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 »

Oaths of Loyalty to the United States of America

Restoring the Union following the destruction of the Civil War proved to be an enormous task. Several questions emerged in the wake of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865; namely, the pace and scope of reintegrating former rebels and Confederate states back into the Union, rebuilding the southern economy, and the future of millions of newly freed slaves.

President Abraham Lincoln’s desire to enact swift Reconstruction clashed with the so-called Radical Republicans in Congress who wanted to punish the South. President Andrew Johnson, who took office after Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, tried to follow Lincoln’s general approach to Reconstruction and was eventually impeached for it.

The latest additions to the significant documents page on Florida Memory are artifacts from the early period of what historians call Presidential Reconstruction. Part of the plan implemented by Johnson included granting amnesty to some former Confederates who pledged an oath of loyalty to the United States.

Confederate Oaths of Loyalty, 1865

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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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Florida and the Civil War (March 1863)

“Vindictive, Unrelenting War”: The Burning of Jacksonville

One of the most enduring scenes from a movie depicting the Civil War remains the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind (1939). Chaos, terror, and destruction surround Rhett and Scarlett as they flee the inferno. The scene’s fire portrays the actual fire set by retreating Confederates on September 1, 1864, as they pulled out of the city. On November 14, 1864, Union forces marching out of Atlanta set fire to hundreds of buildings. Atlanta remains the most famous example of the burning of a city during the Civil War; however, it was only one of many towns set to the torch during the struggle. Jacksonville, Florida, has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first.

Excerpt from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865: General Topographical Map, Sheet XII” (ca. 1865), showing northeast Florida

Excerpt from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865: General Topographical Map, Sheet XII” (ca. 1865), showing northeast Florida

The initial war-related fire in Jacksonville occurred on March 11, 1862. That day, Federal gunboats approached the city in preparation for what would be the first of four Union occupations. The imminent arrival of Federal troops created panic. Loyal Confederates rushed to evacuate the city, and Confederate soldiers prepared to set fire to supplies they could not take away. Local mobs, angered by the presence of the city’s sizable pro-Union population, torched Northern-owned businesses and homes. Otis and Abby Keane watched as the mobs ransacked their hotel, the Judson House, before setting the building aflame. That night, those who had fled Jacksonville watched from across the St. Johns River as large sections of their city burned.

Advertisement for the Judson House, Jacksonville

Advertisement for the Judson House, Jacksonville

A year after the first fire, Jacksonville endured another inferno. This time the Federals were responsible for the destruction. On March 10, 1863, Union troops, spearheaded by two black regiments, the 1st and 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, arrived for what became the third Union occupation of Jacksonville. Facing little resistance, the regiments quickly gained control of the city. Signs of growing Confederate strength to the west, however, encouraged the Union to reinforce their position in Jacksonville with two additional infantry regiments, the 6th Connecticut and the 8th Maine, both all-white units.

Although the Federals were able to raid along the St. Johns River as far south as Palatka and maintain control of Jacksonville, Union preparations for renewed operations in South Carolina led to the decision to end the Jacksonville operation. On March 28, 1863, as Union troops prepared to leave the city by sea, fires broke out in the wake of the columns of the 6th Connecticut, whose soldiers had taken the opportunity to set fire to the city. As the Yankees left, rain and the quick arrival of Confederate troops combined to contain the fires; however, much of the city lay in ruins. One witness detailed the smoldering structures:

“The Episcopal and Catholic churches, the jail, Parkhurst Store, Miller’s Bar Room, Bisbee’s Store, and dwelling house, Dr. Baldwin’s house and that whole block. Mrs Foster’s house, Washington Hotel, one of Hoeg’s stores—nearest Millers—and every house from the Judson House above the Railroad to Mrs. Collins old house, (Lydia Foster’s House, Sadlers, etc. are among them).”

Unidentified Union Soldier

Unidentified Union Soldier

While the Union’s responsibility for the fire was clear enough, Confederate newspapers as well as Northern newspapers critical of the use of black troops denounced the black regiments as the agents of destruction. The majority of Northern papers placed the entire blame on the white soldiers of the 6th Connecticut and 8th Maine. As with most controversial historical incidents, however, the answer is not black or white. There seems little doubt that the two white regiments started the fires, but when it became clear that they were free to join in the torching, some black soldiers, according to witnesses, set fires as well. One Northern reporter who saw the burning city despaired that the war had taken a new and uglier turn from which there was no turning back, “Is this not war, vindictive, unrelenting war?”

