Unfortunately for Newton, weather, geography, and circumstance ruined the element of surprise, and Confederate Generals Samuel Jones and William Miller were able to assemble a mixed force of militia, home guards, regulars, and university cadets to deter the raid. Initially, Newton was able to brush aside the Confederates at East River, but his command was later turned away from the bridge over the St. Marks at Newport. The next viable crossing was upriver at Natural Bridge, so a force of approximately 500 Federals (all U.S.C.T. units) headed there. Jones and Miller, fully familiar with the area, anticipated the move and immediately set out to thwart it. Before Newton's advance could pass through Natural Bridge, 1,000 men and six guns were waiting for the U.S. forces on the high ground along the west bank. Subject to converging fire, the federal infantry could make no headway in their push to cross the land bridge, and were forced to withdraw after suffering heavy casualties. The supporting naval expedition failed as well.
Author Dale Cox does an exceptionally good job describing the battlefield terrain, keying in on the the most militarily important features. Natural Bridge itself is a rather fascinating quirk of geography [the St. Marks River plunges completely underground before reemerging only a short distance beyond, forming the narrow land bridge from which the feature is named]. The author traces in some detail the concave shaped Confederate line of defense, formed along the west bank high ground and dominating the dirt road traversing Natural Bridge. Union positions and movements are treated with a similar degree of attention.
As with his previous Marianna study, Cox shows himself to be a skilled constructor of battle narrative, characterized by judicious analysis and the skillful integration of primary accounts into the writing. While it is unfortunate that no bibliography was included for easier reference, the footnotes indicate a broadly researched study, grounded in personal accounts, letters, diaries, and official reports, along with newspapers and government documents. The only real complaint I have with Natural Bridge is not with the content, but with the editing. A few too many typos remained in the final draft manuscript to escape mention. Hopefully, this can be rectified in a future edition.
Although I prefer original maps drawn in close collaboration with the author, the historical maps reproduced in the book more than adequately convey a visual representation and reinforcement of the text. The Natural Bridge battlefield map drawn by participant Lt. Col. Barnes of the 1st Florida Reserves is particularly useful.
Numerous appendices comprise the second half of Natural Bridge. Unit rosters and casualty lists for both sides are compiled in this section, providing a resource for interested readers and researchers.
Dale Cox's informative and well researched study should be considered the standard history of the Natural Bridge raid and battle. Readers interested in Florida military operations and the Civil War along the Gulf coast will find this volume a welcome addition to their library.