Florida in the Civil War
Teacher’s Guide for Documents about the Battle of Natural Bridge

Background Information

Battle of Natural Bridge

The Battle of Natural Bridge was fought on March 6, 1865 along the St. Marks River near Woodville, Florida. It was the last major battle of the Civil War in Florida.

The Union forces included several hundred Florida soldiers in the 2nd Florida Union Cavalry and most of the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Infantry regiments. The Southern troops consisted of Florida cavalry and artillery soldiers, young and old militia members, and a small group of young cadets from the Florida Collegiate and Military Institute (later Florida State University) in Tallahassee.

The U.S. forces marched to Natural Bridge, where they hoped to cross the river and proceed to St. Marks. As the name suggests, this bridge was a natural span of solid rock across the St. Marks River.

The Confederates had the advantages of a solid defensive position, more cannons, and by the end of the battle, more troops. The Union troops broke off the battle and retreated to the safety of the coast. The Confederate victory ensured that Tallahassee would remain in Southern hands for the remainder of the war.

The Documents

The documents in this section present recollections of the battle from the perspectives of several kinds of historical actors.

The account of General William Miller discusses the tactics used by the Confederates, and evaluates the leadership of various individuals involved. In Ellen Call Long's book Florida Breezes, Long’s correspondent Ruth provides the viewpoint of a civilian in Tallahassee who was absent from the fighting, but could hear the cannon fire and captured snippets of information from couriers and other word-of-mouth sources. Sylvanus M. Hankins and Joshua Hoyet Frier were both enlisted men who fought on the front lines of this battle. Their writings document what it was like to be part of the action in this battle. Unlike General Miller, Hankins and Frier provide more personal details about their experience, and their writings are more anecdotal.

These documents are excellent for illustrating the fact that a single historical event may be approached from many angles, and that no single historical actor can produce a primary source that gives the historian every useful detail about an event. A combination of sources provides a much better picture of what is going on during any particular event such as the Battle of Natural Bridge.

The dates of these documents also provide an opportunity for discussing the authenticity of historical sources. With the exception of Ruth's letter, which we may presume was written at the time of the battle, all of these documents were written years after the battle itself. The authors remember the battle with great detail, but the historian may question how much of their memory can be considered authentic and free from selectivity or distortion. Furthermore, all four sources are clearly written to be read by other people as an authoritative source of information about the war. How does that affect their retelling of the events?

Some Useful Questions to Ask:

  • Which of these sources is the most authentic? Why?
  • Many of these documents were written long after the battle took place. Are the authors' memories reliable? How might the passage of time affect their retelling of the events?
  • All of these documents were intended to be read by other people at some point. How might this affect the objectivity of the authors in writing down their recollections?

Use to Illustrate:

  • The role of Florida in the Civil War.
  • How geography influences history.
  • How reading primary source documents from different perspectives can help form a more complete picture of the Civil War.

Document Analysis Worksheets
Created by the National Archives

Document analysis is the first step in working with primary sources. Teach your students to think through primary source documents for contextual understanding and to extract information to make informed judgments. The document analysis worksheets created by the National Archives and Records Administration are in the public domain.

Sunshine State Standards

  • SS.4.A.1.1: Analyze primary and secondary resources to identify significant individuals and events throughout Florida history.
  • SS.4.A.5.1: Describe Florida's involvement (secession, blockades of ports, the battles of Ft. Pickens, Olustee, Ft. Brooke, Natural Bridge, food supply) in the Civil War.
  • SS.8.A.5.1: Explain the causes, course, and consequence of the Civil War (sectionalism, slavery, states' rights, balance of power in the Senate).
  • SS.8.A.5.3: Explain major domestic and international economic, military, political, and socio-cultural events of Abraham Lincoln's presidency. Examples may include, but are not limited to, sectionalism, states' rights, slavery, Civil War, attempts at foreign alliances, Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address, suspension of habeas corpus, First and Second Inaugural Addresses.
  • SS.8.A.5.5: Compare Union and Confederate strengths and weaknesses. Examples may include, but are not limited to, technology, resources, alliances, geography, military leaders-Lincoln, Davis, Grant, Lee, Jackson, Sherman.
  • SS.8.A.5.7: Examine key events and peoples in Florida history as each impacts this era of American history. Examples may include, but are not limited to, slavery, influential planters, Florida's secession and Confederate membership, women, children, pioneer environment, Union occupation, Battle of Olustee and role of 54th Massachusetts regiment, Battle at Natural Bridge.
  • SS.912.A.1.1: Describe the importance of historiography, which includes how historical knowledge is obtained and transmitted, when interpreting events in history.
  • SS.912.A.1.2: Utilize a variety of primary and secondary sources to identify author, historical significance, audience, and authenticity to understand a historical period.

Florida Standards

  • LAFS.4.RI.1.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.2: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.3: Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.3.9: Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • LAFS.K12.R.1.1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • LAFS.68.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • LAFS.68.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • LAFS.910.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • LAFS.910.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.2.6: Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.3.8: Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.3.9: Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.