The following post is part of an ongoing series entitled Civil War Voices from Florida. Each day in October 2014, Florida Memory will post a document from the collections of the State Archives of Florida written exactly 150 years before that date, in October 1864.
So far we’ve followed the stories of a Confederate prisoner of war, a sailor, and a Union soldier helping to occupy East Florida. Today’s edition of Civil War Voices takes us to the office of Governor John Milton in Tallahassee. Milton had sent Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles H. DuPont to the Confederate capital at Richmond as his personal emissary. DuPont carried letters containing instructions and a series of proposals and requests for the Confederate government.
The following document is DuPont’s report upon his return to Florida. It’s lengthy, but it gives a good overview of the governor’s most pressing concerns at this point during the war, especially regarding the defense of the state from invasion. We provide a bit of analysis at the end to help break the document down.
Quincy, Fla: Oct. 7th, 1864
His Excellency John Milton, Gov. of Florida
Under special instructions from your Excellency, charging me with the duty of conferring with the President & Secretary of War, upon subjects pertaining to the defences of the State, I left Tallahassee on Tuesday morning the 19th ult, & arrived in Richmond on the following Saturday night.
Learning upon my arrival at the Capital, that the President was absent upon a visit to the Head-quarters of the Army in Georgia, I immediately placed myself in communication with the Secretary of War, & submitted to him your letter addressed to the President, & also a copy of the special instructions, with which I was charged. After the Secretary had perused these papers, I took occasion to call his attention to the points seriatim & to press the views, which I understood you to entertain upon each of the subjects indicated.
1st – In regard to the promotion of Cpt. Dickenson to the rank of Coln. I stated your views very fully as to the necessity that existed, for having an officer of tried skill & efficiency to command the troops that might, from time to time, be sent for the defence of East & South Florida. The Secretary seemed to comprehend & appreciate your views fully, but very distinctly & emphatically said that the President possessed no authority to appoint him to the rank indicated, unless a force could be furnished him for the field, corresponding to that rank. I replied that our material of men, having been entirely exausted by respo[n]ses to previous acquisitions, it would be impossible to raise a regiment for him. The sectry. then suggested that your object might possibly be accomplished by organizing the “Reserves” into a Regiment, & appointing Capt. Dickenson to the command.
2nd – Upon the subject of arms & equipments, both the Secretary of War & Coln. Gorgas the chief of Ordinance, stated very distinctly, that no authority existed under the acts of Congress to furnish arms to a State, only as the forces who were
to use them, should be mustered into the service of the confederacy. I took occasion to present in as forcible a manner as I could the exposed condition of the State – the great extent of frontier to be defended, the peculiar
accessibility to the water communications of the Enemy, the difficulty of a speedy concentration of troops at any particular point of attack, the paucity of regular troops in the State, & the reliance that must be had upon the State troops in case of an invasion, & the consequent necessity that existed to have them properly armed & equipped so as to be ready & prepared to meet the enemy efficiently.
The Secretary readily acquiesced in the news presented, & suggested that in order to obviate the difficulty presented by a want of authority, he would order the ammo needed to be furnished upon the requisition of the Genl. commanding the District, & at the same time giving him the discretion to loan to the state such numbers as the Governor might ask for. This arrangement was the nearest approximation that I could make to your views.
3rd – Upon the application to permit the details from the Reserves to serve in the State organizations, the Sceretary agreed to submit that matter to the discretion of the Genl. commanding the Reserves.
4th – Your suggestion to make the authority of the commandant of a subdistrict supreme, over all the troops within his territorial limits, was not acquiesced in by the Sectry. He objected that such an order would improperly interfere with the legitimate authority of the Genl. commanding the District.
5th – Your recommendation to extend the Military District of Florida, so as to embrace the counties of Walton & Holmes was favorably received by the Sectry., & he promised to consult Genl. Bragg upon the subject, who he said was well acquainted with that part of the State. I afterward called upon Genl. Bragg & explained to him your views on the subject.