The best history of the Union occupations of Jacksonville is Daniel L. Schafer, Thunder on the River: the Civil War in Northeast Florida (University Press of Florida, 2010). All quotations come from pages 159 and 161-162 of Schafer’s book.

Florida and the Civil War (February 1863)

Corn, not Cotton

Even though the North produced more agricultural goods than the South during the Civil War, at the beginning of the war in 1861, few observers would have predicted that the South, with its overwhelmingly agricultural economy and seemingly endless supply of slave labor, would find it difficult to provide adequate food supplies to its soldiers and citizens.

However, a number of factors produced food shortages early on in the war and especially by 1863. By then, the continuing and growing absence of men from their farms due to military service, the impressment of food and slaves for the use of the Confederate Army, a tightening Union naval blockade, and a poor transportation system combined to spark bread riots in many Southern cities and led to increased misery on the Confederate home front, where poor families struggled to feed themselves.

Steamship docked at Apalachicola (ca. 1860)

Steamship docked at Apalachicola (ca. 1860)

Florida was not immune from these conditions. Although the state’s location far away from the main fighting fronts meant that the vast majority of its agricultural land was untouched by the enemy, most of Florida’s white men of military age were serving in the Confederate Army outside of the state by the summer of 1862. This meant that they could not be at home working to feed their families. In addition, by 1863, most of Florida’s ports were either occupied or blockaded by the U.S. Navy, so few outside supplies reached the state. Of course, blockade-runners succeeded in bringing goods to Florida’s shores, but most of these items were either luxury goods or weapons, not provisions that could feed Florida’s poor farm families.

Given the swift decline in value of Confederate currency during the war, planters found they had to rely on the one crop that was still valuable enough in itself to be used to purchase needed supplies and the specialty goods that the blockade-runners provided. That crop was cotton.
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Detour to Liberty: Black Troops in Florida during the Civil War

In his annual message to the Florida General Assembly on November 17, 1862, Governor John Milton pointed to Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which proclaimed freedom for all slaves living in areas of the country still in rebellion by January 1863, as a plot to “subjugate Florida . . . and to colonize the State with negroes . . . .”

The proclamation was, Milton argued, nothing less than “the means the most terrific which could be devised to alarm the people of the South . . . .” As Milton feared, the Emancipation Proclamation came to pass on January 1, 1863, but the alarm that sounded across the South was soon compounded by the Union’s deployment of black troops against the Confederacy.

Beginning in March 1863, Florida was the site of some of the earliest operations of black regiments, which became an essential part of Union operations in the state until the end of the war.

Drawing of a black Union infantryman

Drawing of a black Union infantryman

As early as November 1862, black companies conducted raids against salt works and saw mills along both sides of the coastal border between Georgia and Florida. These attacks were the outgrowth of the U.S. War Department’s order of August 25, 1862. That order allowed the creation of a limited number of black units within the U.S. Army’s Department of the South, which was responsible for military operations along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
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Florida and the Civil War (January 1863)

Florida’s Most Famous General Never Fought in Florida

On January 14, 1863, the Confederate War Department assigned Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith command of Confederate forces in Texas and the area of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River. Within a month, Confederate president Jefferson Davis expanded Kirby’s command to include all of the territory within the Department of the Trans-Mississippi: Arkansas, Missouri, West Louisiana, Texas, the Indian Territory (today’s Oklahoma), and the Arizona Territory. For the next two-and-a-half years, Smith directed Confederate military, administrative, and economic affairs in the Trans-Mississippi, which had to become self-sufficient after the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863 cut off Smith’s command from the rest of the Confederacy. Smith’s position as commander of the Trans-Mississippi or “Kirby Smithdom” as the area became known, made him one of the most important and powerful Confederate generals of the Civil War; however, his name is relatively unknown today compared to the pantheon of generals in gray that includes such names as Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, P. G. T. Beauregard, and Joseph E. Johnston. Smith’s responsibilities in the West and his earlier exploits during the war make him the most significant of Florida’s Civil War generals.

