The Three Seminole Wars: Florida’s Forgotten Wars, Part 2

The Second Seminole War has the distinction of being the most expensive Indian conflict, as well as the longest, in America’s long history of Indian conflicts. In 1823, the U.S. government negotiated the Treaty of Moultrie Creek establishing a reservation in the middle part of the Florida peninsula. In addition, several chiefs were allowed to keep their villages along the Apalachicola River.

Lead Up to the War: 1827-1835

The Seminoles gave up the remainder of their lands in the panhandle and moved to the reservation. The U.S. government built Fort King near modern Ocala, FL and by 1827 the Army was reporting that the Seminoles had moved to the reservation and all was peaceful. Unfortunately for the future, the blacks who lived among the Seminoles, was an issue that the new white settlers were deeply troubled by. While these Black Seminoles lived in separate villages and maintained some cultural differences from the Seminoles, there was a long and deep connection between the two groups of people. With white settlers bringing in enslaved black persons, these black settlements tormented the white settlers and caused continuing conflict between the white settlers and the Seminoles.  They were seen by the white settlers as an obvious draw to escape for the enslaved persons around the reservation.

In 1828, the federal government closed Fort King, leaving the Seminoles short of food. Hunting wasn’t sufficient within the reservation and they left the reservation looking for game. This led to increased conflicts with the surrounding white settlers. And as I mentioned in my previous post, Andrew Jackson was also elected President in 1828. His position was clear on removal and within two years Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. The foundations were in place for the second war with the Seminoles.

The 1832 Treaty of Payne’s Landing called for removal west, if the land was found suitable by members of the tribe. A few Seminoles traveled to the Indian territory and signed that the land was suitable after talking with the Creek Indians that were already there and visiting areas of the proposed new settlement.  There was significant pressure from some members of the Army for these Seminoles to sign. They returned to Florida and promptly withdrew their support.

In 1834, the people in the villages along the Apalachicola River moved west. The Senate also ratified the Treaty of Payne’s Landing. Since it had been negotiated in 1832, the government considered the three years given in the treaty for the Seminoles to move had started in 1832, though they didn’t ratified it until 1834. The government re-opened Fort King and appointed a new Indian Agent to convince the Seminoles to move. The Indians were called to Fort King but they firmly told the Indian Agent they weren’t moving. Wiley Thompson, the Indian Agent, called for more troops to be sent in and in early 1835 he called the Seminoles back and read them a statement from President Jackson that said that if they didn’t move, they would be forcibly removed. After a heated exchange, the Indians asked for, and received, a delay for the move until the end of the year.

The Second Seminole War: 1835-1842

The situation continued to deteriorate as some of the Seminole leaders became more adamant that they, and their followers, would not move. In August 1835, the Army’s mail carrier was murdered delivering mail between Fort Brooke and Fort King. At this point both sides began gearing up for war. Militia units requested weaponry, settlers moved to nearby Forts, and the Seminoles began attacking more settler activity. Supply trains were attacked, plantations were attacked and burned and white settlers were killed. On 23 December, two companies of militia under Maj. Francis Dade left Fort Brooke with the Seminoles shadowing them. On the 28th, the Seminoles attacked and all but three of the 110 men in the militia were killed. This became known as the Dade Massacre and was the start of the Second Seminole War.

Seat of FL War 1838 Washington Hood

The Second Seminole War lasted seven years and in the end only produced a half win. The Seminoles, knowing they were outnumbered and outgunned, used guerrilla tactics against the Army. The Army didn’t begin to “succeed” until they began burning villages and food supplies. In the end, the win came because most of the Indians had been killed either in battle or by disease and starvation. Most of the remainder were rounded up and shipped to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). A few hundred Seminoles were left in south central Florida in the Everglades, primarily because the government was ready to end the war and the Army in Florida was simply unable to round up these holdouts.

The Third Seminole War: 1855-1858

An unsettled peace resulted for thirteen years. The white settlements around the Everglades continued to expand and cries to move the remaining Seminoles continued. The Third Seminole War was less a war than a series of raids and counter attacks. It was initiated by an Army surveying team burning an Indian settlement outside the Everglades and the Seminoles retaliating with a raid near present day Fort Myers. The Army had learned from the Second Seminole War and made every effort to destroy food supplies when found. After three years, weary and starving a few more Seminoles agreed to move west but a few refused and retired deep into the Everglades.  Their descendants remain there today.

1856 Florida G. W. Colton
Florida, 1856, G. W. Colton

Finding Ancestors Who Fought in the Wars

The most likely of the three wars to produce a Florida ancestor is the Second Seminole War but the Third is also a possibility.  The First Seminole War might yield an ancestor that moved to Florida after the war from Georgia or Tennessee. The government did not have a large, standing Army and depended heavily of militia units, even though they were often discounted by the regular Army as unreliable. Militia units were generally from a particular locale, often led by a civilian-soldier and composed of civilian-soldiers and the men were generally enlisted for only short periods of time. This allowed these men to fulfill their duties to the militia and maintain their farms or businesses but did prove challenging to Army continuity. And because these men were citizen-soldiers some were maybe not into battle as much as someone trained to that profession.

First, identify an ancestor who would have been an adult male during the time periods of the wars. Remember the First Seminole War had militia from Georgia and Tennessee and then regular Army and Lower Creeks made up the remainder of the force. I find that Fold3.com is the better pay-for site for an initial search but Ancestry.com also has some records. Another possibility that is free, but can take more time, is located at the University of Florida, George A Smathers Library and is online. It is a digital copy of the book, Florida Department of Military Affairs, Special Archives Publication Number 68, Vol 2. This is a muster roll of all of the militia units in the Seminole Indian Wars. The search button is near the top in the middle of the page. Read the instructions for searching or you really will be spending a lot of time looking and not finding much.

Muster Roll Barrow's Co 1Muster Roll Barrow's Co 2Muster Roll Barrow's Co 3

Let’s say I didn’t know whether my ancestor Richmond Barrow, from Oak Grove, Santa Rosa Co (Okaloosa today) in northwest Florida, had served in any of the Indian Wars but his age would make that a possibility. Since I know his first name often is spelled with and without the “d” at the end and sometimes as Richman, I just put in the name Barrow and hit search. I get three results. The first one isn’t applicable and the second is a man I know is Richmond’s brother Reuben N. Clicking on that one gives me a company of men from Yellow River and going to the next page shows that Richmond served as Reuben’s 2nd Sergeant. You can save to a .pdf the pages you want using the “print” button at the website or a screen capture if preferred. When I do a screen capture to save as a .jpg I use the program FastStone Capture.  If saving to pdf from the print function I find it best to save an extra page at the front and back of the pages you want, just to be safe. I’ve sometimes had it cut off the first page.

Now that you have an ancestor that served (do your due diligence to make sure the man with the same name is your ancestor. The other names should be neighbors of your ancestor; another good reason to pay attention to neighbors when you look at census records).   Now go to the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records. Many of the men who served were given land grants for their service.  Don’t make the mistake of only searching in the area where they lived. Land grants could be anywhere in the country. Under location scroll all the way to the bottom and click on “Any State” and leave “Any County” as is. Use the name as it was written on the muster roll or just search on last name but with common surnames that can be overwhelming. If nothing comes up, go to searching alternate spellings of both first and last names. Search warrantees and patentees (both checked). What you are looking for are Accession numbers beginning with “MW” which stands for military warrant.

Barrow Richmond MW_Patent_0915-370

If I do all of the above, including resorting to alternate first name spelling, I find a military warrant record for “Richmon Barrow” issued under the authority of the ScripWarrant Act of 1850. He received 159.75 acres in Escambia Co, FL. If you click on the patent image you will see that this is the right Richmon because it will list the company he served in that led to the issue of the land grant. In the case of Richmon[d] he sold the right to the grant to John M. Robertson who received the warrant.

Fold3 has a number of records available that can be searched, as does Ancestry, that can add to this initial information. Look at all records mentioning your ancestor, not just the records that pertain directly to them. These records where they were witnesses for another person can provide greater detail on the events these men experienced.

After researching Richmond and the Second Seminole War, I found that 1) he first served in the 7th Florida Militia, Long’s Co. as a private and then in his brother’s company 1st Regiment Florida Militia, Capt Barrow’s Mounted Co. as a 2nd Sergeant. 2) he received a land grant in Escambia Co, FL and sold it to John M. Robertson. 3) Reviewing the list of privates in Barrow’s Co. tells me I have a number of other ancestors to research in more detail.  Being a curious family historian, I now want to know where these two companies were stationed during the war and what they might have been involved in. I have more ancestors to research and I would like to know more about John M. Robertson. Is he a stranger or somehow related to the family?

I hope this encourages you to dig into your ancestor’s lives while doing genealogy and begin to sense what they experienced. Don’t just collect names from “shaky leaves” or Ancestry Public Member Trees and assume it is correct (I don’t find a lot of it is, sourcing is seriously lacking.  And those leafs don’t always connect you to the right John Smith!) or look your ancestor up in the census, record the info, and feel you are done because you can create a tree with names on it. If you are wanting to know who you are by looking at what your ancestors brought to your being, you need to do real research and put some life to their lives as seen from today.

Until next time

Resources

  • Florida’s Seminole Wars: 1817-1858 by Joe Knetsch
  • History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842 by John K. Mahon
  • Reminiscences of the Second Seminole War by John Bemrose
  • The War in Florida by Woodburne Potter
  • Osceola and the Great Seminole War: A Struggle for Justice and Freedom by Thom Hatch

My Books for Sell

The Three Seminole Wars: Florida’s Forgotten Wars, Part 1

Map of East and West Florida 1794

I find that if modern day Floridians know there was a Seminole War in our past, they often have a vague notion of what is known as the 2nd Seminole War. It was a war, of sorts, then it ended and Florida became a State. Oh, and Andrew Jackson fit in there somewhere and marched across the panhandle. These statements are certainly true, though some were in the 1st Seminole War not the 2nd, but do not provide much context about our ancestors’ lives during the early years of the territory and the State. My guess is if you had ancestors in Florida during the period of the 2nd Seminole War (December 1835-August 1842) or the 3rd Seminole War (1855-1858), they likely served for at least a brief period, especially in the 2nd which was protracted and participation widespread. That may be true even if your ancestors were in Georgia, Alabama or another deep south State since a number of them provided militia units during at least one of the three wars. In this blog and the next, I am going to try to give a broad overview of the three wars, provide some information on the records out there that might be informative on an ancestor’s service, and provide one of the rosters of men who served in the 2nd Seminole War from what was then Walton Co, but would soon become Santa Rosa and eventually Okaloosa Co, Florida.

