Volume 26, No. 1 – January 2013
Volume 26, No. 1
On behalf of the Board, I want to wish all a Happy and Health New Year. Elections will take place at the January Assembly. Several offices are vacant. Please consider running. P. S. DUES ARE DUE!
Gerridine LaRovere, President
January 9, 2013 Assembly
Robert Schuldenfrei, our redoubtable web master, is also a superb speaker. His topic will be "The Trials of Lew Wallace." Our speaker believes that Wallace was a good general who was badly treated by the Army of the United States and makes the case for his position.
December 12, 2012 Assembly
Over 60 members and guests welcomed an old friend, Robert Macomber, for the tenth year in a row! Nearing the end of his whirlwind book signing tour following the publication of his tenth Peter Wake novel, Honorable Lies, Robert spun a love story, a war story and a true story, telling us it would be okay to laugh as well as cry. His tale is about a young couple who entered a politically incorrect marriage on the eve of the Civil War and who had to make a life-changing decision and then had to live and die with its consequences. In a broader sense, we all have to live with decisions made by ourselves and by other people.
Robert’s talk begins at a political cocktail party in a Tallahassee hotel hospitality suite in 1995. As background, he noted that few if any of the well-connected people at this party could have won at a trivia game about the Civil War and Florida. They might have known that Florida fought on the Confederate side, but not that it was the third state to secede from the Union, or that Tallahassee was the only Confederate state capital East of the Mississippi never captured by Union forces, or that Union forces tried and failed three times to do so. Another Florida trivia item: the Confederate general who kept the Union forces from capturing the Confederate capital of Texas was a Floridian: Edwin Kirby Smith.
But back to the cocktail party. A lawyer acquaintance accosts Robert and says, "Robert, you are an expert on the Civil War and I have a personal problem you may be able to help me with." The lawyer’s mother is dying and is trying to put together a family "history." She is having difficulty with the Civil War period. All the family can figure out is that her grandfather was in the cavalry in Florida. He then whispers, "He fought for the other side and was shot and killed off a boat in a river." Robert interjects that for many in the South even today, having a Union ancestor is something to be quiet about out in company. Robert said he laughed and asked his friend, "His name wasn’t by any chance, James Henry Thompson, was it?" The lawyer, taken aback, says, "Yes. How did you know?" Robert said "I just published an article about your great grandfather. Let us sit over there and I will tell you the story. It is probably a three-drink story!"
In 1858, in Madison County up near the Georgia border, James Henry Thompson, aged 24, fell in love with a 16-year old Seminole woman named Safira. [Another Florida trivia question: the Seminole War was the longest war ever fought by the U. S., in three stages, lasting over 20 years. In fact, a truce ended the fighting in 1858, but the war did not officially end until 1969 when Gov. Claude Kirk officially "buried the hatchet" with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Almost every able-bodied white man living in Florida had fought in the Seminole Wars and made up a tough group of fighters good at guerrilla tactics.] Facing severe public displeasures, the young couple moved to Tampa where he worked on boats and became friendly with Henry Crane, the editor of the Tampa newspaper.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, South Carolina and Mississippi quickly seceded, followed by Florida on January 10, 1861. There was obviously lots of enthusiasm for the war, but several hundred Floridians stayed loyal to the Union despite ostracism and derision. James Henry Thompson was one of them. Another irony: until a few years before this, the U. S. flag had been an enemy flag to the Seminoles and Safira was married to a man who had fought her people. Led by Henry Crane, a group of Union loyalists, including James Henry and Safira, left everything behind except what they could carry, marched to a beach on the West Coast where they flagged down a Union gunboat that took them to Key West, one of only three places held by the North. The others were Ft. Pickens near Pensacola, Jacksonville (which changed hands so many times that the local joke was that the locals kept two flags in their attics).
Key West, though occupied by the Northern Army and Navy, was filled with Confederate sympathizers, who treated the unionist refugees with derision. The Navy, for its own part, was not happy with having to transport refugees all the way to Key West, interfering with their patrol duty, so it decided to take them back to Useppa Island. Today, Useppa Island is a privately-owned, expensive and exclusive resort near Captiva Island. Then, it was virtually uninhabited since the Cuban fishermen who had used it as a hauling out place had left when the war started. The unionists had no shelters and the shell soil was virtually impossible to farm, so they lived on subsistence fishing and the supplies the Navy dropped off on an irregular schedule.
