St. Vincent Island

How much history can one island hold? If you’re looking at the barrier islands and keys off the coast of Florida, the answer is quite a lot. Take St. Vincent Island, for example. It’s a barrier island guarding the western entrance to Apalachicola Bay in the Florida Panhandle. Geologists estimate the island to be a mere 4,400 years old, but in that time it has been an outpost for Confederate soldiers, a cattle ranch, a resort and hunting preserve for rich tourists, a Spanish military camp, and a home for Native Americans.

Excerpt of a 1992 Florida Department of Transportation map showing St. Vincent Island and the surrounding area.

Excerpt of a 1992 Florida Department of Transportation map showing St. Vincent Island and the surrounding area. Click the map to enlarge it.

St. Vincent Island is about 12,300 acres in size, with fourteen miles of beaches on the eastern and southern shores. It is sandwiched between St. George Island on the east and a small spit of land jutting out from Cape San Blas on the west. Indian Pass, which separates the island from the mainland, has historically been too shallow for major ship traffic, but the gap between St. Vincent and St. George islands (known as West Pass) was once a critical commercial entrance to Apalachicola Bay. The terrain is a microcosm of Florida itself, featuring small freshwater lakes, hills, forests of virgin pine growth, and swamps. Its first human residents were Native Americans who lived about 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists have located pottery shards and shell middens testifying to their stay.

View of one of the inlets on St. Vincent Island (1983).

View of one of the inlets on St. Vincent Island (1983).

Documentation of the island’s naming is scant, but the reigning theory is that Franciscan friars working with the Apalachee tribes during the first Spanish colonial period named the island after St. Vincent, a martyr of the fourth century. Creek and Seminole Indians eventually made it to St. Vincent Island, replacing the earlier native tribes whose numbers dwindled from disease and battle following the arrival of the Europeans. Spanish forces also used the island in 1815 as a temporary refuge while operating in the Apalachicola River valley.

In 1811, Creek and Seminole leaders added St. Vincent Island to a large land grant designed to settle their debts to John Forbes and Company, a British trading firm. This land grant was known as the Forbes Purchase, and ultimately consisted of about 1.5 million acres of territory between the Apalachicola and Wakulla rivers.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (circa 1817). State Library Map Collection.

Map of the Forbes Purchase (circa 1817). State Library Map Collection. Click map to enlarge it.

The validity of the Forbes Purchase was challenged once Florida became a U.S. possession in 1821, but the successors of the Forbes firm held title to St. Vincent Island until 1858, when they sold the land to Robert Floyd, a lawyer in nearby Apalachicola. Floyd and his young son Gabriel lived on the island, most likely at a point overlooking West Pass. The elder Floyd was serving as a collector of customs for the United States government as of 1860.

Excerpt on an 1845 election return from Franklin County showing Robert J. Floyd as a voter. Click on the image to view the entire return, part of the 1845 Election Returns collection on Florida Memory.

Excerpt on an 1845 election return from Franklin County showing Robert J. Floyd as a voter. Click on the image to view the entire return, part of the 1845 Election Returns collection on Florida Memory.

Despite its strategic view over the western route into Apalachicola Bay, St. Vincent Island played a relatively limited role in the Civil War. Several companies of the Fourth Florida Infantry commanded by Colonel Edward Hopkins occupied the island during the summer of 1861, but Governor John Milton ordered the island and all supplies and equipment removed later that year. The Confederates did build a small fort on the island, which they called Fort Mallory in honor of Stephen Mallory, Confederate Secretary of the Navy. It was short-lived, however. When Union naval personnel from the East Gulf Blockade Squadron landed on St. Vincent in December 1861, they reported that the fort had been dismantled and deserted.

Letter appointing Dr. C.C. Burke as Surgeon for Confederate troops on St. Vincent Island (1861).

Letter appointing Dr. C.C. Burke as Surgeon for Confederate troops on St. Vincent Island (1861). Click the image to enlarge it.

As it turned out, the island was much more significant as a source of food than as a fortification. Robert Floyd died in 1860, but he had apparently maintained a large herd of sheep, cattle, and chickens on the island during his time there. One report suggested that over a thousand head of cattle inhabited the place. Owing to the wartime emergency, the land remained in legal limbo for the duration of the conflict, and citizens of Apalachicola helped themselves to the food animals roaming free on St. Vincent.

By the time the war had ended and things were getting back to normal, Gabriel Floyd had died, leaving the ownership of St. Vincent Island in turmoil yet again. George Hatch, a banker and former mayor of Cincinatti, purchased the island for $3,000 at public auction and lived there for a time. He died in 1875 and was buried on the island, making his the only marked grave on St. Vincent.

Grave of George Hatch, owner of St. Vincent Island from 1868 to his death in 1875. This is the only marked grave on the island (photo 1970).

Grave of George Hatch, owner of St. Vincent Island from 1868 to his death in 1875. This is the only marked grave on the island (photo 1970).

Hatch’s family remained on St. Vincent Island for a number of years before selling it in 1890. Ownership passed in 1907 to Dr. Raymond Vaughn Pierce, a physician from Buffalo, New York. Pierce had made a fortune manufacturing patent medicines with names like “Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery” and “Dr. Pierce’s Pellets.” He also published a book entitled The People’s Common Sense Medical Advisor in Plain English.

