Battle of Olustee (February 20, 1864)

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series of blog posts highlights African-American history in Florida.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, also known as the Battle of Ocean Pond.

In February 1864, the Union launched what would be the war’s largest military campaign in Florida. Designed to interrupt the supply of cattle and goods from the state that were destined for Confederate armies outside of Florida, add more escaped and freed slaves to the ranks of the U.S. Army, and possibly bring Florida back into the Union as a reconstructed free state, the northeast Florida campaign of 1864 consisted of some 7,000 Union troops, including three black regiments: the 1st North Carolina Colored Infantry, the 8th U.S. Colored Infantry (USCT), and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The 54th had already distinguished itself on the ramparts of South Carolina’s Fort Wagner during the unit’s now famous assault on that Confederate bastion in July 1863. Unlike the 54th, however, the two other regiments had never been in combat, and the 8th USCT had not even completed its training when it arrived in Florida along with the rest of the Union troops on February 7, 1864.

Soldiers of the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers

Soldiers of the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers

Leaving about 1,500 men to secure Jacksonville and conduct other missions, the main Union force of 5,500 troops under the command of Brigadier General Truman Seymour began marching on February 20 west towards Lake City and the Suwannee River beyond. East of Lake City the Federals ran into advanced elements of a Confederate force of 5,000 men that established defensive positions outside of Lake City at Olustee, a station along the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Railroad. The battle, which lasted through the afternoon of February 20, was a particularly bloody encounter that ended in a Confederate victory and a humiliating Union retreat back to Jacksonville.

The more experienced 54th Massachusetts as well as the 1st North Carolina played an important role in the battle by holding back the Confederate advance as the rest of Seymour’s regiments withdrew. One of those regiments, the 8th USCT, experienced some of the day’s heaviest fighting. Its untested ranks were ordered forward and ran into a storm of Confederate fire.

At the end of the battle, the 8th USCT lost more men than any other Union unit: 49 killed, 188 wounded, and 73 missing. Of these missing, several became prisoners and were eventually transferred to the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. Others may have faced an even worse fate. Several postwar accounts, mostly from Confederate sources, recalled that individual Confederate soldiers killed some of the wounded and captured black soldiers.

Kurz and Allison lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee

Kurz and Allison lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee

After Olustee, black troops continued to play an important role in Union operations in Florida. In September 1864, they made up part of the force that attacked Marianna, Florida, and on March 6, 1865, black soldiers formed the mass of the Union troops that engaged the Confederates south of Tallahassee at Natural Bridge. The Union lost the battle and was denied the opportunity to capture Tallahassee during the war. A little over two months later, however, black troops marched into Florida’s capital as part of the Union occupying force that received the formal surrender of Confederate Florida on May 20, 1865.

Today, while the operations of black troops are better known in theaters of the war such as South Carolina (the assault on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863) and Virginia (the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864), the actions of black troops in Florida, although less famous, were just as crucial to establishing the importance of black units in the Union war effort. Although the direct path to Union victory and black freedom pointed to Atlanta and Richmond, the route included many detours, like Florida, which ultimately led to emancipation.

Florida and the Civil War (December 1863)

A Stickney Situation

The war in Florida changed little in 1863. Despite a third, brief Union occupation of Jacksonville in March most military activity in the state consisted of Federal raids on the coastal salt making industry and the continuing Union blockade of Florida ports, many of which had been occupied by Federal troops since 1862.

Illustration of Federal troops marching down Second Street, Fernandina, 1862

Illustration of Federal troops marching down Second Street, Fernandina, 1862

By December 1863, while the military situation remained calm, politics in Union occupied areas of Florida were anything but peaceful. As 1864 approached, so too did the Union presidential election. Although Florida was far from being a Union military priority, for the first couple months of 1864 it would briefly be the focus of high power politics.

President Abraham Lincoln and his most prominent potential presidential rival within the Republican Party, Salmon P. Chase, considered the possibility of bringing a portion of the state back into the Union in time for its Republican delegates to support their respective candidacies. During this political drama, the most important player on the ground in Florida was Lyman D. Stickney, a Florida Unionist whose politics began and ended with self-interest.