The Second and Third Wars to Expand America

The War of 1812, another often forgotten war in America’s past, was fought between June 1812 and February 1815. Near the end of the war, Andrew Jackson and his men marched through the panhandle on their way to New Orleans, where they fought a decisive battle against the British after the war was actually over. But the victory made him a national hero. He was in the area because he was leading the militia against the Creek Indians (Muskogee) in what is known as The Red Stick War, mostly in Alabama but also into Florida. The Red Stick War ended in August 1814 at the Treaty of Fort Jackson, freeing Jackson and his men to march to New Orleans via the Florida panhandle. He essentially invaded Florida and drove a British force from Pensacola. It was good practice because three years later he would return to Florida in what is known as the 1st Seminole War.

If you try to lock down dates for the 1st Seminole War you will find your eyeballs spinning. During this time period, the deep south and the Gulf Coast was the southwestern frontier. Native peoples were desperately trying to stop the encroachment of Americans onto their lands. Misunderstandings, confrontations, and indiscriminate murder occurred on both sides. Therefore, the dates can range from 1814 to 1819 to just 1818 depending on how the source views its own history and involvement in the many events occurring in this area that involved native peoples. But basically the major events occurred after the War of 1812 was over but most flow from events that occurred during the War of 1812. In 1814, while Britain and the U.S. were still at war, the British had built a fort at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River and armed the Creek and Seminole Indians and many runaway slaves who were living with the Indians. A company of Royal Marines under the command of Lt. Colonel Edward Nicolls arrived and was invited to relocate to Pensacola. It is these British marines that Andrew Jackson and his men drove out of Pensacola on their way to New Orleans. The marines returned to the river fort and remained after the war was over.

Nicolls provisioned the fort and turned it over to the Seminoles and fugitive slaves. Word of this fort made the settlers in Georgia and Alabama anxious and for good reason. The conflicts between natives and settlers were almost continuous along the U.S. and Spanish border.  In addition, the runaway slaves were certain to be a bad example for the slaves in south Georgia and Alabama, according to the meme of the time. This fort came to be known as Negro Fort since most of the people who stayed were runaway slaves and not the Seminoles who had no interest in the fort. It did not take long for Andrew Jackson to address the problem in his usual way.

In April of 1816, Jackson notified the Spanish Governor that if the Spanish did not remove the fort, the Americans would. The Governor’s response was that he didn’t have the troops to accomplish that so Jackson assigned Brig. General Edmund Pendleton Gaines to take the fort. Gaines had Fort Scott built on the Flint River just above the Florida border. Gaines intended to supply the fort via New Orleans and the Apalachicola River. This would serve two purposes: 1) the Americans could keep an eye on the Fort even though in Spanish territory, and 2) if they fired on the Americans that would be excuse enough to destroy the Fort.

In July, the supply ships reached the Apalachicola River and Clinch, who had been assigned to build Fort Scott, met the fleet at the Negro Fort with about 100 American soldiers and 150 Lower Creek Indians. Clinch’s two gunboats took positions across from the Fort and waited. The men in the fort fired but without experience in using cannon the threat didn’t amount to much. The Americans fired back and the ninth shot hit the powder magazine, leveling the fort and killing more than 250 men, women and children. The Americans withdrew back to Fort Scott.

But the conflicts continued. In February 1817, after raiding and stealing parties had gone back and forth for months, a Mrs. Garrett and her two children were killed by a Seminole raiding party in Camden Co, GA. This set off the final chain of events that would lead to the 1st Seminole War and the transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States.

The First Seminole War Begins (200th anniversary this year)

In November 1817, a conflict developed between the Miccosukee in southwestern Georgia and the commander of Fort Scott. Chief Neamathla of Fowltown challenged the use of the land on the eastern side of Flint River. The commander insisted that the land had been ceded to the U.S. by the Creeks. Neamathla insisted that the Miccosukee were not Creeks (Muskogee) and Creeks had no right to cede Miccosukee land. The Miccosukee were driven out of the village. A week later a supply boat carrying supplies for Fort Scott was attacked on the Apalachicola, killing about 40 to 50 people, including seven wives and possibly some children. Six survivors made it to the Fort. General Gaines was ordered to invade Florida and pursue the Indians but he had left for East Florida to deal with pirates.  Andrew Jackson was ordered to lead the invasion.

In March 1818, Jackson entered Florida with 800 U.S. Army Regulars, 1000 Tennessee volunteers, 1000 Georgia militia and about 1400 Lower Creek under the command of Brig. General William McIntosh, a Creek chief. They marched down the Apalachicola River to the Negro Fort where they built Fort Gadsden. They then set out for the Miccosukee villages of Tallahassee and Miccosukee and both villages were burned. From these two locations they marched to Fort St. Marks.

Here Jackson seized the Spanish fort and imprisoned Alexander Asbuthnot, a Scottish trader living in the Bahamas. Asbuthnot traded with the Florida Indians and had written letters for them to both British and American officials. It was believed he was selling guns to the Indians and preparing them for war. Two Indian leaders were also captured and summarily hanged without trial. The troops left St. Marks and attacked and destroyed some villages along the Suwanee River. Here he declared victory and sent the Georgia militia and Lower Creeks home. The remaining troops marched back to St. Marks.

Around this time the Army captured Robert Ambrister, a former Royal Marine, and a self-described British agent. A military tribunal was called and both Ambrister and Asbuthnot were charged with aiding and inciting the Seminoles to war with the U.S. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death but the tribunal changed the sentence for Ambrister to fifty lashes and a year at hard labor. Jackson would have none of it and had both hanged.

Andrew Jackson's Route in West Florida, 1818
Jackson’s Route Across the Panhandle in 1818

General Jackson reported later that he heard a report that the Indians were being supplied by the Spanish at Pensacola so he left Fort Gadsden and marched to Pensacola with about 1000 men (see map above.  Route near the northern end of the panhandle.  Note towns named from this 1829 effort to document the route). The Spanish governor protested, which did not slow Jackson down. He arrived in Pensacola and the Spanish withdrew to Fort Barrancas. Jackson and his men took Pensacola and the two sides exchanged fire for a couple of days and then the Spanish surrendered.

Negotiations had already begun between the U.S. and Spain for the purchase of Florida. For a time the Spanish protested Jackson’s actions by ending the talks. John Quincy Adams, who was then Secretary of State and handling the negotiations, wrote a letter apologizing for the seizure and indicated that it was not the policy of the U.S. to seize any Spanish territory. Spain resumed negotiations. Adams demanded that Spain either control the inhabitants of East Florida or cede it to the U.S. Spain ceded East Florida and renounced all claims to West Florida. The U.S. took possession of Florida in 1821. As I’ve covered in an earlier blog, immigration of Americans into West Florida in significant numbers began between the treaty signed in 1819 and the official transfer in 1821.

Florida 1822
Florida 1822

In 1823, the U.S. tried to settle the Seminoles on a reservation in the central part of the peninsula. The Seminoles did move onto the reservation but clashes continued sporadically. The white settlers wanted removal and the call for removal never ceased. The Seminoles were not interested in moving. The blacks living with the Seminoles continued to create misunderstandings and hostility between the white settlers and the Indians by just living with Seminoles and discouraging the Seminoles from moving. In 1828, the U.S. closed the fort they had built close to the reservation and the Indians looking for food wandered off the reservation. Also in 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected as President. Two years later Congress passed the Indian Removal Act which required Indians to move west of the Mississippi. In 1832, a treaty was negotiated for the Seminoles to move west if the land was found suitable. The Chiefs that went to Indian Territory to inspect the land on the Creek Reservation and signed a document indicating the land was acceptable, but took their signing back when they got home. The villages along the Apalachicola moved west. Those in the central part of the peninsula did not. In June 1835, an incident occurred between some white settlers and a group of Indians that touched off the next conflict with the Seminoles.

War came in December 1835. Next time we will visit the 2nd and 3rd Seminole Wars and look at some militia records for troops from the panhandle.

Until next time.

Resources

  • Florida Memory.  A great resource for early Florida photographs and maps.  The route of Jackson’s march and the two scenes from the war are from Florida Memory.
  • Florida’s Seminole Wars: 1817-1858 by Joe Knetsch
  • Battle For the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812 by Mike Bunn and Clay Williams
  • Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War & the War of 1812 edited by Kathryn E. Holland Braund

My Books For Sell

Yellow River Baptist Church, Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL

1840-1865

By June of 1840, the small settlement of Oak Grove had managed a small but steady community of residents. The 1840 census showed about 377 residents in the general area from what is now 85 N west to what is now known as Blackman and south to what was once known as Peaden Town (see the 21 Nov 2016 post for more info on the two decades from 1840-1860). This area was generally called Oak Grove by the residents, though it was never incorporated as a town. Much of the rich land along the river had been cleared and the vast majority of settlers were yeoman farmers.

But they were missing something key to the cohesion and stability of a community: a church to serve the people that called it home. So on the 14th of June 1840, nine members of the community met with representatives of the Bethlehem Baptist Association from Alabama and formed the Yellow River Baptist Church. The nine community members who were listed as founders were : John Robertson, James Barrow, David Gartman, Elizabeth Stegall, Margaret Weeks, Elizabeth Wood, Mary Wood, Mary Senterfitt, and Nancy Busby. The two elders from the Bethlehem Baptist Association were J. J. Sessions and K. Hawthorn. The church was the result of the missionary work conducted by the Bethlehem Baptist Association in the newly settled Florida panhandle. They would be instrumental in establishing several early baptist churches in Santa Rosa and Escambia Co, FL.

We find a number of long standing surnames from this area of northwest Florida in the first membership list for the church. This membership list was done between 14 June 1840 and 15 December 1840. I know this because my great, great grandmother Martha Senterfitt Barrow is still listed with her maiden name on the list. She married Richmond Barrow on December 15th in Andalusia, AL. Surnames found on this initial membership are: Baker, Busby, Campbell, Caswell, Clary, Dannelly, Devereaux, Gartman, Gordon, Hart, Little, McWilliams, Senterfitt, Stegall, Steele, Stewart, Stokes, Stuckey, Tillery, Turvin, Ward, Williams, and Wilkinson. The ten black members listed were listed by first names but a cross reference to later membership lists that provided surnames for them indicates that they were primarily from the Reuben Hart, Sr. household, with one each from McCaskill, Milligan and Spears households. These black persons were: Jerry [Hart], Tom [McCaskill], Sally [Hart], Charlotte [Hart], Jude [Hart], Mary [Hart], Nancy [Spears], Darky [Hart], Molly [Hart] and Clark [Milligan].

It is unclear if a church building was ever completed during these very early years because the business records don’t mention one. If they didn’t have a separate building, it isn’t clear if they were meeting in someone’s home or in another community building, such as the Masonic building or the schoolhouse. It is clear from the records that the church had access to the schoolhouse during this period because they reference the men retiring to the schoolhouse to discuss financial issues but that would seem to indicate a building separate from the schoolhouse for church services. Some of the early pastors named in the records are: Noah Parker, Daniel Giddings, and John F. Cook. Though some years the church had a regular pastor for a year or two, in other years they were served by circuit riders sent from Bethlehem Baptist Association.

One thing that was clear in the early years of the church was the struggle to discourage the production and use of “ardent spirits”. This likely doesn’t come as a surprise to those of us who have ancestors from the area and have studied the social and cultural trends of the community. Not only was the community one of yeomen farmers, it was a producer of some reputedly fine bootleg. The springs and creeks emanating from the river and the well water in the area were clean and sweet and produced a good quality brew. In February 1859 the church produced a resolution on the use of ardent spirits and reading the business records indicates that drinking and producing led to quite a steady stream of members who were summoned to explain their behavior and depending on their response were sometimes excluded from the church.

In 1860, the church left the Bethlehem Baptist Association and joined the Zion Association. The war would bring a new struggle to the community. I wrote about some of the challenge last year (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) when I shared that I had discovered at least 18 members, or sons of members, who joined the 1st Florida Union Cavalry during 1864. Part of the church’s practice was to keep track of attendance and a visit by appointed members to the non-attendee when the third absence occurred. They tried to maintain that practice during the war but indicated in March of 1864 that it was no longer possible “on account of the war frustrating the people so much”. Interestingly, that was about the only mention of the war in the surviving records. Obviously, they tried to maintain their beliefs and practices and tried to continue a normal life in the turmoil of the war in the panhandle.

Yellow River Church 1917 for poster
From the Crestview newspaper, 1917.  The photo is likely from a few years earlier.  The building appears to be very similar to the schoolhouse that burned in 1923 so the congregation may have gathered there because the new church was being built at the new location.

1865-1916

The church grew after the war and there is mention in 1884 that they built a [new?] church building. This building was likely east of the current location of the church, possibly back near, or next to, what is sometimes referred to as the Old Yellow River Cemetery or the Old Black Cemetery. This old cemetery is directly east of the current church, on private property and in poor condition. I am in the process of researching the cemetery and the names on the few remaining headstones to make some connections and see if some of my hypothesis on this cemetery and the location of the original church can be borne out by some documentation. The property at the current location of the church was purchased in 1891. Just a few years after the church moved to the current location, a cemetery was created behind the new church with the burials of William Coplin King, Jr. and wife Roseda Sawyer King and A. B. Dixon and his wife. We suspect there may be a few other burials in the far back corner of the cemetery and hope to try and confirm or deny that with some work in the next year or so.

It was during this period that Yellow River worked to extend Baptist places of worship and the congregate work of these churches in fellowship.  The business records indicate support for the establishment of Pyron Chapel in 1888 and working closely with Pilgrim’s Rest to advocate for and help initiate the Santa Rosa Baptist Association in 1907.  Within a few years the church would be in the newly formed Okaloosa County.  Newspaper accounts from the middle part of the 20th century indicate they were often the site for activities in the annual meeting of the Okaloosa Baptist Association.

In 1901, a black couple, Isaac H. and Rosilla Harrison, who had purchased acreage from Dugal Stewart that included the community cemetery then known as “Stewart Graveyard”, sold the 4 acres that had been set aside for the cemetery to Yellow River Baptist Church for permanent maintenance as a community cemetery. That has been anything but simple. A family moved into the area in the 1920s that attempted to limit access to the cemetery and allowed their cows to roam in the cemetery, doing much destruction in the process. It seems likely that the disruption to the church that started in 1916 (see below) allowed the loss of institutional memory as the decade wore on. While the church members continued to try and go to the cemetery to clean it up, they seemed to have lost the deed and in time there were few members that knew the church actually owned the cemetery, though the sense of responsibility was still there. The property surrounding the cemetery was bought by its current owner in the early 70s. The situation improved somewhat.  Then in 2016, while doing some work on the church records, I stumbled across a reference to the church owning Stewart Cemetery. Knowing where to go to find the deed and the original purchase of the property from Dugal Stewart, the church now has a certified copy of the deed, a current survey clearly laying out the 4 acres, and have plans to clean it up and put up a fence in the near future.  I suspect there are quite a few ancestor members of the church watching from above that are happy that the erosion of the cemetery will end.

The church records indicate that the period from 12 Mar 1916 until 1938 was another period of great struggle. The church did not have a regular pastor and the keeping of records ceased. It is unclear what happened though two wars and the Great Depression, and the subsequent migrations away from the area looking for work, may have contributed to the break.  From memories of some who lived through parts of this period, the members continued to gather and sing on occasion and maintained the annual homecoming celebration. But in 1938, William Franklin King, John Jesse Barrow, Jr. and Earl H. Merritt, pastor, reorganized the church and affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

1938 to the Present

There have been at least three church buildings at the present location. The first one built in the first decade of the 20th century. This building was two story and the top story housed the school after the schoolhouse burned down in 1923. William Franklin King was the schoolteacher during this period until the school for the area was established by the State of Florida in Blackman. When the church reorganized in 1938 the top floor was removed and the first floor was the church until June 1960 when a new church building was finished.  This is the church I remember the most.  I attended Vacation Bible School there one summer, attended services when we were visiting and said goodbye to my grandfather for the last time.  This is the church that was burned by an arsonist in 1982. The current church was built soon afterward.

The church has seen the establishment of the State of Florida, multiple changes in the county they are located in (Walton, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa), the War for Southern Independence, WWI, the Great Depression and WWII. Through it all it has worked to be a steadfast presence in the community; a place to worship, a place to learn, a place to vote and a place to gather in fellowship. It is one of the earliest Baptist churches in the northwest Florida panhandle. It appears to be the third oldest in the panhandle, but only one of those, First Baptist Church of Campbellton/Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Campbellton is still active. After Yellow River lost its pastor in 2015, Alton Nixon took on the role of pastor and the church has been growing again.

On the second Sunday each year, the church celebrates homecoming.  This year that will be 11 Jun 2017.  This will be the church’s 177th year in service to the community. For me, it is a direct connection to my family’s past. Many of my maternal ancestors attended the church and Mary Faircloth Senterfitt, wife of Jesse Senterfitt, was one of the founding members. As I drive up Yellow River Baptist Church road, I feel the pull of history and the voices of my ancestors in the whispering of the pines. It is a profound sense that often takes my breathe away for a moment.  My Mom became a member of the church at age 9 and was baptized in the river in the same year. She has never felt she was a member anywhere else. It has become difficult for us to make the trip every Sunday but homecoming is a time we don’t miss. Good fellowship and good food.

I invite anyone with ancestors who helped settle northern Okaloosa County to come join us on the 11th at 10:30 am. You will be welcomed with love.

Until next time.

Resources

Buy My Books

The Great Depression: The Experiences of Samuel and Nealie Bell Nichols Marsh

Researching to Tell A Story

I am an advocate for doing an expansive form of family history. Not just researching, documenting and identifying your direct ancestors, but researching and identifying all of the family of your direct ancestors AND researching and understanding the historical patterns that they likely experienced and how they may have reacted to those patterns. It not only makes the genealogy more interesting and meaningful, it sometimes leads to understanding history better and/or an individual in your tree in a way that heals. An example of that for me was my Dad’s Marsh line.

GPaNanadaddy
Sam and Lois Brett Marsh with son Franklin, early 1927

My Grandfather’s Death

For many years I did not know much about my Dad’s family. He was an only child and lost his father five months after he was born. It was a freak accident. My grandfather, Samuel “Sam” Duncan Marsh, worked as an auto mechanic at Solomon Motors in Bonifay and he and two other men were called on to help pull a Lincoln out of the ditch.  It had skidded off Old Spanish Trail Highway at the bridge over the Choctawhatchee River during a rainstorm. After one unsuccessful attempt my grandfather drove the tractor down onto a flat area in the hopes of pulling the car to a better place to haul it back onto the road. The tractor became mired in the mud and after a hard pull the tractor reared up, flipped backwards and pinned my grandfather under it. It took a while for them to remove the tractor but it was obvious he had died instantly. He was crushed. My Dad and his mother left Bonifay not long afterwards, first moving in with his paternal grandparents, Samuel B. and Cornelia “Nealie” Bell Nichols Marsh (see photo at top) and then on to Columbus, Georgia as the nation inched toward World War II.

My Early Efforts to Research the Marsh Family

As I mentioned in a previous post, when my Dad got the family photos from his mother after she died, he tried to go through them and put names on the backs of the photos so I would know who they were. I had already developed an interest in genealogy and in the late 70s I interviewed a number of his cousins, aunts and uncles. Unfortunately, what I knew about what to ask and how to ask it could have been put in a thimble but I still have those pages of fading scribbles. Frankly, I was overwhelmed. A lot of names were thrown at me and sometimes the narrative was anything but helpful in figuring out who we were talking about and I had no clue how to structure the talk so I could make more sense of it. And like many families there were way too many Johns, Williams and Samuels. The stories were sometimes larger than life and frankly not borne out by facts later on. And that led to some wild goose chases until I figured out to just follow the evidence, not the family story. The material was so fragmented, I quickly decided my Mom’s family would be easier.

Over the years I have sat down and intensely tackled my Dad’s Marsh line about four times. Each time has been productive and pushed the family back, out and down. The last time started earlier this year. I had access to new resources and had made contact with a couple of cousins. It was time to really get to know my Dad’s aunts and uncles, at least from the documentation they left behind.