Dr. Raymond Vaughn Pierce with a recently killed wild boar on St. Vincent Island (1909).

Dr. Raymond Vaughn Pierce with a recently killed wild boar on St. Vincent Island (1909).

Pierce decided to transform the island into a resort and hunting preserve. He constructed a number of cottages and buildings for his family and guests, and imported a variety of exotic wildlife, including the Sambur or India deer, Japanese deer, and Chinese antelope. He also maintained a number of food crops and a herd of cattle to supply his table. A thousand wild hogs and three to four hundred head of cattle were estimated to roam the island during the 1920s.

One of the bungalows built by Dr. Pierce (1909).

One of the bungalows built by Dr. Pierce (1909).

Group of guests having lunch on St. Vincent Island (circa 1910).

Group of guests having lunch on St. Vincent Island (circa 1910).

Dr. Pierce died on St. Vincent Island in 1914, but his descendants continued to run the island for a number of years. During World War II, large portions of the island’s virgin yellow pine timber were cut and transported over a makeshift bridge to the mainland. The Pierce family also began leasing oystering rights to outside parties in order to make money. The family sold St. Vincent Island in 1948 to brothers Henry and Alfred Loomis, who sold it in 1968 to the Nature Conservancy. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service promptly designated St. Vincent Island as a National Wildlife Refuge, which it remains today.

What Did Civil War Soldiers Eat?

What did soldiers eat in Florida during the Civil War? What did they wear? What kinds of equipment were they assigned? Sometimes when studying history we get so busy discussing “big” issues like political trends and battles and ideas that we lose sight of everyday experiences. Diaries and letters are two kinds of documents that can help us uncover this sort of commonplace detail, but what if you could get even closer to the heart of the matter and see lists of the supplies and equipment received by an individual regiment?

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

That’s the great strength of the Joseph C. Shaw Papers, a collection held by the State Archives of Florida at its research facility in Tallahassee. Shaw was an Ohio native who served in the Sixth Michigan Infantry before accepting a commission as a lieutenant in the Fifteenth Regiment of the Corps d’Afrique in Louisiana. This unit was later reorganized as the 99th United States Colored Troops, which served in Florida in 1864 and 1865. The 99th was one of 175 Union regiments consisting mainly of African-American soldiers. The officers in these units were almost always white.

Shaw served as the quartermaster for his regiment, handling much of the paperwork regarding supplies, equipment, foraging for the animals, and rations for the men. His papers contain a variety of reports describing exactly what was issued to and consumed by the 99th U.S. Colored Troops while they were stationed at various points along Florida’s Gulf coast. Here are a few sample pages from the reports – click each image to enlarge:

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member's signature is indicated by an

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member’s signature is indicated by an “X” mark. Even though the 99th USCT was a Union regiment, it was raised in Louisiana, where its members had enjoyed few if any opportunities for formal education. Box 4, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

These records may seem rather mundane, but it’s exactly this sort of information that helps historians piece together the daily experiences of soldiers during the Civil War. They are especially useful when examined alongside diaries and letters from individual soldiers to help parse some of the references the authors make to their living conditions.

Because these records were generally shared between unit quartermasters and the military departments of the Union and Confederate governments, the majority of these reports (where they still exist at all) are accessible only through the National Archives in Washington. In a few cases, such as that of Joseph Shaw, quartermaster officers or generals retained their own copies of the reports, and they eventually made their way to other archives such as the State Archives of Florida by donation.

To learn more about the Civil War era records housed at the State Archives of Florida, check out our research guide on the subject. We also recommend reviewing the Civil War in Florida bibliography from the State Library.

Juneteenth and Emancipation Day in Florida

June 19th is celebrated in many parts of the United States as “Juneteenth,” to commemorate the end of slavery after the Civil War. Many Floridians, however, celebrate a separate Emancipation Day on May 20th. So… which date is correct, May 20th or June 19th? In taking a look at the history of these celebrations, we see that the answer is… both.

Read more »

Hidden History in Civil War Documents

During the American Civil War (1861-65), Florida faced serious shortages of many consumer items that were normally obtained through trade. Clothing, weapons, ammunition, hardware, and even salt became scarcer and scarcer as the Union Navy encircled the Florida coastline with a blockade. What limited trade items could be obtained were generally funneled to the front lines for soldiers’ use.

C.S.S. Florida

C.S.S. Florida “runs” the Union blockade at Mobile Bay. “Blockade runners” used small, fast vessels to sneak past or outrun Union blockade ships and conduct trade (1862).

These privations were tough, especially the lack of food, arms, ammunition, and metal goods. Sometimes, however, the best illustrations of history come from the tiniest details. Want to see a great example of how strapped Florida’s citizens were for certain supplies during the Civil War? Look at their writing!

The words written on a historical document are certainly very useful, but sometimes how they are written, what they are written on, and what they are written with can be just as important for learning something new about the past. Take this document, for example:

Letter from "Julius" to an unidentified friend, August 24, 1863 (MS 109, State Library Manuscript Collections).

Letter from “Julius” to an unidentified friend, August 24, 1863 (MS 109, State Library Manuscript Collections).