Henry Crane’s wife and daughters had remained back in Tampa, where they were the objects of ridicule because "cowardly" Henry had "run away." In addition, the Lee County Confederates disliked the unionist colony because it blocked their smuggling routes. By September 1863, the Navy arrived off Tampa to destroy Southern ships in the Hillsborough River. First it bombarded the Confederate batteries. The pilot of one gunboat was Henry Crane and he saw one shell actually go through his house and explode outside.
On October 17, 1863, 100 U. S. bluejackets under the command of James Henry Thompson, landed at Cedar Key, 60 miles north of Tampa Bay, and burned the steamer Scottish Chief as well as the sloop Kate Dale and captured their crews. Thompson accomplished this mission despite being so sick and feeble that he had to be carried on a litter. On the way back to the ships, 18 men were killed, wounded or captured when attacked by Confederate cavalry. For their bravery under fire, Thompson and his men were commended by both Capt. Alex Semmes and Admiral Bailey. The attack proved so successful that it shattered Confederate confidence in the safety of Tampa. One almost chivalric grace note of this battle was that the Confederates brought Mrs. Crane and their children out to the Union gunboat under a flag of truce. In 2009, the bones of these two ships were discovered and they are being restored.
On December 17, 1863, the Useppa men formed the "Florida Rangers." Soldiers from the 47th Pennsylvania were sent from Key West to train the Rangers in "proper" military procedures. These procedures were alien to the Rangers, who had learned guerrilla tactics from fighting the Seminoles. Nevertheless, under Col. Tilman Goode, the Rangers marched up and down the beaches in close order. Not the least of the problems was that the men from Pennsylvania and from Useppa could hardly understand each other! In any event, the Rangers left on their first mission on Christmas Eve, 1863, aboard the USS Rosalie. The mission was to "search and destroy" the Rebel supply lines supplying beef to the railhead on the Georgia border. Florida beef was essential to the Southern war effort and in many weeks 1,000 head were sent North. Imagine the Useppa men forced to march in columns through the swamps. Tragically, a southern spy named Brown had infiltrated the Rangers and on the march he slipped away to warn the Confederates the mission and the password needed to enter the Northern beachhead. At 4 A. M., Christmas Day, they attacked. The captain of the Rosalie now had a terrible decision of his own: the day was lost unless he fired his howitzer into the melee, threatening men on both sides. He gave the order and most of his men escaped to his ship. However, the Confederates captured all the supplies landed on the beach awaiting the return of the Useppa men. The Useppa men heard the shooting and returned to the beach to find it deserted except for bodies. They had to wait two days without food or water until the Rosalie returned for them.
Two very good men led the Key West station, both of whom were in bad odor in Washington and had been rusticated to Key West. Admiral Theodorus Bailey (4/12/1805-2/14/1877) (left) had really captured New Orleans and thereby incurred the jealousy of Admiral David Farragut, who got him transferred to command the East Gulf Blockading Squadron stationed out of Key West where. until felled by Yellow Fever in July 1864, he captured or sank over 150 blockade runners. Major General Daniel Phinneas Woodberry (12/16/1815-8/15/1864) (right) was an up-and-coming Army Engineer until assigned by Gen. Burnside to bring pontoons from the Washington, D. C., area to be used to cross the Rappahannock River. Burnside made many mistakes in this battle, but his biggest one was to ignore the factor of weather, which, in November and December turned nasty. Burnside was so furious with Woodberry’s alleged incompetence that he had him arrested, which helped further delay things. When finally freed, Woodberry personally led his troops across the river under fire, conducting the first river crossing under fire in American military history. When some of his men quailed under fire, Woodberry drew his pistol and said, "If the Rebs don’t get you, I will!" For his bravery he was promoted and then sent to Key West!
In any event, in January 1864, Bailey and Woodberry worked out a plan to invade Western Florida, primarily to capture the cattle that had been keeping the Confederate Army in Georgia alive and feed the Union soldiers and sailors instead! For this, they assigned the 110th New York Infantry, the 2nd U. S. Colored Infantry (freed slaves from Virginia), the 99th Colored Infantry (freed men and former slaves from New Orleans, originally organized as the Corps d’Afrique Engineers) and the Florida Rangers (now the 2nd U.S. Florida Cavalry, even though they were never issued horses!) Henry Crane led the Useppa men.
