Sunday, January 29, 2012

Biloxi Lighthouse - A Symbol of Mississippi Courage and Strength

Biloxi Lighthouse
The shining white tower of the Biloxi Lighthouse has survived two of the three worst hurricanes ever to hit the United States. Yet it still shines as a symbol of the courage and strength of the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Built in 1848, the tower is constructed of brick but its exterior is formed of panels of cast iron. It is, in fact, one of the few iron lighthouses in the South. It stands 45 feet tall from its foundations to the lantern room and is the only lighthouse in the United States that stands on the median of a major four-land highway (US 90).

The Biloxi Lighthouse has a remarkable history. For more than 160 years it has helped vessels navigate the shallow waters of Mississippi Sound, with only a brief interruption after it was darkened by Confederates during the Civil War. Legend holds that it was painted black as a sign of mourning when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, but in fact the temporary coating of black tar was done to protect the iron of the tower from rust and corrosion and not as a tribute to Lincoln.

Biloxi Lighthouse
The lighthouse in reality is a symbol of courage, strength, life and rebirth. Not only did it survive Hurricane Camille in 1969, it survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The latter storm hit Biloxi on August 28, 2005, with a wall of water that was more than 20 feet high. Inside the tower of the Biloxi Lighthouse, in fact, blue lines now show the depth of the water that surged across the beaches during both Camille and Katrina.

In the wake of Katrina, which destroyed 90% of the homes in Biloxi, a United States flag was draped from the lantern room of the lighthouse. It was one of those rare moments in American history when a single act inspires the people of an entire state. The lighthouse flag did just that, becoming a symbol of courage and determination for the people of Mississippi.

Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast launched one of the most determined rebuilding efforts in U.S. history. The Biloxi Lighthouse became a fixture on the state's license plates and the beautifully restored tower once again welcomes guests to one of the finest beach resorts in the South.

To learn more about the remarkable history of the Biloxi Lighthouse, please visit

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Juniper Springs Recreation Area - Ocala National Forest, Florida

Juniper Springs Recreation Area
Ocala National Forest, Florida
One of the most beautiful historic sites in the nation, Juniper Springs is the centerpiece of a recreation area in Florida's Ocala National Forest.
Just 28 miles from I-75 at Ocala, Juniper Springs was one of the first recreation areas completed east of the Mississippi River by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. Its original CCC features are beautifully preserved, as is the semi-tropical landscape that is unlike any other national forest recreation area in America.

Juniper Springs Recreation Area
Perhaps the most unique feature of Juniper Springs, aside from the spring itself, is the unique CCC-built millhouse. Completed in 1935-1936, this structure was the result of innovative thinking that overcame the problem of getting electricity to the park. When Juniper Springs was developed, the nearest source of electric power was then miles away. Without the money to pay for running electric lines to the recreation area, the CCC generated its own.

The charming millhouse was built at the point where the water from the spring basin flowed into Juniper Springs Run. Its undershot waterwheel powered a small generator that provided electricity for the park. The beautifully preserved millhouse is a favorite with photographers and now houses an exhibit about the development of the recreation area and the history of the CCC.

In addition to the millhouse, the park features swimming, camping, nature trails, picnicking and an access point to Juniper Springs Run, one of the most beautiful and unique canoe and kayak trails in the nation.

To learn more about scenic and historic Juniper Springs, please visit

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Battle of Fredericksburg - Fredericksburg, Virginia

Stone wall at Sunken Road at Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg was, for the Union, one of those names that pierced the heart like the names Gettysburg and Vicksburg did for the the Confederacy. It was on the fields surrounding Fredericksburg that the Army of the Potomac suffered one of its worst defeats of the Civil War.

Key areas of the battlefield at now preserved at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, which also preserves areas of the Chancellorsville, Wilderness, Spotsylvania and other battlefields.
Bullet scarred house on the Fredericksburg battlefield
The Battle of Fredericksburg developed when U.S. President Abraham Lincoln named Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside to replace Gen. George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac. While the latter general had favored a slow, methodical approach to dealing with Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of Nothern Virginia, Burnside proposed a rapid campaign with overwhelming force.

Inexplicably, however, Burnside pushed his army forward to the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg without making sure that his pontoon boats would be there ready for use in building bridges to cross the river. The week-long delay experienced in waiting for the pontoons to come up gave General Lee the time he needed to concentrate his on the heights overlooking Fredericksburg. By the time Burnside was ready to begin his crossing, Lee was so ready for him that, as one Confederate officer observed, a chicken couldn't have survived on the ground across which the Union soldiers would have to march.
Thousands of Union soldiers are buried at Marye's Heights
Even then, Burnside couldn't get across until after he blasted Fredericksburg with 8,000 artillery shells trying to drive away General William Barksdale's Mississippians who kept shooting his men everytime they tried to build their bridges.

Once he finally did get his army across the Rappahannock, Burnside then took another day to get his men formed for battle, while Lee and his generals watched from the heights above.

The main day of the Battle of Fredericksburg was December 13, 1862. Time after time the Union forces advanced and time after time they were driven back. At Marye's Heights, they never even got close to the Confederate infantry position at the stone wall and sunken road. By the time the day ended, the Army of the Potomac had lost over 12,000 men in killed, wounded and missing. It was one of the deadliest days of the war for the Union army.

To learn more about the Battle of Fredericksburg, please visit

Monday, January 16, 2012

Death of "The Senator" - Florida's Largest Tree dies in Mysterious Fire

Men show the width of "The Senator" in this historic image.
Florida Memory Collection
In a stunning tragedy, a 3,500 year old cypress tree known as "The Senator" has been reduced to ash in a mysterious fire. Florida's largest tree all but vanished from the landscape in a single day.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that firefighters responded to the park in Longwood where "The Senator" was located at about 5:50 Eastern time this morning. The giant tree was found to be burning intensely and there was nothing that emergency workers could do to save it. By midday, it was gone. Only ashes and the charred stump remain to show that it ever existed at all.

