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Florida in the Civil War

Florida Civil War
Florida Civil War Monument.jpg
Florida Civil War Monument

"Perry’s Brigade"
Those Forgotten Floridians of Gettysburg


History has not been kind to the legacy of Florida’s Confederate soldiers. Too often they appear as little more than a footnote in accounts of the American Civil War. Nevertheless, Florida troops were present at Gettysburg and they fought bravely alongside their comrades from Alabama and Georgia on July 2 and 3, 1863.

Florida was represented at Gettysburg by a brigade of three infantry regiments in Major General R. H. Anderson’s Division of A. P. Hill’s III Army Corps. By the summer of 1863, these soldiers were seasoned veterans of the Army of Northern Virginia. The 2nd Florida Infantry had experienced heavy combat in several battles during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 (aka Peninsular Campaign). The regiment fought at Yorktown, followed by a delaying action at Williamsburg where the regiment's first colonel was killed. At a swampy Virginia crossroads called Seven Pines, the 2nd, then attached to Brigadier General Samuel Garland's brigade, fought a brutal contest through mud, heavy vegetation and waist deep water. There, the 2nd Florida gained everlasting glory when it charged and captured a battery of Federal artillery while sustaining over 50% casualties. After the Seven Days Battles, the battered 2nd was joined by the 5th and 8th Florida Infantry regiments. The Floridians bravely fought at Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and continually proved themselves to be tough soldiers full of courage and fight. Following the battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland, in September 1862, the three regiments were consolidated into a single Florida brigade under Brigadier General Edward Aylesworth Perry of Pensacola.

Colonel David Lang
Colonel David Lang.jpg
Valentine Museum, Richmond, VA

General Perry was stricken with typhoid fever at the time of the Gettysburg Campaign. Brigade command devolved to Colonel David Lang of the 8th Florida Regiment. Colonel Lang was known for his bravery and had displayed valor at the Battle of Fredericksburg. On December 11, 1862, Lang and three companies of the 8th were attached to Brigadier General William Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade. Barksdale was charged with occupying the town and delaying the Federal army’s crossing of the Rappahannock River. Meanwhile, the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia dug in on the high ground outside of town. Lang and his troops soon found themselves sniping at Federal engineers constructing pontoon bridges across the river to Fredericksburg’s City Dock. Despite severe Union artillery fire from the opposite bank, Lang’s soldiers continued to blaze away at the bridge builders and repeatedly drove them from their work. Union fire increased, and after a time a shell struck a nearby chimney and a large chunk of masonry gravely wounded Colonel Lang in the head. Still, Lang's men held their ground stubbornly – perhaps too stubbornly. When the order to fall back arrived, the Federals were upon them and most of the Florida detachment became prisoners of war.

Perry’s Brigade marched towards Gettysburg on July 1, the first day of the battle, and was not engaged. Anderson’s Division was assigned a position along Seminary Ridge. Cadmus Wilcox’s Alabama Brigade was on the Floridians’ right and Rans Wright’s Georgia Brigade occupied the ground on its left. Early the next morning, Colonel Lang placed his men behind a stone wall on the east edge of the woods on Abraham Spangler’s farm (the remnants of this wall can be seen today). About 1:00 P.M. on July 2, Union General Daniel E. Sickles advanced a small reconnaissance force consisting of the 3rd Maine and an elite unit, the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters. These troops crossed the Emmitsburg Road and probed the woods to Perry's Brigade's right. There, they encountered Wilcox’s Brigade's 11th Alabama and were repulsed after a rather brisk fight. Lang was instructed to aid Wilcox if he requested support. Although this proved unnecessary, stray shots from the skirmish wounded a few men in Perry's Brigade.