This letter was written August 24th 1863 by a man named Julius, who was stationed at Legare’s Point on James Island near Charleston, South Carolina. You’ll notice right off that he wrote the letter in two directions, at right angles so as to be as readable as possible. He italicized his handwriting, which also increased the readability of the letter.

Why go to all this trouble? The answer is simple – as the war grew longer, paper and stationery supplies grew increasingly tight throughout the Confederacy. This was particularly true for soldiers on the front like Julius, who were often away from towns for long periods at a time. Although there were paper mills in the South in the 1860s, most letter-writing paper still had to be imported. The paper produced in the South was generally quite coarse, almost like craft paper. With the blockade in place, good stationery was difficult to obtain. Accordingly, folks “made do” with what they had. Throughout the collections of the State Library & Archives, we see examples of “cross-writing” like that above, as well as re-using paper and even using envelopes to write messages.

Message to Wagon Master Richard Joseph Adams at Waldo written on the back of an envelope, April 24, 1863 - Richard Joseph Adams Papers (MS 1, State Library Manuscript Collections).

Message to Wagon Master Richard Joseph Adams at Waldo written on the back of an envelope, April 24, 1863 – Richard Joseph Adams Papers (MS 1, State Library Manuscript Collections).

A lack of paper wasn’t the only challenge facing Floridians and other Southerners wanting to drop a line to someone during the war. Ink supplies also ran low, which led some citizens to turn to older natural sources. Long-time State Librarian Dorothy Dodd’s papers contain recollections from Floridians who reported using nutgalls and pomegranate skins to produce ink.

Tallahassee resident Susan Bradford Eppes confirms in her diary that her family was forced to find substitutes for ink, although she reports that it blotted and faded easily. This widespread substitution likely explains why the writing in some of the Civil War-era documents at the State Library & Archives is so faded, even when much older letters can still be read easily.

Excerpt from an April 3, 1864 letter with faded ink. Contrast had to be added digitally to make the document legible (Washington Ives Papers - MS 44, State Library Manuscript Collection).

Excerpt from an April 3, 1864 letter with faded ink. Contrast had to be added digitally to make the document legible (Washington Ives Papers – MS 44, State Library Manuscript Collection).

The State Library & Archives collectively hold a wealth of information about Florida in the Civil War. Diaries, letters, government reports and documents, military records, and other primary sources are available, as are books and periodicals relating to the Civil War era. If you’re looking for information about a Civil War-era ancestor, the Library’s genealogy section is a great place to get started.

Check out our Guide to Civil War Records and our Guide to Genealogical Research to learn more, or search our catalogs.

Death of a Governor

On April 7, 1865, Florida governor Abraham K. Allison wrote to Confederate president Jefferson Davis of “my painful duty to announce the death of His Excellency John Milton, late Governor of the State of Florida.” Allison informed Davis that the “melancholy event” occurred on April 1, 1865, at Milton’s plantation in Jackson County, Florida. What Allison did not relay to his president, who was enduring his own “melancholy event” in flight before victorious Union armies, was the probable cause of Milton’s death—suicide.

Portrait of Governor Abraham Kurkindolle Allison (circa 1850s).

Portrait of Governor Abraham Kurkindolle Allison (circa 1850s).

Milton’s governorship was the most dramatic and difficult in the history of the state. Inaugurated on October 7, 1861, he inherited a weak Confederate state with growing dissension. The lengthening war and the likelihood of Northern invasion demoralized loyal Confederates while heartening Florida Unionists. Criticized by the legislature, which sought to weaken his authority, and largely ignored by the Confederate government, which spared Florida few troops and weapons, Milton worked tirelessly to strengthen Florida’s defenses and secure supplies for the home front. At the same time, he remained steadfast in his loyalty to the Confederate States and its president, Jefferson Davis, whom he championed even as the South faced certain defeat. A staunch defender of secession and slavery, Milton could not envision or support a reunited and emancipated nation.

Portrait of Governor John Milton (circa 1860s).

Portrait of Governor John Milton (circa 1860s).

On the morning of April 1, 1865, as Union armies prepared to enter Richmond, Governor Milton arrived at his plantation, Sylvania, in Jackson County. Although distressed and exhausted, Milton’s trip from Tallahassee was not unusual. He often journeyed between the capital and Sylvania to see to the welfare of his wife and children and take care of plantation business. Soon after his arrival, the governor entered his study and a shot exploded. William Henry Milton, the governor’s oldest son, discovered his father’s  body, which had sustained a shotgun blast to the head.

The earliest reports of Milton’s death pointed to suicide. Worn down by work and deeply depressed by the inevitability of Confederate defeat, Milton probably took his own life; however, without any eyewitness or evidence of a suicide note history cannot be certain—later family accounts claimed the shooting was accidental. Whether a suicide or not, Milton’s demise has come to symbolize the death of Confederate Florida.

For Governor Allison’s letter to Jefferson Davis see page 189 of Governor John Milton’s letterbook, 1863-1865, part of Record Group 101, Series 32, State Archives of Florida. The details of Milton’s death are reexamined in Ridgeway Boyd Murphree, “Rebel Sovereigns: The Civil War Leadership of Governors John Milton of Florida and Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, 1861-1865,” Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 2006.

