Friday, March 6, 2009
Anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida
Today is the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. Fought on March 6, 1865, the battle preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not conquered by Union forces during the Civil War.
One of the last significant Confederate victories of the war, the battle took place along the banks of the St. Marks River south of Tallahassee. Blocked from using a bridge downstream nearer the coast, Union General John Newton marched up the east bank of the river to the Natural Bridge, hoping to cross the St. Marks and strike the railroad line between Tallahassee and St. Marks.
Despite his later denials, his plan was to break the railroad and then advance on Tallahassee, taking Florida's capital, before pushing on to Thomasville, Georgia, where he believed thousands of Union prisoners of war were held. There had been a prison in Thomasville, but Newton did not know it had been evacuated by the time of his expedition.
The Federal troops were blocked at the Natural Bridge by a large Confederate force made up of the 1st Florida Reserves, the 1st Florida Militia, the Milton and Kilcrease Light Artillery batteries, the Cadets from the West Florida Seminary (today's Florida State University) and companies from both the 2nd and 5th Florida Cavalries. A detachment of sailors from the Confederate gunboat C.S.S. Spray and another detachment of men from Campbell's Siege Artillery also served as infantrymen during the battle.
The Union force consisted of the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Infantries, a dismounted battalion from the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry, and a detachment of sailors that manned the Federal artillery during the battle.
The site today is preserved as the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park. Located near the town of Woodville south of Tallahassee, the park includes monuments, preserved earthworks, a picnic area and beautiful views of the St. Marks River. The park hosts its annual memorial services and battle reenactment over the weekend, with events set for both Saturday and Sunday. The main events will take place on Sunday with a memorial service at 1 p.m. (Eastern), followed by the main battle reenactment.
To learn more about the battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.