The Battle of Natural Bridge took place on March 6, 1865. A significant action, it was fought on the banks of the St. Marks River south of Tallahassee, Florida.
The site of the action is preserved today at Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park. Visitors can see monuments, interpretive signs and surviving earthworks from the battle.
The Battle of Natural Bridge preserved Tallahassee’s status as the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not conquered by Union forces prior to the surrenders of Generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston. One of the last significant Confederate victories of the war, it also protected a significant area of North Florida and South Georgia from the severe economic losses suffered by many other
regions of the South.
The events leading to the Battle of Natural Bridge began in February of 1865 when Southern troops carried out a raid against Fort Myers in South Florida. Union General John Newton, a veteran of the Gettysburg and Atlanta campaigns, believed that the presence of Confederate soldiers so far south might open a window of an opportunity for action on the northern Gulf Coast.
Although he later denied that his plan was to capture Tallahassee, reports from Key West indicated that he intended to march on both Tallahassee and neighboring Thomasville, Georgia. Newton had learned of the presence of prisoners of war in Thomasville, but was not aware that they had already been removed well.
Admiral C.K. Stribling of the U.S. Navy ordered his blockade forces to assist with the expedition and by early March a massive flotilla of Union warships and transports assembled off the entrance to the St. Marks River under the cover of thick banks of fog.
Newton’s troops came ashore on the night of March 4, 1865, and were battled near the St. Marks Lighthouse by a small but bold detachment of Confederate cavalry under Major William H. Milton, son of Florida Governor John Milton.
News that Federal troops were coming ashore at the St. Marks Lighthouse electrified the capital city and telegrams went out calling
in troops from across North Florida. Taking advantage of interior lines and a superior rail network, Confederate Generals Samuel
Jones and William Miller assembled a strong force of defenders and prepared to resist the invasion.
General Newton began his advance on the morning of March 5, 1865. Marching inland with men from the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry and a battery of two howitzers manned by U.S. sailors, he drove back Confederate defenders at East River Bridge but failed to dislodge an entrenched force guarding the Newport Bridge over the St. Marks River.
Informed by his scouts that a second crossing point was available upstream at Natural Bridge, he turned his command up the east bank of the St. Marks intending to force the crossing before the Confederates could react.
Jones and Miller deduced Newton’s plans and also launched a vital race to seize the Natural Bridge before their enemy could do so. The Confederates won. By the time Newton reached Natural Bridge on the morning of March 6, 1865, Southern troops were in position on the west bank and waiting.
The Confederate force had barely arrived on the scene when scattered firing in the trees that then covered the Natural Bridge announced the arrival of the Union troops.
The first Union attacks took place before sunrise. Soldiers from the 2nd and 99th USCT stormed across the bridge and tried to charge the Confederate lines. They were driven back by a heavy musket and artillery fire.
As the morning progressed, the Union forces launched attack after attack while the Confederate soldiers dug in and received wave after wave of reinforcements.
The fighting of the Battle of Natural Bridge took place at close range and involved heavy fire from both small arms and artillery. The Union force was badly beaten and by the end of the day was in full retreat back to the St. Marks Lighthouse. The Confederates had won one of their last significant victories of the Civil War.
Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park is at 7502 Natural Bridge Road, Woodville, Florida (see map below). The park is open daily during daylight hours and offers preserved earthworks, monuments, interpretive panels, a picnic area and beautiful views of the St. Marks River.
Admission fee is $3 per vehicle or $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.
To learn more about the Battle of Natural Bridge, just click play to watch this free mini-documentary: