The Battle of Marianna

September 27, 1864 at Marianna, Florida

Union Forces Commanded by
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
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Confederate Forces Commanded by
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
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Conclusion: Union Victory

The Battle of Marianna was a small but significant engagement on September 27, 1864, in the panhandle of Florida during the American Civil War. The Union victory over Confederates and militia defending the town of Marianna was the culmination of a substantial Federal cavalry raid into northwestern Florida.

On September 27, 1864, Union troops led by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth struck the small Northwest Florida city of Marianna. The result was a bloody event remembered today as the Battle of Marianna.

The culmination of the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Federal soldiers during the entire War Between the States, the Battle of Marianna was deadly and fierce and has been labeled by some as "Florida's Alamo." Commanded by Colonel Alexander Montgomery of the regular Confederate army, an outnumbered force of Southern militia, reserves, volunteers, wounded soldiers home on leave and a few regulars tried to defend against Asboth's attack. One veteran participant described it as the "most severefight of the war" for its size.

The battle developed when Southern Union sympathizers brought word to General Asboth that Federal prisoners were being held at Marianna and plans were underway to fortify the town. Leaving Fort Barrancas at Pensacola on September 18, 1864, he led 700 mounted men through six modern Florida counties, skirmishing with Southern cavalry at Eucheeanna and Campbellton along the way.

He reached Marianna on the morning of September 27, 1864, fighting Confederate cavalry three miles north of town and then launching a bold attack up the main street of the city while a flanking party moved to come in behind Montgomery and his defenders.

The fighting moved up Lafayette Street from the edge of town as Asboth drove back the commander and his mounted forces, only to charge right into an ambush prepared by the men of the Marianna Home Guard and local volunteers who joined in when the news of the Federal approach reached the city.

Asboth was severely wounded as were "nearly every officer and man" at the head of his column. His principal regiment, the 2nd Maine Cavalry, suffered its greatest losses of the war that day. Unfortunately for Marianna's defenders, it was not enough.

A portion of Asboth's cavalry continued to pursue Montgomery's horsemen, who fought their way through the flanking party that had taken up positions in the streets around Courthouse Square. Although Montgomery was unhorsed and captured, most of the mounted men reached the Chipola River where they tore up the planking from the wooden bridge and drove back Union attempts to seize the span.

The main body of the Union force, however turned on the Marianna Home Guard with a fury. The Confederates firing from along the Southern edge of the street were driven down a steep hill and virtually all either killed, wounded or captured.

Among those killed along the little creek at the bottom of the slope was Captain Henry O. Bassett, home on leave from the 6th Florida Infantry. His body was severely mutilated.The local men fighting from the north side of Lafayette Street fell back to St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where they used the wood fence surrounding the churchyard as a make-shift breastwork. It took a bayonet charge by two companies from the 82nd and 86th U.S. Colored Infantries to drive them back.

The Battle of Marianna then degenerated into a brutal fight in the cemetery behind the church. The battling forces fired at each other from just yards away. Even after the main body of the Home Guard surrendered, Union troops fired a volley into their ranks. Seeing this, Confederates firing from the windows of the church and two nearby homes refused to surrender and continued to fight.

The church and both homes were burned to the ground. Four men and boys died in the flames.

By the time the battle was over, both sides had been severely bloodied. More than 25% of the male population of Marianna had been either killed, wounded or captured.

Due to the fiercer-than-expected fighting and high casualties, particularly among the officers, Asboth's plan to turn south toward St. Andrews Bay was cancelled. Instead, that evening and the next morning, the raiders withdrew toward Choctawhatchee Bay. The column brought with it over 600 liberated slaves, 17 wagons filled with captured arms and stores, 200 captured horses, and 400 head of cattle. At Vernon, the force overran Capt. W.B. Jones' scout company, taking more prisoners. In all, 96 prisoners from the various engagements would return with the raiders. (Many of these would die in prison.) The Confederate forces were too few and too far behind to mount an effective pursuit.

It would be decades before the region recovered from the damage inflicted by the raid.

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