A few hours later, a cannonade erupted along the line south of the Floridians’ position. Confederate cannon dueled with Federal artillery occupying the high ground in the Peach Orchard. Colonel Lang received orders that an attack would be made en echelon from right to left all along the Confederate line. The Floridians were to advance when Wilcox’s Brigade, on their right, was underway. After the battle, Lang wrote to the recuperating General Perry describing his brigade’s part in the action:

"About 4:30 p.m., Longstreet having advanced to Wilcox, he swung his right forward and advanced. As soon as his left reached my right, I conformed to the movement, and advanced at the double-quick upon the strongly fortified position in front, exposed to artillery and musketry fire from the start. Our men suffered terribly, but advanced nobly to the charge. About half way across the field the enemy had a line of batteries strongly supported by infantry. We swept over these, without once halting, capturing most of the guns and putting the infantry to rout with great loss. Indeed, I do not remember having seen anywhere before, the dead lying thicker than where the Yankee infantry attempted to make a stand in our front."

At the Emmitsburg Road, Perry's Brigade engaged the 1st Massachusetts, who was acting as skirmishers for Carr’s Brigade, the rightmost unit of Union General A. A. Humphrey’s Division. Behind them, along the main line, Lang’s men fought and outflanked the 26th Pennsylvania and 11th Massachusetts, repulsing them and inflicting terrible losses. The Florida Brigade crashed through the field beyond the Emmitsburg Road and down a gentle slope to the bottom of a ravine through which the upper branch of Plum Run flowed. Here Lang paused his battle-worn men and attempted to re-form the brigade’s line. Shells and grapes from Federal cannon ceaselessly pounded their ranks. Ahead, Cemetery Ridge loomed up and directly in front. It was seemingly theirs for the taking, but Lang and his boys still had one more force to contend with, the 19th Maine Infantry regiment.

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The charge of Perry and Wilcox on July 2 at Gettysburg

The charge of Perry and Wilcox on July 2 at Gettysburg.
(National Park Service)

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(Right) Photograph of 1st Lt. George D. Raysor, Co. G, 5th Florida Infantry. Courtesy Gettysburg NMP.

The 19th Maine had been directly placed in position on Cemetery Ridge by none other than Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the Federal II Corps. Colonel Francis Heath had his men lie down flat on the ground to avoid exposing them needlessly to Confederate artillery fire. When the Floridians advanced across the Emmitsburg Road they repulsed a mob of fleeing soldiers from Humphrey’s Division, which was directly in front of them. These panicked-stricken soldiers ran over top of Colonel Heath’s regiment and attempted to rally in its rear. In the meantime, Heath waited until the Floridian’s line of battle was well within effective musket range and then he ordered his 400 Mainers to stand and fire. He gave specific orders for his men to shoot the color bearer of one of the Florida regiments who was advancing in front of his brigade and seemed to be guiding it. The color bearer was so close that Colonel Heath could plainly distinguish the young man’s features; years later Heath recalled the determined look in the color bearer's eyes. His men fired and the colors went down. The Floridians halted and the two lines of battle exchanged volleys at a range of less than fifty yards. By this time, the Confederate ranks were thin. The brigade had advanced almost a mile from its starting position in Spangler’s Woods. It has advanced under punishing artillery fire while pushing back several lines of blue-clad infantry. Lang's regiments had sustained heavy losses, with many company commanders killed or seriously wounded, and the entire color guard of its center regiment, the 8th Florida, casualties.

A fresh battery of Federal artillery unlimbered on Cemetery Ridge, sending shotgun-like blasts of canister fire into the Florida Brigade. It was then that Colonel Lang was notified that a Federal force had pushed back the Confederate brigade on his right and was threatening to cut off his line of escape. Fearing his force was about to be surrounded, Lang ordered his three regiments to retreat to the Emmitsburg Road. Finding no safe place to re-form there, the brigade retired to its original position. In the hasty retreat the colors of the 8th Florida were left on the field and picked up by Sgt. Thomas Horan of the 72nd New York, who later would receive the Medal of Honor for the capture. This flag survives and is preserved at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.