Confederate General Kirby Smith, between 1861 and 1865

Confederate General Kirby Smith, between 1861 and 1865

Edmund Kirby Smith was born in St. Augustine, Florida, on May 16, 1824. Smith’s father, Joseph Lee Smith, served as a federal judge in the newly acquired U.S. territory. He installed his family in the Segui House on Aviles Street in St. Augustine, renting the house from the descendants of Bernardo Segui. Due to General Smith’s fame from the Civil War, the house is now known as the Segui-Smith House and contains St. Augustine’s historical library. Edmund left St. Augustine in 1836 to attend Benjamin Hollowell’s school in Alexandria, Virginia, in preparation for an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He obtained the appointment and attended West Point from 1841-1845. Upon graduation, Edmund entered the Fifth Infantry Regiment as a second lieutenant and was serving in that unit when the United States went to war against Mexico. Edmund was part of the victorious army that captured Mexico City and participated in the celebrations that followed Mexico’s surrender in February 1848. Unfortunately, Edmund’s brother, Captain Ephraim Kirby Smith, did not survive the war; he was killed leading his men during the Battle of Chapultepec on September 8, 1847. In order to distinguish himself from his brother, Edmund went by his middle name “Kirby” and signed all of his future correspondence as “E. Kirby Smith,” the name that he came to be known by during the Civil War.

Segui-Smith House, home of the St. Augustine Historical Society library

Segui-Smith House, home of the St. Augustine Historical Society library

Kirby Smith was stationed with the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment in West Texas in February 1861, when Texas joined six other Southern states to form the Confederate States of America. After returning to Florida for a brief visit, the Confederate Army assigned the now Lieutenant-Colonel Smith to Virginia, where he served under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston. By the time of the Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, Smith commanded a brigade as a brigadier general and rushed to support General Stonewall Jackson’s men at the height of the battle. Smith’s brigade helped counter the Union attack and enabled the Confederates to turn a likely defeat into victory. Wounded during the fighting, Smith was reported as killed in action. His family began to mourn his death before receiving news that he had survived and was recovering in Lynchburg, Virginia.

After his recovery, the Confederate War Department assigned Smith to take command of forces in all of Florida east of Pensacola. Before he could begin his move, however, the department decided he could be of more use if he remained in Virginia. Smith stayed in Virginia until March 1862, when he was reassigned to command the Department of East Tennessee. Centered at Knoxville, the Department of East Tennessee became the right-wing of the Confederate invasion of Kentucky in September 1862. Although the invasion achieved some early success, poor coordination between Smith’s army and Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee failed to defeat the larger Union armies that contested the invasion. By October 24, Smith was back in Knoxville, where his disillusionment with the war almost led him to resign his command. It was during this time that Smith received news of his promotion to lieutenant general. Within two months, Jefferson Davis, upon the recommendation of Robert E. Lee, decided Smith was the general he needed to take command of Confederate forces in the West. Smith took up his appointment as commander of the Trans-Mississippi on February 9, 1863.

The headquarters for his new department was located in Alexandria, Louisiana. With forces that never exceeded about 70,000 men, Smith was entrusted with the defense of the entire Trans-Mississippi. He was also expected to relieve the Union threat to Vicksburg by conducting offensive operations along the Mississippi River. Smith directed his forces to invade Missouri and attack Union strongholds in Arkansas, but these efforts failed to dislodge the Federals or save Vicksburg, which surrendered to the Union on July 4, 1863. Vicksburg’s fall forced the Trans-Mississippi to rely on its own resources. Smith devoted much of his time addressing the department’s economic and administrative problems. Jefferson Davis gave him full authority to govern the region as he saw fit. Due to his efforts and the incompetence of Union general Nathaniel P. Banks, Smith’s forces were able to turn back a Union invasion of East Texas in 1864. By 1865, however, large scale desertions brought on by the increasing likelihood that the Confederacy would lose the war, depleted resources, and ongoing Indian raids severely weakened Smith’s department. Although he would be the last Confederate commander to surrender to the Union (June 2, 1865), the Confederate hold on the Trans-Mississippi became increasingly untenable in the last months of the war. There was little Smith could do to resist the inevitable defeat.

Statue of General Kirby Smith, located at the National Statuary Hall Collection, Washington, D.C.

Statue of General Kirby Smith, located at the National Statuary Hall Collection, Washington, D.C.

Kirby Smith outlived all the other top-ranked Confederate generals. After a post-war career as a businessman and educator (president of the University of Nashville and professor of mathematics at the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee), Smith died at Sewanee on March 28, 1893. Although he is buried in Tennessee, Smith’s native state did not forget him. In 1922, a bronze statue of Smith was placed in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, where it stood along with the marble statue of inventor John Gorrie as Florida’s contribution to the Hall. Kirby Smith’s statue remains in the Capitol to this day.