Florida and the Civil War (November 1863)

Mission Impossible

The Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, was one of the most spectacular and daunting Union victories of the Civil War.

Running north to south for approximately six miles, Missionary Ridge dominates the skyline to the east of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The ridge was the key to the defense of Chattanooga, a city that served as one of the principal railroad hubs of the war. Since September 1863, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, under the command of General Braxton Bragg, held the ridge as part of its line of operations to the south and east of Chattanooga, a line that included Lookout Mountain, the area’s most prominent point. Bragg hoped his positions would allow him to starve out the Union Army of the Cumberland, which had retreated to Chattanooga following its defeat at Chickamauga on September 20. The Union counteroffensive to relieve the siege of Chattanooga culminated in a battle for control of Missionary Ridge, a battle in which Florida regiments played an important role.

Following a reorganization of the Union command in Tennessee, General Ulysses S. Grant took over Federal operations at Chattanooga. Grant replaced the Army of the Cumberland’s Major General William S. Rosecrans, the losing commander at Chickamauga, with Major General George H. Thomas, whose determined leadership in that earlier battle earned him the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga.” Under Grant’s command, the Union forces at Missionary Ridge consisted of Thomas’s army, two detached corps from the Army of the Potomac under Major General Joseph Hooker, and the Army of the Tennessee under Grant’s favorite general, William Tecumseh Sherman. The combined Union forces totaled more than 56,000 men.

Bragg’s Army of Tennessee totaled some 44,000 men at Missionary Ridge. Organized on the ridge from left to right, the Confederate forces consisted of two corps under the command of Major General John C. Breckenridge and Lieutenant General William G. Hardee. Each corps consisted of four divisions; however, one of Hardee’s divisions had been dispatched to Knoxville, Tennessee, and was not present on the day of the battle. Two of Breckenridge’s divisions made up the left and a portion of the center of the Confederate line on Missionary Ridge, while his two other divisions fought the battle on the extreme right of the Confederate line under Hardee’s corps. Floridian James Patton Anderson commanded one of Hardee’s divisions at the center of the ridge.

Congressman Jesse Johnson Finley, ca. 1880

Congressman Jesse Johnson Finley, ca. 1880

On the left of Anderson, Brigadier General William P. Bate commanded one of Breckenridge’s divisions. Bate’s division included the regiments of the Florida Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Jesse Johnson Finley, former commander of the 6th Florida Infantry Regiment. Finley’s brave leadership of the 6th at Chickamauga earned him Florida Governor John Milton’s highest recommendation for command of the Florida Brigade and promotion to general: “I know of no gentleman whose patriotism, integrity, courage and intelligence, commend him more favorably to my consideration . . . .” The Florida Brigade at Missionary Ridge consisted of the 6th, 1st, 3rd, 7th, and 4th infantry regiments, as well as the 1st Florida Cavalry, Dismounted. Half of the Florida regiments formed a line of rifle pits at the bottom of the ridge, and the other half held positions at the ridge’s crest. Finley’s men just happened to be positioned at the center of the Confederate line, which bore the brunt of the Union assault.

After securing control of Lookout Mountain on November 24, Grant’s corps began their attacks on Missionary Ridge the next morning. The Union attack that broke the Confederate line was not supposed to happen. Grant ordered Hooker and Sherman to attack the southern and northern flanks of the ridge, respectively. When their attacks failed, General Thomas, whose Army of the Cumberland was only supposed to make a faint attack on the Confederate center, launched an all-out assault on his own initiative. His troops quickly overran the Confederate entrenchments at the bottom of the ridge and then charged six hundred feet to the crest to secure the center of the ridge and victory for the Union.

Thomas’s attack ripped into Finley’s Floridians. Due to the Union attacks on the flanks of the ridge, General Bragg ordered some Confederate units from the center to reinforce the flanks, forcing Finley to thin out his lines to cover more ground. As Thomas’s men advanced towards the foot of the ridge, one Florida soldier recollected, “[O]h, what a purity [sic] sight it was to see them charge in 3 solide [sic] columns across the old field as blue as indigo mud and their arms glittered like new.” The three Florida regiments dug in along the bottom of the ridge held their fire until the Federals were almost on top of them. The Floridians fired their volleys but had to retreat in the face of overwhelming numbers.