Doing Genealogy with Pension Records

The Confederate Pension Applications are one of the most popular series of historical documents on Florida Memory. They chronicle the efforts of Confederate veterans and their wives to obtain pensions from the State of Florida in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By law, in order to obtain a pension a veteran or his widow had to provide information about the veteran’s Civil War service, his birth, and proof of a qualifying disability. Widows of Confederate veterans had to provide proof of their marriage. The State Board of Pensions reviewed these applications and approved those that met the proper qualifications.

The applications alone are full of useful information for genealogists and historians, but when used in conjunction with other collections at the State Archives of Florida they can do much more. For example, if you know you have a Civil War veteran or veteran’s widow in your family tree who received a state pension, in many cases you can find out how long the person received that pension, how much they received, and where they lived while they were receiving it. This can be achieved by finding the veteran or widow’s pension application on Florida Memory, then visiting the Archives for a look through the State Comptroller’s records of pension payments (Record Series 678).

Let’s use Floridian Civil War veteran Robert H. Parker as an example. If you search for Robert H. Parker on the Confederate Pension Applications page, here’s what you get:

Search results for "Robert H. Parker" in the Confederate Pension Applications" on Florida Memory.

Search results for “Robert H. Parker” in the Confederate Pension Applications” on Florida Memory.

Sometimes an individual will have multiple application numbers, but as the example above demonstrates, usually only one application will have the best information. In Robert Parker’s case, if we click on the application numbered A01666, we’ll get over a dozen pages of information from his soldier’s pension application, as well as the widow’s application of his wife Marietta.

Page from the Confederate Pension Application file of Robert H. Parker of Hillsborough County. Paperwork from the pension claim of his widow Marietta is also included in the file.

Page from the Confederate Pension Application file of Robert H. Parker of Hillsborough County. Paperwork from the pension claim of his widow Marietta is also included in the file.

We see from Marietta’s pension claim form that her husband Robert died on October 16, 1914, and that the Pension Board approved her to continue receiving a Confederate pension as his widow. What we can’t tell from this paperwork is how long she continued to receive that pension, or whether she moved after her husband died. That’s where the Comptroller’s records can help!

Volume 24 of the State Comptroller's record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida).

Volume 24 of the State Comptroller’s record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida).

If you’ll notice in the example search results above, each of the Confederate Pension Applications is identified by a number. In Robert and Marietta Parker’s case, the number is A01666. The “A” in this code simply means the application was approved; the “1666” is the part used across state agencies to identify the pensioner.

The State Archives holds a series of ledgers from the State Comptroller’s office that record each payment made to each pensioner up through 1917. There are separate ledgers for soldiers and widows. The entries in each ledger are sorted by the pension number, so if we know Marietta started receiving a widow’s pension after her husband Robert’s death in 1914, we should be able to track her payments from that time by looking in the “Widow” volumes for entry number “1666.”

Volume 24 of the State Comptroller's record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida)

Volume 24 of the State Comptroller’s record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida)

And there she is! In the example above, you’re seeing the information recorded for pension payments made on October 1, 1915 by the State Comptroller’s office. For each pensioner, you get the pensioner number, name, pension amount per year, postal address, Comptroller’s warrant number, date the pension was sent, and the amount of this particular payment. The pension payments were generally sent quarterly.

Just from this entry alone, we learn a few helpful bits about Marietta Parker. We know she was living on a rural postal route near Lutz in Hillsborough County in October 1915, and that she was receiving $37.50 every three months. Each ledger page typically covers a year’s worth of payments. Let’s keep following Marietta Parker’s payments to see if anything else helpful turns up.

Volume 26 of the State Comptroller's record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida)

Volume 26 of the State Comptroller’s record of approved pension claims, 1895-1917 (Series 678, State Archives of Florida)

Going through the Comptroller’s records of payments to Marietta, we learn that she moved to Tampa sometime in the spring of 1916, evidenced by the fact that her postal address changes. Also, when we get to the entry above, we learn that Marietta died sometime during the quarter leading up to the October 1, 1916 payment.

If you happen to be researching an ancestor whose death date or location have been tough to ascertain, these records can be very helpful. Plan a visit to the State Library & Archives soon to have a look. Remember, Series 678 only covers through 1917. If your Civil War veteran ancestor or his widow lived past that time, researching his or her later pension payments will require a different approach.

You might also want to have a look at our Guide to Genealogical Research. It has some helpful hints for getting started with your family history adventure!

Natural Bridge As Told by J.H. Frier, Part 2

Today (March 6, 2015) is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought just south of Tallahassee near present-day Woodville in the final months of the American Civil War. Yesterday, we posted an excerpt of a memoir by Joshua Hoyet Frier, a Confederate soldier from Florida who fought at Natural Bridge. In that segment (click here to read it), Frier described his unit’s sudden transfer from Madison County to the front lines near the St. Mark’s River, and preparations for battle.

Today we continue Frier’s account, covering the battle itself. In the following text, Frier describes several skirmishes between his Confederate comrades and their Union opponents. Readers should be advised that this section of Frier’s memoir includes several graphic references to the violence of the battle.

Map showing Natural Bridge on the St. Marks River and the surrounding area (1865).

