Vol. 22 No. 1- January 2009
Volume 22, No. 1
Upcoming Program: Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Ted Allen has been impersonating Abraham Lincoln since 1974. He has appeared as Lincoln at countless meetings throughout the nation, including Civil War reenactments, political rallies, churches, civil groups, schools (from elementary to postgraduate), retirement organizations and Civil War Roundtables such as ours. He has also put on a one-man stage show. We are fortunate on the eve of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth to have Mr. Allen don Lincoln’s frock coat and top hat and enthrall us as he has done so many others.
Ed Lewis is at it again!
One of our esteemed members, Ede Lewis, will be giving two free lectures at the Delray Beach Public Library, of interest to our members. On Wednesday, January 28, 2009, he will talk on "The Causes of the Civil War." On Wednesday, March 16, 2009, he will talk on "Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief." Each talk will start at 6:30 P. M. and is scheduled to end at 8:00 P. M. The library is at 100 West Atlantic Avenue. For directions, call (561) 266-0194.
Program: Wednesday, November 12, 2009
Several members came dressed to the "nines" in Civil War garb. Especially notable was a return visit from "Widow Clark," the oldest living Confederate widow!
Our most loyal nationally known author, Robert Macomber, began by announcing that he has won the prestigious National Literary Award from the American Library Association for his last book, "A Different Kind of Honor." He is an international traveler and lecturer, but this last trip may have been the most exciting, because he was arrested in Singapore for weapons smuggling! He was such a smooth talker that he talked his way out of jail!
Macomber’s topic covered Florida’s unknown but significant role before, during and at the end of the Civil War. Florida was the third state to secede. In 1860, its population was about 144,000, of whom 38,000 were white males, 38,000 white females and 78,000 were slaves. Of 30,000 white men 18 or older, 16,000 served on the Confederate side, the highest participation rate in the South. One out of three men serving were killed, wounded or captured. Florida men served everywhere. They suffered the highest casualty rate of any unit at the Battle of Gettysburg, having served as a skirmish line in front of Pickett’s famous charge. The Florida brigade started with 900 men and ceased to exist as an operating unit. After the war ended, Florida veterans walked home; Union soldiers rode the trains.
Macomber contends that Florida was not defeated: Confederates won almost every battle. Tallahassee, Florida’s capital was attacked three times but along with Gainesville was never captured during the war. Only Fort Myers, Pensacola, Jacksonville and Key West were formally occupied. Col. J. J. Dickinson was easily one of the most successful Southern warrior. Nicknamed the "Grey Ghost," he led an ad hoc group of cavalry and infantry all over the state, repulsing Northern attacks. Until the very end, Florida supplied beef and provisions to Joe Jackson’s army in Georgia.
When, exactly, did the war end? The answer depends upon where you are: in April 1865, Lee surrendered. Then Lincoln was assassinated and Southerners feared Northern blood lust. Fighting involving Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers and soldiers of fortune continued in Florida in June and July 1865. Southern soldiers had only their uniforms and many did not reach Florida until August 1865. They were told to take off their buttons; if you were captured and refused to do so, the buttons would be taken off with a knife and blood would be sure to be spilled. Remember, many of the Union soldiers were black former slaves. Then there is the CSN "Stonewall," a true ironclad, which had been humiliating the Union navy in the Mediterranean. After Lee’s surrender, news reaches the North that it is sailing for America, raising Northern fears. Such fears proved groundless: the "Stonewall" was blockaded in Havana harbor and is finally advised to surrender by the Cuban government lest the US declare war on Cuba!
Faced with defeat, Davis’ cabinet debates three options: Plan A: fight on in the mountains (a pipe dream); Plan B: escape to Kirby Smith in Texas and fight on; or Plan C: escape to Cuba, Mexico or Europe with the Confederate gold (and then what, raise a ironclad navy and invade? – lots of luck.). The cabinet members were convinced they would be hung (with or without trial) as traitors, so escape was attractive, even if there was scant chance of carrying on the war.
Davis’ cabinet was filled with interesting personalities. One of Macomber’s favorites was Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy. Mallory performed amazing feats. His raiders played havoc with Northern shipping for almost three years, making it a real world war. The memoirs of the Confederate raiders would be required reading in the Imperial German navy schools who modeled their raiders in World War I after the Confederate template. Mallory convinced Davis to try Plan B. The only viable route was down through Florida to Cuba then French Mexico then Texas.
By early May, Davis has been captured in Georgia. Mallory is awaiting capture at his cousin’s plantation outside Gainesville. Attorney General George Davis reaches Key West, where he wanders the streets, penniless, for a week before finally being arrested. Two cabinet members escape: In June, John Breckinridge, Secretary of War, reaches Biscayne Bay with some Southern troops and runs into a nest of former Confederate who had turned to piracy. Eventually Breckinridge reaches Havana, is arrested in Matanzas as a "vagrant," is recognized by a friend and released. Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, flees to Sarasota Bay, boards an 18-foot boat named "The Blonde. In Charlotte harbor, the boat is stopped by a Union patrol boat looking for the escapees. The three men with Benjamin have authentic "parole" papers, but Benjamin, dressed in dirty clothing, claims he lost his papers. The luckless Union petty officer believes him and lets him go. Benjamin gets to Cuba and then to Europe where both he and Breckinridge flourish.
The story of Abraham C. Myers is interesting: Born in Georgetown, South Carolina, he graduated from West Point in 1833, and fought in the Seminole Wars and the Mexican War. Fort Myers, Florida, then literally a fort, was named in his honor by his father-in-law, General David Emanuel Twiggs. Myers, the great-grandson of the first hazzan of Charleston’s Beth Elohim, was appointed quartermaster general of the Confederacy in March 1861. He turned the keys to the armory over to the newly formed Confederate army, resigned his commission and joined the Confederate army. He was given a truly tough job: Commissioner General of railroads and did as good a job as possible under impossible conditions. His wife cost him his career: while in Richmond, his wife started a rumor that President Davis’ wife, a part Cherokee, had black blood! Myers was promptly stripped of his title and shipped off to Georgia!
Some Southern blockade runners switched sides and supplied cattle to the occupying army for three years after formal fighting stopped. Not all stories ended so neatly: Governor Milton was so fervent a Confederate that he stripped his own state to send Florida recruits fight in Virginia and the Mid South. Distraught, Milton shot himself in May 1865. The Union installed Gov. Marvin, a Union judge in Key West, as Governor during the Reconstruction period. In 1868, the new constitution was adopted and Florida rejoined the Union. Reconstruction was milder in Florida than further North. Why? Many Union officers retired to Key West, Tampa, etc., reducing animosity. Also, Florida was really still a frontier where people had to live and work together to survive.
How many Floridians fought for the North? Many Seminole Indians, who fought the Federal troops to a standstill until 1858 (shades of Vietnam!), went with the North to continue fighting their oppressors. Many Floridians who remained loyal to the Union abandoned their homes and walked to the Gulf Coast where they flagged down Union gunboats and were taken to Key West and enlisted. Pro Union citizens formed two regiments (1400 men), the 1st and 2nd USA Florida cavalry. From December 1863 on they occupied Usappa Island (the site of his hero’s first home in Point of Honor).
Thanks to many contributors, the holiday feast was, as usual, bounteous!
Last changed: 06/23/11