Engraved portrait of Colonel William T. Stockton, ca. 1863

Engraved portrait of Colonel William T. Stockton, ca. 1863

Some of the wounded and most exhausted men could not leave their positions and were taken prisoner, including Lieutenant Colonel William T. Stockton of the 1st Florida Cavalry, Dismounted, who while in Union captivity wrote his wife an account of the fighting and his capture: “Our three little regiments behaved well, but we were left alone- Two of my men, were killed at my side, while successively attempting to assist me.” As they withdrew up the ridge, the Floridians climbed under a rain of Federal bullets into the Confederate line on the crest.

Letter from W.T. Stockton to his wife, December 11, 1863

Letter from W.T. Stockton to his wife, December 11, 1863

Instead of positioning his men on the ridge along the “military crest,” a position just below the top of the crest, Bragg had mistakenly placed his units on the summit of the ridge, from which it was difficult to see and fire upon the enemy. When the retreating Florida regiments joined their compatriot regiments at the crest, they realized they could not provide effective fire against the oncoming Federals. The six Florida regiments did their best to defend the summit, but had to retreat down the opposite side of the ridge as the Federals overwhelmed their positions. Robert Watson, a soldier in the 7th Florida, related how the Floridians “retreated down the hill under a shower of lead leaving many a noble son of the South dead and wounded on the ground and many more shared the same fate on the retreat.”

Confederate Pension Application for Robert Watson, 1904

Confederate Pension Application for Robert Watson, 1904

At battle’s end on the evening of November 25, Bate’s division began a withdrawal from Tennessee along with the rest of Bragg’s army to Dalton, Georgia, where Bate reported the Battle of Missionary Ridge had cost his unit 857 casualties. Only 33 of the 200 Floridians who had begun the battle at the bottom of the ridge survived to fight another day. The best estimate of the Florida Brigade’s overall casualties places the unit’s losses at 471 men, over half of Bate’s division’s total casualties.

The Floridians had put up a brave fight, but they and the Army of Tennessee could not prevent one of the most impressive Union victories of the war. The Battle of Missionary Ridge left the Union in control of Chattanooga and made possible Sherman’s offensive into Georgia in the spring of 1864. During that campaign, the Florida Brigade of the West would continue its service as the Army of Tennessee fought the Federals all along their advance towards Atlanta.

With the exception of the Milton and Stockton quotes, all quotes come from Jonathan C. Sheppard, By the Noble Daring of Her Sons: The Florida Brigade in the Army of Tennessee (University Press of Alabama, 2012). Sheppard’s book is available at the State Library and Archives of Florida, as are the papers of Governor John Milton and William T. Stockton.

JFK Assassination (November 22, 1963)

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. George Smathers, United States Senator from Florida, commented on the loss of his friend and colleague during his regularly filmed remarks to the people of Florida:

Kennedy and his family spent considerable time in Florida during his presidency, including a visit just days before that fateful day in Dallas. The photographs below captured moments from JFK’s trips to the Sunshine State.

With George Smathers and LeRoy Collins, 1961

With George Smathers and LeRoy Collins, 1961

 

With British Prime Minister Harold McMillan, Key West Naval Air Station, March 26, 1961

With British Prime Minister Harold McMillan, Key West Naval Air Station, March 26, 1961

 

With Farris Bryant at the Orange Bowl, Miami, January 1, 1963

With Farris Bryant at the Orange Bowl, Miami, January 1, 1963

 

Shaking hands in Miami, November 18, 1963

Shaking hands in Miami, November 18, 1963

 

With George Smathers in Miami, November 18, 1963

With George Smathers in Miami, November 18, 1963

Folklife Collection Spotlighted in National Study

The State Archives’ Florida Folklife Collection is among the projects featured in a new sustainability study focusing on digitization. The study, conducted by Nancy Moran of Ithaka S+R, in partnership with the Association of Research Libraries, details the history of the Folklife Collection and the ongoing efforts by the State Archives to make materials from the collection accessible via the Florida Memory website.

