The Controversial Excursion of 2nd Lt. Joseph Sanders of the 1st Florida Union Cavalry Volunteers

We’ve made a brief journey through the history of the 1st Florida Union Cavalry over the last three blogs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). We’ve looked at where these Southern men came from, whether they were deserters or dodgers of Confederate service and how they served while in the 1st Florida Union Cavalry. In this last post in the series, I’m going to present two additional pieces of information on the regiment. The first will be a list of the engagements that some of the men of the 1st Florida Union Cavalry participated in. If you find yourself wanting more details on each of these engagements and which of the men specifically were involved when that information is available, I would encourage you to purchase my book on the 1st Florida Union Cavalry. The book is available in several places and formats. All the links are below in the resources section of this blog. The second part of this blog will look at the very controversial excursion of Lt. Joseph Sanders. This will be by necessity brief and again if you want more detail, I have a much lengthier section in my book on this excursion.

The men of the 1st Florida Union Cavalry really never fought as a complete regiment in any of the nine engagements or battles they participated in. Some of the men of the 1st Florida do not appear to have been in any of these nine engagements, at least based on their individual compiled service records (CSR). There are likely a number of reasons for this:

  • First, and maybe most importantly for a cavalry regiment, many of the men were never assigned horses because horses were in short supply and were never prioritized to be sent to Ft. Barrancas.
  • Second, some of the men, based on their prior skills or their race, were assigned to duties that didn’t require leaving Barrancas. Black men who joined the 1st Florida Union Cavalry were all assigned as “undercooks” and it doesn’t appear that any of them served in any of the engagements. Others were assigned work around the Fort, maintaining the horses they did have, or in quartermaster service.
  • Third, we can’t ever be sure that these records are complete.
  • Fourth, Ft. Barrancas saw a number of Union regiments come through that were made up of Northern men. Regardless of the intentions of these Southern men, I can imagine that some of the Federal men were hesitant to trust them explicitly, especially in a combat situation.
copyright, sdmarsh 2018, 1st Florida Union Cavalry Engagements

The two major engagements that the 1st Florida Union Cavalry participated in was the Battle of Marianna and the Mobile Campaign at the end of the War. They were also a part of the troops that occupied Montgomery, AL at the end of the War. The remaining engagements were either minor or skirmishes with the Confederates that were stationed at Pollard, AL. Some of these skirmishes did involve the 1st Florida as sharpshooters and they were actively engaged in the fighting. My book includes a narrative on each of these engagements, the men who are known to have participated and the areas of the panhandle and South Alabama where these engagements occurred. At the Expedition to Pine Barren Creek in November 1864, Lt. Joseph Sanders was praised by Lt. Colonial Andrew Spurling, who was in command of the troops in the field, for his leadership in command of the forward squadron during the engagement. From this high point, Lt. Sanders was to fall to being allowed to resign for the “good of the service”. Let’s see what took him from praise to resignation.

2nd Lt. Joseph G. Sanders

Joseph G. Sanders and his family were in Dale County, Alabama in the 1860 census. In October 1861 he joined Captain Archer Griffeth’s Company of the Mitchell Guards as a Private for 12 months. His company became Company C of the 27th Regiment Georgia Infantry, which became the 31st Regiment Georgia Infantry around April 1862. He became a Captain of the 31st Regiment Georgia Infantry by election in May 1862. He resigned from his officer position in January 1864 for unspecified reasons. One of the men who served with Sanders suggested that the reason may have been Sanders’ ongoing problems with Colonel Evans, who was the senior officer for the regiment. He went home to Dale County but found that though he had already served and resigned honorably he was soon subject to the draft. It is likely this that led to Sanders taking to the woods and joining one of the number of gangs roaming the areas around South Alabama and Northwest Florida. He appears to have created a reputation while in these gangs that followed him into his service in the 1st Florida Union Cavalry.

Sanders joined the 1st Florida on 5 July 1864 as a 2nd Lieutenant and as previously mention led an advance guard of troops during the 17th and 18th of November in 1864. A few months later when an officer was needed to lead a recruiting expedition up the Yellow River into northern Santa Rosa and Walton counties, Lt. Sanders was chosen. The expedition appears to have gone off the rails almost immediately. After traveling to East Pass by boat they marched north for two days and then Sanders split them into three squads near Hewett’s Bluff in Holmes County. Each of these was commanded by a non-commissioned officer (Sergeant) and according to Sanders he did this because the men were short on rations and had “sore feet”. He told them to find and take horses and meet him at the campground on Big Creek in Dale County, AL on 14 March. Not only was Sanders from Dale County so were many of the men who were with him on this expedition (see list of known men below). A number of the men giving accounts in the investigation of Sanders upon his return to Ft. Barrancas indicated that many of them did go home for a short visit.

Only fourteen men showed up at Big Creek on the 14th, reportedly because of heavy rains. Sanders says in his report that he had 34 recruits at this point but the records certainly don’t show that many men being mustered in after his return. By this point the Confederates in the area had heard of Sanders’ and his men in the area and proceeded to attempt to cut him off. Here ensued a somewhat murky account of trying to return to Ft. Barrancas and fighting the Confederates on a number of occasions, first going south, then north, then south again. Some of his men were killed and according to Sanders his efforts at returning to the Fort were complicated by the flooded areas and the Confederates. What Sanders leaves out in his report is his attack on the town of Newton, AL. He finally returned to Ft. Barrancas on 14 June 1865.

His actions, almost from the beginning, were in direct opposition to his orders. 1) Leaving northern Santa Rosa and Walton counties and taking an extended break at home in Dale County. 2) The initial orders gave them fourteen days (order dated 20 February 1865, return 6 March 1865). His order for the men to meet him on Big Creek on the 14th was well past that date. 3) Many of his men who were assigned to the other squads managed to return to Ft. Barrancas much earlier than Sanders and the men with him, even though the area was flooded and there were Confederates out on patrol all over the area. 4) He left out much of the information on his skirmishes with the Confederates and the destruction that occurred at Newton. It is not really surprising that the Federals allowed him to resign “for the good of the service”.

According to records there were 30 men who traveled with him; 26 Privates and 4 Sergeants. Below are the men whose compiled service records indicates they were part of the expedition or they were named in one or more of the testimonies during the investigation. We are missing about 14 Privates and 2 Sergeants and have a Corporal not mentioned in the aggregate report in Sanders’ records. The joys of genealogical research in military records.

2nd Lt. Joseph G. SANDERS
Wiley F. HARRISON, Co A, Sergeant
Celestine J. WARD, Co B, Sergeant
James H. EVANS, Co D, Corporal
J. Elijah ADAMS, Co A., Private
Zachariah R. ARD, Co E., Private
Berry E. BAGWELL, Co F, Private
William W. BARNES, Co A, Private
Constantine BUTLER. Co A, Private
Joseph D. GATLIN, Co E, Private
James E. MALLORY, Co C, Private
Randall K. McDANIEL, Co F, Private
Thomas T. MURPHY, Co B, Private
John DONELSON (may have been a recruit that was killed)
Elias STAGNER (may have been a recruit that was killed)

Until Next Time

Resources:

©2020 sdmarsh

One thought on “The Controversial Excursion of 2nd Lt. Joseph Sanders of the 1st Florida Union Cavalry Volunteers

  1. Pingback: Updates and Links to My Posts on the 1st Florida Union Cavalry Volunteers | Northwest Florida History & Genealogy

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