Lost Victory: The Battle of Chickamauga and the Floridians Who Fought There
The Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863) was the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War. It was also one of the bloodiest: the Confederates suffered 18,000 casualties and the Federals 16,000. The battle was the second largest battle of the war, only Gettysburg was larger.
Chickamauga was also important for Florida. All six of Florida’s regiments in the war’s western theater (the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River) were engaged in the battle. As a result of their fighting at Chickamauga, General Braxton Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, created the “Florida Brigade of the West” by combining the Florida regiments into one formation.
Corporal Seaborn Tiller of the 6th Florida Infantry Regiment, 1862
One of the newest collections on Florida Memory is William McLeod’s Civil War diary. The diary describes McLeod’s experiences as a Confederate soldier from June 1864 through January 1865.
McLeod’s account begins during the Atlanta Campaign and describes day-to-day siege warfare and the various engagements in which he was involved, including the Battles of Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, and Jonesboro. The diary also mentions the Battle of Dalton, Georgia in October 1864 and the subsequent advance northward into Alabama and Tennessee. McLeod provides details on the actions of the Seventh Florida Regiment at Franklin, Murfreesboro (Second Battle), and Nashville.
The diary concludes in the aftermath of the Confederate defeat at Nashville and documents the retreat into Mississippi in late 1864 and early 1865.
On August 10, 1863, Confederate Private James Jewell wrote to his wife from camp about ten miles north of St. Marks, Florida:
“This is a pleasant looking place, but I tell you it felt like burning a fellow up here this evening . . . . I have no idea how long we will stay here, but I would not be surprised if we were here some time, if the flies don[‘]t take us away. I thought I had seen some flies before, but I never saw them half so bad in my life. We traveled over twenty five miles of as sandy a road as can be found any where. there is not a firm place I don’t think in the whole rout[e], and a part of the way looked like there never was anybody seen . . . .”
Private Jewel’s observations of Confederate military service in Florida were not untypical in the summer of 1863. Although Union ships and sailors were never far away—the Union maintained a blockading fleet off Florida’s coast and occupied several of the state’s coastal towns—a Confederate soldier in Florida was more likely to die from the brutal heat or disease carrying insects than Yankee guns.
General Robert E. Lee
Four hundred miles to the north, however, August 1863 was quite different for the Confederate troops defending Charleston, South Carolina, the state that formed the northern third of the Confederate military department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. In Charleston that August, Confederate forces endured a protracted Union assault on the city that began in July 1863, when Federal troops captured most of Morris Island situated on the southern shore of the mouth of Charleston Harbor. On August 22, 1863, Union guns on Morris Island began a bombardment of Charleston that would last for 587 days.
When considering Florida’s role in the Civil War, it is important to keep in mind that although the state was distant from the main battle fronts of the war it formed a link in a wider chain of command. This link evolved during 1861-1862 as the initial Confederate military department of South Carolina and Georgia became the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida and finally, in 1862, the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Headquartered in South Carolina, the department was responsible for the defense of the coasts of the three states, which as early as November 1861 encountered Union invasion when the Federals landed on the coast of South Carolina, capturing Port Royal, a permanent base of operations from which the Union launched numerous assaults on the three states. Despite these operations, the Confederate government never considered the department a defensive priority. In fact, the department often had to give up troops to reinforce Confederate armies in Virginia and Tennessee, the primary areas of fighting for most of the war.
General Topographical Map, Sheet XII, ca. 1865
The department’s secondary importance did not mean that it did not have its share of prominent commanders, however. Three of the war’s most consequential Confederate generals led the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida: Robert E. Lee, John C. Pemberton, and P. G. T. Beauregard.
Lee arrived in the department in the wake of the Union capture of Port Royal and commanded the area until March 1862, when Pemberton succeeded him. Lee left the department to take up the position of top military advisor to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Neither Lee nor Pemberton were popular in South Carolina—this was before Lee became the South’s most successful general.
Lee believed Union naval supremacy made it impossible to defend the coastal islands along the shores of his three state command. As a result, the Union occupied many of the islands, which contained wealthy cotton and rice plantations and thousands of slaves. The enraged and influential plantation owners blamed Lee and Pemberton, who was even less inclined to defend the coast than Lee, for their loss of property.
Beauregard, on the other hand, was a hero to South Carolinians. He led the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor at the start of the war and commanded the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida during the height of the Union siege of Charleston in 1863.