Samuel Benjamin and Nealie Bell Nichols Marsh

My Dad’s grandparents were Samuel Benjamin Marsh and Cornelia “Nealie” Bell Nichols Marsh. Samuel was the son of Andrew Jackson Marsh and Martha Elizabeth Revell (Revel, Revels). He and his wife and oldest daughter moved to Pike Co, Alabama from South Carolina a few years after the Civil War. Given the number of Revell families in the area it appears some of Martha’s relatives may have already settled in southeastern Alabama but I’ve not connected them yet. Samuel Benjamin was their first child born in Alabama. Nealie Bell was the daughter of James E. and Sarah Ann Brunson Nichols. Both of her parents were born in Randolph Co, Georgia and moved with their families to Dale Co, Alabama before the Civil War. James owned and operated a grist mill somewhere on Nichols Mill Rd; a location I am determined to find one day. Samuel and Nealie Bell were married in May 1890 in Enterprise, Coffee Co, Alabama by one of James’ half-brothers.

Samuel and Nealie Bell had ten known children in all, nine boys and one girl. There are gaps in the births and I know there were at least two infants that did not survive the first few years. One died between 1890 and 1900 according to the 1900 census and another died between 1900 and 1910 according to the 1910 census.  But those that reached adulthood were as follows: Claude H., born in 1893 in Coffee Co, AL and died in 1977 in Hillsborough Co, FL; James Andrew, born in 1894 in Coffee Co, AL and died in Hernando Co, FL in 1978; William Lura (or Lure), born 1899 in Coffee Co, AL and died in 1977 in Panama City, Bay Co, FL; Samuel Duncan born in 1902 in Coffee Co, AL and died in 1927 in Bonifay, Holmes Co, FL; Charles W., born in 1906 in Alabama and died in 1996 in Orlando, Orange Co, FL; Albert Olin, born about 1909 in Alabama and died in 1930 in Houston Co, AL; Versie Mae, born in 1910 in Alabama and died in 1984 in Panama City, Bay Co, FL; David Snider, born in 1913 in Alabama and died in 1944 in Orange Co, FL; James Edward, born in 1914 in Alabama and died in 1970 in Orlando, Orange Co, FL and Euell born in 1918 in Alabama and died in 1943 in Asheville, Buncombe Co, NC.

The Great Depression’s Impact on the Marsh Family

Samuel and Nealie Bell made the move to Florida sometime between 1930 and 1935. The 1920 and 1930 censuses tell me that Samuel rented the land he farmed in Alabama. That likely means he was a tenant farmer. The boll weevil hit Alabama around 1910 and had infested the entire state by 1916. It devastated cotton fields. Being a tenant farmer was a tenuous endeavor at best so it isn’t surprising that many gave up and moved. The Marsh family seems to have held out for a while but maybe the death of Samuel Duncan in 1927 and Albert Olin in 1930 made moving seem to be a good re-start. At a larger perspective the Depression was in full swing by this point. Hunger was everywhere in the nation and particularly bad in areas of the South. Moving if you weren’t tied to the land, and sometimes even if you were, was an option exercised by many families as they tried to cope and survive. It was a glimmer of hope where there was little.

Nearly the entire family moved to Florida during this time period except for Versie Mae and her husband Oren Stewart who did not move south until a bit later in the 1930s. Though Florida’s land boom and subsequent crash had already occurred, starting over somewhere else with milder weather and migrant farm work, lumber or turpentine work,  or work as a driver for an orange grower seemed a good choice. Samuel B. did have a brother already in south-central Florida, which might have made the move a bit less traumatic. But three of the children just crossed the border into the Florida panhandle: my grandfather Sam, William and Versie Mae. And in time my great-grandparents moved to the panhandle.

But there is another important point to this blog and the importance of doing whole family research and not just “up your line”. If you look at the death dates you will notice that four of the boys died young. My grandfather Sam who was 25 when he died, Albert Olin who was around 21 when he died (accidentally shot by a discharging rifle while fishing.  Shot him in the leg but by the time they got him to a doctor, he lost his leg, then his life.), David Snider who was 31 when he died and Euell who survived two years in the Army and then died in what I believe was a trucking accident when he was 25. David’s death is a mystery but had to be devastating to his parents. He was married with two small children, both of whom died within a short time of each other then a year or so later both David and his wife died within a few days of each other. I’m still trying to find someone or some newspaper account to put the story together.

Genealogy (and History) as Healer

I remember when I was young that my Dad would say that he knew he would die young. He was fatalistic at times and that led to poor decision-making. He struggled against this tendency but was never completely successful. My mother and I both thought it was because of his Dad’s accident. He grieved for a man who he had not known. But once I really researched the family I could see how he may have thought the Marsh men were likely as not to die young. Now I don’t believe in curses but I do believe that children can be impacted by the family culture that surrounds them and that can be impacted by unresolved grief and stress.  When I started doing genealogy I found the little information I had on both sides of my Dad’s lines was spotty and doctored, both unintentionally and intentionally. But I did decide that getting to know them, one step at a time, regardless of what I found, would help me to understand my Dad and myself. I was right.

The destruction of South Carolina during the Civil War likely led to Andrew Jackson and Martha Elizabeth Revell Marsh leaving South Carolina for southeastern Alabama a few years after the war was over. For some of their sons, the move to Florida was likely facilitated by the economic conditions that led to, and exacerbated, the Great Depression. The Marsh family boys were farmers and then worked as truckers or mechanics as they made the transition to salaried jobs. World War II saw two of Samuel and Nealie Bell’s sons serve and survive the war for one of them to die soon after in an accident. This was a hard period in American history for families to stay connected and together.

Samuel and Nealie Bell moved from the Orlando area to Panama City in 1943. Again, maybe encouraged by the deaths of two more sons and a desire to be near their only daughter in their old age. By this time they had buried 5 of their 12 children and another would die within a few months.  Samuel died four years later and Nealie Bell died six days after I was born in 1951. But I have a better understanding of how they tried to keep their family together during this period in American history and a few glimpses into the trauma they experienced in the early part of the 20th century and how that may have impacted my father.

Until next time

Resources

  • Remembering the Great Depression in the Rural South by Kenneth J. Bindas
  • The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 by Robert S. McElvaine
  • The Great Crash 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: The American Classic, in Words and Photographs, of Three Tenant Farmers in the Deep South by Walker Evans and James Agee

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World War I: A Introduction to the War and Researching Florida Ancestors Who May Have Served

Enlistees off to war

I find researching my Florida (and those in other states) ancestors in the various U.S. wars to be rewarding. These are major events in our ancestors’ lives, whether they served or not and the events they may have experienced can be fascinating whether on the battlefield or the home front. For the most part only two U.S. wars get much genealogical attention: the Civil War and World War II, with the Revolutionary War a good third in the running, probably because it is harder to get back to that point. In this post, I want to talk about World War I and how that war impacted our ancestors in the panhandle and surrounding locations.

On April the 6th of this year we reached the 100th anniversary of the United States entrance into World War I. While most Americans know a bit more about World War II, it really was our relatively brief fighting in the First World War that created the transition point between the American society of the 19th century and our modern society. It was in many ways the catalyst for the Great Influenza Pandemic, the rise and collapse of the 1920s Florida Land Boom, the Great Depression, the eventual right to vote for women and WWII. And it really introduced “modern” warfare with all of its horrors.

If you’ve tried to research your ancestors in the era of WWI military records online, you’ve probably been a bit frustrated. Records are not plentiful. If you get beyond the draft registrations available at both Ancestry.com and Fold3.com, you may find it harder to determine if someone actually served. If your family has maintained the knowledge of an ancestor’s service in WWI that is great. And if you have memorabilia left by a serviceman to his future descendants that is even better.  This blog may help you put that service in a bit more context. If your family didn’t maintain the information of service, hopefully this blog will help you understand the period and find a way forward.

The period leading up to World War I was incredibly interesting. The Gilded Age (sometimes referred to as the Victorian Era), or the last couple of decades of the 19th century, were a time of massive innovation, change and industrial growth. The names we often associate with industry come from this period: John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Henry Flagler and Cornelius Vanderbilt. But it was also a time of great challenge. Very much like today, the wealthy were getting a lot wealthier and the average person seemed to be standing in place or worse, sliding backwards. This led to many people joining organizations like the Southern Farmers’ Alliance and the People’s Party. When I received the scanned copies of Yellow River Baptist Church’s early records from Baker Block Museum there were 65 pages of minutes from a local organization entitled the Bethel Sub-Alliance. I’ve not yet had time to transcribe them but I believe they may be a local group associated with the Southern Farmer’s Alliance. There is a membership list (with some overlap with the church) that seems to include both men and women from the Oak Grove and Laurel Hill area. Stay tuned for more later in the year.

Farming was getting much harder. The economic system in the South was hard on farmers.  Landed small farmers were especially squeezed and only slightly better off than tenant farmers, who accounted for a significant percentage of both black and white farmers in the South. Weather and insects also challenged the farmers in keeping their families together, fed and on their farms. The system often caught farmers in a spiral of debt that eventually led to loosing their farms. Those that left the farm to work, found long hours, difficult conditions and low pay.  It was tough and the average person became angrier as the 20th century arrived. The Panic of 1907 led to even more hardship. The country was already in a recession and the bank and stock market panic set off a wave of bank and business bankruptcies. The recovery was partially assisted by the U.S. role in supplying arms to the Allies in Europe.  The Allies were fighting in opposition to the Central Powers.  The war had erupted over a complex set of relationships and an assassination on 28 June 1914.

The U.S. managed to stay out of the war until 6 April 1917. Woodrow Wilson, who was then President, cited as causes to enter the war Germany’s violation of the pledge it had made to stop unrestricted submarine warfare in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic and its efforts to bring Mexico into the war against the U.S (This later is a fascinating piece of history few know much about – See Resources). Once in, the U.S. mobilized its troops under General John J. Pershing on 5 July 1917. World War I saw massive trench warfare, the use of biplanes, the use of tanks and the use of chemical weapons by both sides. The men who returned home after the war had many scars that were not readily recognized due to the trauma of the war. At home near the end of the war, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 ravaged the countryside and military camps.  I have visited a number of old cemeteries in the panhandle where there are more than a few deaths in 1918 that always leave me wondering if it was the flu that took them, especially if they are children.

Florida Soldiers Leaving New York
Floridian Soldiers Ready to Ship Out of New York, 1918

According to Florida Memory, at the U.S. entrance into WWI, Florida had a population of 925,641 inhabitants. Like in the Civil War, it was a thinly populated state. But it was a great place for military training and a number of our military installations got their beginnings during this period, including the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Florida Memory indicates that a total of 42,000 Floridians served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy or Coast Guard during the war (No Air Force yet).

