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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Remembering the Battle of Marianna

By Dale Cox

Sunday will mark the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna and while the weekend’s activities will likely generate a festive atmosphere, it is also important to remember that the original battle was a tragic affair. In fact, September 27, 1864, was the deadliest day in the history of Jackson County.

Union troops attacked the city at the end of a raid that was the deepest penetration of Florida by the U.S. Army during the entire Civil War. The raid began at Pensacola on September 18, 1864, and followed a longer route than Sherman’s March to the Sea. By the time the Federal soldiers returned to their base, they had inflicted more damage on the economies of Jackson, Washington, Walton and Holmes Counties than was sustained by any other counties in Florida. In just one day, Marianna saw 25% of its men and boys killed, wounded or taken as prisoners of war. The fighting that took place at Marianna in the fall of 1864 was deadly and serious.

The first shots of the battle were fired about three miles northwest of town along the banks of a small swampy stream then known as Hopkins Branch. Three companies of Confederate cavalry, commanded in person by Colonel Alexander B. Montgomery, tried to hold back the advancing Union troops. The Union commander, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, ordered his men to charge. Montgomery and his Southern horsemen were slowly driven back towards Marianna, fighting as they went.

As the two forces approached town, the Confederate cavalry broke off the fight and withdrew to Ely Corner (today’s intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets), then the western edge of Marianna. There they formed into a line of battle to once again resist the approaching Union column.

Behind them, along both sides of the street, local men and boys took up positions behind fences, trees and in buildings with shotguns, old muskets and a few modern rifles. They put a barricade of wagons across Lafayette Street to slow down any attempt by Asboth’s soldiers to charge down the road and quietly waited in ambush.

The fighting resumed when Major Nathan Cutler’s battalion of the 2nd Maine Cavalry approached Ely Corner from the west while another part of Asboth’s command flanked the defenders by riding around the northern edge of town.

Colonel Montgomery and his mounted men drove back the first Union attack, but before they could reload their muzzle-loading weapons, General Asboth ordered more of his men to charge. They thundered around the corner, driving the Confederate cavalry down the street and past the barricade. As the Federal troops followed, they were suddenly ambushed by the local men and boys hidden along the sides of the street.

Over the next 30 minutes, fighting spread from Ely Corner all the way to the Chipola River. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and two nearby homes were burned to the ground. The Confederate forces were defeated after a deadly fight that men of both sides described as one of the most severe of the war for its size.

Ten Confederates and 8 Federals were killed or mortally wounded. Another 16 Southern and 19 Union soldiers were wounded. Four dozen local men and boys and ten Northern soldiers were taken prisoner. Both forces suffered heavily.

The town was severely looted during the evening before the Union column turned back to Pensacola the next morning, its objectives achieved.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about the real Battle of Marianna please visit www.battleofmarianna.com or pick up a copy of Dale Cox’s book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. His books are available locally at Chipola River Book and Tea in downtown Marianna or online at www.amazon.com.

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