General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, ca. 1865
When Beauregard left the department in April 1864, the war was entering a new phase as Union forces pushed into northern Georgia towards Atlanta. General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops captured Atlanta in September 1864, marched across Georgia and broke the middle link of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, when his men captured Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864. Sherman’s subsequent march into the interior of South Carolina left Florida as the only portion of the department relatively free of Union troops. The final act of the department was the surrender of all Confederate forces in Florida in May 1865.
Private Jewel is quoted in Gary L. Doster, ed., Dear Sallie: The Letters of Confederate Private James Jewel (Winchester, Virginia: Angle Valley Press, 2011), 159-160. See John E. Johns, Florida During the Civil War (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1963) on the Confederate military command in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Life as a soldier during the Civil War was rough business, and we’re not just talking about the fighting. Long marches, primitive camp facilities, disease, and unreliable supply chains were realities of life for the men serving on both sides of this conflict.
Music was one way of breaking up the monotony. Soldiers sang songs in camp to pass the time, and on marches to keep in step. Most of these songs were designed to commend either the Confederate or Union side, although in some cases the same tune was sung on both sides, just with different words. “The Battle Cry of Freedom” is one example; it has both a Union and Confederate version.
Young re-enactors serve as drummers at the Olustee Battlefield in Baker County (1994).
Here we present a small selection of recordings of famous Civil War songs sung over the years by the 97th Regimental String Band at the Florida Folk Festival, held annually at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center at White Springs. The 97th Regimental String Band uses authentic instruments and accurate lyrics to recreate as closely as possible the musical experiences of the soldiers who were singing these songs 150 years ago. This is only a selection; many more songs are available through our Audio page and on Florida Memory Radio.
NOTE: The lyrics in these songs sometimes vary depending on the performer and the context of the performance; we’ve selected lyrics for this post based on the ones used in the sound recordings.
We are a band of brothers And native to the soil, Fighting for our liberty With treasure, blood, and toil; And when our rights were threatened, The cry rose near and far– “Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag That bears a single star!”
CHORUS: Hurrah! Hurrah! For Southern rights, hurrah! Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag That bears a single star.
As long as the Union Was faithful to her trust, Like friends and like brethren Both kind were we and just; But now, when Northern treachery Attempts our rights to mar, We hoist on high the Bonnie Blue Flag That bears a single star. CHORUS
First gallant South Carolina Nobly made the stand, Then came Alabama, Who took her by the hand. Next quickly Mississippi, Georgia and Florida All raised on high the Bonnie Blue Flag That bears a single star. CHORUS
Ye men of valor, gather round The banner of the right; For Texas and fair Louisiana Join us in our fight. And Davis, our great president, And Stephens, statesmen rare; Now rally round the Bonnie Blue Flag That bears a single star. CHORUS
And here’s to brave Virginia– The Old Dominion State– Who with the young Confederacy At length has linked her fate; Impelled by her example, Now other states prepare To hoist on high the Bonnie Blue Flag That bears a single star. CHORUS
Then cheer, boys, cheer; Raise the joyous shout, For Arkansas and North Carolina Now have both gone out; And let another rousing cheer For Tennessee be given, The single star of the Bonnie Blue Flag Has grown to be eleven! CHORUS
Then here’s to our Confederacy, Strong we are and brave; Like patriots of old we’ll fight Our heritage to save. And rather than submit to shame, To die we would prefer; So cheer for the Bonnie Blue Flag That bears a single star. CHORUS
Yes, we’ll rally round the flag, boys, We’ll rally once again, Shouting the battle cry of Freedom, We will rally from the hillside, We’ll gather from the plain, Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.
CHORUS: The Union forever, Hurrah! boys, hurrah! Down with the traitor, And up with the star; While we rally round the flag, boys, Rally once again, Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.
We are springing to the call For 300,000 more, Shouting the battle cry of Freedom; And we’ll fill our vacant ranks Of our brothers gone before, Shouting the battle cry of Freedom. CHORUS
We will welcome to our number The loyal, true and brave, Shouting the battle cry of Freedom; And although he may be poor, He shall never be a slave, Shouting the battle cry of Freedom. CHORUS
So we’re springing to the call From the East and from the West, Shouting the battle cry of Freedom; And we’ll hurl the rebel crew From the land that we love the best, Shouting the battle cry of Freedom. CHORUS
Sitting by the Roadside on a summer’s day, chatting with my messmates passing time away, Lying in the shadow underneath the trees, Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eating goober peas! Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas!
