Battle of Marianna
On September 12th, 1864, BG Alexander Asboth announced his intent to conduct a raid into the northwest corner of Florida. The purpose of the operation was fourfold. Asboth believed that Union prisoners were being held in the vicinity of Marianna and that the Confederate forces there were isolated and well dispersed. Along with freeing the reported POW’s and destroying the Confederate troops Asboth hoped to inspire recruits, both white and black, and gather horses and mules.
On the evening of the 18th Asboth and 700 men, 3 Battalions of 2nd Maine cavalry, 1 Battalion 1st Florida Cavalry (US), and 79 mounted infantrymen from the 82nd and 86th USCT, crossed Pensacola Harbor on the Lizzie Davis and began a march inland. After a march of 50 miles they made contact with the boat again and conducted resupply operations near East Pass. The march began anew on the 20th and after 134 miles in mostly rainy weather the column arrived at Euchee Anna Courthouse where they surprised a small garrison. Taken prisoner were COL W. H. Terrence of the State militia and 1LT Francis Gordon of the 15th Cavalry who was home on leave. The Union troopers destroyed the local ferry, secured “a large number of beef cattle”, and recruited 16 contraband recruits that were sent back to link up with the Lizzie Davis at La Grange with an escort of 2 companies of the 1st Florida cavalry (US). After the affair at Euchee Anna the column made their “advance speedily via Campbell town to Marianna.” The route through Campbellton represented a change from the originally intended line of march but it was anticipated the approach from the northwest would not be expected. What caused Asboth to make the change is not mentioned in his report.
The expected surprise did not materialize. The Federal column was met about three miles outside of town at Hopkins Branch. The Confederate forces there, believed to be CPT Alexander Godwin’s company of local militia (about 25-30 men), attempted a very brief delaying action. They were easily driven back but certainly the alarm was raised in Marianna. Pushing forward to the western edge of town Asboth’s men ran into COL A. B. Montgomery’s troopers at Ely Corner. A haphazard and ill advised frontal assault on the position, led by MAJ Nathaniel Cutler, brought down several Maine troopers killing LT Ayer of Company I. Apparently upset or impatient about the delay caused by this small group of enemy forces Asboth rushed to the front of the column and ordered a charge. The outnumbered Confederates gave way and dispersed “like a flock of sheep.” The Union attack rolled into town and directly into a barricade erected from wagons on Lafayette Street.
Gradually the defenders were pushed back but the attackers continued to come under a serious fire from the building on each side of the road. The troopers used the superior firepower of their Spencer’s to finally gain the advantage and pushed the defenders back. On the southern side of the street the defenders were driven up against Stage Creek and overcome in a bitter struggle. On the northern side of the road the Confederate militiamen were pushed into the courtyard of St. Luke’s Church. Using the fence there for cover the battle continued.
Asboth was wounded in the face and command passed to COL Ladislas Zulavsky of the 82nd USCT. The new commander immediately brought up the soldiers of the USCT contingent for a dismounted attack into the churchyard. With fixed bayonets the infantrymen attacked the position from 30 yards away. The ferocity of the attack forced Norwood’s men to surrender. In the aftermath of the successful assault the USCT soldiers allegedly murdered several men who had surrendered before the officers could regain control. Despite the surrender of Norwood’s men several men inside the church refused to surrender and Zulavsky ordered the church and two adjoining building burned. The resulting inferno ended resistance in the town.
The final phase of the battle was fought at Courthouse Square. COL Montgomery and his remaining men attempting to get to the bridge over the Chipola River ran into a portion of the Union column that had worked around the fighting on the north end of town and now blocked their escape route. The Confederate troopers charged right at them in a desperate attempt to reach the bridge. The fight here was equally as intense as the churchyard with the two sides locked in the “closest possible contact.” COL Montgomery and his adjutant LT William McPherson were unhorsed and captured during the fight here. The bridge itself was being held by CPT Robert Chisolm’s Cavalry who fought off several attempts by the Federal troopers to seize the escape route.
The battle ended with a complete Union victory, however the unexpected fierceness of the fight and resulting casualties caused Asboth to call off the continuation of the mission. After a night of pillaging the town the column moved to link up with water transportation. The Union column gained one more small victory at Vernon when CPT W.B. Jones and his company of local scouts ran directly into them in their rush to aid the Marianna men. The small unit was put to flight after several were killed and wounded and more prisoners were added to the already impressive haul. Asboth returned with “81 prisoners, 95 stand of arms, quantities of commissary and quartermaster’s stores, over 200 fine horses and excellent mules, 17 wagons, and over 400 head of cattle, already brought within our lines , besides over 600 contrabands who followed us with great enthusiasm.” No prisoners were liberated during the raid.