Glen Simmons (foreground) and his apprentice Donald Edwards poling skiffs through the Everglades near Florida City, ca. 1990

Glen Simmons (foreground) and his apprentice Donald Edwards poling skiffs through the Everglades near Florida City, ca. 1990

The Florida Folklife Collection is one of the largest and most diverse collections held by the State Archives of Florida. Approximately 5,000 sound recordings and 46,000 photographs from the collection have been cataloged. Of these, over 2,000 sound recordings and nearly 14,000 photographs are available on the Florida Memory website. The Folklife Collection provides a remarkable window into the traditional cultures of Florida’s native and immigrant populations. Materials in the collection, gathered by folklorists working for the Florida Bureau of Folklife Programs, speak to, among other things, religion, food, music, art, immigration, story telling, and labor in Florida history.

Boat Captain Skipper Lockett Welcomes You to Rainbow Springs

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Download “Searching for Sustainability: Strategies from Eight Digitized Special Collections,” which places the Folklife Collection in the context of other national projects, and the case study, which focuses solely on the history and ongoing efforts to sustain digitization of the Florida Folklife Collection.

United States vs. Schooner Emperor (1839)

This series highlights antebellum cases from the files of the Florida Supreme Court and its predecessor, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals.

With its long coastline, numerous bays, inlets, and treacherous reefs, Florida presented unique problems for the creation and enforcement of maritime law.

One consequence of Florida’s coastal geography and proximity to the Caribbean was that the territory served as a frequent terminus for the illicit slave trade. Although the international slave trade was formally abolished in 1808, slave catchers continued to kidnap African people and transport them across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. Such illegal trafficking in human cargo provoked the case United States vs. Schooner Emperor.

Page from the U.S. Supreme Court case U.S. vs. Schooner Emperor (1839)

In early 1837, the schooner Emperor left Cuba for the United States. Its destination was the port of St. Joseph along Florida’s northern Gulf coast. Charles G. Cox, captain of the vessel, intended to discreetly unload his illegal cargo and reap a handsome profit. According to a Florida law passed in 1822, the fine for smuggling slaves into Florida was $300 per infraction. Men like Cox considered this sum well worth the risk.

Harbor officials apparently made no effort to thoroughly inspect the Emperor upon its arrival in St. Joseph Bay. Local citizens, however, alerted authorities when they perceived black people moving about on the ship’s deck. At some point the kidnapped Africans were brought ashore, marched overland, and then ferried across St. Andrew’s Bay (near modern-day Panama City). Their intended final destination was a life of servitude on a plantation in Washington County.

United States Marshall Samuel Duval followed the rumors and recovered the smuggled Africans. Under the law of 1822, these people should have received their freedom, but their fate is unclear from the documents remaining in the case file. Perhaps they were returned to Africa? Documents from the case suggest that the group indeed came directly from Africa, as opposed to having been kidnapped from elsewhere in the Americas.

Attention now turned to the fate of the Emperor. Upon depositing its cargo at St. Joseph Bay, the ship traveled to Pensacola, then Mobile, and planned to return to Havana. Captain Cox apparently took a detour and landed again at Pensacola instead of immediately sailing for Cuba from Mobile. Authorities seized the ship when it docked at Pensacola and took Cox into custody. He quickly posted bail and thereafter disappears from the remainder of records related to the case.

The Circuit Court of West Florida in Pensacola debated what would become of the ship. The evidence implicating the vessel in the illegal slave trade proved scant. No one came forward to testify on behalf of the territory of Florida, so the court determined to return the vessel to its owners. Apparently, too many people still benefited from the illegal slave trade. No one who originally alerted authorities to the illegal cargo came forward and no one pressured the original whistleblowers into testifying.

