Sam Jones: Call out the militia “against deserters, and to retain and maintain proper subordination among the slaves”

On April 20, 1865, Major-General Samuel Jones, commanding the Confederate District of Florida, responded to a request from the Governor of Florida, A. K. Allison, for more troops to defend homes and property of the citizens of Florida:

Governor: I was absent when your letter of the 7th instant was received at my headquarters here, or it would have been sooner answered. I deeply regret that the force at my command is not sufficient to enable me to give full protection to the section of country you designate. I propose, as soon as it can be done, to give a small additional force to the commander of the First Sub-District, which will enable him to give some additional protection to the section of country in question. I am convinced that a portion of the militia force of the State should be placed on duty for the special service you refer to, and called on your predecessor for it, but it seems that, in his judgment, the militia laws of the State were so defective that the militia could not be employed for that service; that is, for the protection of their own homes and property, not from a formidable body of the enemy’s troops, but chiefly from their own slaves and deserters from our service. I respectfully bring this matter to Your Excellency’s notice, with a request that a portion of the militia of the State be called into service to protect the property and homes of the people against deserters, and to retain and maintain proper subordination among the slaves.

Jones had fallen from grace somewhat over the span of a year.  From commanding the entire Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, by the first of 1865, his command was just Florida.  After Sherman took Savannah, Jones was somewhat on an island.  While communications were open to other parts of the Confederacy, the lack of railroads and telegraph left the sector somewhat isolated.  Florida was not, however, a major Federal objective.  Jones’ force was for the most part left to die on the vine, pending events unfolding elsewhere.

That background aside, what I find interesting with Jones’ response is that it lays out several issues facing Confederate leaders at the end of the war.  In some ways demonstrating the whole collapse of the system of government by April 1865.  In one part we see the contention between “state” and “national” authority, though unlike the cases where the governors of Georgia, North Carolina, and other states resisted the use of state troops under Confederate authority, in the case of Florida, the governor was calling upon Confederate troops to fill an obligation which the Confederate authority felt should fall to the state.  The Florida militia could be called out to defend against the “Yankee invader” but not to police its own countryside.

And how about “police.”  Yes, that is the sum of what Allison had asked for (I don’t find his correspondence in the records, but assume so from the tone of Jones’ response).  Allison needed some force of arms to counter the lawlessness that had broken out.  Jones does not mention or address Federal raiding parties here.  He could have.

The main Federal garrisons in Florida did send out expeditions and scouted the areas near their lines.  But these were limited due to the need to economize the troops assigned.  However, do recall the Florida (US) Cavalry forces which operated in part as partisans.  Indeed, I missed a promised  sesquicentennial post back in March with respect to William W. Strickland’s operations and death.    (I shall have that as a writing assignment into the post-sesquicentennial.)

Instead, the issue facing Allison and Jones was not some Federal incursion, but rather the lawlessness as the pieces of the Confederacy were falling about them.  Through the war years, considerable effort was placed on policing the home front.  But those resources were pulled, inevitably, to the front lines… or perhaps a better way to view it, the home front became the front line in many parts of the South.

Perhaps it is simply a word choice in play, but Jones did not mention “former slaves” be they run-aways, “contraband,” uniformed USCT, self-emancipated or otherwise. Rather he references “their own slaves.”

And entering his last week of formally being in command of a Confederate department, Major-General Sam Jones’ most pressing task was protecting people and property from “deserters, and to retain and maintain proper subordination among the slaves.”

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, page 819.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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