Category Archives: Southern Unionists

“When you put your thumb on me and then raise it up I will be gone”: W.W. Strickland a deserter and “Florida Royal”

On this day (March 27) in 1864, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry D. Capers, commanding a Confederate detachment in Florida, filed his report on operations in Taylor and Lafayette Counties.  His report, in part, read:

I have the honor to report that in obedience to Special Orders, No. 7 (extract), paragraphs I and II, I assumed command of the troops designated to operate against the deserters and disaffected citizens of Taylor and Lafayette Counties, in this State. From the best information I could obtain the camp of the enemy was located near the mouth of the Econfina River, on the east bank, and surrounded by a thick marsh, which at high tide was overflowed, rendering communications with the adjoining swamps and hammocks exceedingly difficult. The recent heavy rains had swollen the rivers to such an extent that the swamps and hammock lands were covered with water and deemed almost impassable by the citizens. Under these circumstances I found it impracticable to picket the road from the Natural Bridge to the bridge over the lower ferry of the Econfina River, as directed in the orders referred to, and decided to make a reconnaissance of the country in force to the Gulf coast and attack the enemy’s camp wherever found. With this object in view I ordered the detachment of cavalry, under command of Major Camfield, to proceed from this point down the east bank of the Econfina River and to co-operate with the Twelfth Battalion in an attack upon the enemy’s camp upon Snyder’s Island. Moving with the Twelfth Georgia Battalion from Gamble’s farm to the Natural Bridge, and through the swamp on the east bank of the Aucilla River, I passed entirely through the country occupied by the disaffected citizens and deserters, and reached the camp of the enemy at daylight on the morning of the 24th instant. Here I found nothing but the deserted huts of the deserters, and no traces of any camp regularly organized by the enemy. The inaccessible character of the swamps, which extend from Gamble’s to the coast, and the experience of the war conducted for years between the Seminole Indians and the U.S. forces in this section without any positive result, and the further demonstrated fact that these deserters and disaffected citizens did not maintain any organized encampment, but remained concealed in the vicinity of their homes, determined me to destroy their houses, in addition to the removal of their families as directed in the orders referred from district headquarters. Accordingly I ordered the destruction of every house on the east and west banks of the Econfina and Fenholloway Rivers belonging to these people.

Capers went on to report he had secured a roster of men who had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States.  In particular, he centered his attention on the leader of this band:

At William Strickland’s house (who is the leader of the gang) was captured the muster-roll referred to, 2,000 rounds of fixed ammunition for the Springfield musket, several barrels of flour from the U.S. Subsistence Department, and several other articles which evidenced the regularity of their communication with the enemy’s gun-boats. Having destroyed their property and secured their families, I returned to Mr. Linton’s farm to rest the infantry….

Capers went on to describe the threat this armed band of deserters posed:

On the borders of these swamps are large planting interests, with hundreds of negroes upon them of immense service to the Confederacy in the production of grain and bacon. From their hiding places these men can commit depredations upon the property to such an extent as to materially interfere with the farming operations, and I would urge upon the general commanding the necessity under  these circumstances of compromising with these men as may be consistent with the general weal.

The “compromise” suggested by Capers is in relation to a letter sent his way by William W. Strickland, and forwarded with the report.  Strickland’s letter, while lengthy, explains a lot towards the man’s motivation and loyalties:

 My Dear Sir: I got your letter that you left with Mr. Johnson the 26th. I am anxious to hear from you, and you from me, for I cannot control my men since they saw you fire our house. I cannot control them any longer. I ain’t accountable for what they do now. As for myself, I will do anything that any half white man ever done, only to go into the Confederate war any more, though when I was in it I done my duty, I reckon. Ask Colonel Smith if I was not as good a soldier as long as he was captain, and would have been yet if Mr. Smith had of staid captain, but now I have went on the other side and tried what we call United States of Taylor, but I find it is like the Confederate men–more wind than work. As for myself, I ain’t agoing in for any order, only to stay with Mr. Johnson and help him tend to his stock, and I will help him to pen or drive cattle for you, but my oath will not permit me to fight any more. If you will send and get me an exemption and my men that have taken the oath to stay in Taylor and raise stock for you they will do so, but they will not go into war if you had as many again men and dogs, for our title is Florida Royals, and if we can’t get a furlough from Mr. Jeff. Davis during the war you will find our title right for a while; so I remain a flea until I get a furlough from headquarters, and when you put your thumb on me and then raise it up I will be gone. I give you my respects for the good attentions you paid to my wife, for it was not her notion for me to do as I was doing. Just set me and my men free from the war and we will try with leave to get corn till we can make. If not, you can go to moving the steers out of the adjoining three counties. So here is my love for the good attentions for my wife and child. If the war lasts long enough and you will raise him to be a soldier he will show the spunk of his daddy.
So I remain,
W. W. Strickland,
Florida Royals.