Lawyers challenged the decision to return the Emperor to its owners and the case went to the Territorial Court of Appeals. The high court determined to put the Emperor up for public auction, with the proceeds reverting to the territory of Florida. Marshall Duval collected the funds, but refused to deposit them into the territory’s coffers. Eventually, Duval conceded, but, because of a lack of evidence, the funds ultimately returned to the claimants of the Emperor.

This case provides an example of the illegal slave trade activity that took place in Florida’s waters before the Civil War. It also demonstrates the difficulty in bringing to justice those that continued to kidnap African people and import them illegally into the United States.

To learn more about this case, see Dorothy Dodd, “The Schooner Emperor: An Incident of the Illegal Slave Trade in Florida,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 13:3 (January 1935): 117-128.

Dade’s Battle (December 28, 1835)

The State Library and Archives of Florida provides access to a multitude of published and unpublished resources for the study of Native American history and culture. In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, this series highlights materials in the collection that speak to the past and ongoing influence of Native peoples in Florida history.

The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) is regarded by historians as the longest and costliest Indian war in United States history. The conflict began in December 1835 with an event known as Dade’s Battle, or, from the American perspective, the Dade Massacre.

Map of the Dade Battlefield, published in Myer M. Cohen, Notices of Florida and the Campaigns (Charleston: Burges & Honour, 1836)

Map of the Dade Battlefield, published in Myer M. Cohen, Notices of Florida and the Campaigns (Charleston: Burges & Honour, 1836)

The battle took place along the Fort King Road near modern-day Bushnell. Seminole and black warriors opened fire on U.S. troops under the command of Major Francis L. Dade as they passed along a section of the road bordered by saw palmetto and pine scrub. The initial volley killed half of the white soldiers and within hours all but three of Dade’s 110 men lay dead on the battlefield. Only one soldier survived long enough to recount the American defeat.

The account of the battle below was attributed to the Seminole leader Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator) and published in John T. Sprague, The Origins, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1848). Alligator’s account provides insight into the Seminoles’ war strategy and the tactics that yielded several victories in the early stages of the Second Seminole War. His account is significant because it represents one of the few available from the Native American perspective.

Spellings used in the original are retained, with minimal notes in brackets for clarification when necessary.

Alligator’s Account of the Dade Battle

“We had been preparing for this more than a year. Though promises had been made to assemble on the 1st of January, it was not to leave the country, but to fight for it. In council, it was determined to strike a decided blow about this time. Our agent at Fort King [General Wiley Thompson] had put irons on our men, and said we must go. Oseola [or Osceola] said he was his friend, he would see to him.

“It was determined that he [Oseola] should attack Fort King, in order to reach General Thompson, then return to the Wahoo Swamp, and participate in the assault mediated upon the soldiers coming from Fort Brooke, as the negroes there had reported that two companies were preparing to march. He was detained longer than we anticipated. The troops were three days on their march, and approaching the Swamp. Here we thought it best to assail them; and should we be defeated the Swamp would be a safe place to retreat.

“Our scouts were out from the time the soldiers left the post, and reported each night their place of encampment. It was our intention to attack them on the third night, but the absence of Oseola and Micanopy prevented it. On the arrival of the latter it was agreed not to wait for Oseola, as the favorable moment would pass.

“Micanopy was timid, and urged delay. Jumper earnestly opposed it, and reproached the old chief with indecision. He addressed the Indians, and requested those who had faint hearts to remain behind; he was going, when Micanopy said he was ready. Just as day was breaking we moved out of the swamp into the pine-barren. I counted, by direction of Jumper, one hundred eighty warriors. Upon approaching the road, each man chose his position on the west side; opposite, on the east side, there was a pond. Every warrior was protected by a tree, or secreted in the high palmettoes.

“About nine o’clock in the morning the command approached. In advance, some distance, was an officer on a horse, who, Micanopy said, was the captain; he knew him personally; had been his friend at Tampa. So soon as all the soldiers were opposite, between us and the pond, perhaps twenty yards off, Jumper gave the whoop, Micanopy fired the first rifle, the signal agreed upon, when every Indian rose and fired, which laid upon the ground, dead, more than half the white men. The cannon was discharged several times, but the men who loaded it were shot down as soon as the smoke cleared away; the balls passed far over our heads.

