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The words written on a historical document are certainly very useful, but sometimes how they are written, what they are written on, and what they are written with can be just as important for learning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!

Civil War Letters Home: Roderick Gospero Shaw

Of all the Civil War documents here at the State Archives, letters from soldiers to their loved ones are some of the most engaging. Many of the young men who signed up for military service at the beginning of the war were eager, confident, and impatient to get into the fray and make a name for themselves.

Roderick Gospero Shaw of Attapulgus, Georgia enlisted at Quincy in April 1861  in the “Young Guards,” a unit of the “old” First Florida Infantry. He served one year in this unit, and later re-enlisted in August 1862 in the 4th Florida Infantry at Chattanooga. The State Archives of Florida holds typewritten transcripts of nearly a dozen of Shaw’s letters to his sister, Mrs. Jesse Shaw Smith, who lived in Quincy for much of the war (Collection M87-6).

Lt. Roderick Gospero Shaw (circa 1861).

Roderick Gospero Shaw (circa 1861).

Shaw’s early letters betray his impatience as a young soldier ready for action. In May 1861, he wrote to his sister Jesse that members of his company were dismayed to be limited mostly to loading wagons with supplies and digging post holes for camp improvements. He was resolved not to share his displeasure with anyone else, however.

“I came for the purpose of making a soldier of myself as long as I was here,” Shaw explains, “and [to] lay off the ‘Gentleman’ and ‘Dandy.’ It is rather hard to do, but I think I act it as well as any of the boys.” Shaw held out hope that his unit would see action soon. “I would not be surprised,” he tells Jesse, “to hear the roaring of cannons any morning instead of the drum for reveille.”

Confederate camp behind Fort Barrancas near Pensacola (April 1861).

Confederate camp behind Fort Barrancas near Pensacola (April 1861).

As the war dragged on, Shaw began sharing sentiments so many soldiers on both sides felt – weariness with camp life and the desire to see loved ones back home. In a May 1863 letter to Jesse, Shaw describes the bland contents of the average soldier’s diet while campaigning.

“Meal after meal we sit to cornbread (once in a while a little flour), bacon and water,” he laments. “We consider ourselves fortunate if perchance we obtain a quart of buttermilk occasionally for 50 cents. I had the pleasure yesterday of partaking of a ham of mutton at dinner. Butter cannot be procured anywhere.”

Shaw’s letters often speak of his wanting to come home on furlough, but he resolves to do his duty as a loyal soldier and stay with the Army.

“I wish I could be at home with you,” he tells Jesse in December 1862, “but it is impossible. My country needs my services and, til peace is declared, I expect to remain with the Army.”

“On Picket,” an etching by “H.B. McLellan of Company A” (1860s).

Shaw was not only eager to remain with the Army, but also to move up in the ranks. In several letters, he explains to Jesse that he has been studying military tactics and taking on leadership roles in his company so as to support his application for an officer’s position. He asks often for cloth or ready-made clothing so as to improve his appearance and distinguish himself. After achieving the rank of sergeant major, Shaw muses to Jesse in one letter about having a horse and assistant to accompany him.

“Should I ever get home, I will expect to live more at ease on my return to camp. The first thing I will want is a boy to cook for me and attend to other little necessaries. As it is it costs more to live in camp than at home, and much more troublesome. […] I wrote to Uncle Tom about buying a horse, but there is a question as to whether the promoted major is entitled to it or not…” (R.G. Shaw to Jesse Shaw Smith, Nov. 5, 1861).

Shaw received the promotion he had so earnestly hoped for in October 1863. He was transferred to Company E, 4th Florida Infantry, and made a 2nd Lieutenant.

“I do not feel very proud of it yet as I think I have no right to it for skill and valor,” he tells Jesse in January 1864, “but by Summer I will either deserve it or the brand of coward.”

Shaw’s words proved to be prophetic. General William Tecumseh Sherman took command of the Union’s western forces in March 1864, and began preparing to march southward toward Atlanta.

“This Spring will be the most important period of the war,” Shaw writes in one letter sent just before Sherman took command. “It will prove the point of culmination. The mighty hosts of the invader will be driven back or Rebellion will tremble.”

Shaw would lose his life in the Confederate attempt to halt Sherman’s advance. On May 27, 1864, he began a letter to his Uncle Thomas Smith in Attapulgus, Georgia, which he never finished. His last written words were: “I leave now for a skirmish myself for 24 hours. Goodbye until tomorrow evening.”

Tomorrow evening did not come for Lt. Roderick Gospero Shaw. A letter to his uncle from one of his comrades reported that he had been killed in a skirmish near Dallas, Georgia. With the weather warm and no means available to transport the body quickly to any cemetery, he was laid to rest not far from the road between Dallas and Marietta. Shaw had just turned 21.

Confederate graves in the Old City Cemetery at Tallahassee (photo 1967).

Confederate graves in the Old City Cemetery at Tallahassee (photo 1967).

Stories such as Lieutenant Shaw’s abound in the many letters, diaries, reports, and other materials available at the State Archives of Florida. For more information, check out our Guide to Civil War Records, and visit us to see what materials may be available to help you research the Civil War soldiers in your family tree.

