Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Early History of Gadsden County" is now available for Amazon Kindle

I'm pleased to announce that The Early History of Gadsden County is now available for download for your Amazon Kindle. The cost is just $7.99 and the profit will go to the West Gadsden Historical Society.

The book delves into many of the unique events from the past of Gadsden County. Included are details on early exploration and the Hernando de Soto expedition's march through the county, the Spanish mission era, Scott's Massacre of 1817 and the First Seminole War, early settlement, the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee, discovery of the Torreya tree, development of the tobacco industry, the McLane Massacre, forts of the Second Seminole War, the capture of the arsenal at Chattahoochee, the C.S.S. Chattahoochee and Gadsden County's role at the Battle of Natural Bridge.

The book is also available in printed form through www.exploresouthernhistory.com/dalecox or your favorite online bookstore, as well as at the Twin City News in Chattahoochee, Shear Attitudes in Havana and Padgett Jewelers, Mr. Earnest Pecan Shop and the office of Dr. Sterling Watson, all in Quincy. The book is available in Marianna at Chipola River Book and Tea on Lafayette Street downtown.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Apalachicola Arsenal, Historic Landmark in Chattahoochee

Officer's Quarters
I've posted some in the past about the Apalachicola Arsenal, a 19th century military post that later formed the core of what is today the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee.

January 6th marked the 150th anniversary of the capture of the facility by the Colonel William Gunn and the Quincy Young Guards. It was the first military encounter of the Civil War in Florida and was done under the direct orders of Governor Madison S. Perry. Because of this distinction, the arsenal holds a unique place in the history of both Florida and the nation. Please click here to read a detailed account of the seizure.

Although some key portions of the original complex still survive, large portions of the main arsenal compound were demolished years ago. This has led to some misunderstanding over the years as to the nature of the 19th century facility.

Armory Building and Tower
Built between 1834-1839, the Apalachicola Arsenal was a large complex that included what some accounts of the time described as some of the finest buildings in Florida. Brick for the facility had been manufactured nearby in the Mosquito Creek bottoms. Granite, slate, window glass and other materials had been shipped down from the north and brought up the Apalachicola River by steamboat.

When completed, the facility consisted of an array of buildings arranged around the outsides of a compound that covered four square acres. These structures were connected by a wall that stood 9 feet high and measured 30 inches thick. There were gates on the east and west sides of the quadrangle.

On the south side and occupying much of the south wall stood the main armory building, which was fronted by an octagonal tower that one impressed 19th century writer said reached to a "dizzying height." It was likely the tallest building in Florida in the antebellum era.

The west wall connected a series of buildings, the most impressive of which was the Officer's Quarters which still survives. A beautiful structure surrounded by wide verandas that continued both inside and outside of the wall, it had been designed to provide luxurious accommodations for the commanding officer and his family.

Modern Building built over Arsenal Structure
Adjoining this structure was a guard room, which also still stands today. Parts of other buildings appear to be incorporated into modern structures. The building directly across Main Street from the Officer's Quarters, for example, clearly incorporates an original arsenal structure as its ground floor. This may also be true of other modern buildings on the arsenal complex.

At the time of its seizure by the Young Guards, this main complex was considered by most people to be the "arsenal." The structures included, in addition to the armory, tower, officer's quarters and guard room, a barracks for enlisted men, workshops, storage buildings and other buildings.

In addition to this main compound, the arsenal also had three external buildings located down the hill and a short distance away. One of these, an external magazine, survives today and is called "the arsenal" by many local residents, even though it was actually located outside the main compound. The other two structures - a second powder magazine and a building that served unknown purposes - no longer exist.

Despite the demolition of many of its buildings during the mid-20th century, the arsenal remains a landmark of Florida history. The Officer's Quarters, guard room and external magazine survive, as do portions of the original wall and parts of some of the other structures.

If you would like to learn more about the arsenal and its history, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/arsenal1.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Former Gadsden Resident Memorialized in Apalachicola

Dr. Alvin W. Chapman
Dr. Alvin Wentworth Chapman, who lived in Quincy from around 1835 to 1847, is remembered today in Apalachicola at one of the most beautiful botanical gardens to be found in any small city in the South.

A native of Massachusetts who was educated at Amherst, Dr. Chapman moved South after he graduated college and arrived in Marianna in 1834. He practiced medicine there for one year before moving to Quincy where he opened a medical practice in 1835.

Chapman had always been fascinated with nature, but after arriving in Florida he cultivated the friendship of Hardy Bryan Croom. Croom was the owner of a plantation along the Jackson County side of the Apalachicola River opposite Gadsden County's Aspalaga Bluff (just south of today's I-10 bridge). As he traveled back and forth between his plantation and Tallahassee, Croom noticed groves of a unique type of tree growing at Aspalaga Bluff. He invested further and as a result is credited with "officially" discovering and naming the Florida Torreya tree, one of the rarest trees in the world.

Chapman Botanical Garden
Through his association with Croom, Chapman found his fascination with the plant life of the South growing more and more intense. After Croom's tragic death in a shipwreck, Chapman devoted his life to exploring the flora of the South and became one of America's premier botanists.

He lived in Quincy until 1847 when he relocated to Apalachicola, where he became a friend of Dr. John Gorrie (inventor of a process for artificial refrigeration and making ice). In 1860 he published the first edition of his landmark book, Flora of the Southern States. The book is still a fixture on the shelves of those interested in the rare plants of the South.

Chapman died in 1899 and is buried at Chestnut Cemetery in Apalachicola. Honoring his life and dedication to the unique plants of the South, the city is now home to the Chapman Botanical Garden. Located adjacent to Orman House Historic State Park and Apalachicola's beautiful Three Soldiers Monument, the garden features winding pathways, a butterfly garden, unique plantings, footbridges and more. It is a very nice tribute to the man for whom it is named and is one of the finest botanical gardens to be found in any small city in America.

