Battles
Union soldiers devastate Walton & Holmes Counties

A view across the Euchee Valley of Walton County from Knox Hill.

The Union attack at Eucheeanna on September 23, 1864, was followed by some of the most severe destruction inflicted on Florida citizens during the entire War Between the States (or Civil War).

Please click here to read yesterday’s post on the Skirmish at Eucheeanna Anniversary.

The citizens of Walton and Holmes Counties, many of whom were Unionists and very few of whom held slaves, were punished for living in a state (Florida) that had joined the Confederacy. Adopting the Grant and Sherman concept of “total warfare,” the Federals made war on civilians by occupying their homes, taking their food, destroying their property and even committing sexual assaults. Few actual Confederate soldiers were among those targeted.

The following account of the rampage that took place from the afternoon of September 23, 1864 through the afternoon of September 24, 1864 is excerpted from my book The Battle of Marianna, Florida:

(Excerpt)

Douglas’ Ferry, which crossed the Choctawhatchee River between Walton and Washington Counties, was destroyed by Union troops.

Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth, the Union commander. reported on September 23, 1864, that he sent a detachment to destroy Douglas’ Ferry on the Choctawatchee River, “along with all the smaller boats in the vicinity.” Douglas’ was where the main road connecting Eucheeanna with Vernon, Hickory Hill and Marianna crossed the river. Residents of the area later reported losing mules, saddles, etc., to the raiders. (1)

The destruction of the ferry was a curious move, as it provided the logical route by which a military force could quickly advance on Marianna. Most travelers through the area used the road when traveling from Eucheeanna to Vernon and on to Marianna. Asboth probably knew from the intelligence gathered by his Florida cavalrymen that he would encounter Confederate units at both Vernon and Hickory Hill if he moved forward by the Marianna road. This would have given Col. A.B. Montgomery, the Confederate commander, plenty of time to call for reinforcements and likely would have prevented the raid from accomplishing its objectives. So instead the general ordered the boats in the vicinity destroyed and decided to advance by way of an alternate route.

Four Mile Landing at Freeport as it appeared over 100 years ago.

While the soldiers carried out Asboth’s orders and destroyed the boats, a second detachment of two full companies from the 1st Florida (U.S.) Cavalry went down to LaGrange Landing on Choctawhatchee Bay with the prisoners, captured supplies, unserviceable horses and sixteen African-American recruits collected from the local plantations. Smaller foraging parties, in turn, spread out through the surrounding countryside, rounding up men and stealing or destroying supplies. One detachment approached the home of a Mrs. McLean, intending to capture her sick brother. He escaped by lifting up the floorboards of the house and hiding in a hole that had been dug to secure clay for the chimney. Unable to find him, the soldiers looted the farm, stealing everything of value and even shooting the chickens. (2)

A similar squad hit the McKinnon Plantation, which was still recovering from the earlier raid by (Joe) Carroll and his men. The soldiers ordered the slaves to hitch up wagons and carts, which were then loaded with the contents of the smokehouse and corncrib. What they couldn’t take, they destroyed. The slaves were forcefully removed, but three managed to escape by hiding in a nearby swamp. Among these was a woman named Harriett Crow. Harriett had once been the wife of the Yuchi (or Euchee) Indian chief Jim Crow, but when Crow and his people began their long journey to new homes west of the Mississippi, Harriett was not allowed to go. After the soldiers departed, she emerged from the swamp and with one of the McKinnon daughters set off on foot hoping to learn the fate of a family member who had been staying with neighbors. Not far from the farm they found a side of bacon lying in the road where it had fallen from one of the stolen wagons and were trying to get it back home when the missing brother appeared. He had been warned by a slave that soldiers were coming and had escaped. The side of bacon, along with kernels of corn sifted from the sand, provided food for the family and slaves through the rest of the long winter. (3)

Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth as he appeared in 1865.

The only recorded instance of sexual assault during the raid took place north of Eucheeanna that night. According to Walton County historian John L. McKinnon, a sergeant from one of the U.S.C.I. detachments went into an isolated farmhouse and raped a woman and her teenage daughter. The attack was brought to the attention of Federal officers and the alleged assailant identified, but the local citizens were not informed what, if any, disciplinary action was taken against him. This incident contributed greatly to post-war bitterness in Walton County, which in 1860-1861 had opposed secession from the Union. (4)

Many of the homes hit by the raiders belonged to families that had maintained their allegiance to the Union throughout the war. Perhaps the best account later provided by one of these families was that included in the Southern Claims Commission application of Abigail McDonald. A resident of Eucheeanna, she was home when the Federal troops arrived at her front gate and could do nothing but watch as they made off with 1 horse, 1 mule, 100 bushels of corn, 1 steer, 20 head of hogs, 75 bushels of potatoes, 500 pounds of fodder, 20 turkeys, 24 chickens, 3 sheep for a total value of $799.80:

…(T)he mule was taken by Col. of Gen. Asboth’s command, who said it was in compliance with an order of General Asboth, that their horses were worn out and they needed fresh ones, on the same day the poultry was killed, and the potatoes, corn and fodder also was taken. They were all taken under command of the Col. above referred to, he said I would receive pay for my property. (5)

A wartime sketch of Union raiders destroying property.