Stickney’s prospects in Florida began in 1860, when he arrived in the state promoting a colonization scheme to bring agricultural development to largely untamed south Florida. After Florida’s secession and the failure of his colonial venture, Stickney, a Vermont native, made his way to the Federal enclave of Key West, where he quickly proclaimed his loyalty to the Union. Leaving Key West with “an unpaid hotel bill of $144.00” in June 1861, Stickney moved to Washington, D.C., and insinuated himself into government circles as an “expert” on all things Florida.

A talented lobbyist, whose cause was his own fortune, Stickney acquired a potentially powerful and lucrative position in July 1862, when President Lincoln, on the recommendation of Secretary of the Treasury Salon P. Chase, appointed him one of three direct tax commissioners for Florida.

The federal Direct Tax Law was a weapon of economic warfare. Passed in June 1862, the law called for the confiscation of any real property in Rebel held territory whose owners failed to pay the tax. The Direct Tax Law created three tax commissioners for each Rebel state where Union forces occupied a portion of the state. The commissioners would access the value of the real property within Federal control and impose a tax. Given that pro-Confederate citizens within these areas had usually fled or were unwilling to pay the tax, the tax commissioners ended up seizing their property and either selling or leasing it to Unionist Floridians or recently arrived Northern immigrants.

After his appointment, Commissioner Stickney wrote a number of letters to President Lincoln supporting the appointment of various men to federal positions in Union held areas of Florida and proclaiming his loyalty and “deep interest in the future destiny of Florida, of which I am a citizen…” Stickney was an enthusiastic supporter of the Union expedition to Jacksonville in March 1863 (see “Detour to Liberty: Black Troops in Florida during the Civil War” and “Florida and the Civil War: March 1863”).

Shipping rosin, cotton, and turpentine from Fernandina to New York, 1862

Shipping rosin, cotton, and turpentine from Fernandina to New York, 1862

By the time the expedition set sail, he had established himself as a silent partner in a general store in Fernandina and shipped goods to the store at government expense under the cover of the Direct Tax Commission. He hoped the expedition would lead to the permanent Union occupation of Jacksonville and northeast Florida. In such an eventuality, he saw endless opportunities for profit, including trade in cotton and turpentine. Even though the expedition proved short-lived, Stickney did not relent.

On December 2, 1863, as he was about to board a ship for another trip to Fernandina, Stickney urged Lincoln “to authorize the loyal people of Florida to organize a state government in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.” He guaranteed that “the work of restoration will be speedy and permanent” if the president would allow “every person of lawful age, and not disqualified by crime, whose fidelity to your administration and your proclamation of freedom is unquestioned be a voter…”

If feasible, the early restoration of Florida to the Union, even if it was only a small portion of the state, could serve the Union cause as a magnet for discontented and Unionist Southerners living in Florida and Georgia as well as for escaped slaves, many of whom were now filling the ranks of the Union’s increasingly numerous black regiments.

Front page of The Peninsula, March 3, 1864, list indicates property sold for failing to pay the Federal direct tax

Front page of The Peninsula, March 3, 1864, list indicates property sold for failing to pay the Federal direct tax

At the same time, a restored Florida could make a difference in the 1864 presidential election by throwing its Republican Party delegates to either Lincoln or Stickney’s benefactor, Secretary of the Treasury Chase, whose presidential ambition was one of the worst kept secrets in Washington. Finally, and most importantly for Stickney, a Florida returned to the Union held endless possibilities for his own advancement, either financially or politically, as he would doubtless be one of the key leaders in a new, loyal Florida.

The pursuit of a reconstructed Florida was one of the motivating factors in the Union decision to mount yet another expedition to Jacksonville in February 1864. This expedition resulted in the Federal defeat at Olustee on February 20th. The Battle of Olustee, or Ocean Pond as it was known in the North, ended Stickney’s dream of a Florida restored to the Union. Florida would not play a role in the presidential election of 1864, which saw Lincoln’s easy capture of the Republican nomination over Chase.

Stickney’s summer of 1864 was considerably less fortunate than Lincoln’s. In July, a treasury department report criticized Stickney for being almost constantly absent from his duties in Florida and implicated him in financial and political corruption schemes. Indicted in 1865, Stickney, slippery as ever, managed to escape punishment and restart his professional life in the postwar economy.