The next day General Lee planned to attack again. This time, he would head straight for the Union center ("The Angle"), which he felt might be weak because the Federals had moved troops to re-enforce the flanks of their line. Major General George E. Pickett's all-Virginia division spearheaded the main assault. Attached to Wilcox’s Brigade, Lang's command was to advance as supports to Pickett's column. At about 1:00 P.M., the great cannonade intended to soften up the Federal center began. The Floridians were forced to lay prostrate for hours under the hot summer sun, surrounded by booming artillery pieces, while tons of lead flew through the air only inches above their heads. At last, the artillery fire slackened and the Virginians advanced, over Lang’s prostrate men, disappearing into the noise, smoke and fight on Cemetery Ridge.

About 20 minutes after Pickett advanced, the order arrived for Wilcox’s command to advance. The Floridians went over the wall and once again moved eastward at quick step. From the start, the brigade was subjected to long range artillery fire from both Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge. The fire turned to canister and musketry as the Confederates crossed the Emmitsburg Road and approached the main Union battle line. A dense pall of smoke clung to the ridge, and the brigade drifted away from its intended direction. Instead of following Pickett’s men, the supporting column marched to its right, just slightly south of the place the Floridians had fought the previous day.

Archibald Graham Morrison.jpg

(Left) Picture of Archibald Graham Morrison, Co. D, 2nd Florida Infantry. Courtesy Gettysburg NMP.
In the confusion along the base of the ridge the 16th Vermont Regiment, having just flanked one of Pickett’s brigades and sent it reeling with great loss, turned about-face and crashed headlong into the left flank of the 2nd Florida. This was simply too much for the regiment to withstand. The 2nd Florida’s color bearer was wounded and gave his banner to another soldier to carry, but the new bearer advanced only a few more yards before he surrendered. The brigade was forced to retreat once again, and most of the 2nd Florida ended up as prisoners. The regiment's battle flag, a beautiful silk banner with a unique sunburst design sewn upon it, was turned in to Federal army headquarters for record of its capture. It was supposedly exhibited for a time in Chicago and then sent back to Philadelphia. After 1863 the flag mysteriously vanished from all records and has never been located.

After Lee’s army had begun the withdrawal from Gettysburg and was in retreat towards the Potomac River, Colonel Lang tallied his losses and recorded that 455 out of the 700 men of Perry’s Brigade were killed, wounded or missing. This represents the highest casualty rate (65%) sustained by any brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. The 26th North Carolina Infantry, however, suffered 80% casualties which is the highest casualty rate of any regiment (North or South) at Gettysburg. Perry’s "intrepid little band of Floridians" never fully recovered from the harsh handling it received in Pennsylvania. The brigade received additional losses at Bristoe Station in October 1863. General Perry was severely wounded at the Wilderness during the Overland Campaign of 1864 and sent to the Confederate Invalid Corps in Alabama. The brigade was consolidated with other troops from Florida and the independent unit that had been Perry’s Brigade ceased to exist. Most of the men of the 5th and 8th Florida were captured at Sailor's Creek (aka Saylor's Creek) the following year, and Florida was represented by a mere fraction of its original fighting force at the surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Among those Floridians captured at Gettysburg was Lewis Powell of Company I, 2nd Florida Infantry. Powell was wounded in the hand and exchanged later in the war. He joined the famous 53rd Virginia Cavalry, Mosby’s Partisan Rangers, and served for a time in the Shenandoah Valley. He then left the army and moved to Baltimore, Maryland. There he assumed the name Lewis Paine and took his place in history with the likes of Mary Surratt and John Wilkes Booth as a member of the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. On the night of April 14, 1865, Paine viciously attacked U.S. Secretary of State William Seward. Paine had rushed into Seward's home and stabbed the secretary repeatedly as he lay sick in his bed. Seward survived though the attack left him terribly scarred. Paine tried to escape but was caught, tried for his part in the conspiracy and hanged on July 7, 1865. After his execution, no relatives arrived to claim his body. In 1992, his skull surfaced at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and was released to a descendant in 1994. It was buried next to the grave of his mother in Live Oak, Florida.