Map showing Natural Bridge on the St. Marks River and the surrounding area (1865).

 

Illustrated excerpt of Joshua Hoyet Frier’s “Reminiscnese Of The War Between The States”

When the skirmishers was formed in line in front of the main line, it had became light enough to take a view of the surroundings. The clearing proved to be an old abandoned field of not more than twenty acres. The hummock growth of hicory, oak, live oak, sweet gum and cypress grew quite thick right up to the edge of the clearing and probably two hundred yards in front of us.

We was marched across the old field and deployed in the timber, and admonished to keep a sharp lookout and shoot any thing that looked blue. Some of the boys began shooting, directly after sun up, and in explanation said they was shooting birds. We beat around in the bush pretty much as we wished; I was investigating the effects of the fireing on the bushes and timber when I came upon a dead Negro in U.S. uniform. Some of the boys was more luckey, and picked up some live ones, some was sent to the rear but it was said some of them never was. There were some who had in their fright and darkness hid themselves after finding them selves separated from the body of their command. This then was an index to the couler of the foe we had to contend with and gave us great encouragement as we did not think there was much fight in Negro troops.

Reenactors at the Natural Bridge Battlefield (1992).

Reenactors at the Natural Bridge Battlefield (1992).

About eight o clock a blue jay pitched on a limb close by me, and I obeyed orders by shooting at him; before the smoke cleared away a single ball came by with that angry spiteful pang-g-g-g that only a rifle ball can make. This put me on my guard, for it was now plain that some one had shot either at the report or at the smoke of my gun; through an opening in the bushes some two hundred yards in front I saw a faint blue smoke slowly disapating itself right at the root of a large live oak, just such an one as anyone would naturaly seek for a screen under the circumstances.

I kept a sharp lookout for that live oak, as there was two or three small openings through the brush where I could get a pretty fair view of his neighborhood, and get shot at allso; but my antagnist was a verry poor shot, and went wide the mark every time. I called some of the boys who had less dread of minnies than I did who stood up boldly and let this blue coat practice on them. He must have got reinforcements allso or else he improved wonderfuly in markmanship and rapidity of fire; after one of the self constituted targats had a hole shot through his cap he left off the buisness in disgust.

It turns out getting your hat shot at in battle and living through it wasn't such an unusual occurrence at this time. Click on the image to read about a similar incident from Albert S. Chalker of Clay County (March 15, 1865).

It turns out getting your hat shot at in battle and living through it wasn’t such an unusual occurrence at this time. Click on the image to read about a similar incident from Albert S. Chalker of Clay County (March 15, 1865).

 

About this time a Mr. Ellis of our company came to take care of us as he said he had been there but a few minutes when when he was shot in the abdomen which proved a fatal wound; the shot was fired from a clump of bushes not fifty yards away; as the other two boys laid down their guns and went to his assistance I saw a Negro soldier begin to make his way back from the point, he droped and I thought I had hit him but I have since concluded that it would have been the most natural thing in the world for him to have droped to keep from being shot at again.

The fireing had became quite general all along the line while within a few hundred yards in front we could hear the rumbling of wagons, caisons, and etc. and could hear the neighing of horses, and various sounds that indicated unusual activity among the Federals upon the oposite side of the timber. About 11 a clock our line of skirmishers was releived by another and we went back to the line carrying Mr. Ellis with us. It seems strange untill yet that none of us should have been hurt, for we had nothing to dodge behind and the balls of the Union skirmish line came thick and fast knocking up the dirt at our feet whizing over our heads and to the right and left.

When we returned to the line, our company had been removed from the extreme left to the extreme right, so there was thirteen peices of artillery scattered along equidistant from each other, while the spaces between was filled with what I suppose you might call Infantry. Old grey bearded men, and boys allmost too small to attend school. It seemed that if it came to the worst that it would be a poor chance to hold the line with such a force as this.

The main line had not been idle during the morning and had thrown up earth works along the entire line, frail there were, but proved verry useful, not only in saveing life, but preventing those undrilled little boys from stamepeding like a herd of Texas cattle.

The general engagement began verry soon, after we reached our lines and lasted an hour or so during which they made several attempts to come to us but failed each time. When the 2nd Fla. cavalry dismounted came in and charged them in their works the route was complete. They had three lines of breastworks, and as each one was charged the shooting and shouting reminded me more of some kind of a frolic then the serious work of battle. But the timber in front of us was a sight to me. Many trees of considerable size was cut down at various heights, the limbs and trunks of most of them seemed to have the [bark] stript from them as by lightning.

In the near future, we’ll be posting the entire text of Joshua Hoyet Frier’s memoir of his Civil War experiences. Until then, we invite you to check out our other resources on Florida in the Civil War:

Natural Bridge As Told by J.H. Frier, Part I

Friday, March 6, 2015 will be the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought just south of Tallahassee near present-day Woodville in the final months of the American Civil War. Joshua Hoyet Frier was a Confederate soldier from Florida who wrote down his recollections about the war. The memoir was later transcribed by one of Frier’s descendants, and a copy of it now resides at the State Archives of Florida.

Map showing Natural Bridge and the surrounding area (1865).