To learn more about the garden, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/chapmangarden.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Explosion on the C.S.S. Chattahoochee - May 27, 1863

I've launched a new web page that might be of interest to Gadsden County history buffs. It focuses on the tragic explosion aboard the C.S.S. Chattahoochee on May 27, 1863.

Based from a home port at Chattahoochee Landing, the Confederate warship was the most powerful Civil War vessel ever to operate on the Apalachicola River. It had been built from green timber in Early County, Georgia, and was commissioned far behind schedule on January 1, 1863.

Although the original plan seems to have been for the Chattahoochee to steam down the river and break the blockade at Apalachicola Bay, it took so long to complete her that by the time she was ready for action, the Confederate army had already obstructed the Apalachicola River. The obstructions near today's Wewahitchka were designed to keep Union warships from coming up the river, but they also prevented the Chattahoochee from making it down to the bay. As a result, she spent her career steaming up and down the river while her crew participated in artillery drills.

On May 26, 1863, however, the Chattahoochee went into action after news reached Chattahoochee Landing of a Union raid into the lower Apalachicola River. Steaming down to Blountstown, the ship was unable to continue due to shallow water. The next day as she prepared to head back up to Chattahoochee, a massive explosion rocked the warship and 16 men were scalded to death where they stood by super-heated steam. It was the deadliest naval accident in Florida during the Civil War.

To learn more, please visit the new page at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/csschattahoochee.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Signed Copies of Early History of Gadsden County, Florida

Just a reminder that if you are looking for a unique Christmas gift this holiday season, copies of The Early History of Gadsden County are available through the West Gadsden Historical Society.

Profits from the book benefit their efforts to preserve and interpret the history of all of Gadsden County, efforts in which they do an outstanding job. They can be purchased in Gadsden County at the following locations:
  • Padget Jewelers - Quincy
  • Twin City News - Chattahoochee
  • Planters Exchange - Havana
Mail order forms for this and other books available through the historical society can be found on their website at www.gadsdenhistory.org.

If you prefer to order online, you can do that at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/dalecox. All order service is now provided by Amazon.com and there is still time to receive your book by Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Battle of Ocheesee, Florida

I've launched a new webpage that might be of interest as it relates to events in Gadsden County.

The Battle of Ocheesee took place 192 years ago this week, during the opening days of the First Seminole War. Seminole and Creek warriors, flush from major victories at Scott's Massacre in Gadsden County and the Battle of Blunt's Town in Calhoun County converged on the Apalachicola River to stop a small flotilla of supply boats from making its way upstream to Fort Scott (on today's Lake Seminole).

The fighting left at least two U.S. soldiers dead and 13 wounded and resulted in the boats being pinned down in the middle of the Apalachicola River between today's Torreya State Park and Ocheesee Bluff for more than five days. The battle involved the largest number of Indian warriors of any engagement of the First Seminole War.

To read more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ocheese1.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Website on Scott's Massacre of 1817

I've launched a new web page on Scott's Massacre of 1817, the battle that took place on the Apalachicola River at present-day Chattahoochee during the First Seminole War.

The battle took place when Creek and Seminole warriors, outraged over an unprovoked attack by U.S. soldiers on the Creek village of Fowltown (in today's Decatur County, Georgia) swarmed to the Apalachicola River seeking to stop supply boats from reaching Fort Scott. The fort stood on the Flint River arm of today's Lake Seminole near Wingate's Restaurant.

Seeking to speed up the movement of the boats, General E.P. Gaines at Fort Scott sent down 40 men down the river in a boat under Lieutenant Richard W. Scott of the 7th U.S. Infantry. Scott reached the supply flotilla, but was ordered back up to the fort with 20 sick soldiers, 7 women and 4 children. The women and children were the wives and children of soldiers at Fort Scott. He had only around 20 able bodied men.

As Scott's boat rounded the sharp bend of the river between the railroad and U.S. 90 bridges at Chattahoochee, the strong current forced the men to navigate close to the east or Gadsden County shore. As the boat neared the short just south of today's Chattahoochee Landing, several hundred warriors opened fire.

Lieutenant Scott and most of his able bodied men fell in the first volley. The warriors quickly waded into the river and stormed the boat. By the time the fighting was over, only six of Scott's men and one woman survived.

The six soldiers, four of whom were wounded, escaped by leaping overboard and swimming away underwater to the Jackson County shore. The female survivor, Elizabeth Stewart, was captured by the warriors and carried away as a prisoner. She spent next five months working as a slave, cooking and doing other chores. She was rescued by troops under Andrew Jackson the following spring at the Battle of Econfina Natural Bridge east of Tallahassee. The rest of the soldiers and women were killed and mutilated. The four children were killed by having their heads beaten against the sides of the boat.

Please click here to visit the new website: www.exploresouthernhistory.com/scottsmassacre1.

Friday, July 3, 2009

West Gadsden Historical Society Open House set for July 4th!

On July 4, the West Gadsden Historical Society will host its 5th Annual Open House at its headquarters, the historic James A. Dezell House, located at the corner of E. 8th Street & Bristol Hwy. (State Rd. 12). Activities will be at 8:00 a.m. and continue until 3:00 p.m. Throughout the day the Society members will have a bake sale as well as hot boiled peanuts and soft drinks. In addition, note cards featuring various local scenes, t-shirts, the Society’s cookbook, as well as local history books by Dale Cox and Kay Davis Lay will be for sale. Dale’s book is The Early History of Gadsden County and Kay’s book, Something Gold, is a compilation of numerous interviews regarding the shade tobacco era in Gadsden County .

