by Wes Mayhle 105 photos
The only state capitol east of the Mississippi River that the Union forces never conquered was Tallahassee, Florida. Not that it wasn't tried. Early in March, 1865, US General Newton went up the south side of the Saint Marks River and attempted to cross at Newport. Rebuffed, he traveled northeast along the river to an area where the river disappears underground for nearly 3 miles - a Natural Bridge. In anticipation, Confederate General William Miller had assembled citizens, available troops and cadets from the nearby university (now known as Florida State University). Barely arriving in time, the Rebels formed their defensive line along the natural bridge. In a decisive battle lasting a day the Union soldiers assaulted and were handily repulsed by the defenders three times and then decided to retreat to Federal ships stationed down-river.
This was the 29th year for this small event which is held on a small piece of the original field. The bulk of the battlefield is privately owned but is up for sale. The landscape is now pine forest and swampy and beautiful scenery. Along the underground track of the river are many natural springs, each feeding its own small pond and the nearby swamps. The battlefield is out in the "boonies" and the authentic reenactors that were present enjoy the atmosphere. Original earthworks are easily visible and the 3 cannons used in the reenactment were placed where undoubtedly they had been in 1865.
Saturday night, upon hearing that a ghost campfire had been seen years ago, I set off for the woods with a reenactor hoping to find some presence to appear on my camera. For an hour we walked through the woods while discussing the Civil War and this battle. He had studied the battle in detail and shared his knowledge freely so even though we saw nothing with our eyes, the visions of the fruitless charges that bought men's death here so cheaply were vividly painted in my mind. Those men could never have known that today we hold their names and deeds in such high honor as to reenact these battles again and again.
About 150 reenactors were present for Sundays battle which followed church services. Saturday night there was a period dance. After the mock battle each day, a medical demonstration depicting an amputation was an eye-opening experience for the spectators.
Go to Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park for more information