September 3, 2016 at 1:33 am #31594Joe (G.W.N.S.)Moderator
This is a book about Florida’s guerrilla War against the Union.
“He was called the ‘Swamp Fox of the Confederacy’ by grateful Floridians, and ‘Knight of the Silver Spurs’ by admiring Southern belles. Others labeled him ‘Gray Fox’ or ‘War Eagle,’ but to anyone, Confederate or Union, John Jackson Dickison was a hero to Florida as John Mosby was to Virginia, John Hunt Morgan to Kentucky, and Nathan Bedford Forrest to Tennessee and Mississippi.”
When Jefferson Davis declared Florida expendable, due to its miles of uninhabitable swampland and coast, and left the state to its own devices, many people were fearful and many were outraged. When, as the last Floridians evacuated, the Union invaded and, without hindrance, held St.Augustine and the St. Johns River, the area became a hotbed of guerrilla warfare.
“These guerrilla forces were led by Captain John J. Dickison, whose name struck fear into the hearts of wary Federals who searched in vain for his elusive little army….”
If you live in Florida you should definitely read this book, particularly so if in North Central Florida.
The St. Johns River is 310 miles long flowing northward connecting a virtual highway of interconnecting rivers, lakes, and swamps.
It became a barrier to Union advances and the area outside of Federal control was refereed to as “Dixieland,” a twist on guerrilla leader J.J. Dickison’s name.
Union General Robert Sanford Foster claimed that Dickison was such a nuisance that, “Our spies will report that he is at such and such a place with only so many men; then, when whole regiments are sent in pursuit the only result in each case has been mortifying defeat but with few returning to tell the tale. Dixie has tricked them again and slain or captured their comrades.”
Dickison’s army never consisted of more than four hundred men.
“The Battle of Horse Landing” became a first for the only known incident in US history where cavalry unit captured a naval vessel.
This would not have been possible if it weren’t for the Sánchez sisters. (Think intelligence assets)
Lola Sánchez was one of three sisters who became spies for the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Sánchez became upset when their father was falsely accused of being a Confederate spy by the members of the Union Army and imprisoned. Officers of the Union Army then occupied the Sánchez residence in Palatka, Florida.
On May 21, 1864, Lola Sánchez overheard three Union officers discuss the plans that their unit had for a raid against the Confederate forces. The plan was to go into effect the next morning and consisted of a surprise attack on the Confederates while they slept with the aim of proceeding towards St. Augustine to “liberate” supplies for the Union Army.
She decided that it was of utmost importance to notify Captain Dickison at Camp Davis, just a mile and a half from her home. Her sisters agreed to help by covering up her absence. Sánchez left her house that night and traveled, through the forest, alone on horseback. She reached the ferry and the ferryman minded her horse while she crossed the river. She came upon a Confederate picket and told him what she heard, however the picket was unable to leave his post and lent her his horse. She then proceeded to the camp where she met with Capt. Dickison. After the meeting she returned home, the whole event took an hour and a half, and her absence went unnoticed by the Union soldiers in her residence.
That night Dickison and his men crossed the St. Johns River and set a trap. They waited for the arrival of the Union transport and gunboat. On the morning of May 22, the Union forces plans were foiled when they were ambushed upon their arrival. At the exact moment necessary to succeed, Dickison raised his saber signaling his men to attack. The Confederate forces had placed artillery guns on the banks of the river and opened fire on the approaching Union gunboats. The skirmish which followed, officially known as the “Battle of Horse Landing”, occurred south of St. Augustine. Union Colonel William H. Noble, commander of the 17th Connecticut Infantry, was wounded in the ambush and taken prisoner. The rest of the Union soldiers were either captured or killed. Dickison and his men captured the USS Columbine, a side-wheel steamer/gunboat under the command of Ensign Frank Sanborn.
“I could discover nothing suspicious until directly abreast the landing,” Sanborn said in his official report, “distant about 100 yards, when two pieces of artillery, concealed by the shrubbery and undergrowth, almost simultaneously opened fire upon me. I instantly gave orders to ‘hook on,’ but unfortunately the second shot of the enemy cut my wheel chains, and at the same time the pilot abandoned the wheel and jumped over the bow. The vessel almost immediately went ashore upon a mud bank.”