Strickland had deserted from the 2nd Florida Cavalry, which like the Tennessee regiments mentioned earlier this week, must carry the qualifier “Confederate” here:

Page 6

After enlisting in March 1862, under a Captain  A. Smith, who at some point resigned from his captaincy (matching the reference by Strickland).  And the card indicates Strickland deserted twice – once in December 1862 and again in June 1863.  And then took to the swamps later becoming the leader of the “Independent Union Rangers” of Taylor County, Florida.

Within a couple of weeks of Capers’ report, Strickland would take another oath.  On April 10, 1864, he enlisted in the Federal army:
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Strickland served with the 2nd Florida Cavalry (US).  He would not survive the war.  However, that story is material for another post, which I must save for a March 1865 sesquicentennial.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 53, Serial 111, pages 316-7 and 319.)

“If you persist in defense, you must take the consequences”: The battle of the Sevenths at Union City

Mention the 7th Tennessee Cavalry and you must provide a qualifier – “Union” or “Confederate.” While this is not unique to that particular regiment, with several numbered Tennessee union regiments of infantry and cavalry on the records, what does set those “Sevenths” apart from the others is what happened on March 24, 1864.  On that date, the two “Sevenths” faced one another at Union City, Tennessee.

The Confederate 7th was part of Major-General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s command and was among the regiments raiding through west Tennessee and Kentucky.  The raid was officially labeled “Forrest’s Expedition into West Tennessee and Kentucky.”  One of the obstacles in their way was a garrison in Union City, composed primarily of the Federal 7th Tennessee  Cavalry, under the command of Colonel Isaac R. Hawkins.  One of his subordinates Captain Thomas P. Gray, commanding Company C of the regiment, later filed this record of the action:

On the 23d of March it was generally understood at the said post that at least a portion of the rebel General Forrest’s command were advancing on us. About 8 p.m. of that day the advance of the enemy were seen and fired upon, near Jacksonville, 6 miles from Union City, by a small scouting party sent in that direction from our post. This party reported the facts immediately to Colonel Hawkins, of the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry, who was commander of the post. The picket guard was then doubled, and two or three companies were ordered to keep their horses saddled during the night.

I was notified at 4.30 a.m. of the 24th of March to order my horses saddled. About 5 o’clock firing commenced all around the line of pickets. The main part of Company B, Captain Martin, were abreast, and a part of Company I, also, I think. The remaining force, about 500 strong, were distributed around at the breastworks. The pickets were driven in, with a loss of 2 killed and several wounded. About 5.30 a.m. a cavalry charge was made from the south side. It was repulsed with but little difficulty. The same was immediately dismounted and charged again, this time coming within 20 or 30 yards of the breast-works. They were repulsed again, and with considerable loss this time. Immediately following this another charge was made in front from the northwest, and again repulsed. Immediately following this, the fourth charge, and last, was made from the northeast, which charge confronted my company, and were repulsed again with loss. This charge was made at about 8 a.m. About this time the colonel came to this part of the works. I remarked to him that it was my opinion the rebels were defeated in their first programme; that they would either leave the field or assemble and make a consolidated charge. Our troops were in fine spirits. Sharpshooting lasted till 9.30 a.m., when an escort, with a flag of truce, approached my position. I sent notification to Colonel Hawkins of the approaching truce flag, and then advanced in person and halted the truce escort 200 yards from the defenses. Then Colonel Hawkins came; a document was handed him, the contents of which I know not. At this time the rebel troops were in full view, in the logs and stumps. The truce escort retired, and in twenty minutes after again came. I again halted them on the same ground as before, and remained with them during this interview. This time an order was handed to Colonel Hawkins, which I read. As near as I can remember, it read as follows:

Headquarters C. S. Forces,
In the Field, March 24, 1864.
Commanding Officer U.S. Forces at Union City, Tenn.:
Sir: I have your garrison completely surrounded, and demand an unconditional surrender of your forces. If you comply with the demand you are promised the treatment due to prisoners of war, according to usages in civilized warfare. If you persist in defense, you must take the consequences. By order of Maj. Gen. N. B. Forrest.

