Union troops pushed east through Holmes County and into the northwestern corner of Jackson County on this date 153 years ago. The Battle of Marianna was less than 24 hours away.
Fighting broke out on September 26, 1864, as the men and boys of Capt. Alexander Godwin’s Campbellton Cavalry unit turned out to resist the Federal troops. Godwin’s unit was a local militia company that had recently been added to Capt. W.W. Poe’s battalion of the 1st Florida Reserves (Mounted).
The following account of the skirmishing near Campbellton is excerpted from my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition:
It is not clear if they knew it yet, but the troops of Asboth’s command were being watched as they approached Holmes Creek during the early afternoon of September 26, 1864. Captain Alexander R. Godwin had heard there was trouble in Holmes County and called out the Campbellton Cavalry. Assembling quickly, the men rode west to investigate.
One of the local home guard companies, the Campbellton Cavalry included men from the plantation district that spread through northern and western Jackson County. Among its members was 53-year-old Frank P. Haywood, who lived along the road between Campbellton and Marianna. Although he was beyond military age, he had enrolled in the company just three days before it was called out on September 26th. His account is the only one found thus far that details the actions of Godwin’s men prior to the Battle of Marianna.
According to a claim he later filed with the Southern Claims Commission, he was home on the morning of the 26th when his company was called out. The men assembled in Campbellton and then rode down the road to Holmes Creek to “watch for whoever it was that was committing depredations.” The modern city of Graceville had not yet been founded and the primary road from Campbellton to Holmes County angled southwest via the Galilee community to cross Holmes Creek at the Marianna ford near today’s Tri-County Airport.(1)
The Campbellton men soon came up with Asboth’s vanguard and Captain Godwin, an elected officer who had previously served in the Marianna Dragoons (Company B, 15th Confederate Cavalry), quickly realized that an extremely dangerous situation was developing. He withdrew his men back to Campbellton, with Union cavalry hot on their heels. While Haywood’s account does not mention skirmishing, it was written to support his claim that he had not taken up arms against the Union or served the Confederacy in any meaningful way. General Asboth made no specific mention of firing near Campbellton in his official report, but did include the enigmatic note that, “along my whole line of march, from the Choctawhatchee to the Chipola River and down to the head of Choctawatchee Bay, rebel troops were constantly in close vicinity of my column, with frequent skirmishes with my vanguard.” Grantham’s Home Guard in Holmes County had not turned out, so Godwin’s company was the only unit along the line of march that could have accounted for this skirmishing.(2)
Some writers have asserted that the skirmishing took place place when Asboth’s column encountered Captain W.B. Jones and his company of scouts from Washington County. This misconception originated from a copyist’s error in a Union prisoner of war list. The document in question, prepared a few days after the troops returned to Pensacola, lists Confederate soldiers captured during the raid and provides the supposed dates they were taken. Captain “J.B. Jones” and several of his men are shown on this list to have been taken on September 26, 1864, the date the Union column was moving through the northwestern corner of Jackson County. This has led several researchers, including this writer, to speculate that Captain W.B. Jones of Vernon and his scouts might have moved up Holmes Creek trying to find some trace of the missing Federal column only to run into them as they crossed the creek into Jackson County on the 26th.
Deeper research, however, reveals that an error in the prisoner of war list has led to a misunderstanding of the facts. A number of men from Captain Jones’ company later filed applications for state pensions, all of which remain on file at the Florida State Archives in Tallahassee. A careful analysis of the application files of men who were present with Jones when he was captured proves conclusively that that he was taken in Washington County on the day after the Battle of Marianna. At that time, his company was marching from Vernon to Marianna in response to a summons from headquarters for reinforcements. The Washington County men said they ran head on into Asboth’s column at Hard Labor Creek between Vernon and Hickory (Orange) Hill and that their captain was taken along with many of his men in a quick but sharp skirmish. Considering this evidence, provided by men who actually observed Jones’ capture, it is obvious that there is a mistake in the Union prisoner of war list and that Jones’ company was not in northwestern Jackson County on the afternoon of the 26th. Any resistance in that area came from Godwin’s men or from individual civilians taking potshots at the Federals.(3)
Despite the fact that they were now moving at an accelerated pace, the Union soldiers continued to do as much damage as possible to the homes, farms and plantations that they passed. A foraging party, for example, struck at the farm of Nelson Watford in the Galilee community. Watford and his oldest son were away in the Confederate service, but his wife and their younger children were home when the Yankees arrived. Learning of their approach, Mrs. Watford sent the slaves to drive the livestock into the swamps and hide until the danger had passed. Union soldiers helped themselves to what was left, clearing out the smokehouse, stealing fodder for their horses and even digging the farm’s big molasses barrel from the ground and pouring its contents into the dirt.(4)
A similar squad struck the nearby home of Captain Henry Grace. Although Grace became one of the men for whom the town of Graceville was named after the war, at the time he lived on the road between Galilee and Campbellton. The other homes in the neighborhood were pillaged as well, but the Federals unexpectedly found themselves having to ask a favor of the local residents. One of the men from the 2nd Maine Cavalry became so seriously ill while in the neighborhood that he had to be left behind in the care of one of the families.(5)
As the Federals closed in on Campbellton, they captured at least two men. The first of these, Charles G. Tipton, had been a sergeant in Company D, 11th Florida Infantry, but had been reduced to the ranks a couple of months earlier due to extended illness. At some point he had been sent home to Campbellton from the military hospital at Pocataligo, South Carolina. Whether he was captured at home or while riding with his neighbors as a member of Godwin’s home guard company is not known. The latter probability is inferred.(6)
The other prisoner was William Clayton, a known member of Godwin’s company. His service record indicates simply that he was captured on September 26, 1864. No other details of the situation that led to his capture are known.(7)
At some point, as he realized the magnitude of the danger, Captain Godwin dispatched one of his men to carry news of the raid to Marianna. The arrival of this courier at headquarters on the afternoon of the 26th struck the Confederate officers with the impact of a thunderbolt.
(End of Excerpt)
The Union column reached Campbellton late on the afternoon of September 26, 1864. The Union soldiers had covered more than 30 miles that day so Asboth ordered them to make camp. Tradition holds that their encampment stretched from around the historic Campbellton Baptist Church up the hill to the town square and west to the opposite end of the community.
Capt. Godwin and his men maintained their watch from a distance. That night they were joined by Col. Alexander B. Montgomery from Marianna with two additional companies of cavalry.
To learn more about the 1864 raid on Marianna, please consider my book The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition. You can also visit www.battleofmarianna.us or click play below to enjoy the free mini-documentary from www.twoegg.tv.
This year’s reenactment of the Battle of Marianna will take place during the Caverns Cultural Celebration at Florida Caverns State Park on Saturday, October 7th, at 10 a.m. Central time.
(1) Southern Claims Commission File for Frank P. Haywood, National Archives.
(2) Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth, Report of October 1, 1864, Official Records.
(3) Pension Application Files for members of Capt. W.B. Jones’ Company, Florida State Archives.
(4) E.W. Carswell, Personal Communication, 1988.
(5) Bangor, Maine, Whig & Courier, Letter from Barrancas dated October 8, 1864.
(6) Service Record of Charles G. Tipton, 11th Florida Infantry, National Archives.
(7) Service Record of William Clayton, Godwin’s Company, National Archives.