Union troops crossed Pensacola Bay from their camps at Fort Barrancas to a beachhead established on the previous day at Navy Cove by African-American soldiers from the 82nd and 86th USCT (U.S. Colored Troops) on this date 153 years ago. The movement marked the official beginning of the 1864 raid on Marianna, Florida.
The landing site was at today’s Gulf Breeze, Florida. The community did not exist in 1864 but Navy Cove was the eastern terminus of the old Federal or “Jackson” Road. From there it ran east along the shores of Santa Rosa Sound to Camp Walton, the abandoned site of a Confederate outpost, before turning inland around Choctawhatchee Bay.
The objective of the raid was the small Northwest Florida city of Marianna. The community was the home of Gov. John Milton, a pro-secession Democrat who had been elected in the fall of 1860. His son, Capt. William H. Milton, was the commander of one of the cavalry units assigned to defend the town and guard against Union raids into the farming country of Washington, Holmes and Jackson Counties.
Marianna was the command post for the Confederate subdistrict that extended from the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers west to the Choctawhatchee. The command was entrusted to Col. Alexander B. Montgomery of Georgia. A physician and lieutenant in the U.S. Army prior to the war, he had commanded the 3rd Georgia Infantry at the Battle of Second Manassas where he was noted for his bravery in staying on the field even after he had been badly wounded.
In addition to Capt. Milton’s Company A, 5th Florida Cavalry, Montgomery’s command also included Company E, 5th Florida Cavalry, and the battalion-sized Company C, 1st Florida Reserves (Mounted). Home Guard (militia) companies had been organized at Vernon, Marianna, Cowpen Pond, Campbellton, Greenwood, Abe Springs and in eastern Holmes Counties. These units had little training and were poorly equipped, but could be counted on to turn out to fight. Marianna was also the site of an army conscription camp. Men and boys were sent there for training as they were conscripted (drafted). An additional company, Capt. Robert Chisholm’s Woodville Scouts (Alabama State Troops), was stationed near Marianna at Camp Governor Milton which stood on the hill overlooking Blue Springs.
The Union troops that crossed Pensacola Bay 153 years ago today included the 2nd Maine Cavalry, one battalion from the 1st Florida Cavalry (U.S.), two picked companies from the 82nd and 86th USCT and one man from the 7th Vermont Infantry. The commanding officer was Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth. A nationalized American, he was a native of Hungary and had served as aide-de-camp to Gov. Lajos Kossuth during the ill-fated Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Kossuth and his supporters tried to establish an American-styled Republic in Hungary but were brutally defeated by the Austrians and their Russian allies.
Asboth settled in New York after his evacuation to the United States and worked there as a surveyor and engineer. He conducted the surveys for Central Park and invented a form of asphalt paving. He volunteered to fight for the Union in 1861 and commanded a division in Missouri and at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, where he was badly wounded. He later served in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi and was one of the officers who recommended the promotion of Phil Sheridan.
Sent to Pensacola as Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman began his campaign on Atlanta, Asboth was hand-picked to help Sherman cut his way through to the Gulf of Mexico if the Atlanta campaign proved to be a failure.
The Marianna raid was conceived by Asboth in mid-September 1864 as a way to assert Union control over West Florida while destroying or capturing the last Confederate troops still on duty in the region. He planned to travel west to Camp Walton (today’s Fort Walton beach) and then turn inland through Walton and Holmes Counties to strike Marianna by way of Campbellton in northwestern Jackson County. From there he would return to Point Washington on Choctawhatchee Bay after inflicting as much destruction of resources as possible in Jackson and Washington Counties.
Claims that Asboth intended to attack Tallahassee are not supported by the letters he wrote prior to the campaign. His objective was Marianna.
This is the first in a series of articles about the Marianna raid so watch for more over the next several days. You can also learn more by visiting www.battleofmarianna.us or by watching the short documentary below.
This year’s reenactment commemorating the Battle of Marianna will take place at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna on October 7th at 10 a.m. It will be part of the annual Caverns Cultural Celebration and will be our largest reenactment yet! Be sure to join us.