When a horseman passes, the soldiers have a rule, to cry out at their loudest “Mister here’s your mule.” But another pleasure enchantinger than these, is wearing out your grinders, eating goober peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eating goober peas! Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas!
Just before the battle the general hears a row, He says the Yanks are coming, I hear their rifles now, He turns around in wonder, and what do you think he sees, The Georgia Militia, eating goober peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eating goober peas! Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas!
I think my song has lasted almost long enough. The subject’s interesting, but rhymes are mighty rough. I wish this war was over – when free from rags and fleas, We’d kiss our wives and sweethearts and gobble goober peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Peas! Eating goober peas! Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas!
Confederate Carnage: the Florida Brigade at Gettysburg
The monument commemorating the service of Florida Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg was dedicated on July 3, 1963, during ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the Civil War’s most famous battle.
Standing along West Confederate Avenue in Gettysburg National Military Park, the gray rectangular piece of granite brings to mind a headstone more than heroics. The effect is apt. Of the 742 men in the three regiments that made up the Florida Brigade at the beginning of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, 461 were casualties (killed, wounded, or captured) at the end of the battle on July 3. In losing 62 percent of its strength, the Florida Brigade suffered a higher rate of loss than any other Confederate brigade in the battle. The Floridians’ role in the Battle of Gettysburg was but one of countless examples of sacrifice and slaughter performed by Union and Confederate troops during the three days of carnage that was the Battle of Gettysburg.
Monument to the Florida Brigade, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 1970s
Railroads played a decisive role in the Civil War. The ability to rapidly move troops and supplies on a vast scale greatly increased the war making potential of both sides. When the war began, two thirds of U.S. railroads were in the North, which could draw on its tremendous industrial base to repair, replenish and construct rail lines, cars and locomotives. The South had to conserve and utilize its limited railroad resources to the best possible effect. Paradoxically, for a nation built on the premise of limited government and state’s rights, the Confederacy, if it was to survive, had to subordinate the rights of private railroads to benefit the national war effort. One of the clearest examples of this conflict of interest occurred in Florida in the summer of 1863, when Governor John Milton sought to obtain rails from the Florida Railroad owned by former United States senator David Levy Yulee.
Excerpt from “Watson’s New County, Railroad and Distance Map of Florida,” 1875
With 402 miles of track in 1860, Florida had the lowest track mileage in the South, which by the beginning of the war had a total of 9,000 miles compared to 21,000 miles in the North. In 1861, only two interstate lines between Florida and Alabama linked Florida to another state. In 1861, there was no rail link between Florida and Georgia, and there was no railroad between Pensacola and the rest of the state. The Pensacola & Georgia Railroad and the Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad companies were chartered to build a railroad from Jacksonville to Pensacola, but by 1861 the road only ran between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, just half of the planned route. In 1862, the route reached Quincy, 20 miles to the west of Tallahassee, but no further. Read more »
Restoring the Union following the destruction of the Civil War proved to be an enormous task. Several questions emerged in the wake of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865; namely, the pace and scope of reintegrating former rebels and Confederate states back into the Union, rebuilding the southern economy, and the future of millions of newly freed slaves.
President Abraham Lincoln’s desire to enact swift Reconstruction clashed with the so-called Radical Republicans in Congress who wanted to punish the South. President Andrew Johnson, who took office after Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, tried to follow Lincoln’s general approach to Reconstruction and was eventually impeached for it.
The latest additions to the significant documents page on Florida Memory are artifacts from the early period of what historians call Presidential Reconstruction. Part of the plan implemented by Johnson included granting amnesty to some former Confederates who pledged an oath of loyalty to the United States.
The Confederate government instituted few policies that were more controversial than conscription. Initially passed on April 16, 1862, the first of three conscription acts required that all able bodied white males between the ages of 18 and 35 serve in the Confederate military forces for three years or until the end of the war. The unprecedented nature of conscription—there had never been a national draft in America before 1862—roused public debate about its necessity and constitutionality. Most Southerners hated conscription. They believed it demeaned patriotism by pressuring men to serve instead of relying on their willingness to volunteer. Even more demeaning were the exemptions to the act, which allowed the wealthy to avoid conscription by hiring substitutes and kept those employed in professions deemed essential for the operation of the economy and government out of military service.