Then followed a council of our officers, in which a large majority violently opposed any capitulation whatever with the enemy. Notwithstanding this, the colonel made a surrender at 11 a.m., which, to the best of my knowledge and belief, was unconditional. No artillery was seen or used. The surrendered troops were very indignant on hearing of the surrender. Only 1 man had been killed, and 2 or 3 wounded inside of the works. It was generally believed to be a rebel defeat. Our troops, after grounding arms, were marched away on foot. The rebel troops were commanded by Colonel [William L.] Duckworth, and as nearly as I could estimate them there were 800. A list of prisoners was made on the 26th, at Trenton, which numbered 481, including 10 of Hardy’s men and a few of the Twenty-fourth Missouri Infantry, who were doing provost duty.

Gray and many others later made their escapes, in small groups it would seem. Consider the wording, though admittedly a rough recollection, of the surrender demand. But, particularly the words incorporated into the title of this post.

Now consider this passage from the regimental history of the Confederate 7th:

[Colonel Duckworth] then wrote a demand for immediate and unconditional surrender of the post, to which he signed the name of N.B. Forrest, major-general commanding, and sent it under a flag of truce commanded by Lieut. H.J. Livingston. To this Col. J.H. Hawkins [sic], Federal commander, replied, begging time and saying that in the meantime he wished to see Gen. Forrest.  This concerned us, for Forrest could not be produced. The colonel wrote another dispatch saying: ‘I am not in the habit of meeting officers inferior to myself in rank under a flag of truce, but I will send Col. Duckworth who is your equal in rank, and who is authorized to arrange terms and conditions with you under instructions. N.B. Forrest major-general commanding.’

Forrest himself was not at Union City, but rather leading a column towards Paducah, Kentucky.

There’s a lot of interesting aspects to the skirmish at Union City.  There is the story of a unionist regiment (called out by Forrest as “renegade”), fighting, as fate had it, a Confederate unit with the same numerical designation.  The shrinking and surrender of Hawkins, of course, needs careful examination in light of tactical settings. And there

But considering this action in the scope of a broad, month long, campaign by Forrest’s cavalry which included the more famous action at Fort Pillow, that surrender demand should take added significance.  Forrest and the officers in his command often made bluffs, such as that at Union City, to achieve their aims short of force of arms.  And the ease by which this deception was offered at Union City reinforces the “folklore” here.  The “surrender demand” bluff was a standard practice among Forrest’s command.

Be it the poker table or the battlefield, if you lead with the bluff, sooner or later someone is going to call it.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 32, Part I, Serial 57, pages 544-5;  J.P. Young, The Seventh Tennessee Cavalry (Confederate): A History, Dayton, Ohio: Morningside Bookshop, 1976, page 85.)

150 years ago: Making West Tennessee safe for Union men

Far from the front lines, the Civil War was still very active in northwestern Tennessee 150 years ago:

UNION CITY, November 28, 1862.
 Brigadier-General SULLIVAN:

I have reliable information that three of the most prominent Union citizens of this county were last night captured at or near Troy, in this county, a town noted for the treason of its inhabitants. They were captured by guerrillas, who infest the Obion Bottom, near that town, and are daily carrying off Union citizens and robbing them of their property, especially their horses.

Troy is a hot-bed of traitors; not a Union man living in the town. The 3 men captured have been our main stand-by for five months past, one of whom is Colonel Bradford. I propose, if it meets with your approval, to give the authorities of the town notice that if the 3 men captured are not returned in five days that I will burn up the town. General, as unwell as I am, if you will give me the command at Trenton, which is a central point, I will have this country from the Memphis and Ohio Railroad to the Hatchie cleared of the last guerrilla in it before the return of my papers, as I know every district of the country. This will be a pleasure to me, as I have done so once before.

 Colonel Fifty-fourth Illinois.

Unionism was strong across Tennessee, not just in the eastern Appalachia.  While perhaps not as well-known, and perhaps motivated by different social and political concerns, the unionists in the west part of the state indeed made their presence felt.  Testament to this are the “duplicate” regimental numbers among those units recruited for the Federal army from the state.

Colonel Harris’ report serves as a reminder that destruction of private property was not just some despised action taken by the dreaded “Yankee devils”.  The southern citizenry had to fear equally of both sides.  Hard war or not.

The other part of Harris’ response I find interesting is how it resonates within the modern context of counter-insurgency operations.  I’ve seen dispatches from Iraq and Afghanistan which carry similar warnings and recommended solutions.