16 February 2009

Natural Bridge

This is the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic Park. This place made me glad I had a good atlas, because it is in the MIDDLE of nowhere! I'm talkin' dirt roads kind of nowhere! Course I learned when I got there that if came in from the other direction it was paved. Oh well. Oh, and the natural bridge is where the St Marks river goes underground through a limestone cave, then re-appears on the other side of where the road is now. Also for information purposes, there is no one here, no visitor center, nothing. There is a picninc area and restroom, and some monuments and interprative signs at the site. Most of the following text is from the signs and the park brochure. Which, by the way, I had to get elsewhere, since there were none at the park.
Between March 1 and 3, 1865, a Union flotilla arrived in Apalachee Bay. General John Newton and Naval Commander William Gibson had a joint assault plan in mind to cripple Confederate forces that had attacked Cedar Keys and Fort Myers. On March 3, 300 seamen surprised Confederate pickets and captured the East River Bridge, four miles north of the St Marks lighthouse. The following day, Navy gunboats commanded by Gibson ran aground in the shallow waters of the St Marks River. Gibson spent the next two days desperately trying to get upstream to Port Leon but was unsuccessful.

Capturing Tallahassee was not General Newton's primary objective, even though the capital lay just eighteen miles north of St Marks. His plan was to take St Marks and the fort there, destroying the railroad, bridges, and other property in the area.

Gibson's unexpected delay provided just enough time for a Confederate messenger to travel to Tallahassee and warn the citizens of the danger to the capital caused by the Union landing. In an effort to defend the Capital, every man and boy who could bear arms volunteered to join the thin ranks of the Confederate Army. The forces were made up of wounded Confederate soldiers home to recuperate, men as old as 70 and cadets as young as 14 from West Florida Seminary (now Florida State university.) The Confederate troops, commanded by General William Miller, were taken to Newport to prepare a defense.

On March 5, Union General Newton, with troops from the Second and Ninety-Ninth US Colored Infantry Regiments, advanced past the East River Bridge, causing Confederate troops from the Fifth Cavalry to withdraw to the Newport Bridge on the St Marks River. The Confederate cavalry was joined by the volunteers from Tallahassee, where they gained enough strength to force Newton to take a round-about route to Natural Bridge. Miller, who had second guessed Newton's attempted surprise crossing, sent Confederate forces under Lt. Col. George Scott on an overnight march to defend the crossing.
An anonymous Louisiana soldier from the 99th US Colored Infantry later wrote to the Secretary of War "the 99th regiment landed at forte Jefferson Florida And we lef it and went to the battle Natchar Bridge and while on that experdition as we were going we had sixty round of carchage and 2 Days Ration in harvest Sack and our Robber Blanket woolen Blank and two pece of Artiliry to hall through all that Mud and water..." (Spelling and punctuation his.)

General Newton reported "The officers and men of the expedition behaved nobly under the most trying cicumstances, marching fifty miles in forty four hours, of which they rested only five houre, and fought or skirmished most of the time."

In the pre-dawn hours of the following day, a series of skirmishes lasting about 10 hours occured along the narrow natural bridge. Confederate forces, made up of 500 to 700 men, fought off three major attacks and several minor attempts by Union forces of nearly equivalent strength. The Union troops, having decided that the bridge was impassable, began a hasty retreat.

General Newton wrote in his battle report "It has now been demonstrated that the enemy's position was too strong in numbers and strength to be carried, and as our position was in low salient in the marshes, exposed to his cross-fire, of which he was not slow to avail himself, it was determined to withdraw, to the open pine barrens about 300 yards distant, in a position selected..."
Confederate General William Miller wrote: "Colonel Scott proceeded to place the troops in line... In the early dawn the enemy advanced in force across the pass, firing rapidly, but after a short contest were driven back by a mingled fire of musketry and canister.During the whole morning, until 11 o' clock, a desultory fire was kept up by the skirmishers on our front, and at 11 o' clock the enemy advanced in full force, and opened from his artillery. the firing was now rapid and continous and four successive efforts were made to pass the narrow defile formed by the sinking and rising of the river. The fact that the fire of our whole line could be concentrated on this point rendered the attack of the enemy hopeless."

Cadet 2nd Lt Byrd Coles of the West Florida Seminary remarked ""...no doubt many of our cadets would have been struck if our teachers had not watched us constantly and made us keep behind cover."

By sundown on March 7, Union soldiers were in the protection of their own fleet. Newton, feeling that he had not been adequately supported by the Navy, took his troops back to Key West. Union losses totaled 21 killed, 89 wounded and 38 captured. Confederate losses were three killed and 22 wounded.

General newton wrote in his battle report "The expedition, though it did not effect all that was anticipater, was far from being unfruitful in its results. Two important bridges, one foundry, and two large mills were burnt; extensive salt works partially destroyed and laid open for the future raiding parties. It is proper to state that this expedition has likewise established the blockade vessels off the lighthouse instead of outside the bar as before. Saint Mark's is now thoroughly blockaded."

Jacob Gardner of the Milton Light Artillery remarked "It was a warm place for the number of men engaged. Three guns of our battery and two guns of Captain Houstoun's battery were there. The enemy had a narrow defile to pass through of about forty yards, and all the gun played on this point. We played havoc amongst them, you may be sure. It was mostly an artillery fight."

This guy was up behind the trees at the site, over by some State Park equipment. Don't know what it's used for, but it looked interesting.
Odometer reading: 213.2

1 comment:

Linda said...

I know I say this alot, Bud, but thank you. You have this uncanny ability to make learning History an easy thing. (my son enjoys the pics. and your story telling.) Blessings.