Map showing Natural Bridge and the surrounding area (1865).

In the following excerpt from this memoir, Joshua Hoyet Frier describes his unit’s sudden transfer to the front lines at Natural Bridge ahead of the main battle. Tomorrow, we’ll be posting Frier’s description of the battle itself.

The entire memoir will soon be available as an exhibit on Florida Memory. In reading the following text, bear in mind that we have transcribed the text exactly as it appears in the original typescript that was donated to the State Archives. That includes spelling, punctuation and a number of other errors.

Illustrated excerpt of Joshua Hoyet Frier’s “Reminiscnese Of The War Between The States”

We are now at the fifth of March 1865 and the events I am about to speak of was so overshadowed, by more important and vital ones, untill they have never had a place in history. Yet when you follow me through the next week following the above date, you will agree with me that they deserve some mention.

Saturday the fourth day of March I dug on the stump all day, went to the theatre in town and as the boys say made a night of it as I was out out untill 2 o clock A M. On Sunday morning I rose early to prepare for a verry rigid inspection that we was to have and the old rifle (springfield pattern) they gave me the evening before was in verry bad shape for such an ordeal. By eight o clock it looked like every man in the regiment had his gun dissected, and was busily engaged in polishing, scouring, and wipeing. While thus employed we verry distincly heard the booming of cannon, this within its self was not so unusual, but in this instance it meant buisness, as was easily told by the regularity of the fireing. Many surmises was indulged in as to where the fireing was, and what might be the outcome of it.

In this he was correct, inside on an hour orders was issued to prepare three days rations at once; now the hard part of it was to prepare three days rations, out of one, as we had only drawn enough to last untill next morning. Still we never woried much about it as we was pretty well used to such marching prepararions as these, and soon had what little we had ready in haversack; then intoo lines and and to the depot. Great was our surprise when we arived at the depot in Madison to find arangements to issue us the other two days rations. One of the boys said he would bet they had some use for us, for he had never seen any rations issued when we started on a common march. This remark was intended to be witty and sarcastic, but was realy a near aproach to the truth.

Men reenacting the Battle of Natural Bridge (1992).

Men reenacting the Battle of Natural Bridge (1992).

We boarded the train and went to Tallahassee arriveing there late in the evening, where we met with quite a lot of troops. I mean for Florida. This was where the fireing was, and must have been at at least, seventy miles from us. Yet we heard the guns distincly. We never left Tallahassee untill after dark and then on a train so long untill three engines could scarcely haul it. Companies of old men, and boys even smaller than our selves came in and joined us during the evening; these we termed the “Melish” and as to our selves, why we became veterans of course, for the time at least.

We left in the direction of St. Marks and the train stoped at a place called the “oil still” where we unboarded and formed a line of march. The position of our company was on the extreme left, and as we marched by the left flank, threw us in front position we kept all night. Colonel Daniels and our guide walked just in front of us. The Colonel had a horse but he led him or let some of the boys ride him; when urged to ride he simply said he prefered to walk with his men.

I sufferd for sleep worse on this march than I ever did in my life for you you remember I slept but little the night before. While youth and fatigue conspired to punish me for my lark of the night before. But sleeping and marching did not go well together with me, and my experiance was shared by many others, we would strike a smoth bit of road, and five or six would probably be marching along asleep. Presently one would stumble and fall, not alone, mind you for he would bring the sleeping fellows ahead like ten pins. It was not an unfrequent occurence to see four five on the ground at once, which would wake us up a little only to enact the same over again.

All the satisfaction we could get out of the guide was “it is not much farther.” This sterotyped phrase was repeated every time. Col. Daniel when appealed to said he knew nothing; his orders was to follow the guide, and the guide was right in not talking.

At last just as we was about to enter a small clearing, I heard the guide tell Col. Daniel “this is the place.” A horse man halted us, when Col. Daniel advanced and had some talk with him which I could not understand. We then marched on, and as we entered the clearing we filed square off to the left when we filed off I saw by the light of the stars, a peice of artillery unlimbered and ready for action.

One example of the kind of artillery used by Floridian soldiers in the Civil War. This cannon was photographed at the Olustee Battlefield (circa 1900s).

One example of the kind of artillery used by Floridian soldiers in the Civil War. This cannon was photographed at the Olustee Battlefield (circa 1900s).

After geting us in the place they wished us we was halted and faced, then followed an order to stack arms and rest. I looked in the east but there was no sign of day and I made hastey preparations to enjoy a sound nap. Just as I lay down and closed my eyes, a single gun fired in front of us some half mile all was then silent again so long untill we began to think that there was no significance attached to the gun shot, and perhaps after all we would get a little sleep.

Probably a minute or maybe two had elapsed, when fireing began again, this time there was fifty or a hundred guns fired allmost simultaniously, and a dozen minie balls came whizing overhead, singing that sad plaintive tune which well spent balls allways do when not in too close proximity. The effect of this was magical, sleep was banished to the uttermost parts of the earth, and everyone was as wide awake as if we had not slept but little the last two nights.

A courier came dashing down the line in front of us when he saw he was at the end of the line he reined up and asked who commanded that company. Lieutenant Rouse steped foward and told him he did, our captain not yet being reinstated to his command he asked his name and rank and put him in command of the left wing, and gave him some instructions in an undertone we did not hear; the courier then left in a furious gallop.

Pretty soon we heard men coming toward us in double quick time, we could hear the rattle of cartridge boxes and canteens. In an another minute the courier was back again, and told our Lieutenant that all was clear in front but pay particular attention to orders, and not fire untill orders was given specialy to the left wing to do so.

This was his last visit and allmost imediateately we heard the rattle of canteens and cartridge boxes in front again, they was in the brush just outside the clearing, which being a small one brought us quite close together, when the clearing was reached in clear distinct tones the commander of the Federals gave the command “File left march” which was soon followed by equally distinct orders “By the right flank, double quick march.”

The answering command was equaly distinct “Right wing, ready, aim fire” then a sheet of flame, not solid, but rather more like lightning playing on the fringe of a cloud at night, ran fitfully up and down the cresent shaped line to our right for a few seconds, and then the artillery, eight or ten peices, belched forth in rapid succession, long sheets of angry looking flame; while the rattle of the small arms, and the roar of the cannon seemed enough to paralize.

Reenactors fire their guns during a recreation of the Battle of Natural Bridge near the original battle site (1992).

Reenactors fire their guns during a recreation of the Battle of Natural Bridge near the original battle site (1992).

The left wing held their fire, except one boy by the name of Roberts in our company, who could not let the opportunity pass of takeing a shot as he afterwards said, but the boys said he was so badly scared, that he did not know which wing he belonged to; and the boys was no doubt correct. When the confusion and noise of the first round died away, there seemed to be nothing left of the foe, as not a sound emanated from in front. It was in fact a wild retreat, precipitantly taken when they found so much larger force than they expected.

As soon as our wits returned, (I speak for myself) sufficiently to pay any attention to our surroundings, I noticed that day light had broken. Soon news came some of our men had been killed, two in one company, Capt. Barweaks; one of our boys had his canteeen ruined by being preforated with a minnie ball and another was contused on the hip, and had caught the ball which was terible battered in his pants pocket. But none of Co. B was hurt father this.

My impression was that the trouble was over, as we had made such an easy repulse, so when volunteers was called to go on skirmish duty, I went out hopeing my impressions was correct.

We’ll be posting Joshua Hoyet Frier’s recollections of the actual Battle of Natural Bridge tomorrow (March 6, 2015) on the Florida Memory Blog. Until then, leave us a comment to let us know what you think about Frier’s memories so far. Also, check out these Florida Memory resources for more information of Florida in the Civil War:

What in the World is a Zouave?

Imagine it’s October 1861. You’re a Confederate soldier from Florida, encamped along Pensacola Bay. One afternoon, your commander says to get your equipment together and prepare for a night attack against Wilson’s Zouaves on Santa Rosa Island.

Fine, you say, but what in the world is a zouave?

Portrait of Brevet Brigadier General William Wilson, commander of the Sixth New York Volunteers, also known as

Portrait of Brevet Brigadier General William Wilson, commander of the Sixth New York Volunteers, also known as “Wilson’s Zouaves.” Note that Wilson’s attire here is not that of traditional zouave soldiers (circa 1860s).

In this particular case, the Zouaves were soldiers from the 6th New York Volunteer Infantry, which had been sent to the Pensacola area to defend United States military installations, including forts McRee, Pickens and Barrancas.

The term zouave is French, first used to identify regiments in the French Army populated by recruits from the Zouaoua tribe in Algeria. The first French zouaves appeared in 1831, and were distinguished by their unique uniform. The soldiers wore open-fronted jackets with baggy trousers, often colored red.

Wilson’s Zouaves, named for Brevet Brigadier General William Wilson, were organized in New York City. The “Zouaves” title appears to have been more of a nickname in this case, as images of the 6th New York Volunteers show its members dressed in standard military uniforms. The regiment left New York in June 1861 aboard the steamer Vanderbilt and headed for Pensacola Bay.

Map showing Fort Pickens and the encampment of the Sixth New York Volunteers, also known as Wilson's Zouaves. Included as an illustration in Gouverneur Morris, The History of a Volunteer Regiment, being a succinct account of the organization, services, and adventures of the Sixth Regiment New York Volunteers In fantry, known as Wilson Zouaves (1891).

Map (click to enlarge) showing Fort Pickens and the encampment of the Sixth New York Volunteers, also known as Wilson’s Zouaves. Included as an illustration in Gouverneur Morris, The History of a Volunteer Regiment, being a succinct account of the organization, services, and adventures of the Sixth Regiment New York Volunteers Infantry, known as Wilson Zouaves (1891). This rare book is part of the Florida Collection at the State Library.

In Florida, an uneasy peace had settled between the Union forces stationed at Fort Pickens and the Confederates holding the mainland along Pensacola Bay. The Confederates had sunk several vessels in the channel leading from Pensacola Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, to stave off a large-scale Union invasion. The federals had retaliated by setting fire to a large dry dock and other naval repair facilities in the area. They also burned the Confederate blockade runner Judah as it sat anchored in the harbor.

Camp of the Sixth New York Volunteers on Santa Rosa Island (1861).

Camp of the Sixth New York Volunteers on Santa Rosa Island (1861).