The quote about Stickney’s Key West hotel bill comes from David J. Coles, “Far from Fields of Glory: Military Operations in Florida, 1864-1865,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 1996). The Stickney quotes are found in two of his letters to Lincoln dated October 27, 1863 and December 2, 1863; the original letters are located in the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, Library of Congress.

For Sitckney’s role during Union military operations in Florida see Stephen V. Ash, Firebrand of Liberty: the Story of Two Black Regiments that Changed the Course of the Civil War (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008). A copy of the Florida Direct Tax Commission records are located in Record Group 101, Series 161, United States Direct Tax Refund Records, 1891-1901, State Archives of Florida.

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.

Florida and the Civil War (October 1863)

Solons in Gray: Floridians in the Confederate Congress

As late as the 1960s, the Tallahassee Democrat and other Florida newspapers regularly used the term “Solons” to refer to members of the Florida legislature. There were undoubtedly many times when political reporters probably used the term lightheartedly, however. “Solon,” named for Solon, the ancient Athenian statesman, means a wise and skillful law giver or simply a member of a legislative body.

Augustus E. Maxwell

Augustus E. Maxwell

The term was certainly in use during the 1860s, when the original seven seceding Southern states created the Confederate States of America in February 1861. Largely a replica of the United States government, the Confederate Constitution called for a government of three branches. The Confederate Congress, which until February 1862 was known as the Provisional Congress, was divided into a House and Senate and eventually represented all eleven seceded states plus, even though these areas were hardly under Confederate control, Kentucky, Missouri, and the western Territories.

Major General James Patton Anderson

Major General James Patton Anderson

Florida was one of the founding states of the Confederacy, sending five men to serve in the Provisional Congress and six in the First (1862-1864) and Second (1864-1865) regular congresses. The Provisional Congress was unicameral, but the Confederate Constitution called for the creation of a bicameral legislature, which began with the First Congress in February 1862. Each state had two senators and a number of representatives apportioned according to population. As the least populous state in the Confederacy, Florida only had two representatives.

Colonel John M. Martin

Colonel John M. Martin

The following list provides the names, congresses, and selected information for Florida’s Confederate congressmen:

Senators

James M. Baker (First and Second Congress)

Augustus E. Maxwell (First and Second Congress; a former Florida Attorney General and U.S. Congressman, he served on the Florida Supreme Court after the Civil War)

Representatives

James P. Anderson (Provisional Congress, resigned in April 1861 to command Florida troops and eventually became a Major General in the Confederate Army)

George T. Ward (Provisional Congress, elected to fill Anderson’s seat; Ward resigned in February 1862 and took command of the 2nd Florida Regiment; he was killed in the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862)

John P. Sanderson (Provisional Congress, appointed to fill Ward’s seat)

Jackson Morton (Provisional Congress)

James B. Owens (Provisional Congress)

James B. Dawkins (First Congress, resigned December 8, 1862)

James M. Martin (First Congress, elected to fill Dawkins’ seat; he also served as a colonel in the 9th Florida Regiment)

Robert B. Hilton (First and Second Congress)

Samuel St. George Rogers (Second Congress; before entering the Second Congress he was a colonel and in charge of conscription in Florida)

The best source for information on the Confederate Congress and the Floridians who served in it is Ezra J. Warner and W. Buck Yearns, Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress (Louisiana State University Press, 1975). The register and a copy of the journal of the Confederate Congress are available in the holdings of the State Library and Archives of Florida.

Florida and the Civil War (September 1863)

Lost Victory: The Battle of Chickamauga and the Floridians Who Fought There

The Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863) was the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War. It was also one of the bloodiest: the Confederates suffered 18,000 casualties and the Federals 16,000. The battle was the second largest battle of the war, only Gettysburg was larger.

Chickamauga was also important for Florida. All six of Florida’s regiments in the war’s western theater (the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River) were engaged in the battle. As a result of their fighting at Chickamauga, General Braxton Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, created the “Florida Brigade of the West” by combining the Florida regiments into one formation.