“The soldiers shouted and whooped, and the officers shook their swords and swore. There was a little man, a great brave, who shook his sword at the soldiers and said, ‘God-dam!’ no rifle-ball could hit him. As we were returning to the swamp, supposing all were dead, an Indian came up and said the white men were building a fort of logs. Jumper and myself, with ten warriors, returned.

“As we approached, we saw six men behind two logs placed one above another, with the cannon a short distance off. This they discharged at us several times, but we avoided it by dodging behind the trees just as they applied the fire. We soon came near, as the balls went over us. They had guns, but no powder; we looked in the boxes afterward and found they were empty. When I got inside the log-pen, there were three white men alive, whom the negroes put to death, after a conversation in English.

“There was a brave man in the pen; he would not give up; he seized an Indian, Jumper’s cousin, took away his rifle, and with one blow with it beat out his brains, then ran some distance up the road; but two Indians on horseback overtook him, who, afraid to approach, stood at a distance and shot him down. The firing had ceased, and all was quite when we returned to the swamp about noon.

“We left many negroes upon the ground looking at the dead men. Three warriors were killed and five wounded.”

An Old Time Florida Fiddler

Our latest podcast features music and tall tales from Florida fiddler and story teller Richard Seaman (1904-2002).

Richard Seaman at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Richard Seaman at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Seaman was born on an orange grove in Kissimmee, Florida. While attending community gatherings as a young boy, he listened to local fiddlers as people square danced into the night. These experiences motivated him to pick up the fiddle and learn the craft. This environment was also conducive to the telling of “tall tales,” which Seaman later recounted and delivered to captivated audiences with an intuitive flair.

Over the years, Seaman developed a repertoire of fiddle tunes that included waltzes and western swing, but the “old time” hoedown tunes he learned as a young man exemplify his contribution to the regional heritage of Florida fiddle playing. Folklorist Gregory Hansen notes that Seaman’s fiddle tunes have influenced fiddlers from Florida and beyond, and even the genre of bluegrass music that this “old time” style of playing precedes.

In his early years of fiddle playing, Seaman moved to Jacksonville, where he performed in several bands, including the Melody Makers and the string band South Land Trail Riders. He and the Melody Makers also had a weekly radio program on WJAX. In 1955, Seaman put his fiddle down and didn’t pick it up again for more than 30 years until he met banjoist/guitarist Jack Piccalo. The two began to play together at the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs, and continued to do so regularly until Seaman’s death in 2002.

Richard Seaman (foreground) and Jack Piccalo at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Richard Seaman (foreground) and Jack Piccalo at the Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, 1993

Fiddle tunes were not Seaman’s only contribution to the Florida Folk Festival. He also recited “tall tales” to eager audiences on the Story Telling Stage. What made Seaman’s stories engaging was his ability to weave reality and fantasy together, always framing the narrative with a plausible scenario, and resolving it with “a whopper.” As Hansen points out, there is truth in Seaman’s fictitious tales as he conveys, “the daily activities that form important components of his life experience,” and in a greater sense, shared his vision of folklife in Florida.

In 2001, Seaman was recognized for his longstanding contribution to the folk culture of Florida when he received the Florida Folk Heritage Award at 96 years old.

This podcast highlights two performances by Seaman from the Florida Folk Festival. The first features Seaman’s fiddle playing, partnered with Jack Piccalo’s guitar, from the 1993 festival. In the second performance, we will hear an excerpt from Seaman’s “tall tales” told from the Story Telling Stage at the 1992 festival.

Enjoy!

Richard Seaman Podcast

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For more information, see: Catalog Record for Fiddle Performance; Catalog Record for Story Telling Performance; Gregory Hansen, A Florida Fiddler: The Life and Times of Richard Seaman (University of Alabama Press, 2007); Gregory Hansen, “Richard Seaman’s Presence within Florida’s Soundscape,” in The Florida Folklife Reader, edited by Tina Bucuvalas (University Press of Mississippi, 2012).