Various exhibits will include several local crafts persons who will have their wares on display and for sale. Buddy Pitts will show his collection of photographs from days of long ago in and around Greensboro . Kenneth Edwards will have a display featuring the McLane Family Massacre which took place April 23, 1840 only a few miles southwest of Greensboro . Kenneth, great-great-great grandson of the sole survivor John Kenzie McLane, will be showing historic family documents, photographs, relics, and other items of interest. Many descendants of John K. McLane live in Gadsden and the surrounding counties.

The annual quilt show will feature quilts made by the Peace Makers Quilters of the First Baptist Church in Greensboro . The group has generously donated a beautiful handmade full/queen size quilt which will be given to a lucky person. Tickets are $3.00 each and may be purchased at the following locations: Twin City News and Dr. Melzer’s office in Chattahoochee; Ivy Shop, A Touch of Tiffany, Mane Attraction, Padgett’s Jewelers, Flossie’s Cut & Curl, and Premier Bank in Quincy . The drawing will be held at 8:00 p.m. at the Greensboro Fireworks Celebration. You do not have to be present to win.

Coastal Seafood Restaurant in Panacea will be returning to sell delicious seafood lunches. Come join us on July 4 at our Open House and enjoy some down home time together with your friends and neighbors. Your support will be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Remembering Gadsden County Cigars

The news today that the newly approved Federal tobacco tax will increase the tax on hand rolled Florida cigars by 500% brought to mind the days when Gadsden County was a major producer of hand rolled cigars.

Let me say first that I don't smoke and never have, nor do I encourage it, but I am not aware of any problem with kids being addicted to expensive hand-rolled Florida cigars. The new tax was designed to make tobacco products too expensive for kids to buy. Industry executives in South Florida say it will most likely make it too expensive for them to continue to produce any cigars in Florida, driving the 2 billion dollar industry off-shore.

Gadsden County was once a major center, in fact, the center for this Florida industry. It was in Gadsden County that high quality tobacco for cigars was first grown in Florida. The following is excerpted from my 2008 book, The Early History of Gadsden County:


When the Comte de Castelnau visited Gadsden County in 1837 and 1838, he reported seeing many “fine cotton plantations” between Quincy and the Ochlockonee River, but his eye was more captivated by another crop that was producing amazing fortunes in the region – tobacco:

Cuban tobacco succeeds remarkably well in Middle Florida, and particularly in the light and somewhat sandy soils around Quincy. It requires continual care, as it is attacked by many insects. A slave cannot take care of more than two acres. It is recognized that tobacco requires new land, and generally the same ground is planted to it only two years and then it is planted to corn or cotton. It is felt that this manner of cultivation can be followed only in a country where the land is cheap. This product has been considered the most profitable of all and some small planters have made from three to five thousand francs from the work of each slave.

Tobacco was introduced to Florida as an agricultural crop by Governor William P. Duval during the 1820s and was first tried on a commercial scale by John Smith of Gadsden County. Smith experimented with both the “Little Duval” variety introduced by Governor Duval as well as with the “Florida Leaf,” a somewhat larger variety.

The history of tobacco production in Gadsden County was well told by Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles H. DuPont in an 1875 address to the Florida Fruit Growers Association:

The first reliable experiment that was made with the Cuba tobacco as a market crop, was inaugurated about the year 1830 by Mr. John Smith, a citizen of Gadsden county, who had recently immigrated from the State of Virginia, and was well acquainted with the culture of the Virginia chewing tobacco. His first experiment was with the, "Little Duval," but the demand for the "Wrapper" leaf becoming urgent, and the product per acre being much larger, he abandoned the former and confined his attention exclusively to the latter. His extraordinary success attracted the attention of the non-slaveholders and other small planters, and with them it soon became a staple market crop, and with the large cotton planters an extra crop, which without curtailing the amount of cotton produced, usually paid all the expenses of the plantation.

The Comte de Castelnau, during his brief visit to Quincy in February of 1838, described how a number of workers had come to Gadsden County from Cuba and were then engaged in the manufacture of cigars. Although they usually hesitated to allow visitors to see the interiors of their shops, they agreed to his request:

…They begin by taking a package of leaves, and they moisten them by sprinkling them with water which they hold in their mouths, and expel a very fine spray. They then take a leaf, place it on a layer of cork, and by means of a very sharp instrument smooth it, and obliquely cut the ends which are put in the center to form the inside of the cigar. It is then rolled and quickly assumes the form in which it is sold.

Castelnau noted that smokers of the day preferred “spotted cigars” and reported that these were created by sprinkling regular cigars with acid.

By 1850, of the 998,614 pounds of tobacco grown in Florida, 776,177 pounds were produced in Gadsden County. By 1860, the total had grown to more than one million pounds. Although he was never a cotton producer, Chief Justice DuPont was a well-placed resident of Gadsden County and had no difficulty recognizing the impact of the leaf on the local economy. He left little doubt that while cotton may have been king in much of the antebellum South, tobacco was most certainly the prince of Gadsden County. DuPont waxed philosophical in his description of its role in advancing civilization in the county:

…While it required no outlay of capital, it gave a return for the labor expended beyond the most sanguine anticipations. It furnished light and pleasant employment for the entire family, embracing wife and children, and by their united efforts they were greeted at the end of the year with a cash surplus over and above the provision necessary to be made for the supply of their physical wants. With this surplus annually accumulating comes the budding of a manly and commend able ambition. The father contemplates himself, and then looks upon his children as they gather around the domestic hearth: he becomes conscious of his own deficiencies, and forthwith registers in his swelling bosom the manly resolve that his children shall realize advantages which he never enjoyed. Soon the little log meeting-house undergoes repairs and enlargement, and others are erected for the more comfortable accommodation of the neighborhood. The preacher, in his visits to his weekly appointments, receives a warmer pressure of the hand that greets him, and a more cordial invitation to partake of the hospitality of the farm-house. The cry goes out, too, for the inauguration of a higher grade of schools than is usually found in the sparsely-populated new country. The cry increases and increases until it reaches to an imperative demand. Then the few educated men of the county meet in council to deliberate on the subject, and the result of that, deliberation is an application to the Legislative Council for a charter of incorporation for the establishment of the "Quincy Academy."