The draft was widespread and all men were required to register for the draft so that should be the first place you start looking for records if you have a male ancestor that is between 21 and 31 during 1917-1918. Both Ancestry.com and Fold3.com have draft registrations available. Registering did not mean you were drafted. If men were married with a family they were not as likely to be called up, though it certainly occurred. My grandfather, Jesse Barrow was called up at the end of the war and thankfully the Armistice occurred before he had to report. So, the second thing you need to do is determine if your ancestor actually served. If your ancestor was in Florida at the time, Florida Memory provides access to service cards for the men who served from Florida. If you aren’t sure what branch of service he might have been in or you have a number of men to search in one family, just type in the surname and then go through the results. Another source of information at Florida Memory is the County Guard Commissions, 1917-1919. Northwest Florida counties with active County Guard units during the war were: Escambia, Franklin and Jackson.

BarrowJohnJWWIDraftRegistration
Draft registration for my grandfather, Jesse Barrow

Ordering service records for WWI can be a challenge. Many Army records were lost in a fire in the early 70s, as were records from some of the other branches. A number of good WWI resources can be found at the National Archives.  See below for link.

If you haven’t done so already, I hope this article has encouraged you to research your ancestors (and their brothers) for World War I service. While for the U.S. it did not last as long as World War II and it isn’t generally talked about as much as the 2nd, it was one in which a number of our Florida panhandle ancestors served. Perhaps more importantly, it was a major turning point for the country. We were slightly less isolationist after the war, technology was developing rapidly, relationships between men and women were changing and we were entering the period before the Great Depression.

Until next time when I will introduce one of my family lines that struggled and survived through the Great Depression and World War II.

Resources

  1. Florida Memory, a great resource for Floridians.
  2. The Great War, You Tube series of weekly videos from the beginning of the war through the end.  My only complaint is the guy narrating is a fast talker.
  3. Center for Military History: General Resources: Series and Collections.  If you are interested in Army history, regardless of the war, this is a good place for information, some of which is free to download.  In terms of WWI, good resources here are Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the World War and WWI Commemorative Brochures.
  4. National Archives: World War I Centennial
  5. Wikipedia: The Zimmerman Telegram
  6. National Archives: The Zimmerman Telegram
  7. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
  8. The First World War by John Keegan

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Bertha Alma King Barrow, 1897-1981

King and Barrow Family 1924/25

Recently, my maternal grandmother has been on my mind a lot. As I mentioned in the previous post, I made contact with a cousin who has sent me some wonderful photographs (see photo at top and names under Resources below) and quite a few letters from my grandmother to her youngest sister from 1959 through the early 1960s. This was a difficult time for my grandmother. She was having a lot of health problems and both her older brothers, twins William and Allen, died and the family had to sell her parent’s large land holdings in northern Okaloosa County and divide up the materials of their parents’ lives. That did not always go smoothly, as sometimes happens with families.

And then in March, I was putting a picture at the back of the fireplace mantle in my office and gently moved my Grandmother’s mantle clock forward and it started ticking and struck the half hour a few minutes later. We were dumbstruck (it is a bit over a hundred years old and hasn’t worked in years) and motivated to get it cleaned and purchase a key to keep it wound and striking. I heard that clock strike thousands of times in my childhood. I suspect it is the reason I love old mechanical striking clocks. They bring back that sense of warmth, safety and peace I always felt when I was with my grandparents. So, she’s been speaking to me lately and I decided to share her with everyone else. Her parents were highlighted in the 24 October 2016 blog, one set of her maternal great-grandparents were highlighted in the 10 October 2016 blog and her children were highlighted in the 7 November 2016 blog.  Grandmama was descended from two sets of Florida pioneers Reuben and Nancy Ann Rigdon Hart and Wright Harrel and Mary Sweat Gaskin.  But this story is about her.

My grandfather loved to tell the story of his time at Madison Normal College and how he pined for Alma King and worried about her being spirited away by some other man while he was off getting his teaching certification. He always described her as “the prettiest girl in Okaloosa County” with long, coal-black hair and blue eyes. After one term, he had worried long enough and hitched a ride back home riding on the back of a truck, asked her to marry him and they eloped. That was because her parents didn’t approve of my Grandfather. They settled back in Oak Grove and started their family. As hard as things were from 1914 until I met her in 1955, she managed to raise eight children to adulthood even through the Depression with its hunger and constant bouts of malaria that afflicted several of her children.  And through it all she kept her grace, her soft voice, and her sense of humor.

I first met Grandmama in 1955 after we had lived in Ohio for a couple of years. I’m not sure why I was so excited to meet her but I’m told I popped up and down in the back of the car asking if we were there yet all the way across Highway 2. As the years went by I learned how much further to my Grandparents’ by the houses and the bridge over Yellow River but in 1955 it was all new to me and I was ready to be there. We drove up the steep incline to the front of their house and parked the old Packard. I still remember seeing her jogging toward the car with her ever present apron waving up and down in her hands. I knew that was my Grandmama without anyone telling me. On that same trip, a few days later, she took me out to the chicken yard with her to gather eggs. She showed me how to reach under the hen and pull out the egg and then encouraged me to do the same with the next hen. Out came egg in hand. I was so excited I threw it into her apron where there were already a number of eggs. Nearly all broke. She just laughed, cleaned off her apron, gathered the rest of the eggs and once back in the house shared the story, smiling at me the whole time. I didn’t understand why the smiling and laughing but I knew I loved her face when she smiled.

I usually spent some part of every summer with both sets of Grandparents but in the early 60s, I spent most of a summer with my mother’s parents. My Dad was traveling a lot and mother worked the evening shift so it was thought it would be better for me to spend the entire summer away. I remember staying with my Grandparents and two of my aunts during most of that summer. I had spent several days with Aunt Marie and Grandmama had walked down to get me and bring me back home. At the time Aunt Marie and Uncle James lived on the east side of the river in a large house with a porch on all four sides. We were walking back and had just started over the bridge when Grandmama put her hand on my shoulder and told me to stop. She instructed me to stand perfectly still and she moved forward with her ever-present cane out in front of her and approached what I found out later was a large rattlesnake. She got up to him and as fast as lightening she pushed her cane under him and flipped him off the bridge. Later I found out she could smell rattlesnakes and though she tried to explain to me what they smelled like, the skill was obviously not in my wheelhouse.

Like most adolescents and teens, I thought my parents were mean because they wouldn’t let me do everything I wanted. Grandmama had such a gentle way of listening and then providing coaching. Some time in my early years I labeled our times on the porch as “yakkety-yakking” and she would suggest going outside to yakkety-yak when she thought I needed to talk and rearrange my thought process. She also used a Jedi-mind trick whenever you needed a splinter out of your hand or foot. She would tell you to think of something green and tell her about it and while you were busy describing it, out came the splinter and you were back to 100%. No pain, no fuss.  Or at least that’s how I remember it.

On one of my summer vacations there, one of my cousins had a new B B gun and he and another cousin and I (we were the terrible trio, but that’s another set of stories) went out looking for anything to shoot at. We took turns shooting at both animate and inanimate things until I aimed at a bird that was way off in a tree and pulled the trigger. Down came the bird. We run to it and found it alive but badly injured. I picked it up and run back to the house, crying the whole way. I thought Grandmama would be really angry because she loved birds of all kinds, but I also figured she could heal it because she seemed to do that with our bumps, bruises and splinters. She looked at the little bird and told me there was nothing she could do. My punishment was to sit on the back steps and hold the bird until it died. I did, sobbing and asking the bird to just fly away. It didn’t, and I learned a good lesson. Don’t do something unless you are willing to suffer the consequences, whatever they might be. And thinking through the consequences before doing something allows you to back away before you get burned badly.

I grew up and after a brief period working, I went off to be in the Army during Vietnam. When I got out I immediately started college, first in Panama City and then after giving it a lot of thought, to the relatively new University of West Florida. I wanted to be near my Grandparents so I could spent more time with them. I spent nearly every weekend there, studying at the kitchen counter, sitting on the porch in the afternoons and yakkety-yakking with both of them. We discussed politics, farming, the environment, health and anything else that would come up. It was an extraordinary 18 months that I would not trade for anything because the year after I graduated Granddaddy died and Grandmama left this world for one that only existed in her head. She was younger, her kids were children and Granddaddy was away on a job and would be home soon.  She could not bear to be without him after 64 years of marriage.

In the three years between their respective passings, Grandmama slowly failed in health. She fell again, re-fracturing the hip that she had broken a few years before. It was too fragile to re-pin and she was now permanently in bed. She reached the point that she refused to eat; she was ready to leave. For a while the hospital fed her intravenously. She no longer knew any of us. Mama was “that sweet red-haired lady”. On the morning she passed away, she seemed more alert than usual. She asked if she could wash her hair, “because Jesse was coming to get her”. Her daughters that were there helped her bathe and wash her hair then she laid back and announced she was going to rest. Mama and her sisters had already told the hospital not to respond but to let her go this time. The four sisters circled the bed and prayed and soon Granddaddy did come and get her and take her to a place where she could be at peace and with him forever more.  Mama, who is not one much for hyperbole, says even though the window was closed there was a sudden feeling of a cool breeze just before Grandmama was gone.  My guardian angel looks amazing like Grandmama and when I smell lavender (her favorite color and fragrance and mine as well) I am carried back in time to the porch swing and our talks.

I have so many memories of my grandparents, I could probably write a book of stories they told me or I experienced with them.  Some are allegories, like the story of the bird above, and some are just fun memories like the time I was going to write down Grandmama’s recipe for biscuits.  For any of you that didn’t have a biscuit-maker from this generation in your family; there was no recipe.  The biscuits were made using hand memory and just knowing and were the best darn biscuits you could eat.  My effort to turn her biscuits into a recipe was frustrating for me and humorous for her.

I am always saddened when I see young people who don’t have an opportunity to get to know their grandparents because they live so far away, or the family is fractured in some way, or they passed early. My Grandparents were an important part of my formative years. The life lessons, the laughter, and the tears. They were a blessing worth so much to me.

Until next time.

Resources

  1. Title Photograph – a recent addition from a newly found cousin.  Woman sitting in the middle holding the baby is my Grandmama.  From left to right in back row – Lucille Barrow (daughter of Alma), Ovella King (sister of Alma), Miles King (brother of Alma) and Estelle King (sister of Alma).  From left to right in front – Marie Barrow (daughter of Alma), Alma with daughter Wylene, Roberta Barrow (daughter of Alma).  Based on clothes and ages of the children this was likely taken in the Fall of 1924 or the Spring of 1925.
  2. Barrow-King Family History by Sharon D. Marsh, 2016.