Guess Who…

We have celebrities hidden throughout our collections, but can you guess who they are? No cheating!

Do you recognize the second player from the right? He’s still involved in the football world and appears on your television every Saturday morning during the college season.

FSU football players in Tallahassee, ca. 1955

FSU football players in Tallahassee, ca. 1955

How about this FSU football star? He’s run the Longest Yard both on the field and the silver screen.

FSU football player in Tallahassee, 1954

FSU football player in Tallahassee, 1954

What about the student in this video clip? Many doors opened for him during his music career.

Veterans Day

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first Armistice Day. Wilson hoped the day would serve as a reminder to the American people of the terrible cost of World War I, dubbed “the war to end all wars” by the British author H.G. Wells.

Armistice Day parade in Monticello, 1921

Armistice Day parade in Monticello, 1921

 

Armistice Day in Ocala, 1940

Armistice Day in Ocala, 1940

Unfortunately, Wilson’s sentiment did not come to pass. Following the destruction caused by World War II and the Korean War, the U.S. Congress, at the urging of veterans organizations, renamed Armistice Day as Veterans Day. Since the change in 1954, November 11 has been recognized as Veterans Day – the official federal holiday that honors those that have served, and those that are serving, in the United States Armed Forces.

Veterans Day in Tallahassee, 1985

Veterans Day in Tallahassee, 1985

 

Veterans Day ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial in Tallahassee, 1987

Veterans Day ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial in Tallahassee, 1987

 

Governor Jeb Bush on Veterans Day in Tallahassee, 1999

Governor Jeb Bush on Veterans Day in Tallahassee, 1999

State of Florida vs. Luke, a Slave (1853)

This series highlights antebellum cases from the files of the Florida Supreme Court and its predecessor, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals.

Many antebellum cases before Florida’s Territorial Court of Appeals and Supreme Court involved individuals who left little evidence of their lives in the historical record. This is especially true for cases involving African-American slaves.

In 1853, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case of State of Florida vs. Luke, a slave. Luke stood accused of committing a crime at the behest of his master, Abraham Dupont. Following his master’s orders, Luke killed mules belonging to Joseph M. Hernandez, a planter and Florida militia commander during the Second Seminole War (1835-42). The animals, according to Dupont, had ravaged crops on his land. Adam, a slave and head driver for Hernandez, discovered the mules dead along the road that connected the two plantations with St. Augustine, and traced the source of the deed to Luke.

Page from the Florida Supreme Court case State of Florida vs. Luke, a Slave (1853)

The Circuit Court located in St. Johns County had, in 1851, found Luke guilty of “malicious destruction of property” under Florida’s penal code of 1832. Another issue of note from this case was that Dupont had allowed Luke to carry a firearm, as evidenced by his shooting of the mules. Florida law was unclear about this point. In practice, masters strictly prohibited slaves from keeping firearms, except in cases such as Luke’s where the weapon had a specific purpose.

The lawyer for the defense, McQueen McIntosh, challenged the Circuit Court decision on the grounds that slaves were not afforded protection under the penal code as revised in 1832. The 1832 law outlined separate punishments for blacks and whites who committed the same offense. The debate then turned to whether the 1832 law adequately covered the questions raised by the crimes committed by Luke, or if he should be tried under an earlier law of 1828, specifically, in accordance with the slave codes reserved for bondsmen. In essence, the case boiled down to whether or not Luke was capable of exerting free will, or if he had to kill the mules because he was ordered to do so by his master. If he had no choice in the matter, should his master instead be charged with the crime?

These questions proved too complex for the court to fully consider and the case was vacated on procedural grounds. The judge found that in order to perpetuate the institution of slavery and the superiority of whites over blacks, Luke could not be charged under the 1832 law. The case also brought forward issues involved with the interpretation of the 1828 slave codes, but the court declined to engage the myriad problems arising from the 1828 and 1832 laws as they related to slaves.

This case demonstrated the powerlessness of the enslaved in the antebellum legal system in Florida. As made clear in the case of Luke, white jurists would rather forgive his crimes than allow a slave to stand trial on equal footing with white men.