The following is an excerpt from the recollections of General William Miller about his experiences as a military commander during the American Civil War in Florida. Miller was a graduate of West Point and a veteran of previous wars. After fighting in some of the largest battles of the Civil War, Miller was reassigned to Florida, where he commanded a regiment of infantry reserves. Miller was second in command for the Confederate forces at the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865.
Point Washington July 4, 1898
After more than thirty three years I endeavor to recall the events of our last campaign in Florida. This is rendered more difficult because the reports of the principal actors whether by design or negligence are entirely wanting in the Records of the "War of the Rebellion." Had the reports of General Miller and the officers who carried out his orders and made reports to him of the manner in which they carried out his orders accompanied the reports of Maj General Samuel Jones, they would have shown that the assumptions of General Jones as to the part he took in the Battle of the Natural Bridge were not the real fact.
It is my intention now to state those facts as far as the absence of records and a memory impaired by the great lapse of time will permit.
On the fourth of March 1865, Col George W. Scott reported to General Miller a large force of Federals landing from a numerous fleet of transports, conveyed by vessels of war, near the St. Marks light house. General Miller immediately reported the fact to Maj General Jones, asking for orders, and, if he should take command. General Jones assented and General Miller immediately issued orders for the concentration of the troops at New Port. At this place a breastwork had been thrown up on the west side of the St. Marks River commanding the bridge. The [foundry?] of Daniel Ladd covered the approach to the bridge and was burned by the Confederacy. Col. Scott, with his cavalry and one piece of artillery, fell back to the East River bridge, and destroyed the bridge. When [unlimbering?] his guns he prepared to [?] the enemy's passage. He remained in position and continued to fire on the advancing enemy until he discovered that the enemy was
crossing at a ford. Several horses & guns in time to [?] [in?] small [?] at New Port & [attempt?] to defend this [?] in [?] from the [back?] In hastily retreating, the horses of the enemy became unmanageable and the gun had to be abandoned. In this affair the enemy lost four killed and left on the field. Col. Scott crossed the St. Marks to Newport, uncovering the bridge - thus making it unpassable for the enemy. The breastwork thrown up sometime previously by Capt. Moreno of the Engineer Corp completely commanded the passage, even if the floor of the bridge had not been removed. The force ordered to Newport by General Miller was now arriving and being placed in position.
I pause here to pay a tribute to Colonel George W. Scott, brave, energetic, indefatigable, his vigilance first discovered the approach of the enemy's fleet. His firm resistance to the advance of the forces under General John Newton retarded his march, thus giving time for our troops to concentrate on Newport, and to successfully resist the passage of the enemy across the Saint Marks River.
The burning of Ladd's foundry had rendered it impossible for the enemy to approach the river near the bridge except under fire both from infantry and artillery. Perceiving the strength of our positions General Newton, while keeping up a fire of skirmishers from the woods, found the positions too strong to attack with any hope of success. Being informed by deserters of a road by the Natural Bridge some eight miles above, he kept up a show of forcing the passage of the river at Newport, while he was making a night march up the river. This move of Genl. Newton had been anticipated by Col. Scott, who informed Genl. Miller from time to time of the progress of the enemy.
All the troops which were ordered to Newport were ordered by General Miller to leave the railroad at the oil still and march directly to the natural bridge. The general remained at Newport to accelerate the movement of troops to the Natural Bridge. At midnight, Captain (Samuel?) Spencer arrived from St. Marks and reported to General Miller that the command at the fort were about to abandon it, and to blow it and the gunboat Spray up.
The report made by Capt. Spencer was strengthened by the character of the bearer. General Miller immediately rode to Fort St. Marks, had the garrison paraded told then that that fort was to be held, that he protected their rear and that they could only be attacked by the river in front. In connection with this I extract a paragraph from General Newton's report of April 6th 1865 to Lieut. Col. Christensen: "The Fort was prepared to be blown up into the air and parties were engaged to destroy a large quantity of cotton at Saint Marks amounting to 600 bales." General Miller did not [?] treachery, only cowardice. This extract is found in Series I, volume 49, page 64 of the government records of the War of the Rebellion.
It was nearly dawn on the 5th of March when General Miller reached Newport, and he did not reach the Natural Bridge until the sun was an hour high. The command which had reached there before day was advantageously placed across the road leading over the natural bridge. The center of our line drawn back from the
River, the right and left resting on the river below and above the crossing, the line being an arc of a circle, the ground rising gently from the [?] and declining from our line to the rear acted as a low breastwork thus naturally protecting our men from the fire of the enemy. These dispositions to defend the crossing were made by Col. J.J. Daniels of the regiment of reserves and Col. Geo. W. Scott. Nothing could have been more judicious than the dispositions of the troops.
At daylight, a change was made on our lines but a well-directed volley sent the enemy back, and gave them the first notice that the place was defended. He formed and charged again with similar result. After that, the enemy was silent except some deserters firing from a line of skirmishers occupying the timber on the east bank of the river. As the troops arrived from the Rail Road they were placed in line extending the right wing down the river. Capt. Dunham's battery was on the left above the bridge.