The Florida Forest Service reports that the fire is not thought to have been caused by arson, but otherwise the origin of the blaze is a mystery. Additional investigation is underway.

You can read the Sentinel's full report by clicking here:,0,6171920.story.

"The Senator" as it once appeared.
Florida Memory Collection
The destruction of "The Senator" did not damage the nearby "Lady Liberty" tree, which is thought to be around 2,000 years old.

Giant cypress trees once dominated the landscape of Florida, where they had grown for thousands of years prior to the arrival of European explorers in the state. Most were felled during the timber days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but a few still remain.

The lifetime of "The Senator," if marked by human events, included the life of Jesus Christ, the fall of the Roman Empire, the signing of the Magna Carta, the arrival of Viking explorers in North America, the rise and decline of the Woodland and Mississippian cultures among Native Americans in Florida, the European discovery of Florida by Juan Ponce de Leon, the expedition of Hernando de Soto, the founding of St. Augustine (the first permanent city in the United States) in 1565, the founding of Jamestown in 1607, the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the founding of the United States, the War of 1812, the First, Second and Third Seminole Wars, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and millions of other significant events. Through them all, the great old cypress marked the time.  Now it is gone.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New book explores Murder & Mayhem in 1930s Florida

My newest book, "The Claude Neal Lynching," is now available in print or as an instant download for users of Amazon Kindle devices or Amazon's free software for your computer, iPad, etc. 

"The Claude Neal Lynching" tells the story of an outbreak of murder and mayhem in 1930s Florida that shook not just a state, but the entire nation. The chaos began on November 18, 1934, when a 19 year old woman was brutally murdered at a hog pen near the small town of Greenwood, Florida. The physical evidence pointed to a neighbor, farm worker Claude Neal, who later confessed repeatedly to the crime.

The crime was so brutal that men of the area decided Neal should not live and set out to lynch him.  Jackson County at the time, contrary to the claims of many writers, was not a hotbed of lynching. In fact, there had not been a lynching in the county for nearly 30 years. Sheriff W.F. Chambliss and his deputies tried to protect Neal, moving him to jails in Chipley, Panama City and eventually Pensacola. From there he was slipped away to the jail in Brewton, Alabama.  It was in Brewton that the lynch mob finally found him, forcing its way into the jail with pistols, shotguns and dynamite.

Neal was lynched in the swamps of Jackson County on the night of October 26, 1934, by a small group of six men. Thousands more, representing more than ten states, wanted to take part and had even gathered to do so, but were presented not with a living suspect but a dead body.  They went on a rampage, carrying Neal's body to the county seat of Marianna and hanging it from a tree on the courthouse square.

The building chaos turned into a full-fledged riot as local authorities tried to defend citizens and carry out their duty.  Even a Florida Supreme Court justice became involved, boldly stepping out through the courthouse doors even as the rioting mob was preparing to knock them down with a battering ram. With no weapon other than his powerful voice, he drove back the mob and saved the lives of the men inside the building.

National Guard troops were sent in, as newsreel cameras rolled, and positioned machine guns on all four corners of the courthouse square. The sheriff had to be protected by armed soldiers and troops also stood guard at funerals and court proceedings.  It was one of the most chaotic events in the history of any small town in America.

The events of October 1934 have been misunderstood for years and, while the lynching and riot have been discussed in more than 3,000 books, not a single one has even correctly spelled Lola Cannady's name.

"The Claude Neal Lynching" is a chronological history of an outbreak, written by a resident of the county where it happened.  It includes never before discussed evidence, interviews with participants in the lynching about how and why they did what they did, and more.  I hope you will consider it.

To order the book through Amazon, please follow this link: 
The Claude Neal Lynching: The 1934 Murders of Claude Neal and Lola Cannady

Amazon Kindle is available by clicking here:  The Claude Neal Lynching

Chancellorsville - Scene of Stonewall Jackson's Final Battle

Chancellorsville Battlefield
Just seven miles off I-95 between Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., the National Park Service preserves a spot in an old road where famed Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson was severely wounded in a friendly fire incident.

The Battle of Chancellorsville may well have been the most brilliant success of Jackson's military career. With a force of 30,000 men, he hit the right flank of the massive 120,000 man Army of the Potomac, delivering a shock that would lead the following day to one of the most embarrassing Union defeats of the entire Civil War.

Jackson's flank attack was a key element of General Robert E. Lee's stunning victory over the huge army of Union general Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker. Together the two generals used intelligence from Southern cavalry commander General "Jeb" Stuart to develope a plan that was wildly successful. Stuart had discovered that the right flank of the Army of the Potomac was "in the air" and vulnerable to attack. Lee and Jackson agreed that the latter officer should try to sweep around that flank and roll up the Union army.

Jackson's maneuver succeeded and he hit the very end of the Union lines late on the afternoon of May 2, 1863. The attack shocked the entire Federal army. Late in the day, with darkness and the smoke of battle obscuring visibility, Stonewall Jackson rode forward with his staff to examine the placement of the Union troops trying to resist his attacks. As he returned to his own lines, he was mistaken for the enemy and his own troops opened fire. The noted Confederate general toppled from the saddle, severely wounded. He died eight days later.

Jackson Monument
"Jeb" Stuart took command of Jackson's wing of the army and joined Lee in a smashing attack the next day that sent Hooker retreating across the Rappahannock River.

Key areas of the Chancellorsville Battlefield, including the site where Stonewall Jackson was wounded, are now part of of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park.

To learn more, please visit