Corporal Seaborn Tiller of the 6th Florida Infantry Regiment, 1862

Corporal Seaborn Tiller of the 6th Florida Infantry Regiment, 1862

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Florida and the Civil War (August 1863)

One War, Three States

On August 10, 1863, Confederate Private James Jewell wrote to his wife from camp about ten miles north of St. Marks, Florida:

“This is a pleasant looking place, but I tell you it felt like burning a fellow up here this evening . . . . I have no idea how long we will stay here, but I would not be surprised if we were here some time, if the flies don[']t take us away. I thought I had seen some flies before, but I never saw them half so bad in my life. We traveled over twenty five miles of as sandy a road as can be found any where. there is not a firm place I don’t think in the whole rout[e], and a part of the way looked like there never was anybody seen . . . .”

Private Jewel’s observations of Confederate military service in Florida were not untypical in the summer of 1863. Although Union ships and sailors were never far away—the Union maintained a blockading fleet off Florida’s coast and occupied several of the state’s coastal towns—a Confederate soldier in Florida was more likely to die from the brutal heat or disease carrying insects than Yankee guns.

General Robert E. Lee

General Robert E. Lee

Four hundred miles to the north, however, August 1863 was quite different for the Confederate troops defending Charleston, South Carolina, the state that formed the northern third of the Confederate military department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In Charleston that August, Confederate forces endured a protracted Union assault on the city that began in July 1863, when Federal troops captured most of Morris Island situated on the southern shore of the mouth of Charleston Harbor. On August 22, 1863, Union guns on Morris Island began a bombardment of Charleston that would last for 587 days.

When considering Florida’s role in the Civil War, it is important to keep in mind that although the state was distant from the main battle fronts of the war it formed a link in a wider chain of command. This link evolved during 1861-1862 as the initial Confederate military department of South Carolina and Georgia became the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida and finally, in 1862, the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Headquartered in South Carolina, the department was responsible for the defense of the coasts of the three states, which as early as November 1861 encountered Union invasion when the Federals landed on the coast of South Carolina, capturing Port Royal, a permanent base of operations from which the Union launched numerous assaults on the three states. Despite these operations, the Confederate government never considered the department a defensive priority. In fact, the department often had to give up troops to reinforce Confederate armies in Virginia and Tennessee, the primary areas of fighting for most of the war.

General Topographical Map, Sheet XII, ca. 1865

General Topographical Map, Sheet XII, ca. 1865

The department’s secondary importance did not mean that it did not have its share of prominent commanders, however. Three of the war’s most consequential Confederate generals led the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida: Robert E. Lee, John C. Pemberton, and P. G. T. Beauregard.

Lee arrived in the department in the wake of the Union capture of Port Royal and commanded the area until March 1862, when Pemberton succeeded him. Lee left the department to take up the position of top military advisor to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Neither Lee nor Pemberton were popular in South Carolina—this was before Lee became the South’s most successful general.

Lee believed Union naval supremacy made it impossible to defend the coastal islands along the shores of his three state command. As a result, the Union occupied many of the islands, which contained wealthy cotton and rice plantations and thousands of slaves. The enraged and influential plantation owners blamed Lee and Pemberton, who was even less inclined to defend the coast than Lee, for their loss of property.

Beauregard, on the other hand, was a hero to South Carolinians. He led the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor at the start of the war and commanded the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida during the height of the Union siege of Charleston in 1863.

General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, ca. 1865

General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, ca. 1865

When Beauregard left the department in April 1864, the war was entering a new phase as Union forces pushed into northern Georgia towards Atlanta. General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops captured Atlanta in September 1864, marched across Georgia and broke the middle link of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, when his men captured Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864. Sherman’s subsequent march into the interior of South Carolina left Florida as the only portion of the department relatively free of Union troops. The final act of the department was the surrender of all Confederate forces in Florida in May 1865.

Private Jewel is quoted in Gary L. Doster, ed., Dear Sallie: The Letters of Confederate Private James Jewel (Winchester, Virginia: Angle Valley Press, 2011), 159-160. See John E. Johns, Florida During the Civil War (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1963) on the Confederate military command in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Florida and the Civil War (July 1863)

Confederate Carnage: the Florida Brigade at Gettysburg

The monument commemorating the service of Florida Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg was dedicated on July 3, 1963, during ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the Civil War’s most famous battle.

