War Between the States (or Civil War) saw a breakdown in law and order across much of the South. Jackson County was no exception.

This was demonstrated by a gunfight that took place on November 29, 1865. It was election day and the antagonists decided to meet at the polling place - in this case Neely's Store in Campbellton - to settle an old feud once and for all:

BLOODY AFFAIR IN FLORIDA. - A serious shooting affair occurred at Neely's store, in Jackson county, on Wednesday, 29th ult. The parties concerned were two men by the name of Williams, and one named Clare, on one side, and two Hams, father and son, on the other. The cause was an old feud existing for some time. For the purpose of settlement they met at a precinct on election day, armed with rifles and double-barreled guns. - (Quincy Dispatch quoted by the Columbus Daily Enquirer, December 9, 1865)

George Neely had purchased 40 acres of land about 2 miles southwest of Campbellton from the General Land Office on May 1, 1855. He operated one of several general stores in Campbellton.

Campbellton as it appears today. The town square is at right.
Neely's Store was located somewhere in this area.
A line of men were waiting there to vote when the Williams and Ham parties approached. The bystanders were likely unsure of what to expect but any doubts they harbored ended quickly when the two parties suddenly raised their guns:

...At the first fire one of the Williams was killed, and Ham, senior, firing at the other brother, Newton Williams, missed his aim, and the ball unfortunately taking effect on the body of a Baptist preacher named Grantham, and inflicting what is believed to be a mortal wound. Meanwhile the younger Ham was shot down, and his father standing over him defended his body with clubbed but empty gun.While thus engaged, Newton Williams approached, and firing one barrel with fatal effect into the breast of the father, discharged the other through the head of the disabled son. This ended the difficulty. - (Ibid.)

The Baptist minister who became the first victim of the shooting may have been Rev. Sam Grantham. A minister of that name lived in Holmes County and had commanded a local home guard company during the war. If so, he survived the shooting but died 5 years later. The wounded preacher was a bystander and not involved in the feud between the two parties.

Capt. Charles Rawn, 7th U.S. Infantry,
commanded the troops that arrested
Newton Williams after the shootout.
Courtesy U.S. Forest Service
The fatal shootout was one of the bloodiest in Jackson County history. Three men were killed and a fourth, Grantham, was badly wounded:

...Newton Williams remained on the ground nearly all the day, assisted in the burial of his brother, and defied arrest. Next day, Capt. Rawn of the 7th Infantry, in command at Marianna, with a file of men, proceeded to the to the spot, and arrested Williams at his own house. Clare, at last accounts, was still at large. - (Ibid.)

The troops from the 7th U.S. Infantry Regiment were in Jackson County to serve as an occupation force following the end of the War Between the States. With civil authority completely disrupted, the soldiers enforced the law as they saw fit and Newton Williams, though a citizen, was taken into custody to face trial before a military tribunal.

While the details of his trial are unknown, he clearly was acquitted as he was living in Marianna just five years later. The 1870 census lists Newton J. Williams - not to be confused with Jasper Newton Williams, who also lived in the area - as a 36-year-old resident of Marianna who lived with his wife, Martha, three children and his 76-year-old father, William Williams. He had been a resident of Marianna in 1860 as well. He moved to Texas in subsequent years and died there on March 18, 1898.

The Williams brother killed in the feud was James B. Williams of Marianna, age 33.

The identities of the father and son from the Ham family killed in the feud remain unclear, but members of that family were prominent in Jackson County in 1865 and remain so today.

The "Clare" involved in the feud has not been identified to date.

Captain Charles C.C. Rawn, who led the detachment of U.S. soldiers that arrested Newton Williams, had a remarkable career. He and his men later served on the western frontier where they took part in the Battle of Big Hole during the flight of the Nez Perce, founded the city of Missoula in Montana, and were among the first U.S. soldiers to arrive on the scene of Custer's defeat at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. He later commanded the famed African American Buffalo Soldiers as major of the 24th Infantry.

The feud that exploded at Campbellton in 1865 was one of those violent incidents often associated with the Reconstruction era in Jackson County, although it really had nothing to do with the political climate of the times. It resulted from a personal grudge.

If you would like to learn more about the career of Captain Rawn on the western frontier, you might enjoy this living history presentation of him:

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