There was an abandoned wooden fort on the Caloosahatchee River that had been built to defend Fort Myers but had been virtually abandoned by the Confederate forces. James Henry Thompson, now a Sergeant, captured the fort and the three rebel prisoners were sent to Key West. The Union leaders had learned from the earlier "search and destroy" raids against the Florida cattle men had not won their "hearts and minds." The goal now was not to kill the cattle but to capture them to feed the Union forces and their families. Landing at Punta Rasa, the Union soldiers marched from Fort Myers to Bartow, then to Tampa and back to Fort Myers in the middle of a simmering Florida summer, long before mosquito control was even thought of. Why could Woodberry even think of sending his troops through the swamps (no roads in those days) in July? The blacks and the Useppa men were not as severely affected by the dreaded Yellow Fever as were the pasty-faced Northern troops. Yellow Jack was a scourge all right – hundreds of Union soldiers, including General Woodberry, died of it in the summer of 1864. It riddled the U. S. Navy too: almost half of the 34 vessels making up the East Gulf Blockading Squadron were disabled for lack of crews! Rob then noted that one of his ancestors was a U. S. Navy surgeon who treated the sick at Key West as best he could.
On August 29, 1864, James Henry Thompson was alerted by a lookout that a man was standing on the shore across the river waving a cloth. John Henry took a boat manned by men from the 99th Colored Infantry across the river. Standard Operating Procedure in those days was to trust no one. If a man wanted to talk to you, have him swim out to your boat. John Henry Thompson, however, thought he recognized the man as a slave he knew, so he had the boat rowed ashore into what turned out to be an ambush. Almost every man on the little boat was shot and John Henry Thompson received a mortal wound.
Back to Tallahassee in 1995: Tears rolled down the lawyer’s face. Robert told him, "Don’t ever whisper about John Henry Thompson. He was a man of honor on many levels: (1) he stayed loyal to his flag, (2) he became a refugee as a result, (3) he joined the U. S. Army and fought bravely, and (4) he died trying to save a slave.
Robert now turned our attention to Safira, who was now a widow with a 4-year old daughter. Things were tough in those days for widows, but for her and her child they were even tougher: Not only was she a Seminole but had a mixed-blood child. Neither the whites nor the Indians wanted anything to do with her. So she continued to live on Useppa Island until, after the war ended, she moved to Estero Island (now Fort Myers Beach), where she met and married George Underhill and had a baby, George, Jr. Then George, Sr. died! Safira now moves to Sanibel Island where she meets and marries a beached English naval officer. However, Captain Ellis was a drunk who would go out in a boat with a jug of rum and shout orders to his nonexistent crew. Eventually, Captain Ellis was committed and Safira lived on what part of the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. She lived into the 20th Century, known as the "Medicine Woman of Sanibel Island" for her healing potions. Her daughter married and moved to Arcadia on the Peace River where several generations lived in an oak grove on the Peace River.
At the end of his tale, the lawyer begged Robert to tell it again to his mother. She was in her mid-70s, lived in a trailer in the same oak grove, and was dying. Robert complied with this request and over several "Southern Iced Teas" (consisting of a pound of sugar and a mystery liquid!) told her the story you have just heard.
About this time Robert was about to unveil an exhibit at Useppa Island about the roles played in the Civil War by John Henry Thompson, Henry Crane and the Florida Rangers and invited her to attend. The lawyer’s mother had been a waitress all her life, never went to college but sent both her sons to college and on to successful careers. Robert then asked the audience what her first words were. A lady quickly said, "I don’t have anything to wear." Robert assured her that her sons would take care of that. The lawyer’s mother refused to spend money on a new dress she would never wear again. Instead, she went to a consignment shop and picked out a dress, shoes, etc. Robert and she took the boat to Useppa Island, where she was treated like a queen. Some of the people there had known Safira’s daughter as an old lady! For over one and one-half hours, they held court around her chair as she described what it was like to grow up in Florida in the 20's and 30's. She was put up in a very nice room in the Collier Inn and spent the whole weekend there.
Four months later, the lawyer called Robert to tell him that his mother had just died. In her last words, she asked that Robert do her eulogy, saying that the "best time of her life was that weekend Robert had arranged for her." Tearing up, Robert had to tell him that couldn’t make it because of a schedule conflict. Robert finished up by noting that "History can come up and touch you" and that "we all should help with our family histories."