Standing along West Confederate Avenue in Gettysburg National Military Park, the gray rectangular piece of granite brings to mind a headstone more than heroics. The effect is apt. Of the 742 men in the three regiments that made up the Florida Brigade at the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, 461 were casualties (killed, wounded, or captured) at the end of the battle on July 3. In losing 62 percent of its strength, the Florida Brigade suffered a higher rate of loss than any other Confederate brigade in the battle. The Floridians’ role in the Battle of Gettysburg was but one of countless examples of sacrifice and slaughter performed by Union and Confederate troops during the three days of carnage that was the Battle of Gettysburg.

Monument to the Florida Brigade, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1970s

Monument to the Florida Brigade, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1970s

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Florida and the Civil War (June 1863)

Railroad Wars

Railroads played a decisive role in the Civil War. The ability to rapidly move troops and supplies on a vast scale greatly increased the war making potential of both sides. When the war began, two thirds of U.S. railroads were in the North, which could draw on its tremendous industrial base to repair, replenish and construct rail lines, cars and locomotives. The South had to conserve and utilize its limited railroad resources to the best possible effect. Paradoxically, for a nation built on the premise of limited government and state’s rights, the Confederacy, if it was to survive, had to subordinate the rights of private railroads to benefit the national war effort. One of the clearest examples of this conflict of interest occurred in Florida in the summer of 1863, when Governor John Milton sought to obtain rails from the Florida Railroad owned by former United States senator David Levy Yulee.

Excerpt from "Watson's New County, Railroad and Distance Map of Florida," 1875

Excerpt from “Watson’s New County, Railroad and Distance Map of Florida,” 1875

With 402 miles of track in 1860, Florida had the lowest track mileage in the South, which by the beginning of the war had a total of 9,000 miles compared to 21,000 miles in the North. In 1861, only two interstate lines between Florida and Alabama linked Florida to another state. In 1861, there was no rail link between Florida and Georgia, and there was no railroad between Pensacola and the rest of the state. The Pensacola & Georgia Railroad and the Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad companies were chartered to build a railroad from Jacksonville to Pensacola, but by 1861 the road only ran between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, just half of the planned route. In 1862, the route reached Quincy, 20 miles to the west of Tallahassee, but no further. Read more »

Florida and the Civil War (May 1863)

Overseer Wanted

The Confederate government instituted few policies that were more controversial than conscription. Initially passed on April 16, 1862, the first of three conscription acts required that all able bodied white males between the ages of 18 and 35 serve in the Confederate military forces for three years or until the end of the war. The unprecedented nature of conscription—there had never been a national draft in America before 1862—roused public debate about its necessity and constitutionality. Most Southerners hated conscription. They believed it demeaned patriotism by pressuring men to serve instead of relying on their willingness to volunteer. Even more demeaning were the exemptions to the act, which allowed the wealthy to avoid conscription by hiring substitutes and kept those employed in professions deemed essential for the operation of the economy and government out of military service.

Slave overseer’s house at El Destino Plantation, Jefferson County, 1924

Slave overseer’s house at El Destino Plantation, Jefferson County, 1924

One of the most resented of these exemptions was a provision in the second Conscription Act (October 1862) that exempted planters who owned twenty or more slaves from the draft. The exemption also applied to overseers employed in managing plantations with over twenty slaves. Soon known among the press and public as the “Twenty Negro Law,” the exemption provoked outrage among poor and middle class whites, most of whom owned no slaves or certainly fewer than the twenty slaves required by the law.

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Florida and the Civil War (April 1863)

There Goes the Judge

On April 18, 1863, Judge William Marvin wrote President Abraham Lincoln of his wish to resign his position as “District Judge of the United States for the Southern District of Florida.” Marvin had held his office since 1847, but he now wished to resign to recover his health “in a more northern climate.” Judge Marvin’s resignation may have only received brief notices in the Northern and Southern press, but his official career in Florida had been anything but brief or inconsequential.

William Marvin, 1865

William Marvin, 1865

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