Slave overseer’s house at El Destino Plantation, Jefferson County, 1924
One of the most resented of these exemptions was a provision in the second Conscription Act (October 1862) that exempted planters who owned twenty or more slaves from the draft. The exemption also applied to overseers employed in managing plantations with over twenty slaves. Soon known among the press and public as the “Twenty Negro Law,” the exemption provoked outrage among poor and middle class whites, most of whom owned no slaves or certainly fewer than the twenty slaves required by the law.
On April 18, 1863, Judge William Marvin wrote President Abraham Lincoln of his wish to resign his position as “District Judge of the United States for the Southern District of Florida.” Marvin had held his office since 1847, but he now wished to resign to recover his health “in a more northern climate.” Judge Marvin’s resignation may have only received brief notices in the Northern and Southern press, but his official career in Florida had been anything but brief or inconsequential.
“Vindictive, Unrelenting War”: The Burning of Jacksonville
One of the most enduring scenes from a movie depicting the Civil War remains the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind (1939). Chaos, terror, and destruction surround Rhett and Scarlett as they flee the inferno. The scene’s fire portrays the actual fire set by retreating Confederates on September 1, 1864, as they pulled out of the city. On November 14, 1864, Union forces marching out of Atlanta set fire to hundreds of buildings. Atlanta remains the most famous example of the burning of a city during the Civil War; however, it was only one of many towns set to the torch during the struggle. Jacksonville, Florida, has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first.
Excerpt from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865: General Topographical Map, Sheet XII” (ca. 1865), showing northeast Florida
The initial war-related fire in Jacksonville occurred on March 11, 1862. That day, Federal gunboats approached the city in preparation for what would be the first of four Union occupations. The imminent arrival of Federal troops created panic. Loyal Confederates rushed to evacuate the city, and Confederate soldiers prepared to set fire to supplies they could not take away. Local mobs, angered by the presence of the city’s sizable pro-Union population, torched Northern-owned businesses and homes. Otis and Abby Keane watched as the mobs ransacked their hotel, the Judson House, before setting the building aflame. That night, those who had fled Jacksonville watched from across the St. Johns River as large sections of their city burned.
Advertisement for the Judson House, Jacksonville
A year after the first fire, Jacksonville endured another inferno. This time the Federals were responsible for the destruction. On March 10, 1863, Union troops, spearheaded by two black regiments, the 1st and 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, arrived for what became the third Union occupation of Jacksonville. Facing little resistance, the regiments quickly gained control of the city. Signs of growing Confederate strength to the west, however, encouraged the Union to reinforce their position in Jacksonville with two additional infantry regiments, the 6th Connecticut and the 8th Maine, both all-white units.
Although the Federals were able to raid along the St. Johns River as far south as Palatka and maintain control of Jacksonville, Union preparations for renewed operations in South Carolina led to the decision to end the Jacksonville operation. On March 28, 1863, as Union troops prepared to leave the city by sea, fires broke out in the wake of the columns of the 6th Connecticut, whose soldiers had taken the opportunity to set fire to the city. As the Yankees left, rain and the quick arrival of Confederate troops combined to contain the fires; however, much of the city lay in ruins. One witness detailed the smoldering structures:
“The Episcopal and Catholic churches, the jail, Parkhurst Store, Miller’s Bar Room, Bisbee’s Store, and dwelling house, Dr. Baldwin’s house and that whole block. Mrs Foster’s house, Washington Hotel, one of Hoeg’s stores—nearest Millers—and every house from the Judson House above the Railroad to Mrs. Collins old house, (Lydia Foster’s House, Sadlers, etc. are among them).”
Unidentified Union Soldier
While the Union’s responsibility for the fire was clear enough, Confederate newspapers as well as Northern newspapers critical of the use of black troops denounced the black regiments as the agents of destruction. The majority of Northern papers placed the entire blame on the white soldiers of the 6th Connecticut and 8th Maine. As with most controversial historical incidents, however, the answer is not black or white. There seems little doubt that the two white regiments started the fires, but when it became clear that they were free to join in the torching, some black soldiers, according to witnesses, set fires as well. One Northern reporter who saw the burning city despaired that the war had taken a new and uglier turn from which there was no turning back, “Is this not war, vindictive, unrelenting war?”
The best history of the Union occupations of Jacksonville is Daniel L. Schafer, Thunder on the River: the Civil War in Northeast Florida (University Press of Florida, 2010). All quotations come from pages 159 and 161-162 of Schafer’s book.
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