The academy described by DuPont still stands today in Quincy. The idea of an academy originated in the county in 1828 and the Legislative Council approved the incorporation of the Quincy Academy in 1832. Closely associated with the Washington Lodge Number 1, the academy was actually one of several schools established in early Gadsden County and provided educational opportunities for both boys and girls. When the female facility was destroyed by fire (along with the Gadsden County Courthouse) in 1849, the move was begun to build the structure that still stands. It was completed in 1851.

Tobacco by 1844 was producing more in wealth for Gadsden County than cotton and had long outlasted sugar cane as a commercial crop. Its impact on the county and its economy, stimulated by the development of the shade tobacco process, continued well into the 20th century and a number of charming old tobacco barns still stand as reminders of this crop that created thousands of jobs and pumped millions of dollars into Gadsden County for well over 100 years.
- End of Excerpt -

The Early History of Gadsden County is available through the West Gadsden Historical Society and benefits their work to preserve and interpret the history of Gadsden County. It is also available from Amazon.com by clicking here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wreck of the C.S.S. Chattahoochee

Resting in an honored spot in the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia, is an artifact that holds a significant place in the history of Gadsden County.

The C.S.S. Chattahoochee was a Confederate warship completed at Saffold, Georgia (near today's U.S. Highway 84 crossing between Dothan and Donalsonville) in 1863. Built of green timber by craftsmen who had never constructed a warship, the Chattahoochee was a massive gunboat with both masts and steam propulsion. Mounting a number of heavy guns, she was manned by a crew of more than 100 men. Her original captain, Lieutenant Catesby ap R. Jones, fully expected to steam her into action against the Union blockade ships in Apalachicola Bay.

Damaged on her initial trip down the river from Saffold to Chattahoochee, the gunboat was repaired in a makeshift facility at Chattahoochee Landing. Once the repairs were completed, the Chattahoochee became a fully operational Confederate warship. With Chattahoochee Landing as her home port, the boat steamed up and down the Apalachicola River and conducted artillery drills.

The high hopes of the Confederate Navy for the ship, however, were never realized. The assignment of Lieutenant Jones to command the vessel was a clear indication she was intended for combat. He was a Southern hero at the time, having commanded the ironclad C.S.S. Virginia during the second half of her monumental battle with the U.S.S. Monitor. The Confederate army, however, placed obstructions in the Apalachicola River before the Chattahoochee became operation. The barrier prevented Union warships from coming upstream, but also prevented the Chattahoochee from going down to the Gulf.

In May of 1863, while responding to a report of a Union raid up the river, the Chattahoochee sank in an accidental explosion at Blountstown. The dead from the accident were brought up to Chattahoochee and buried, while the wounded were taken upriver to Columbus, Georgia, as soon as they could be moved. Several others died and are buried there.

The Chattahoochee itself was raised, taken to Columbus and repaired. By the end of the war she was again ready for action and was awaiting the completion of the ironclad C.S.S. Jackson in anticipation of an attack on the blockade vessels at Apalachicola. Union troops captured Columbus before the Jackson was finished, however, and the crew of the Chattahoochee took her downstream a few miles and set her on fire. She burned to the waterline and sank in the Chattahoochee RIver.

The boat's stern section was raised by the snagboat Montgomery during the 1960s and now is preserved at the Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus. To learn more about the museum, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/navymuseum. The story of the Chattahoochee is told in much more detail in my 2008 book, The Early History of Gadsden County.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Last Paddlewheeler on the Apalachicola River

There are many today who remember the last of the real paddlewheel riverboats on the Apalachicola River.

It was only 27 years ago in 1982 that the U.S. Snagboat Montgomery made its final voyage. The beautiful old paddlewheel boat was a spectacular sight as it churned its way up and down the Apalachicola, removing snags and other debris to keep the channel open for navigation.

Built in 1926 in Charleston, South Carolina, the Montgomery was 178 feet long with a maximum width of 34 feet. With a draft of only 6 feet, she was ideally suited for work on the shallow rivers of the Deep South. During the first thirty years of her career, the paddlewheel boat worked on the Alabama, Coosa, Tallapoosa, Black Warrior and Tombigbee Rivers, but in 1959 she was moved from Alabama to Panama City, Florida, and put to work maintaining the channel of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River system.

In one of her remarkable duties, the triple-decked steamboat raised the stern section of the Confederate warship C.S.S. Chattahoochee from its resting place on the bottom of the Chattahoochee River. The Chattahoochee is now a permanent exhibit at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia.

The Montgomery was a common sight and on Lake Seminole during the last 20 years of her career. She was retired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1982.

The boat, remarkably, still survives. Now located at the Corps' Tom Bevill Visitor Center in Pickensville, Alabama, the Montgomery is now a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public. To learn more, please click here to visit the boat's outstanding website.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Gadsden County at the Battle of Natural Bridge

Today is the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought south of Tallahassee on March 6, 1865.

Men and boys from Gadsden County played a critical role in this fight, which preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not conquered by Union troops during the War Between the States.