6th – Upon that portion of your letter to the President, asking that Genl. Miller should be authorized to command all of the troops in his subdistrict, & not limiting him to the command of the Reserves only, the Sectry stated, that such was the intention of the order previously issued. I called his attention to a copy of the order, & he promised to have it extended so as to meet your views. In conversation upon this
subject, I took occasion to remark, that had Genl. Miller been appointed to the command of the District, in accordance with your previous recommendation to the President, that such an appointment would have been very favorably received by the entire State.
7th – I called to the attention of the secretary the matter of Capt. W.H. Milton’s commission as Majr. of the Battalion. He stated that he was under the impression that the commission had been forwarded sometime since. I stated to him that it had not been received. In a conversation with Mr. Mallory afterward upon the same subject, he stated that he had called at the office previously for the commission & learned that no papers could be there found on the subject & that that was the reason why the commission had not been issued. I therefore suggest that new papers be made out & sent forward immediately to the care of Mr. Mallory, who I think will take an interest in the matter.
8th – Your suggestion relative to the return of the Florida Brigade, I am sorry to say, seemed to meet with but little favor. I think however that if the matter were pressed, backed by such a report from Doct. Palmer relative to its sanitary condition as he is prepared to make, that it might succeed. From the enclosed Report up to the month of August, you will be able to appreciate its condition – there has been no improvement since. Doct. Palmer authorized me to say to you, that if you will apply for the return of the Brigade, & send the application to his care, he will present it, with such a Report, as will give the President a full appreciation of the true condition of the Brigade. If you act upon the suggestion the enclosed Report must be returned to Doct. Palmer.
9th – I did not visit Genl. Finegan’s Brigade, in consequence of the impossibility of getting through the lines, fighting having commenced around Petersburg on the day that I expected to make the visit. When I left Richmond all of the Department Offices were closed & the clerks were in the trenches.
I take great pleasure in saying that in all of my intercourse with the departmental officers I was treated with the respect due to a special agent of the State.
I am very Respectfully
Your Obt. Sevt. [Obedient Servant],
That’s a lot of business for one visit!
You may notice that Milton’s instructions to DuPont must have included a lot of minutiae regarding various promotions and assignments for military personnel. It may seem a little intrusive for a state governor to be so deeply involved in military affairs, but Milton was fighting for Florida to get the military protection he felt it needed.
Confederate armies farther north had their hands full handling all-out assaults by their Union opponents, and Florida was low on the list of priorities. Most of the promotions and department shifts DuPont describes in this letter relate to Milton’s attempts to enable Floridian commanders to use what meager resources they had to protect Florida on their own.
Milton’s letterbooks from this period are full of similar messages to Richmond asking the government to permit Floridian commanders more latitude in planning for the state’s defense, and to provide more supplies and reinforcements. With its lengthy coastline, Florida was highly vulnerable to invasion. Milton wanted to do everything possible to minimize the threat, although his requests were often only partially fulfilled.
The State Archives of Florida holds one of Milton’s letterbooks from the latter years of his administration. It is part of a broader series of governor’s letterbooks containing the correspondence of Florida’s chief executives in the 19th century. The letterbook from the earlier years of Milton’s administration is available on Florida Memory, although the original is held by the Florida Historical Society in Cocoa.
Check out the related resources below for more information about Florida in the Civil War, and check back again tomorrow for our next edition of Civil War Voices. We’ll follow infantryman William McLeod of Manatee County on a march through northwestern Georgia.
Related Resources on Florida Memory:
- John Milton Letterbook, 1861-1863
- Florida Memory Learning Unit: Florida in the Civil War
- Florida Memory Exhibit: Distant Storm: Florida’s Role in the Civil War
Related Resources at the State Archives of Florida:
Related Resources in Print:
- Biographical Rosters of Florida’s Confederate and Union Soldiers, 1861-1865 (find in a library near you!)