This was no small vessel either.
USS Columbine was a Union side wheel paddle steamer gunboat of 133 tons and a crew of 25 built in 1850 at New York City.
Col. J. J. Dickison, Confederate Military History, a library of Confederate States Military History: Volume 11.2, Florida
The following announcement of this spirited exploit was made by General Anderson:
‘The major-general commanding has great pleasure in announcing to the troops under his command the result of a gallant expedition against the enemy’s detached posts, undertaken on the 19th inst. by Capt. J. J. Dickison, Second Florida cavalry. Crossing the St. John’s river in small boats, Captain Dickison surprised and captured the enemy’s garrisons at Welaka and Fort Butler, taking 88 infantry and 6 cavalry, with the arms and equipments, and returning with his brave command safely to their camp, bringing in the whole capture, after an absence of forty-four hours, during which time they traveled 85 miles and effected the results herein detailed without the loss of a man. Such an exploit attests more emphatically the soldierly qualities of the gallant men and their skillful leader who achieved it than any commendation it would be possible to give. The major-general commanding feels, however, that his thanks are due them, and, while thus publicly rendering the tribute so justly due, indulges in the confident hope that every officer and soldier in his district will emulate the patriotic endurance and daring displayed by Captain Dickison and his command.’
I’ll add some more interesting stories later.September 3, 2016 at 9:55 am #31618hellokittyParticipant
Placed on my book list. Thank you
CTT 1502, NODF 1502, CP 1503, RC 002- Rifleman, FoF x 2, Run and Gun, RS/CTT, CLC, CQBC, Heat 1
Craig S.September 3, 2016 at 10:00 pm #31679egglestonParticipant
Great post . Amazing what a relatively small group can do with determination , courage and good leadership . Lookin forward to more post . Thanks .September 4, 2017 at 4:36 pm #50131Joe (G.W.N.S.)Moderator
It’s been awhile, but here is some more of this unique history.
The invading Federal army, as well as the Confederates, referred to this area of the St. Johns River outside of Union control as “Dixieland,” after the colorful guerilla leader, J.J. Dickison.
Union General Robert Sanford Foster claimed Dickison was such a nuisance that “Our spies will report that he is at such and such a place with only so many; then, when whole regiments are sent in pursuit the only result in each case has been mortifying defeat, but with few returning to tell the tale. Dixie has tricked then again and slain or captured their comrades.”
And another interesting story.
Dickison learned the enemy had shifted its forces to the town of Welaka, and, taking two of his men, he hid in the swamp opposite the town. In observing Federal activity from the swamp for a full day, Dickison saw the possibility of a surprise attack.
At sundown, the following day, Dickison, McEaddy, and 35 of their men, plus Captain Grey with 25 men, trekked 9 miles to the banks of the St. Johns River. Under cover of darkness, they crossed the river, with 60 men in three rowboats. After walking another 7 miles, they reached the Federal position at Welaka by daybreak.
Dividing his force, Dickison sent two units on the flank, while he attacked, capturing the pickets and completely surprising the enemy. The Swamp Fox had been giving information from local residents who informed him the enemy had been using a building for their barracks. They also implied to him that the Yankees were careless in their defensive precautions, since three roads intersected near the building, and no guards were posted on the northern road.
It was from this northern unguarded road that Dickison’s forces attacked, and he ordered the commander of the Welaka garrison to surrender or face total annihilation. Without a single shot fired by the confused Federals, the garrison was surrendered at sunrise, and the Confederates entered just in time to appropriate the large, much welcome Union breakfast.
Also appropriated by the Confederate raiders was a large bag of outpost mail, which was to be sent off the following day. This they read with great enjoyment, especially one letter from the company orderly sergeant, who boasted to friends up north of an arranged and sure-fire plan to capture the Swamp Fox the following evening.
The next morning, a large Union cavalry force learned of the fall of Welaka and hurried to reclaim the town, Dickison, however, had been warned of the rescuing army and recrossed the river with 62 prisoners, including 2 Officers who would latter be sent to the prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia.
Quality Intelligence and local support brought victory and ensured a safe withdrawal.
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