Also, don’t forget about our featured program for October, Civil War Voices from Florida. Each day in October 2014, Florida Memory will post a letter or diary entry written exactly 150 years ago in October 1864.

 

Edmund Cottle Weeks

The nation’s existential crisis of civil war brought to the forefront many individuals who were mature, tested, and ready to act as leaders for both sides. After four years of trial by combat, many U.S. officers chose to remain and to make a life in the South. They brought to the former Confederacy a leavening of Union sentiment, Republican politics, and a strong desire to enforce the Reconstruction and Civil Rights Acts which followed their victory.

Edmund Cottle Weeks, a merchant seaman and officer, U.S. Navy and Army officer, and Republican politician, was among those tasked with wrestling Florida back into the Union. His life in Florida would be clouded by a charge of murder, but also by an ascent to the pinnacle of state politics during the era known as Reconstruction.

E.C. Weeks

Born in Massachusetts in 1829 and educated at private schools in Connecticut, Weeks was a world traveler prior to his enrollment at Yale College, where he spent less than a year. He then studied at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. After three years he failed to finish the course there as well.

Three years experience before the mast earned Weeks the billet of ship’s Master in the trading firm Wallace, Sherwood, and Company. In this endeavor Weeks now followed his father’s trade.

When the Civil War began Weeks enlisted and was assigned as an acting officer in the U.S. Navy. His conduct under fire earned positive mention in reports. In 1863, repairs idled his ship and brought orders to lead amphibious raiding parties in Louisiana. His transfer to the Army soon followed.

In the summer of 1864, Army officials at Key West raised a regiment of U.S. volunteer cavalry for service in Florida. Week was placed in command of the unit, however, a delay in his commissioning allowed for a period of dissent to arise in the regiment. The resulting problems culminated in a court martial for Weeks, who was charged with murdering a soldier under his command while encamped at Cedar Key. Even though the court martial brought to light charges of drunkenness against Weeks, he was eventually exonerated. The murder charge followed him for the rest of his days in Florida.

His cavalry unit, the 2nd Florida Cavalry, was brigaded with the Second Infantry Regt USCT during the events surrounding the Battle of Natural Bridge, which occurred south of Tallahassee in March 1865. This combined force attempted to take the bridge at Newport but was repulsed, which necessitated the movement to the “natural” bridge further upstream on the St. Mark’s River. The battle ended in a Confederate victory that ultimately prevented Union troops from capturing Tallahassee during the war.

After the war, Weeks returned to the vicinity of Tallahassee where his attempt to run a cotton plantation ended badly. The debt he acquired from this investment soon soured his reputation, with many locals claiming he was in default on his loans.

E.C. Weeks

Weeks operated as a Republican politician and garnered the attention of powerful Republican officials in the Reconstruction government. The struggles among and between Republicans and Democrats resulted in frequent changes in government as state officials jockeyed for position. In one battle, Governor Harrison Reed lost his Lieutenant Governor and appointed Weeks to that vacant post.

This appointment created a fire storm in the Florida Senate, and Weeks left the position but continued to be politically active. Later, he served as a Leon County commissioner and sheriff, and as a Representative in the Florida House. During this period, he unsuccessfully campaigned for Governor and U.S. Senate.

After U.S. forces supporting Reconstruction withdrew from Florida, the Republican government, and its officials, fell to the Democratic Party. The Army had provided former slaves and federal officers with protection while they exercised or enforced their newly won civil rights. These people were now exposed to the backlash created by the loss of the war and the armed occupation that followed.

In 1890, the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Florida resigned in frustration, citing an inability to enforce the laws of the United States in Florida. Weeks accepted appointment to the position from President Benjamin Harrison. In that same year the widowed Weeks married a Tallahassee widow, Elisabeth Hunt Craft, and made his residence in the house now known as The Murphy House on Park Avenue in Tallahassee. This home became a refuge for freedmen and whites seeking sanctuary from gangs and mobs seeking to drive them back into subservience.

Murphy House, Tallahassee, 2006

Murphy House, Tallahassee, 2006

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt appointed Weeks Surveyor General of Florida. Two years later ill health forced him to resign. He died in Tallahassee on April 12, 1907.

For an archivist, it was an engrossing opportunity to become familiar with such a character from our nation’s Passion play. We are all familiar with Lincoln, Davis, Lee, and Grant as the towering figures of those years. To be responsible for the archival preservation of one man’s history, slight as it may be in terms of the written record, as he enacted his part in that epoch has been rewarding.

Weeks resurfaced at the State Archives of Florida when his descendant brought to us several of Major Weeks’ commissions as a Florida or United States official. These recently donated materials have joined State Archives Manuscript Collection M74-22, which contain boxes and volumes of official and family correspondence, and operations records, that provide some small insight into the life of a sea rover, naval/army officer, “radical” politician, law enforcement officer, and family man.

Battle of Olustee (February 20, 1864)

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

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

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

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

Soldiers of the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers

Soldiers of the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers

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

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

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

Kurz and Allison lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee

Kurz and Allison lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee

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

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