April 13, 2008

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida

I had a mixed reaction when I read that the Civil War Preservation Trust has placed the small Natural Bridge battlefield on its 2008 Top Ten endangered battlefields; delighted that one of may favorite locales is finally getting attention but concerned when I learned the scope of the danger. As you can see from the above link, only seven acres of this tranquil hallowed ground are saved. Meanwhile, the owner of 55 acres of core land has offered it for sale and is openly touting it as battlefield land. Thankfully, the state of Florida is engaged in negotiations to acquire it. Included in this land is the "natural bridge," the epicenter of the battle and the point where the St. Marks river actually flows underground into a cavern before reemerging after a short distance.

The Battle of Natural Bridge was fought on March 6, 1865 and represented one of the last Confederate victories of the war. It was the second largest battle fought on Florida soil (after Olustee) with roughly 1000 men on each side. Fought in woods and swamps just to the southeast of Tallahassee, the hastily assembled and rag-tag Confederate force included home guard, old men, young boys from the local seminary and soldiers on sick leave. After a day of hot work, they repelled a Union invading party comprised primarily of the 2nd and 99th USCT. The successful Rebel stand helped secure Tallahssee as the only Confederate state capital east of the Mississippi not taken by force at the end of the war.

These facts propelled the skirmish to near-mythical status within Florida in the years and decades following the war. One of my favorite quotes was the extreme opinion of a local newspaper when it wrote after the battle, "If the people of Georgia had turned out to oppose Sherman as the Floridians have in the battle of Natural Bridge, he never could have reached Savannah."

The only published book-length work on this obscure battle and campaign to date is Dale Cox's The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee. Self-published by the author in September 2007, the 200-page trade paperback includes about 85 pages of narrative, several dozen period and modern photographs, and approximately 100 pages of appendixes. Those tables include rosters of all the various commands engaged and casualty lists from both sides.

Given my strong interest in the war in Florida, I had at one time considered such a work but with the appearance of Dale's book, I've backburnered the project. Perhaps down the road and from a different angle.... Dale has a wonderful website devoted to the battle and also blogs at Civil War Florida. Anyone with an interest on the war in Florida will want to check out these first-rate sites.


Drew W. said...

I like Dale's treatment as well. I would encourage you to revisit it down the line. Like you say, you can attack it from a different angle, or broaden the context even further to include more detail about events before and after.

Paul Taylor said...


You never know. I've got a few ideas that I've been tinkering with over the years...


Paul Taylor said...

Dale Cox sent me a nice email regarding this post. He says in part, "Natural Bridge is such a fascinating place. I really hope the state can acquire the core battlefield while it is still available. There is a large amount of development beginning to encroach on the park from the west. I use the proceeds from the books to fund historic preservation efforts around North Florida and have offered the Citizens Support Organization at the park all of the returns from the Natural Bridge book for use in placing interpretive signs on the new parcel if the park winds up with it. They felt pretty confident when I last heard from them a couple of weeks ago, but all of the cuts in funding for land acquisition concern me."

Floridians and Civil Warriors everywhere should keep their fingers crossed on this one. Better yet, pick up a copy of Dale's new book. You'll learn about an obscure Florida battle, if you're not already familiar and support a good cause all at the same time.


Woody said...

I just got back from the reenactment at the Natural Bridge site. I remember studying about it in high school (OK, 30 years ago), but finally seeing the actual site was a real thrill.