Florida’s Swamp Fox in Action
The Battle of Station Four was an action of the War Between the States (or Civil War). It took place on February 13, 1865, near Cedar Key, Florida.
The battle takes its name from Station Four, a stop on the railroad leading from Cedar Key to Fernandina in Florida. The station was just a spot where trains could stop to take on passengers or cargo. It was located on the shore of the Number Four Channel, the waterway that separates the Cedar Keys from the mainland of Florida.
The Battle of Station Four marked the end of a Union raid that began four days earlier. Major Edmund C. Weeks had taken 186 men from the Second Florida Cavalry (U.S.) and 200 men from the Second U.S. Colored Infantry (2nd USCT) inland from Cedar Key on February 9, 1865.
After crossing the bridge across Number Four Channel to the mainland of Levy County, he divided his command into two columns. Major Benjamin Lincoln of the 2nd USCT struck a Confederate camp at Clay Landing on the Suwannee River while Major Weeks led the second column in person up the railroad to Levyville. The community was between today’s cities of Bronson and Chiefland.
The swampy terrain tired out the men of Weeks’ column, which was further weakened because the major had to detach soldiers to guard prisoners and the 50 African American slaves liberated by the Federal troops. After penetrating as far as he thought advisable, the Union commander ordered his men to begin their return march to Cedar Key.
As the Federals started to withdraw, however, they were attacked by a mere handful of Confederate cavalrymen. The attack was beaten back, but two Union soldiers were wounded. The aggressive charge by the outnumbered Confederates was just the beginning of a disaster for Weeks’ command.
The small detachment of Confederates that attacked the Union column at Levyville was the advance guard of a force of 145 men being rushed to the scene of the raid by the famed Swamp Fox of Florida, Captain J.J. Dickison of the Second Florida Cavalry (C.S.).
The Union column reached Number Four at 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 12, 1865. The raid had netted Weeks a herd of 100 confiscated cattle, several wagons, 50 escaped slaves, 13 stolen horses and five prisoners of war.
Apparently believing that any danger had passed, Major Weeks crossed the trestle to Cedar Key with the prisoners and some of his men. The rest of his command was left behind at Station Four under Lt. E. Pease of the 2nd Florida Cavalry (U.S.).
Captain Dickison’s Confederates, however, were approaching fast. Leaving 25 men to the rear to hold the horses, he led forward a battle line of 120 men at dawn on Monday morning, February 13, 1865. The Southern troops were angry over the damage caused to civilian property by the Union raid and were spoiling for a fight.
Dickison’s little army was made up of men from a variety of units. There were 52 men from Company H, 2nd Florida Cavalry (C.S.), 18 men from Company B, 2nd Florida Cavalry (C.S.), 20 men from Company H, 5th Florida Cavalry (C.S.), 18 men from the Special Battalion of Florida Cavalry (C.S.) and 37 men from various units of the 1st Florida Reserves (C.S.). Four different captains command the variety of detachments. The Swamp Fox also had a single 12-pound cannon.
The Battle of Station Four began at 7 a.m. Federal pickets saw the Confederate line coming and opened fire. Dickison was short on ammunition for both his small arms and cannon, but opened a fierce fire on the Union troops.
Lieutenant Pease and about 30 men used the railroad embankment as a breastwork but the rest of the Union force retreated.
Major Weeks was in Cedar Key when he heard the sounds of battle. Rushing back to Station Four, he “found our men flying in all directions.” At the island end of the trestle over Number Four Channel he found about 60 men from the 2nd Florida Cavalry (U.S.) still in some form of order.
The major led the dismounted cavalrymen forward, coming under heavy fire from the lone Confederate cannon. The Southern gunners were alternating their fire between the force accompanying weeks and the 30 or so Union soldiers under Lt. Pease still holding the railroad embankment.
What happened next depends on which version the battle you chose to accept. Dickison said that he withdrew slightly due to an ammunition shortage after killing, wounding or capturing 70 men. The rest of the Federals left the battle precipitately.”
Confederate losses were reported as 5 men wounded, although this was adjusted in a later account to 6 men wounded. Dickison was able to recapture the cattle, horses, wagons and other items stolen during the Union raid.
Major Weeks gave a different version of the Battle of Station Four. According to his report, Lt. Pease led a bold counter-attack with only 30 men that forced Dickison’s Confederates to withdraw. Weeks crossed the trestle just as this attack was taken place and then withdrew all of his men across the channel. He reported his losses as 5 killed, 17 wounded and three captured.
The sharp fight at Station Four took place shortly before the Union expedition that ended at the Battle of Natural Bridge just three weeks later. Weeks and many of his men also took part in that encounter.
The battlefield at Station Number Four has not been developed, but can be viewed from the public dock on the island side of Number Four Channel. Turn left to the dock just after acrossing the State Road 24 bridge over the channel. The battlefield is directly across the water from the end of the dock.
There are no markers or interpretive facilities on the battlefield itself, but you can learn more at the Cedar Key Museum in downtown Cedar Key and at the nearby Cedar Key Museum State Park on 166th Court.