The following is excerpted from my recent book, The Early History of Gadsden County, now available at http://www.amazon.com/.


Located north of Newport, the Natural Bridge was the next viable place where Newton’s Federals could cross the river. As the name implies, it was a natural formation where the St. Marks flowed underground for a short distance, creating a “bridge” where the river could be crossed. The march was long, dark and exhausting:

Sleeping and marching did not go well together for me, and my experience was shared by many others, we would strike a smooth bit of road, and five or six would probably be marching along asleep. Presently one would stumble and fall, not along, mind you for he would bring the sleeping fellows ahead like ten pins. It was not an unfrequent occurrence to see four or five on the ground at once, which would wake us up a little only to enact the same over again.

The column reached the Natural Bridge before daybreak and found Colonel Scott and a few of his cavalry from Newport already there. They were immediately formed into a line of battle.
Three of the Gadsden County home guard units were on the field at this time: the Gadsden Grays under Captain DuPont, Miles Johnston’s Company and the men under J. Porter Scott. They were initially placed on the left flank under Lieutenant Colonel Girardeau of the 1st Florida Militia. They had brought their cannon with them and it was placed in charge of a detachment under Lieutenant Whitehead.

The other Gadsden County unit at Natural Bridge before sunrise was Company L, 1st Florida Infantry Reserves, under Captain Gilchrist. These men, along with the six other companies of their regiment, formed the center of the curving Confederate line, while a force of dismounted cavalry under Major William H. Milton were placed on the right flank. Cannon were spaced at intervals along the line and the men fell on their arms to rest.

No sooner had they done so, however, than did the battle start. Dr. Hentz, who was to the rear at an old “piney woods house” designated the hospital, left a vivid description of the opening shots:

…All of a sudden bang-bang-bang-bang-bang went off a scattering volley of musketry down on the bridge accompanied by a wild Confederate yell; I saw the flashing of the guns in the dark; immediately a cannon that was in position began throwing shell into the advancing Yankees; one after another some half dozen were thrown, and exploded down in the darkness about the bridge; when suddenly volleys of musketry were poured from the companies supporting the cannon; and replied to by the Yankees – sheets of flame illuminating the darkness, and Minnie balls were whistling and shrieking all about us; cutting the bushes & hitting trees all about.

The Battle of Natural Bridge was underway. The Federals tried to force their way across the bridge, hoping to overpower the Confederates on the west bank, but were hurled back by the artillery fire and volleys of musketry described by Dr. Hentz. The Gadsden County men on the left flank were heavily engaged in this stage of the fighting and due to their position were able to pour fire into the flanks of the Union troops each time they advanced. After a determined effort to seize the passage, the Union officers pulled their men back to the cover of the woods while they assessed the situation.

To the south at Newport, the men of Smith’s company could hear the artillery fire at Natural Bridge:

…We heard as many as three or four reports of cannon toward a front, seven or eight miles further up the river named the Natural Bridge and at which point a courier told us was desperately threatened by the foe.

Not long afterward we marched thither leaving Newport entirely defenseless since the enemy opposite us had not all gone. Our route was over the Newport Plank Road, hedged on either side by the verdancy of the season.

The men from Newport reached Natural Bridge at around 8:30 a.m., placing five companies of men from Gadsden County on the ground. Major General Jones and Brigadier General William Miller were now both on the scene and after conferring decided to rearrange the position of the men on the line. Lieutenant Whitehead’s detachment with their cannon was moved around to the far right flank of the Confederate line. A section of the Gadsden Home Guards, now commanded by Colonel Love himself, was moved to the center and placed in support of two pieces of artillery from the Kilcrease Light Artillery commanded by Captain Patrick Houstoun. Their position was at the top of the ridge, just to the right of the point where the road now passes through Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park.

The rest of the Gadsden County citizens, now serving under Lieutenant Colonel Girardeau, remained in position with the other home guards on the left flank, while Gilchrist’s company of reserves was positioned with the rest of that regiment along the right side of the long curving line.

These rearrangements had just been perfected and the Confederates were busily engaged in throwing up earthen breastworks when the Federals suddenly launched their main attack. Dr. Hentz, serving at the hospital to the rear, remembered that shot and shell began falling heavily around him:

At about noon the battle began in earnest; shells flew thick and fast; and balls were whistling and falling everywhere. Where Dr. Mapp and I were sitting, a distance in the rear of the line of battle, Minnie balls were falling about us all day, making the dirty fly; and shells thrown by the Yankees’ cannon, burst occasionally in the air. One shell burst so close to us that a fragment as large as the palm of my hand tore the ground up just beyond my foot….

Among the soldiers on the field at this time was the editor of the Quincy Semi-Weekly Dispatch. From his position with the home guards on the left flank, he described how, “The enemy attacked with considerable spirit and made three attempts to cross the bridge, but each time was repulsed with comparatively heavy loss.

The sound of the battle could be heard for miles around and the residents of North Florida listened intently to the boom of the cannon, silently hoping and praying that the Confederates would hold. The situation now was far more than political. If the Federal troops forced their way across at Natural Bridge, then all of Florida between the Suwannee and the Apalachicola would be open to them. As the raid on Marianna had demonstrated the previous fall, this would mean devastation of the local economy and infrastructure and misery beyond description.

In one of the rare occurrences of the war, however, the Confederates at Natural Bridge outnumbered their enemy in both men and artillery. Eight courageous charges by the Federal troops were driven back and General Newton was finally forced to acknowledge that his campaign was at an end. His troops began a slow withdrawal from the battlefield, hurling back Southern counterattacks by the 2nd Florida Cavalry (C.S.) and felling trees across the road to slow pursuit. By nightfall the Union soldiers were in full retreat to the Gulf of Mexico.

