The West Florida War 1864 Raid on Marianna

During the American Civil War, the Battle of Marianna in Florida was a small but nonetheless significant engagement that occurred on September 27, 1864. The Union victory over Confederates and militia that were defending the small town of Marianna marked the culmination of what can only be described as a substantial Federal cavalry raid that went into northwestern Florida.

Marianna was the home of John Milton, Florida's ardent secessionist Civil War governor. It was also the largest town in northwest Florida still in Confederate hands and an important supply depot along with being a recruiting center for Confederate militia and reserves. A raid from St. Andrews during July 1864 revealed how vulnerable it could potentially be to a larger expedition.

On September 18, Brig. General Alexander Asboth led a mounted column of 700 Union troops out from Fort Barrancas (close to Federal-occupied Pensacola). They rode eastward on a raid across northwest Florida. The Confederate commander, Colonel Alexander B. Montgomery, could only guess at the Federal objective and strength. This led to critical delays in mustering reserves and calling for assistance in containing the Union raiders.

The Union cavalry destroyed or confiscated local foodstuffs and supplies as they progressed. On September 23 they also scattered a small, mixed company of volunteer Confederate cavalry at Eucheeana, capturing some men. On September 26, Asboth's mounted troopers skirmished with Captain Alexander Godwin's cavalry near Campbellton, a few miles from Marianna. The intention was to attack Marianna the next day.

On the morning of September 27, Asboth's Federal riders proceeded toward Marianna, passing Old Fort crossroads, where Montgomery could finally be certain of their destination. The homeguard was assembled with what reserves were already on hand. Montgomery's cavalry contested the crossing of Hopkins' Branch, 3 miles from Marianna.

In Marianna, Montgomery deployed his forces in ambush along the main road. His Hopkins' Branch skirmishers withdrew along the bypass and the homeguard waited behind fences and a barricade of wagons and carts near to St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

Asboth divided his force, leading the main contingent down the main road. The second contingent went around the bypass, following the route Montgomery's cavalry had taken. Montgomery realized what was happening and attempted to pull out before his force could be trapped, but he was too late.

Asboth's main attack force headed straight into a powerful volley unleashed by the waiting homeguard. Asboth himself was wounded in the face, while many of his senior officers were lost in the volley. Even so, the Union cavalry pushed forward and rapidly overwhelmed the opposing cavalry. However, the flanking force swept upon them from behind, enabling many of the Rebel troopers to escape as they pushed past the Union flanking force. In spite of this, many homeguards, conscripts and militia became pinned down in the town.

Montgomery was captured as he attempted to flee to the bridge over the Chipola River. many of his escaping cavalry managed to take up positions on the opposite shore, enabling them to prevent the Union forces crossing the bridge.

In Marianna on the south side of the street, the remaining defenders broke and ran. Those near the church attempted to hold out but they were engaged by the detachment of U.S. Colored Troops, where a dismounted bayonet charge forced their surrender. Several Confederates continued firing from the church and some nearby homes, which led to the church being set on fire and the defenders shot as they tried to escape the thick smoke.

The aftermath of this battle saw high casualties on both sides, including many officers.

Note: This article has been researched from other sources and completely rewritten from the origial piece published on this page to avoid copyright issues.

Main reference: Wikipedia - Battle of Marianna