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Panhandle Photographs and Postcards

I love old pictures and postcards. I have been known to buy old photographs of people I don’t even know just because I can’t stand the thought that they are lost to descendants and languishing in an antique shop. While I have generally been able to talk myself out of purchasing photographs of unknown people (not always but most of the time, I have a “thing” for gilded age hats and early vehicles), I do give in to old postcards. I inherited a collection of postcards from my Dad that were a combination of those he received from family and friends during his years at Southeastern Bible Institute in Atlanta and at Central Bible Institute in Missouri and some he bought because he liked the picture or theme. Some of my favorites are postcards of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp from WWII, possibly because I too was in the Army (Vietnam era). They are great fun to look at.

Since I started my own collecting addiction, I’ve tended to focus on old postcards of Florida, especially the panhandle and rivers throughout the State. Panhandle postcards can be hard to find. As I mentioned in a previous post, people outside Florida tend to focus attention on some areas and mostly ignore the rest. So, you can find tons of mid-20th century postcards of Pensacola and Panama City Beach but if you want postcards of Milton or Marianna or Crestview, you may have to look for a while. It gets even harder as you go back in time, but that’s true for all locations. There are a few available on occasion, including some of our rivers and industries (lumber/turpentine).

Let’s start with old family photographs. If you are a family historian, you probably love to collect pictures and scans of your ancestors. Unfortunately, sometimes photos come down to us and we don’t have a clue who is in the photograph. So, before I share a few pictures, let me put forth a challenge and heartfelt request. Please, if you take photographs, especially using your phone, move them off the phone, back them up, print the best ones and write in the names on the back. Don’t write hard but do identify the people in the picture and add a date. Or, put the photo in an archival sleeve and identify the people on the sleeve (better choice).   Same goes for shared scans of old photographs.  Otherwise, your descendants will be mumbling under their breathe and calling into question your sanity and consideration of those who would come after you.

If you are looking at old photographs trying to figure out who they are, there are a couple of things that might help. How did you come to have the photo?  What do they know about the photo, or think they know? Take that information but make an effort to connect it to other information that confirms or denies it. In other words, if you got the pictures from a cousin on your mother’s side of the family, it could be someone in your joint lines or it could be someone in your cousin’s non-shared lines. Sometimes people jump to conclusions.  We all do, even though in some cases we shouldn’t.

Look for a date stamp on the edge or back of the photo, look at the clothes and try to put them in a time period. Even generally, it can help to narrow down the possibilities. What media is the photograph in, tintype or paper/card stock? This can be hard to determine if it comes to you as a scan so ask if the sender has the original. Look for any scribble on the back that might help or a photographer’s stamp. There are books and Internet resources that can help with the process of dating and identifying people in old photographs. Narrow your options down and then, if possible, compare the people in it to other photographs you have of the same people. Document all of that and put it with the photograph. I will share some examples of the above in my own families from northwest Florida.

wcking
William Coplan King, Jr.

First is my g2-grandfather, William Coplan King, Jr.  I found this photo in a shoe box in the home of my mother’s oldest sister.  She didn’t know who it was but I could tell from the card stock and clothes that it was from the late 19th century and since Aunt Lucille said the pictures came from her parents (my grandparents), I knew it had to be someone in my maternal lines.  On the back was some scribble in pencil which took a bit of time to decipher but it mentioned a Howell that I knew was connected to us in the King line.  This man was identified as his grandfather, according to the writing.  I was very excited that this might be my g2-grandfather.  A few years later I connected with a 1st cousin of my mother on her maternal side and he sent me a picture of Roseda Sawyer King (William’s wife) that he had gotten from his mother.  I sent this scan to him to ask if he had seen the face in any of his mother’s pictures and he emailed back that it was indeed William Coplan King, Jr.

The first photograph is the one that my cousin sent me and identified it as Roseda Sawyer King, wife of William Coplan King, Jr.  For years this was the only photograph I knew about.  Then a couple of years ago another cousin (daughter of aunt mentioned above) invited me over to scan pictures.  We went through them slowly until we got to two tintypes that she said she thought was our great-grandmother Lucennie Hinote Barrow.  I had a picture of Lucennie and I was pretty sure the two women were not the same.  Lucennie was heavier and her nose was smaller (that can be deceiving in these old photographs!).  While Lucennie lived during the period of tintypes, I thought this woman was older than Lucennie would have been during their hay day (for this type the late 19th century).  I also doubted that the Barrows, and especially Lucennie, ever went and sat for a portrait.  I am told she was incredibly shy.  The more I looked at it the more it triggered something in my brain.  I found the first photograph on my computer and looked at them together.  The clothes are the same and so is the face.  The Kings were big into photographs so going to pose for one certainly fit the family.

These last pictures are of my Dad’s side of the family.  Dad was an only child and his father was killed in an accident just outside Bonifay when Dad was a couple of months old.  These pictures came to him from his mother and he knew that I didn’t know most of these people so in the last few years he was alive he wrote information on the backs of the photos.  The dates on the front are compliments of my paternal grandmother who dated photos religiously.  So as I went through this box of photos after Dad died, I met his paternal grandmother’s mother, his paternal grandparents (that’s my Dad on the right next to his grandmother), his father’s siblings and one of his uncle’s by marriage (I love the pose and the truck!) that I was blessed to get to know, along with my great-aunt, while I was in college.  I can’t tell you what a wonderful surprise it was to connect faces with names in my genealogy for a side of the family I’m still trying to piece together.

When gathering pictures for a family history, don’t forget to look for any old pictures of the communities where your ancestors grew up, or photos that would represent occupations and businesses.  Pictures of northwest Florida towns can be found at Florida Memory and some that could be pertinent to your family’s history might be found at American Memory. Here are a few that I’ve collected over the years.  The first is a gristmill in Escambia Farms.  While built much later than the one my ancestor ran in Oak Grove, I am told it is similar, though bigger.  The turpentine mill at Baker represents a key industry in the upper part of Okaloosa Co, FL (I don’t have a good photo of a moonshine still deep in the woods.  That too was a key industry in northern Okaloosa Co.), and last the downtown area of Bonifay in the early 1940s, a few years after my Dad moved with his mother to Columbus, GA (I found postcards in his collection with the address a few years ago).

The wonderful thing about most postcards: you don’t have to do all of that work I just covered above. The downside is they will likely not be photos of any of your ancestors but they may document their livelihood (lumber/turpentine) and/or where they lived (rivers and towns). Just keep them safe in archival sleeves and display them so they are out of sunlight and really bright lights for long periods of time. Then enjoy.

I even have a few that aren’t Pensacola.  I love old river view postcards.  The last two aren’t in the panhandle but they are in Florida and represent how our ancestors traveled and what a turpentine still looked like.

Photographs add so much to our enjoyment of history and genealogy.  While family photos, original or scanned, should be cherished and shared, don’t forget other kinds of photographs that can add to your understanding of your ancestors’ experiences.  Don’t forget other kinds of family materials either.  Recently, I made contacted with a cousin I hope to get to know better.  She has shared photos and letters from my grandmother to hers (they were sisters).  What a joy to read my grandmother’s observations written in her own handwriting, though I have to admit between the creative spelling and the “chicken scratch” (that was my grandmother’s term for her handwriting) it has been a challenge to decipher so far.  I’m thankful though.  I exchanged letters with this great-aunt back in the early 90s and her chicken scratch was even worse than my grandmother’s!

An update on the progress of my The 1st Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers in the Civil War ebook and paperback editions.  The ebook is live at Amazon, the hard cover is also available there now and the paperback should be showing in a day or two.  Until next time!

Resources

  • Photo Organizing Practices: Daguerreotypes to Digital by Maureen A. Taylor
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs: How to Care for Your Family Photographs from Daguerreotypes to Digital Imaging by Maureen A. Taylor
  • Cased Images & Tintypes Kwik Guide: A Guide to Identifying and Dating Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, and Tintypes by Gary W. Clark
  • 19th Century Card Photos Kwik Guide: A Step-by-Step Guide to Identifying and Dating Cartes de Visite and Cabinet Cards by Gary W. Clark

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Researching Civil War Ancestors in the Northwest Florida Panhandle, Pt 2

In the last post we laid out a basic plan for getting to one man in one or more Confederate (and/or Union) military units.  Now comes the work to figure out what he likely experienced as the war progressed.  A word of caution: this set of two blogs is only a tiny part of understanding the structure of either the Confederate or Union military forces and the records available for research.  It is a subject that I find I learn something new about every time I sit down and study some part of it.  This is very basic and if you really want to be knowledgeable about your ancestor’s likely experiences you will do some studying way beyond these two blogs.

Let me interject here an apology for sometimes being inaccurate in referring to the combined service records as just muster roll records.  Muster roll records are certainly a large part of the combined service records, but there can be many other types of records that were summarized and transcribed into the set of cards for a man in a volunteer military unit.  If you find your ancestor’s combined service record it can provide information on illnesses, wounds, battles he participated in, payroll information, activities after the war like action on requests to drop dishonorable discharges or desertion charges and many other pieces of information.  If you want to see the war as your ancestor experienced it, this is the place to go after you find him in an index.

Early in the war, units were often formed with men from a large community or a county forming all or most of a company. The men joined (weren’t drafted, that started in April 1862) and the enlistment county would likely be the one he was living in, next to it or at least nearby.  These companies (usually 100 men) would be aggregated into battalions or regiments that were composed of companies from one state. This changed as the war dragged on. For instance the 11th Florida Infantry actually drafted some men from southeastern Alabama counties. And when regiments and battalions that were decimated by losses (deaths, serious wounds, chronic illness, desertion, taken as prisoner) were combined with other units suffering the same fate, multiple state units were sometimes involved and then drafted men would be added. The 15th Confederate Cavalry that served in and around northwest Florida in the last years of the war was composed of both Florida and Alabama cavalry units that were too small to be classified as regiments. In other words, research the units and try to understand military jargon and organization so you don’t get lost. A battalion is not a regiment, even if it has the same numerical name.  Also, be aware of the possibility that you will occasionally find the same man listed twice, once with his first unit and again with the unit he was transferred to. Or you may find his cards but when you look at the dates it appears he deserted before the cards start. That means he was in one of the units combined and deserted before the consolidation.  I found this to be especially true with the 15th Confederate Cavalry and the 11th Florida Infantry.  Do more research and try to find his earlier record.