The men and boys from Gadsden County had played a critical role in the fighting of the Natural Bridge campaign. The presence of Smith’s company had been vital in allowing the Confederates to hold the position at Newport Bridge, forcing the Federals to march north and try to cross at Natural Bridge. The efforts of the other companies there during the early stages of the battle, in a stand-up fight on open ground before they had time to build breastworks, gave Confederate officers time to bring enough reinforcements in men and artillery to the field to win the battle. Tallahassee would remain the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi River not captured by Union forces during the War Between the States.

When the smoke cleared and casualties could be assessed, the disproportionate outcome of the battle was obvious. Southern forces lost 6 killed or mortally wounded, 39 wounded and 4 captured or missing. Five African American civilians at Newport had also been killed by artillery fire. The Union forces, by comparison, had suffered the loss of 34 killed or mortally wounded, 77 wounded and 40 captured or missing in action. The Confederates had sustained a total loss of 49 (exclusive of the civilians at Newport), while the Federals had lost 151. Amazingly, none of the citizen soldiers from Gadsden County were killed or wounded in the battle.

Beyond its obvious role in preventing the capture of Tallahassee and St. Marks, the Battle of Natural Bridge served a greater purpose in preventing the desolation of Gadsden, Leon and surround counties by Union forces. The north was then practicing a strategy of “total warfare,” as evidence by their actions at Marianna and during Sherman’s March to the Sea. Had Newton and his men broken through at Newport and Natural Bridge, it is reasonable to assume that the entire region would have experienced vast economic damage and destruction.

Instead, by achieving the last significant Southern victory of the War Between the States, the men from Gadsden and the surrounding counties saved their homes and communities as well as their state capital. The war ended just a few months later, but with its infrastructure still intact, the people of Gadsden County were able to rebound quickly from the horrors of the war. The county stepped through the door into the future even as the area of Florida to the west descended into a brutal time of post-war violence and bloodshed.

--To read this chapter in its entirety, including the lists of Gadsden County men known to have been at the Battle of Natural Bridge, please consider purchasing a copy of The Early History of Gadsden County now available at http://www.amazon.com/.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Early History of Jackson County" moves into Top 50

The Early History of Gadsden County spent this weekend ranked in the Top 50 books about Florida at Amazon.com. As of Sunday night, it was ranked #41 on Amazon's list of Florida bestsellers.

This is especially pleasing because proceeds from the book benefit the West Gadsden Historical Society in its effort to preserve and interpret the history of Gadsden County, Florida.

Thank you to everyone who has helped to make the book a success. It is humbling to me and I am very appreciative for what you are doing to help preserve local history in Florida.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Early History of Gadsden County now available at Amazon.com

The Early History of Gadsden County is now available for order online through Amazon.com. The book went into national release over the weekend.

Sales from this book benefit the West Gadsden Historical Society in its efforts to preserve and interpret the history of Gadsden County, Florida.

The book covers incidents from the history of Gadsden County beginning with the Spanish mission era and continuing up through the War Between the States. Some highlights include Ellicott's Observatory, Nicolls' Outpost, the Second Seminole War, the McLane Massacre, the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee, Neamathla's Reserve, the C.S.S. Chattahoochee and Gadsden County's role at the Battle of Natural Bridge.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Forts of Gadsden County

It is a little known fact that Gadsden County has been the location of a suprising number of forts and military posts over the years. Over the next week or so, we'll explore the history of some of these.

Although little remains of these, with the exception of a few structures from the 19th century U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee, they were important to the early history of not just the county, but the nation itself.

Here is a list of the sites that we will explore over coming days:
  • Old Spanish Fort
  • Nicolls' Outpost
  • U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee
  • Fort Barbour
  • Fort McClellan
  • Lamb's Camp Fort
  • Unnamed Forts of the Second Seminole War

We'll begin with a look at the rumored Old Spanish Fort at Chattahoochee later today.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Anniversary of the Seizure of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee

Today marks the 148th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee by the Quincy Young Guards at the beginning of the Civil War.
The incident was the first armed encounter of the Civil War in Florida and the anniversary marks a major date in the history of Gadsden County.

To commemorate the event, I began a series of posts today on our sister site at http://civilwarflorida.blogspot.com/.

Over the next few days I will be posting excerpts from my recent book, The Early History of Gadsden County. If you are interested in learning more, please follow the link above to read the excerpts or consider purchasing a copy of the book by following the link in this paragraph.

Purchases benefit the West Gadsden Historical Society in its effort to protect and preserve the history and historic sites of Gadsden County.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

More on Ellicott's Observatory

This is a second excerpt from The Early History of Gadsden County about Ellicott's Observatory, the little known 1799 scientific camp established on the site of Chattahoochee. The story picks up as Ellicott prepared to leave a similar observatory established in neighboring Jackson County at the point where the Chattahoochee River intersected with the Florida-Alabama line:

The work at the Jackson County camp was completed and the surveyors prepared to drop down the Chattahoochee River to its confluence with the flint when they suddenly received alarming news:

One or two days before we left our position on the Chattahocha for the mouth of Flint river, Mr. Burgess, who had lately been one of our deputy agents, and interpreters, and who had agreeably to the Creek custom intermarried with several of their females, who then lived with him, informed me confidentially, that a plan was laid to plunder us on our way to the St. Mary’s, and requested me to write to Col. Hawkins, to join us at the mouth of Flint river immediately, as his influence would effect our safety, if it was in the power of any man to do it.