Two brothers, Francis and C. Seton Fleming, were members of the 2nd Florida Infantry. So many officers in the 2nd became casualties at Gettysburg that by the end of the battle Seton, a captain, commanded the regiment. Seton was also one of the bravest and most popular members of the regiment. He was killed the following year at Cold Harbor while attempting to carry out a suicidal order to counter-charge. After the war, Francis served as Governor of Florida (as did Brigadier General E. A. Perry, who returned to lead his brigade after Gettysburg) and wrote a memoir about Seton recounting their service in the 2nd. After Appomattox, Colonel Lang became a civil engineer and worked closely with Governors Perry and Fleming in the 1880s. Lang and two other officers from Perry’s Brigade returned to Gettysburg in the 1890s and staked out the positions where the Floridians had fought. They marveled over the fact that any of them had survived after advancing so far against such heavy artillery and musket fire. Soon after, several tablets representing Perry’s Brigade’s participation in the battle were erected on the battlefield by the United States War Department. See also Florida Civil War History.

The Florida State Monument

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On July 3, 1963, Florida Congressman Sam Gibbons dedicated the Florida Monument on West Confederate Avenue. The monument features a simple design of three gray granite monoliths, emblazoned with the state seal, brief narrative, and three stars. Each star represents one of the Florida regiments of Perry's Brigade that fought at Gettysburg. The monument is located near the site where Perry's Brigade arranged their battle lines prior to the charges of July 2 and 3, 1863.

Credits: Jim Studnicki; Gettysburg National Military Park; National Park Service.

(Related reading below.)

Recommended Reading: A Small but Spartan Band: The Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia (2010). Reader's Review: For those with an interest in Floridians who fought in the Civil War you understand the difficulties in finding good material. For the most part the contributions to the fighting side of the war were limited and source material is difficult to find. This is not to say that Floridians did not do their part for the Confederate effort however. Zack Waters and James Edmonds have spent years researching to try and put an end to the belief that Floridians (or Flowers as they were often called due to Florida being the "Land of Flowers") were cowards in battle as has been put forth in the past. For those Floridians who fought in the Army of Northern Virginia they have finally received their due credit. Continued below…
Traditionally the Florida Brigade has consisted of the 2nd, 5th, and 8th Infantry Regiments and was led by Edward A. Perry (thus Perry's Brigade). Three other regiments (9th, 10th, and 11th) were added later in the war. As the war progressed the brigade was at times led by Col. David Lang and later, on a permanent basis, by Brigadier General Joseph Finegan. The very end of the war saw T.W. Brevard promoted to Brigadier General. Brevard was commanding at the surrender at Appomattox. Perry's Brigade was at many of the major battles of the war though they did not participate in all of them. Floridians suffered major losses at battles such as Seven Pines, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg (they took part in Pickett's Charge), The Wilderness, and Cold Harbor. In addition to battlefield casualties the brigade had major issues with sickness and desertion which became more problematic as the war progressed. Sickness during the siege at Petersburg became rampant as poor rations, poor living conditions (including filth and vermin), and bad weather took their toll. The winter of 1864 prompted Dr. Thomas Palmer to ask that the Florida troops be sent home as they were unaccustomed to such conditions. His request was of course denied.
Desertion, or French leave as Waters and Edmonds call it, became a problem for the Confederacy as a whole but a major issue for the Florida brigade. While the above mentioned rations and living conditions played a major part in why men left there were other reasons as well. While a general sense of hopelessness was beginning to take over Waters and Edmonds argue that the home front played a larger part in desertions. While morale was low on the field it was even lower at home. Letters from home described the difficulties those left behind were suffering. Many men were torn between their duty as soldiers and their duty as husbands and fathers. Often being a family man prevailed. It is also argued that a lack of strong command help push men to leave. In the Florida brigade under Finegan many officer positions went unfilled due to both lack of qualified men and also Finegan's failings. Those higher up also must share blame. By not being able to provide food, clothing, and pay to the soldiers the Confederate government must be held accountable.
Waters and Edmonds have shown that the men from Florida who fought in the Civil War were neither cowards nor were they the major leaders. These were average men fighting for what they believed in. All they asked in return was to be treated fairly by their government. Unfortunately issues beyond their control did not allow this to happen. While many deserted the large majority remained and ultimately surrendered their weapons at Appomattox, effectively signalling the end of the war. Waters and Edmonds have written a much needed work and they are to be commended for the effort. The lack of and difficulty in finding Florida material makes this book an achievement to be respected. The notes section runs over 30 pages and contains much valuable information. The bibliography will no doubt be relied upon by generations of future researchers. There are some areas I feel improvements could be made however. As I have seen other reviewers say more maps could be added. This is a consistent gripe with almost every book however. Cartographers could make a living just off of Civil War books with the way we want maps. While overall the writing is good I found myself confused regarding the Siege of Petersburg and what transpired. I don't know much about this though so it could just be my lack of knowledge of the subject. Col. David Lang played a vital role in Perry's Brigade and I would have like to have had more information on him and also on how and why T. W. Brevard was appointed Brigadier General over him. A Small But Spartan Band has earned it's place amongst the important works on Florida during the Civil War. I do not believe this to be the final or ultimately most authoritative work we will see however. That being said based upon what I have seen this is the leader and future authors will rely on the research Waters and Edmonds have done. Recommended!