By this time, Wilson’s Zouaves were encamped on Santa Rosa Island, just east of Fort Pickens. General Braxton Bragg, at that time commander of Confederate forces in Pensacola, ordered an assault on the Union-held fort. General Richard Anderson had responsibility for carrying out the attack. Just after midnight on October 9, 1861, Anderson and a force of 1,200 Confederate soldiers crossed Pensacola Bay in two steamers and landed on Santa Rosa Island, far east of the Zouaves’ camp. Anderson divided his men into three columns and began marching west toward the New Yorkers.

The Sixth New York was indeed surprised by Anderson’s tactics. The camp was awakened when some of its pickets fired their guns in warning, and the Union soldiers put up a fight, but ultimately they fell back to Fort Pickens.

Image depicting the battle between the Sixth New York Volunteers (Wilson's Zouaves) and Confederate forces under General Richard Anderson on Santa Rosa Island (1861).

Image depicting the battle between the Sixth New York Volunteers (Wilson’s Zouaves) and Confederate forces under General Richard Anderson on Santa Rosa Island (1861).

Once Anderson’s attack began, Union commanders were able to send for reinforcements, which eventually forced the Confederates to retreat to the mainland. Fort Pickens remained in Union control, as it would until the end of the war. Wilson’s Zouaves, in the meantime, continued to serve in the Gulf region. Some companies stayed close to Pensacola, while others were sent to Louisiana.

For more information, check out our learning unit on Florida in the Civil War in the Online Classroom. Also, don’t forget the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge is coming up on March 6, 2015. The Florida Memory Blog will feature historical documents relating to the battle throughout the week of March 2-6.

Love & War

It’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. The experience of Floridian Confederate soldier Albert Symington Chalker and his sweetheart Martha Bardin certainly illustrates the point well. Albert and Martha (or “Mattie”) were from Middleburg in Clay County. Either before or during the Civil War, they became acquainted, and the long-distance courtship that followed produced one of the most heart-warming series of letters held by the State Archives of Florida.

Albert Chalker to Martha Bardin, May 8, 1864. This is the earliest letter in the Chalker Collection held by the Archives (Collection M72-11).

Albert Chalker to Martha Bardin, May 8, 1864. This is the earliest letter in the Chalker Collection held by the Archives (Collection M72-11).

In his first letter to Bardin (that we have), Chalker describes what it was like to arrive at Camp Finegan near present-day Lake City, and how the soldiers went about setting up their tents and equipment with an air of joviality. Chalker, however, was missing his dear sweetheart:

“I am sitting here alone thinking how hapy I might be if I was with my dear Mattie. Yes, if I was with you this evening I would be hapy. I did not know what it was to love, or how much I loved you untill now. I will quit writeing in this tone for I fear I am getting two sentimental, and you will think I am crazy.”

Chalker continued to write letters to Mattie through the end of the war, almost always saying he had no interesting news to share, although he does indeed provide some interesting tidbits about the everyday life of a Confederate soldier in Florida. He often ended his letters with bits of poetry. Some of the verses appear to come from established poets of the day, such as Bayard Taylor and Edward Everett. The origins of some of the poems are unknown. Either way, Chalker attempted to make up for his absence by writing the most loving bits of verse he could find into his messages. Here’s one poem that appears to have been taken from the text of a Valentine’s Day card from 1840:

Excerpt of Albert Chalker's letter to Martha Bardin, November 20, 1864 (Collection M72-11, State Archives of Florida).

Excerpt of Albert Chalker’s letter to Martha Bardin, November 20, 1864 (Collection M72-11, State Archives of Florida).

Fondly love my heart is beating
With affection warm and true to thee;
And timely I would send this greeting
Where I fain would wish to be.

 

Martha did her share of writing as well. In one letter, she chides Albert for not writing as much as he should:

Martha Bardin to Albert Chalker, January 18, 1865 (Collection M72-11, State Archives of Florida).

“I have written to you before nearly two weeks since, and have not heard a word from you yet. Now for your scolding. I want to know why it is you have not written. Have I offended you in any way? If so let me know and not keep me in suspense as I am. I sometimes think you have gone home sick or to the hospital or that I said something in my last letter you did not like, and sometimes I think like the Dutch man’s boy.”

We can be sure this was quite gentle criticism, because this Florida love story has a very happy ending. Albert Chalker was honorably paroled on May 17, 1865 after Florida’s Confederate forces formally surrendered to General Edward M. McCook of the United States. He returned to Clay County and married Martha Ann Bardin in December 1865. Martha’s father, William Sims Bardin, gave his Middleburg residence to the couple as a wedding gift. Albert and Martha Chalker settled and remained there for the rest of their lives. Albert Chalker served for 17 years as Middleburg’s postmaster, and as tax collector for Clay County from 1881 to 1885. He was also a prominent businessman, and operated both a private ferry on the south prong of Black Creek and a general store in Middleburg.

The historic Clark-Chalker House at 3891 Main Street in Middleburg, Clay County (circa 1988).

The historic Clark-Chalker House at 3891 Main Street in Middleburg, Clay County (circa 1988).

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the letters from this romantic exchange in the Albert S. Chalker Papers. Happy Valentine’s Day!