The “Mr. Burgess” mentioned by Ellicott was James Burgess, a white trader that lived among the Creeks and maintained trading posts and homes at Tomatley in Jackson County and “Burgess’ Town” on the Flint River (present-day Bainbridge, Georgia). Burgess had lived in the area for more than thirty years and his warning to Ellicott and Minor (who was also now on the scene) was delivered at considerable risk to his own life.

Ellicott wrote a letter to Colonel Hawkins on the night of August 22, 1799, requesting that he join the party at the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and the next day climbed into a canoe with Minor and paddled downstream to the site of present-day Chattahoochee in Gadsden County. A new camp was established and an astronomical observatory constructed from which the two men could conduct the necessary calculations for running the line east to the head of the St. Mary’s River.

The swampy ground at the mouth of the Flint River proved unsuitable for camping, so Ellicott related that the observatory was established on a nearby bluff:

The ground about the mouth of the Flint river not being fit for encamping on, in consequence thereof, we pitched on the nearest commanding eminence, from which with the least labour in falling the timber, the junction of the rivers might be discovered.

Work had been underway at the Chattahoochee observatory for about two weeks and went peacefully enough for Minor to dismiss his military escort. An escort of American soldiers remained. Things seemed to be going well when James Burgess suddenly appeared on the scene:

On the 9th Mr. Burgess paid us a visit. After dinner he took me into the observatory, and asked this question, “Did you write to Col. Hawkins while at the Upper Camp agreeably to my recommendation”? To which he was answered in the affirmative. “You have not”, says he, “written as pointedly as was necessary, or he would have been here before this: you must write to him immediately, and procure support from the Upper Creeks, which may be had, or you will positively be plundered on your way to St. Mary’s; you may think me a fool, but mark the end.”

Benjamin Hawkins reached the camp at Chattahoochee on September 14th, but just three days later the surveyors received another warning, this time from William Perryman, an important Native American leader that lived about fifteen miles upstream in Jackson County:

Early in the morning of the 17th, we received a message from Indian Willy, (a person of property,) who resides on the Chattahocha, a few miles above the mouth of the Flint river, to the following effect: “Gentleman, I have sent my Negro, to inform you that about twenty Indians lay near my place last night, they intend mischief; many more are behind: they say they are Chocktaws; but this is not true. Be on your guard, and remember I have nothing to do with it: my Negro goes at midnight."

The warnings were providential and caused the surveyors to tighten their guard....

(End of Excerpt)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ellicott's Observatory - A Key Moment in Gadsden County, History

The man seen here is Andrew Ellicott, a contemporary and friend of President George Washington and the man assigned to survey the permanent border between the United States and Spanish Florida.
In 1799 he and his men camped on the present-day site of Chattahoochee, where they conducted astronomical observations to help determine the exact location of the boundary.
The story of Ellicott's Observatory is told in one of the chapters in the new book, The Early History of Gadsden County. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, they can be ordered online by clicking here or from the West Gadsden Historical Society at PO Box D, Greensboro, FL 32330-0803 for $25.00 plus $5 shipping and handling. You can call them for more information at (850) 442-6434 or (850) 442-4041.
Here is the first of a series of excerpts from the Ellicott's Observatory chapter that I will be posting over coming days:
(Excerpt from Chapter Five)
Spain lost control of Florida as a result of the French and Indian War, but regained control of its North American colony in 1783 due to its alliance with the fledgling United States during the American Revolution. Even though they had been allies in the war against Great Britain, however, the two countries soon became uneasy neighbors. Settlers in the southern states looked hungrily to Florida and the Gulf Coast. The old European power found itself faced with an unexpectedly rising American power.
The location of the true border between the two countries became a major issue and following extensive negotiations, the United States and Spain signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo in 1795.
Ratified the following year, the document provided that permanent border between Spanish Florida and the territory of the United States would run east along the 31st parallel to the Chattahoochee River. From the point where the line intersected the river, it would turn south down the center of the Chattahoochee to the tip of the point of land at its confluence with the Flint. From there the line would again turn east and run to the headwaters of the St. Mary’s River, thence down that stream to the Atlantic.
This was all well and good, but neither nation knew exactly where the 31st parallel lay and no one had ever explored the St. Mary’s River sufficiently to find its actual head. As a result it was necessary to employ a joint surveying team to mark the border and establish the line once and for all. The United States designated Andrew Ellicott as its Commissioner of Limits. Spain selected James Dunbar, who was eventually replaced by Stephen Minor.
One of the young nation’s most distinguished surveyors, Ellicott was a native of Maryland and had served during the American Revolution as a major in the Maryland militia. His previous work included the 1786 survey of the western border of Pennsylvania and, of particular note, his 1791 project undertaken at the request of President George Washington to establish the limits for the new District of Columbia. He was one of the men responsible for the unique street design of Washington, D.C.
Spain’s original commissioner, James Dunbar, fell ill before the survey project could begin and was replaced by Captain Stephen Minor of Natchez. A native of Pennsylvania, Minor had served in the Spanish army during the American Revolution and was at the captures of Mobile and Pensacola during that war. A planter, official and commander of the Spanish fort in Natchez, Mississippi, he was a leading figure of his time.
Ellicott and Minor began work on the Mobile River in Alabama in 1799, accompanied by a large team of surveyors, contractors and Spanish troops. The soldiers provided protection for the party against the Creeks, a necessity because the two countries were illegally dividing lands that really belonged to someone else, the Creek Nation. A council was convened with leaders of the Upper Creeks at Pensacola to explain that neither country intended to take any of their lands, but instead were engaged in drawing a line to establish the limits of influence agreed to between the two countries. The Lower Creeks and Seminoles were not represented at the council, but the Spanish governor sent emissaries to them to explain the project.