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Recommended Reading: Florida in the Civil War (FL) (Civil War History). Description: Less than two decades after joining the Union, Florida became the third state to secede and join the newly formed Confederate States of America in 1861. After the firing on Fort Sumter, the Florida peninsula became a battleground for both sides, a haven for deserters and Unionists, as well as a crucial source of supplies like salt and cattle. Union naval forces strove to strangle the state is wartime economy by seizing blockade-runners while Federal soldiers, who held much of northeastern Florida, played havoc on the civilian population. Under such pressures, Floridians fought their own civil war against the blue-clad invaders and against Union sympathizers and Confederate renegades. Continued below...

 Although the smallest in terms of population, Florida sent over 15,000 men to the Confederate army, and Florida regiments served in both the eastern and western theaters of war. They gave valiant service in battles from Shiloh to Chickamauga and from Antietam to Gettysburg. Such fighting decimated the ranks of Florida units and caused anguish for those left behind at home. These home front Floridians: women, slaves, Seminoles, and Hispanics, shouldered the heavy burdens of keeping families together and supplied with food. Their story of silent heroism and contributions to the rebel war effort are too often overlooked. And while the names of such Florida figures as John Milton, Pleasants W. White, Jacob Summerlin, or J.J. Dickison seldom appear in larger histories of the war, it was because of their efforts that Tallahassee was the only state capital east of the Mississippi River to escape Union occupation during the course of the war.
Recommended Reading: Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide. Description: Discovering the Civil War in Florida includes readings and a travel guide. The Civil War in Florida may not have been the scene for the decisive battles everyone remembers, but Florida played a crucial role. While Confederates fought to preserve their sovereignty and way of life, Union troops descended on Florida with a three-part mission to cripple the Confederacy: to destroy seashore salt works, to prevent the transfer of supplies and raw materials into and out of the state, and to seize slaves and cattle. Continued below.