One question from the floor could not be answered: Did John Henry Thompson and Safira get married? Robert noted that at the time it was against the law for a white to marry a Negro, but he was not aware of any law prohibiting marriage between a white and an Indian. At that time few if any Seminoles were Christians. There wasn’t even a church in the tribal area until the 1920's. Perhaps they were married by a notary public, who could perform marriage ceremonies in those days.
The audience gave Robert his usual standing ovation for another well-told tale.
Robert Schuldenfrei has a subscription to The New Gardens Band that performs in the Eissey Theatre of Palm Beach State College On Saturday, February 2nd it will share the stage with the Coates Civil War Brass Band. Michael O’Connor, Associate Professor of Music at Palm Beach Atlantic University provided the following background: "Prior to and during the American Civil War brass band music flourished in the United States. Indeed, so pervasive and iconic were brass bands during this period that they may rightly be considered the defining musical sound of America in the 19th century. This is the music that sent soldiers off to war in 1861, and stirred, inspired, consoled, and uplifted them and their loved ones in towns and cities across America throughout the war’s duration, and beyond. The Coates Band, which honors the musicians of the 47th PA Vol. Infantry Regt. Band, specializes in historically informed performance of mid-19th century brass music. The music is performed on original brass instruments and mouthpieces by virtuoso musicians from the eastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York region."
The program will feature The New Gardens Band, the local community band, performing music of the Civil War era and then contrasting the authentic sounds of the 19th century by the Coates Band returning to Florida after 150 years. It will include narration with historical content and special video presentations, with both the vintage sound and modern band sound making up the program of Civil War era music. If anyone knows of reenactors who would like to serve as sentries during the performance, or bring Civil War artifacts, please contact Owen Seward, the New Gardens Band’s conductor ( 561-688-2297 or OSeward@BellSouth.net). The program will begin at 8:00 PM, in the Eissey Campus Theatre, in Palm Beach Gardens. Tickets are $20.00 and can be ordered through the Eissey Campus Theatre Box Office (561-207-5900). [Editor’s note: Our January 2013 e-mail newsletter will have direct links to videos of the Coates Civil War Brass Band. I listened to them with pleasure. The Florida connection of the 47th PA Vol. Infantry Regiment is outlined in Robert Macomber’s talk above and the partial regimental history reprinted below.]
The Coates Band will perform by itself at 7:30 PM, Friday, February 1, 2013, in the Helen K. Persson Recital Hall of Palm Beach Atlantic University. Admission is free and no tickets required.
Operations in Florida of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment [taken from the Regimental history]: "On the 22d of January, 1862, the regiment was ordered to Key West, Florida. . . .While [there], it was drilled from five to eight hours each day, a part of the drill being in heavy artillery, at Fort Taylor. It suffered much from fevers incident to the climate, and . . . members died. . . . [After tours at Hilton Head and Beaufort, South Carolina, it was] sent to . . . Florida, [to] remove the obstructions in the St. John's River. The force . . . consisted of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania, Seventh Connecticut, First Connecticut Battery, and one company of the First Massachusetts Cavalry, all under the command of General Brannan. . . . [The] campaign [began on October 1, 1862, with an attack] against St. John's Bluff, a strongly fortified point, five miles from the mouth of the St. John's River. Moving on the 2d through swamps and pine woods, by a circuit of twenty-five miles, the Forty-seventh in advance, constantly skirmishing with, and driving the enemy as they went, the command bivouacked at night, in rear of the fort, in sight of the rebel works. The gunboats were continually exchanging shots with the fort during the night. In the morning, the brigade was formed, and moved to the assault, but found that the rebels . . . had evacuated under cover of darkness, leaving eleven pieces of artillery, in excellent order, and an immense quantity of ammunition. Companies E and K . . . were sent in pursuit of the retreating foe, and, after a sharp skirmish, took possession of Jacksonville, Florida. Thence the two companies proceeded . . . by steamer Darlington, two hundred miles up the river, where the rebel steamer Governor Milton was captured, and safely conveyed within the Union lines. The artillery ammunition and materials captured at St. John's Bluff, . . . were taken to Hilton Head. . . . [The] object of the expedition [had] been accomplished, with a loss to the Forty-seventh of only two wounded.
Last changed: 01/03/13