McDonald could look out her front door and see the soldiers of Asboth’s command, who she noted were “encamped near and in front of my yard gate, about thirty steps from my front door.” She could do nothing but watch as the men made off with her food supplies for the winter. Like many local families, the McDonalds were left to go hungry. (6)

The severity of the destruction in Walton County was observed one month later by a party of escapees from the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia. The men passed through the area trying to reach the safety of the blockade fleet off the Florida coast. One of them,
Charles Mather Smith of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, later described asking for help from a man and boy who lived near LaGrange (Four Mile) Landing:

He then told me the main points of his own experience in the war. When the war broke out he owned ninety slaves, now not one. The Yankee blockaders had destroyed his sloop, worth $1500. Four of his sons had been killed in the Confederate army. Naturally, he would not be inclined to help the Yankees. “But,” said he, “I have a heart, and seeing your helpless condition will aid you.” He had a skiff secreted in one place, and oars in another, for the Yankees had destroyed everything they could find that would float. (7)

Smith identified this individual as Thomas Reddick, who after the war relocated to Jackson County. He appears on the 1860 census as the head of a family of five boys, the youngest of whom was a thirteen-year-old named George. Years later, George was contacted by Smith and remembered that as a youth he and his father had helped a group of men who claimed to e prisoners. As a reward, he recalled, they gave him six dollars in U.S. currency.

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park was the site of a log dogtrot-style hotel. The structure was destroyed during the Marianna raid.

Guided by his Florida cavalrymen, he crossed from Walton into Holmes County by way of Ponce de Leon. His men looted the home of Angus Gillis and took his possessions and livestock before liberating his slaves. The raiders also “broke up” a log dogtrot-style inn at Ponce de Leon Spring and otherwise terrorized the local citizens.

In an interesting footnote to the column’s passage through Ponce de Leon, at least one of Asboth’s Florida cavalrymen suffered losses at the hands of his own command. Private Owen T. Parish of Company C, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry was from Ponce de Leon and he later filed a claim with the Southern Claims Commission seeking reimbursement for a mare, saddle and bridle. They were taken from his home as the raiders passed through Ponce de Leon. (8)

It was in the vicinity of Ponce de Leon that the first casualty of the raid took place. According to the muster rolls of the 86th U.S. Colored Infantry, Private Joseph Williams from Company H of that regiment was “mortally wounded and left in the lines of the enemy at Big Sandy Creek.” Exactly what happened is unknown, but regimental records indicate that the shooting was accidental. Williams’ eventual fate remains a mystery. (9)

The Choctawhatchee RIver at the site of Cerrogordo. The Union troops camped here on the night of September 24, 1864.

From Big Sandy Creek, the raiders pushed north to Cerrogordo, a small village on the west bank of the Choctawatchee River and the seat of government for Holmes County in 1864. Named for the famous battle of the Mexican War, Cerrogordo probably didn’t look like much of a town to most of Asboth’s men. There was a courthouse and jail, two stores and two homes. It is a true historical fact that the jail was locked by means of a strong pole leaned against the door. On one occasion, an ox walked by and knocked the pole down into the river, allowing the prisoners to escape. The minutes of the Holmes County Commission subsequently included an appropriation for a new pole for the jailhouse door. (10)

One of Asboth’s stated purposes for launching the raid was to secure recruits for the Union army. He met with at least partial success in Cerrogordo, where a number of men volunteered for service with the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry. Among these was Richard “Dick” Curlee, a man widely known to the people in the Alabama/Florida borderlands as the lieutenant of the notorious “Rhodes’ Gang.” This gang was a particularly vicious group of “raiders” who terrorized the region during the closing years of the war. His “commander,” John M. Rhodes, had joined the same regiment on April 12, 1864, but had already deserted by the time of the Marianna raid. (11)

(End of Excerpt)

I will continue to post in this series as the anniversary of the Battle of Marianna is marked later this week. To learn more about the Marianna raid before the next post, please watch the mini-documentary below or visit www.battleofmarianna.us. I also hope you will read my bookThe Battle of Marianna, Florida.

Dale Cox
September 24, 2017

(1) Southern Claims Commission Application of Angus C. Douglas, Administrator of the estate of Alexander C. Douglas.
(2) Alexander Asboth, Report of September 23, 1864, Official Records; McKinnon, History of Walton County.
(3) McKinnon, History of Walton County.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Deposition of Abigail McDonald, June 1, 1874, Southern Claims Commission Files.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Charles Mather Smith, From Andersonville to Freedom: Personal Narratives of Events in the War of Rebellion, 1894.
(8) Southern Claims Commission application of Owen T. Parish, 1871.
(9) Muster Rolls of the 86th U.S. Colored Infantry for September of October, 1864, National Archives.
(10) William K. Belknap, 1874 Report to Congress, quoted by E.W. Carswell, Holmesteading, 1988; Minutes of the Holmes County Commission, copy in Carswell Collection.
(11) Muster Rolls, 1st Florida (U.S.) Cavalry, National Archives.




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