Union soldiers skirmished with the famous, or infamous, Confederate Cavalry Captain John J. Dickison, who held his ground in Florida using guerrilla tactics. Mayor C. Bravo hoisted a white flag at Fort Marion and then personally met Commander C. R. Rogers at the dock to surrender St. Augustine to the Union in 1862. Discovering the Civil War in Florida chronicles Civil War activity in thirteen Florida towns, exploring both land and sea maneuvers. Maps showing the major skirmishes in each geographical area, as well as railroads that existed at the time, highlight the text. Sprinkled throughout are photos from the state archives and woodcut illustrations from books written during or soon after the war. For each town, the author has included excerpts from official government reports by officers on both sides of the battle lines as well as excerpts from other sources, including first-hand reports of the death and destruction soldiers brought to Florida’s sparsely populated towns. You can visit Civil War sites in Florida today. Others are places where only battlefield sites and memorials remain. Read a short history of each site and find out about amenities, directions, hours, and admission fees.

Recommended Reading: Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands: Civil War on Florida's Gulf Coast, 1861-1865. Description: "[Buker] argues that the presence of Union sailors and their extensive contacts ashore did serious damage to home-front morale and retarded Florida's value as a component of the rebel war machine. Since the state's long coastlines made it a ready target for a naval cordon, its commercial life suffered beginning in 1861 and deteriorated even further as the war progressed despite the efforts of blockade runners. Continued below.
Florida Unionists, antiwar natives, and runaway slaves flocked to these Federal warships to seek protection and quickly became a source of manpower for their crews as well as for land forces."--Journal of Southern History. "The proliferation of publications concerning the American Civil War occasionally produces one that really contributes to our understanding of that conflict. George E. Buker's Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands is such a book."--Journal of American History
Recommended Reading: Florida's Civil War: Explorations into Conflict, Interpretations and Memory (Florida Historical Society Press) (March 15, 2008). Description: The Florida Historical Society Press releases its initial volume in this newly created Gold Seal series. This is the first of what will eventually be a multi-volume series of specialized books that deal with narrowly focused issues in Florida history. Given the emotional and ongoing interest in the American Civil War, it is appropriate that this inaugural issue focuses on that seminal event. Just sixteen years after its admission to the Union as a state, Florida, under the control of a slave owning planter elite, brushed aside the flimsy ties that bound it to the nation and joined its sister slave states in creating a new nation, the Confederate States of America. Continued below...
As every American knows, the result was a long, bloody and costly war that produced many changes in the political and economic climate of the United States. Pitting brother against brother, state against state and ideology against ideology, the war swept aside the dominance of agrarian Americans and ushered in a new era controlled by industrialists and bankers. Florida, and her fellow southern states, was left to the task of picking up the pieces of its culture, bolstered by a persistent and unflagging mentality of what should have been. It has literally taken more than a century-and-a-half for the open wounds of defeat to heal. Dr. I. D. S. Winsboro of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Meyers is the editor of the first Gold Seal volume. His scholarship on the role that African-Americans played in the Civil War is well known. Once again, welcome to the inaugural volume.
Recommended Reading: The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (444 pages) (Louisiana State University Press) (Updated edition: November 2007) Description: The Life of Johnny Reb does not merely describe the battles and skirmishes fought by the Confederate foot soldier. Rather, it provides an intimate history of a soldier's daily life--the songs he sang, the foods he ate, the hopes and fears he experienced, the reasons he fought. Wiley examined countless letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and official records to construct this frequently poignant, sometimes humorous account of the life of Johnny Reb. In a new foreword for this updated edition, Civil War expert James I. Robertson, Jr., explores the exemplary career of Bell Irvin Wiley, who championed the common folk, whom he saw as ensnared in the great conflict of the 1860s. Continued below.
About Johnny Reb:
"A Civil War classic."--Florida Historical Quarterly
"This book deserves to be on the shelf of every Civil War modeler and enthusiast."--Model Retailer
"[Wiley] has painted with skill a picture of the life of the Confederate private. . . . It is a picture that is not only by far the most complete we have ever had but perhaps the best of its kind we ever shall have."--Saturday Review of Literature


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