Once you think you are ready, start going through the combined service cards for each man you are researching. Download them (see previous post for resources) if you can because you may miss something the first few times you look at them. Look to see if you have an age, a place where they were enlisted, and a place where they were born (remember that sometimes people respond to that question with their birth place and sometimes where they are living at the time or they may not have known the family moved when they were 3 months old). Look for a card for each quarter they were in the service and see if they were present, on special duty, sick, etc. If the cards just stop, the person likely deserted (though near the end of the war the Confederate records often just stopped because they weren’t kept or were lost) but you can’t be sure until you look at all of the possibilities around their service, like any pension applications or subsequent census records. One card can conflict with another, just record it all for now. It may become clearer which entry is the truth as you put together information.

Finally, after you think you have the right man, research the regimental history. An excellent initial online source is the National Park Services’ Battle Units database.  Some regiments have some pretty good written histories. Some have ones written by descendants who sound like wonderful cheerleaders but you can’t be sure that all of the history is there, especially if it might be controversial or negative, and some will have nothing written about them. If that’s the case, consider doing what I did way back in the early 90s when I discovered my ancestor in the 1st Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers. Write a history of the regiment and fill in that gap.

Create a timeline from his muster in until his muster out.  Research any engagements and battles it appears he was present for and try to find where his brigade or regiment was placed on the field of battle.  Read the after action reports in the Official Records for his company, brigade and division/corp commanders to see if he is mentioned specifically and what his unit may have been engaged in during the battle.  If he was wounded at some point or became sick, research Civil War medicine.  How was that kind of wound or disease treated?  If he was taken prisoner, where was he sent and what were the conditions like?  There are a number of excellent books out on both Union and Confederate prisoner camps during the war.  Finally, how and when was he released to go home and did he or his widow file for a pension.  Pension records can be very informative.  If he died in a prison camp, is there a cemetery and do they have records?  When you finish with the research, put a narrative together and share with friends and family.

Some cautions.  If your ancestor was present and not sick during the period of a battle and his company was engaged, you can start with the assumption he was present but you should make every effort to see if you can determine that clearly.  Is he mentioned in the Official Records for some reason, did he receive a wound and his records indicate he was admitted to a hospital, does his muster roll cards mention his presence, was he taken prisoner during the battle, or does his pension record indicate any of these possibilities at the battle?  If it remains an assumption after that, try to make it clear in any writing you do on the subject that it is assumption based on sketchy evidence and lay the evidence out.  At some point you may find something that changes your assumptions and boy can it be hard to take something back once it is out in the wider world.

Summary

  1. Obtain the combined service records for your ancestor.  Many are available on microfilm and at Fold3.com.
  2. Once you have a match, research the unit in detail. Find out what theater they served in, what battles were they in, who were the commanders of the company, regiment, brigade, division/corp and army. Go through the Official Records for the war looking for mentions of the regiment, your ancestor and after action reports from officers.  Did any consolidations or transfers occur and when?  Read a few books on the regiment, or battles they were in, and try to determine where your ancestor’s regiment was during the battle and what might they have experienced.
  3. After you know your ancestor’s Civil War history, look for a pension application. Confederate pensions are in the individual states, not where he served but where he was living when he applied (if in the South). Federal pension index cards are at Fold3.com, Ancestry has indexes for Union and some Confederate pensions and some states have pension records online (like Florida) and the application can be ordered from NARA if Union and the states if Confederate.
  4. Put a timeline together from muster in to muster out or discharge or release.  Read books on battles, prison camps and medicine.  Get inside your ancestor’s head and try to see what he saw.  Include the positive and the negative.  Our ancestors are not required to see things as we currently see them or to have acted as we believe we would today given the same circumstances.  Don’t judge, just collect the facts and put it together.  You may find you have a deeper sense of connection to them afterwards.  Frankly, I can not imagine anything more traumatic than a civil war.

The last two post suggestions might be more effort than you were expecting but it will hopefully yield the best fit of record to ancestor and it will begin to put your ancestor into time and space during one of the most traumatic periods in American history.

Some Confederate Units from the Panhandle

1st Florida Infantry – CSA

  • Organized in May 1861 for 12 months as the 1st Florida Infantry Battalion
  • Veteran’s who remained after 12 months served in the 1st Florida Infantry Battalion until August when it was consolidated with the 3rd (Miller’s) Battalion and reorganized into the New 1st Florida Infantry Regiment. In December 1862 it was merged with the 3rd Florida Infantry Regiment.
  • Northwest Florida counties contributing – Escambia, Franklin, and Jackson.
  • Served in the Army of Mississippi and the Army of Tennessee (Western Theater)

2nd Florida Infantry – CSA (there is a 2nd Florida Infantry Battalion as well)

  • Organized in April and July 1861 and mustered into Confederate service for 12 months in July 1861 with 1,185 officers and men.
  • Northwest Florida counties contributing – Escambia and Jackson
  • Served in Perry’s Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia (Eastern Theater)
  • It surrendered on 9 April 1865 with 59 men and 7 officers.

4th Florida Infantry – CSA

  • Organized in June 1861 with 983 officers and men.
  • Northwest Florida counties contributing – Franklin, Jackson, Liberty and Washington
  • Served first in Florida, then in the Army of Tennessee.
  • It was consolidated with the 1st Florida Cavalry Regiment in December 1863.
  • It surrendered 23 men in April 1865.

5th Florida Infantry – CSA

  • Organized in the Spring of 1862 with over 1,000 men.
  • Northwest Florida counties contributing – Liberty and Santa Rosa
  • Served in Perry’s Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia (eastern Theater)
  • It surrendered 47 men and 6 officers at the end of the war.

6th Florida Infantry – CSA

  • Organized in March 1862 with 511 men and 31 officers
  • Northwest Florida counties contributing – Jackson and Washington (I know there were several men from Holmes Co that enlisted with the 6th)
  • Served in the Army of Tennessee.
  • No exact numbers at surrender but it was referred to as “a remnant”.

11th Florida Infantry – CSA

  • Organized in June 1864 by consolidating part of the 2nd and 4th Florida Infantry Battalions (not the two units above, battalions were smaller than regiments)
  • Northwest Florida counties contributing – Jackson
  • Served in the Florida Brigade under General Finegan in the Army of Northern Virginia (Eastern Theater)
  • It surrendered 19 men and 4 officers in April 1865

1st Florida Cavalry – Union

  • Organized from December 1863 to May 1864 but took in new enlistees up until March 1865.
  • Northwest Florida counties contributing – Walton, Santa Rosa, Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Escambia, Calhoun and Franklin
  • Served in the northwest Florida panhandle and participated in engagements from Marianna to Mobile and north to Evergreen, AL.

There were numerous other battalions, cavalry units and artillery units primarily composed of Florida men.  Look in all of them for your ancestors.  Good hunting!

Resources

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Researching Civil War Ancestors in the Northwest Florida Panhandle, Pt 1

When I’m out talking about my book, The 1st Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers in the Civil War, I am often asked how someone should go about doing research on an ancestor that may have served in the Civil War. Sometimes that comes up because folks have conflicting or misinterpreted information they have found online (such as not realizing that there was a 1st Florida Cavalry in both the Union and Confederate Armies) and sometimes because they are new and find it difficult to deal with the incredible variation of name spellings that can make finding an ancestor a challenge. Or they’ve inherited information on an ancestor and would like to actually find proof and understand the totality of experience better.  It can be challenging, so I hope in the next two posts to help you develop a plan to find your ancestor and develop a rich understanding of his experience in the war.  There will be a summary at the end of both posts for those who don’t like to read much.

Anyone who has done genealogical research knows that primary records are not completely accurate and spelling was a creative endeavor. With the first, while they may not be perfect they can be compared to other records to sort through the discrepancies.  Be sure to document all of the sources and how they may conflict. Believe me, I understand how hard that can be when you are in the glow of finding an ancestor, but you will regret not doing it while you have all of the resources in front of you. I speak from painful experience here.  Don’t skimp on this and don’t take someone else’s word as to the facts. Even if they are family.  Do your own research, analysis and documentation.

Spelling is a whole other issue. Folks back in the mid-19th century who may not have gone to school beyond the minimum may have been able to read and write but you may need to read it phonetically because that’s how they often spelled it. If you say it out loud, your ear may be able to hear what your brain is struggling with.  This applies for both trying to read a badly misspelled name and for alternative name searches.

Before you start pouring through military indexes do your research on where they were in 1860. Census and land records are the most useful and be sure to make a note on neighbors in both. That may be helpful if you wind up with more than one listing with the same name, from the same general area, since men from a community sometimes enlisted together. Also, complete research on the entire family. Siblings are important to know for a variety of genealogical reasons. Brothers may have joined together, as well as brothers-in-law. All of these are important because muster roll records were not consistent in what they recorded. Some have ages and birth information, some don’t. Some have full names, some may only have initials. The more information you have on the family and community, the better chance you will have to weed through the options.  And if your ancestor was in northwest Florida (or southeastern Alabama) remember to check in both Confederate and Union indexes.  The 1st Florida Union Cavalry fielded 704 men from the panhandle and southeastern Alabama during the war and a good number of those men served in the Confederate Army before joining the Union.

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Which brings me to indexes online. These are wonderful resources. Some are part of pay sites such as Ancestry, some are free and comprehensive and some are the work of interested descendants and may only cover a company in one regiment. The information will vary significantly depending on the source of the index, and the quality will as well. Usually you will find the name as listed in the muster roll, enlistment and discharge/desertion dates, maybe the age at enlistment, and maybe the county where they were enlisted. The problems with using these exclusively can only be known if you actually go to the muster roll for the name you’ve found you think is your ancestor and go card by card. A couple of examples might be helpful here.

Desertion rates were really high in the Confederacy beginning in 1863. An index may not provide any information on a date the man left the service because it isn’t recorded. But if you go to the actual muster roll and go through the cards you might see that he was present through the quarter ending 31 December 1863 and then he is listed as having deserted (with no date) on the next quarter card ending 31 March 1864. Or worse, the cards just end and no reference is made to what happened to him. While you might not have an exact desertion date, because they may not have known or failed to record it, you will know he deserted (or possibly died) sometime between 1 January 1864 and 31 March 1864, or in the 1st quarter that is missing in the records. While you are perusing the cards you can record any other information contained on any of the cards that might be pertinent in determining if this is your ancestor. There can be wonderful tidbits among the cards that never make indexes. I’ve also seen examples of desertion dates being recorded but when I went to the cards I found they returned (either voluntarily or by force) at a later date and stayed or deserted again. So, use the indexes to make a list of all the possibilities for your ancestor and then actually go to the muster roll to weed through them. It will also help you put together a timeline that will identify possible battles and events he experienced.