Ellicott and Minor began the survey by conducting astronomical observations on the Mobile River to determine the exact location where the 31st parallel intersected the river. After erecting a stone at the beginning point for the line, the two commissioners proceeded to Pensacola to enjoy the hospitality of the governor there while the actual work party started chopping its way through the wilderness to mark the line as far east as the Chattahoochee River.
Although neither Ellicott nor Minor knew it at the time, the primitive equipment they used cased them to actually miss their mark. The point where they thought the 31st parallel intersected the Mobile River was actually 799 feet off from the true spot. Over the long distance separating the Mobile and Chattahoochee Rivers, this led to considerable error in marking the line. A study by Greg Spies of Troy University has revealed that the Ellicott Line varies from the true border for virtually its entire length.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Anniversary of Scott's Massacre - November 30, 1817

Today marks the 191st anniversary of the Seminole War battle remembered as Scott's Massacre.
This bloody fight took place on November 30, 1817, on the Apalachicola River in roughly the area of Chattahoochee Landing in Gadsden County.
The battle began when Seminole and Creek warriors attacked a U.S. Army supply boat from the Gadsden County side of the river. The current had forced the boat to navigate close to the shore, allowing the warriors to fire from point blank range.
After firing a volley of musket and rifle fire that killed or wounded most of the able-bodied U.S. soldiers on the boat, the warriors (reportedly led by the refugee Creek chief Homathlemico and others) waded into the river and overwhelmed the survivors. The incident was widely mentioned in 19th century histories of the United States, but has now faded into obscurity. Illustrations like the one shown here were used in a number of books of that era.
The attack resulted in the deaths of at least 34 U.S. soldiers, 6 women (wives of soldiers) and 4 children. Four other soldiers were wounded, but escaped by leaping into the river and swimming away to the opposite bank. Only three people survived without injury. Two of them were soldiers that escaped to the opposite bank. The third, Elizabeth Stewart, was taken captive by the warriors and held in various villages until the following spring when she was rescued by troops under Andrew Jackson.
The event marked the deadliest day in the history of Gadsden County. If you would like to learn more, please consider my new book, The Early History of Gadsden County. The book can be ordered by following the link and can also be purchased through the West Gadsden Historical Society. Simply visit www.gadsdenhistory.org for their address and phone number. It is also available at Chipola River Book and Tea in Marianna (downtown across from the Battle of Marianna monument) and will be available through other locations in January.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Scott's Massacre of 1817 - Part Three

This little scene sketch shows Creek and Seminole warriors preparing to ambush Lt. Scott's boat as it nears the east bank of the Apalachicola River at today's Chattahoochee Landing.
The artwork was used as an illustration in a century old book on U.S. history.
Here is more of the story of the massacre from my new book, The Early History of Gadsden County:
By the afternoon of December 30, 1817, Scott’s boat was nearing the present-day site of Chattahoochee. As the boat came around the sharp bend between today’s highway and railroad bridges, the strong current of the Apalachicola forced the soldiers to navigate close to the Gadsden County shore. A force of several hundred Creek, Seminole and African American warriors was concealed there, arrayed along the riverbank in the area just below Chattahoochee Landing. The boat was extremely vulnerable as Scott and his able-bodied men worked to make headway around the bend and the leader of the war party, the Red Stick chief Homathlemico, chose this moment to make his attack.

As General Gaines indicated in his report to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, the assault was sudden and overwhelming:

…It is now my painful duty to report an affair of a more serious and decisive nature than has heretofore occurred, and which leaves no doubt of the necessity of an immediate application of force and active measures on our part. A large party of Seminole Indians, on the 30th ultimo, formed in ambuscade, on the Appalachicola river, a mile below the junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee, attacked one of our boats, ascending the river near the shore, and killed, wounded, and took, the greater part of the detachment, consisting of forty men, commanded by Lieutenant R.W. Scott of the 7th Infantry. There were also on board, killed or taken, seven women, the wives of soldiers. Six men of the detachment only escaped, four of whom were wounded.

The first volley swept the boat and “Lieutenant Scott and his most valuable men fell.” The warriors then splashed into the river and stormed the boat, climbing over the sides and attacking the survivors with knives and hatchets. Only six of the 40 soldiers in the boat escaped. According to their report, the attackers were not seen until they actually opened fire. When the warriors stormed the boat, the survivors – four of whom were already wounded – leaped overboard and swam from the scene.

Of the 51 men, women and children in the boat, 44 died in the attack. The victims included 34 soldiers from the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantries, six women and four children. Officers at Fort Scott reported in private letters that the children were killed by being picked up by their feet and swung against the sides of the boat until their brains were dashed out. The scalps of the dead, both male and female, were later found hanging in a Seminole village near present-day Tallahassee.
Of the seven survivors, six were the soldiers that escaped to Fort Scott. The seventh was a woman named Mrs. Elizabeth Stewart. According to some sources, her husband, a sergeant, was killed in the attack. Other sources indicate he survived. She was taken prisoner by the warriors. She eventually wound up with the Red Stick band of Peter McQueen and was freed the following spring by Creek warriors fighting on the side of the United States. She moved to Fort Gaines after the war where she married John Dill, an officer in the Georgia militia. They lived out the rest of their lives in the town and tradition holds that her home, now a bed and breakfast inn in Fort Gaines, was built using paper money she picked up from the ground after it was thrown away by her captors. Her grave can be seen in the community’s old pioneer cemetery.
(End of Excerpt)
If you are interested in obtaining a copy of The Early History of Gadsden County, it can be ordered online by clicking here. Copies are also available through the West Gadsden Historical Society. Visit their website at www.gadsdenhistory.org for contact information.