Which brings me to accessing the actual cards. The best online source, in my opinion, is Fold3.com. While they don’t have every Civil War regiment available yet, they are adding regularly and some of the other resources can be helpful. It is a pay site, however, local libraries are adding this to their online resources available. I know that Santa Rosa County libraries have it available and I believe Baker Block Museum in Baker is looking to add it if they haven’t already. I am not sure about Escambia, Walton, Holmes or any of the other northwest Florida counties. Call and ask them and find out if you have to go to the library or whether you can access from your home with a library card.

Hopefully, you now have one set of muster roll cards for your ancestor.  Now the fun begins.  Join me in two weeks for the rest of the story.

Summary

  1. Find your ancestor in the 1860 census. Fill in his siblings and in-laws and make a note of men around your ancestor who were likely an age to join or be drafted (ages 13-70 with most between 18-55).
  2. Search online indexes for any possible matches in the general area where your ancestor lived.
  3. Research those units and determine if any recruited or drafted around where your ancestor lived. This will likely narrow your possibilities but don’t discard the others just yet.
  4. Go through the muster roll cards for any men who passed through 2 and 3 above and record info. If the entry is just initials for given name, look for matches from men from his extended family or community. Look for exact matches for age, birth place, county of residence, etc, and if you find any; rejoice!
  5. If your ancestor was in the Florida panhandle or southeastern Alabama and his Confederate record just ends, be sure to check to see if he joined the 1st Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers or whether his regiment was consolidated with another one that may have additional records.
  6. Hopefully, this yields you one excellent match. If you have more than one, go back through the cards and really focus on every little detail and again look for men from the family and community to help narrow it further.

Resources

  • The flag at the top is the 1861 State Flag of Florida, commissioned by an act of the Florida Assembly in February 1861 to provide for a uniform flag for the State.  See more info at Florida Memory.
  • Confederate Research Sources: A Guide to Archive Collections, 2nd edition; by James C. Neagles, Ancestry Inc.
  • How to Do Civil War Research; by Richard A. Sauers, Da Capo Press.
  • The Civil War Research Guide; by Stephen McManus, Donald Thompson, Thomas Churchill, Stackpole Books.
  • Tracing Your Civil War Ancestor: A Complete Guide to Tracking Down Your Ancestors’ Civil War Adventures, North and South; by Bertram Hawthorne Groene, John F. Blair Publisher.

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Milton and Bagdad During the Civil War

Just in case someone attempts to misunderstand what I’m going to say, let me be clear that I love Pensacola. I went to college there, I’ve lived there and I visit as often as I can. I also like Tallahassee. My paternal grandmother lived there most of my growing up years and I spent at least two weeks every summer with her before making it the rest of the way to Oak Grove to spend time with my maternal grandparents. That said, those of us with deep ties to the panhandle of Florida are clear on two things: 1) The rest of Florida seldom thinks about the panhandle unless they want to drive through on the way to somewhere else and, 2) The rest of the country only knows the following cities in the panhandle: Pensacola, Panama City Beach and Tallahassee. We are a well kept secret, less so these days than when I was a kid, and some of us would like to keep it a bit of a secret.

Same is true if we go back to the antebellum period in Florida. There was Tallahassee and Pensacola according to some authors and if you aren’t careful you think it was minimally-inhabited wilderness in-between. In actuality, the towns of Milton and Bagdad and the county of Santa Rosa were richer and better economically developed than either Tallahassee or Pensacola. Santa Rosa was the richest county in Florida in the 1860 census and Milton and Bagdad had diverse economies of trade, shipbuilding, lumber, textiles, and brick-making to name a few. So, it would not necessarily be surprising that when the Confederates withdrew from the panhandle and left several regiments in Pollard, AL to harass the Union in Pensacola and try and keep the rest of Florida out of the hands of the Union that Milton and Bagdad would become magnets for both sides. The lumber was a valuable commodity for both armies, and the rest of the goods produced in the area before the war were needed at various times by both sides. The residents of Santa Rosa County found themselves only slightly better off than the residents of the Shenandoah Valley or middle Tennessee. The skirmishes weren’t as numerous or as large, and the stealing/confiscation of goods wasn’t as bad but only because the armies were smaller. But folks in the Florida panhandle had the additional burden of gangs of deserters and draft-dodgers that also stole and plundered. It was not a backwater safe haven for residents trying to keep body and soul together.

The damages actually started with the Confederates as they were evacuating Florida in March 1862. Confederate orders were given to burn anything that might be of value to the Union. Not only were military stores burned but so were the local grist mills, production facilities and in some cases privately owned materials. It was quite a devastation that motivated Mr. A. C. Blount to write a blistering letter to the Governor describing the actions as “wanton and atrocious vandalism” (see below).

Once the Union retook Pensacola it was inevitable that the two sides would skirmish across the panhandle. The Confederates had withdrawn to Pollard, AL and left numerous encampments in the panhandle, generally manned by a company or two of the regiments assigned to Pollard. Initially, these troops were from the area (FL and AL regiments) but in 1864, once Brig. Gen. Asboth began enlisting men for the 1st Florida Union Cavalry, this became a problem of ongoing desertion and many of the men in General Clanton’s army at Pollard were re-assigned to Tennessee and more seasoned troops from elsewhere in the Confederacy were brought down to guard the panhandle and south Alabama.

The first documented expedition to Milton and Bagdad occurred in August 1862 with the 6th NY Infantry, Co A and B, conducting a reconnaissance mission to Milton and Bagdad. The 6th NY steamed up the bay to within two miles of Bagdad and weighed anchor to wait until morning to make contact with a Union man at Hunt’s Mill to determine where Confederates were located in the area. This Union man told the Federals where they could find some valuable naval stores. They then moved to Milton where they reconnoitered for Confederates and the naval stores. They left and sailed up the Blackwater to Union Hill where they picked up four Union families and their belongings. They came back to Milton and took several thousand dollars worth of materials. They also took some furniture that supposedly belonged to a “notorious rebel”. They returned to Bagdad and picked up some furniture belonging to known Union men. An interesting quote in the report mentioned the “valuable sawmills once so numerous in this section of the country” that had been burned along with “millions of feet of yellow pine and oak lumber”.

In late 1863 and early 1864, Brigadier General Asboth mentioned Milton and Bagdad twice in his reports. In November 1863 he indicated that Confederates had 120 to 140 cavalry east of the Escambia River with pickets at Milton, Bagdad, Partes (unsure where this might have been) and Floridatown. In February 1864 he again mentions the Confederate troops in the area around Milton after the mass mutiny was attempted among the troops stationed out of Pollard. He indicates there were 3,000 Tennessee troops at Pollard, 500 at Milton and some at Floridatown. He states that they guard the line from Floridatown along Pound (sic, that would be Pond!) Creek, Bagdad Factory, Crigler’s Mill and along the Yellow River.

On the 18th of October at Pierce’s Point south of Milton, Union troops were attacked by Confederates. This skirmish included the 1st Florida Battery Light Artillery and the 19th Iowa. This skirmish resulted in a Union loss that resulted in one dead and one wounded and likely led to the effort at the end of October to capture the Confederates around Milton and make it easier for the Union to use Milton and Bagdad as a source of materials. Lt Colonel Spurling was charged with this effort and his plan was to take half of his troops to Mulat Bayou and the other half were to land thirteen miles south of Milton and draft logs to draw the Confederates deep onto the peninsula. When the shooting started the men on Mulat Bayou were to gallop across the peninsula and capture the Confederates in a pincer movement. After settling the men on Mulat Bayou, Spurling joined his men south of Milton but found they had landed much closer to Milton. So when the shooting started the men galloping over from Mulat Bayou did not get to Milton in time. The conflict was a running battle up the eastern side of the peninsula through Bagdad with an extended skirmish at Pond Creek. From there the Confederates escaped up the Pollard Road. This engagement did not succeed in removing the Confederates from the Milton area.

In February 1865 the 2nd Maine Cavalry conducted an expedition to Milton. A total of 300 men, 50 mounted and 250 unmounted landed at Pierce’s Mill after repairing the wharf. They quietly moved up to Milton and six miles further out on the Pollard Rd to the Confederate camp. At daybreak they attacked the camp capturing 19 prisoners, 29 horses and 5 mules. Fifty stand of arms were destroyed.

As the Mobile Campaign started a detachment of men were sent to Milton in March 1865 to try and remove Confederates from the area in anticipation of a much larger force under Lt Colonel Spurling moving into Milton a few days later. This second wave of troops that included men from the 1st Florida Union Cavalry began their expedition in Milton and marched north through the panhandle to Andalusia then west to Evergreen to cut the railroad between Montgomery and Mobile prior to the final effort to take Mobile. They left Evergreen and marched to Sparta, AL to burn the warehouses there, then to Brooklyn, AL and finally to Pollard, AL where they met up with a second large force of men marching from Pensacola under Major General Frederick Steele. The combined forces marched through Canoe and Stockton then joined the Union forces outside of Ft. Blakeley for the siege that ended the campaign.

Today Milton and Bagdad are small communities nestled in the northwest Florida panhandle and few picture them to be as important to the history of the panhandle as they were. Both played a huge role in the wealth and industrial capacity of the young State of Florida during the late antebellum period. Their citizens were challenged to take sides, minimize damage to family and livelihood from both sides, and survive the never ending skirmishes in the area. They picked up the pieces after the war but were never able to completely recover the industrial capacity and wealth.

Until next time when we will begin a quick genealogy-oriented lesson in researching Confederate (and Union) men in the panhandle, with some details on the regiments formed mostly from local men.

Resources

  • Florida Memory, Letter from A. C. Blount to Governor Milton, April 8, 1862
  • The 1st Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers in the Civil War: The Men and Regimental History and What That Tells Us About the Area During the War, by Sharon D. Marsh, October 2016.
  • The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Carmel, IN: Guild Press of Indiana, 1997.
  • Photographs are from the Photographic History of the Civil War, The Military Atlas of the Civil War and Harper’s Weekly.

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