Saturday, September 1, 2007

Cox: "The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee"

[The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee by Dale Cox (Author, 2007). Softcover, photos, 4 maps, footnotes, appendices, rosters, index. Page Total/Main=210/85. ISBN:978-0-6151-6386-4 $19.95]
With The Battle of Natural Bridge, author Dale Cox's military history of the waning moments of the Civil War in NW Florida comes to a close. September 1864 saw the first large scale incursion into this previously quiescent, yet economically vital, area of the state. In the minds of Confederate planners, the Union raid that culminated in victory at Marianna would undoubtedly encourage further attacks. Thus, a scramble commenced to assemble a serviceable defense of the state capital. These measures proved to be prescient as the Union army and navy were indeed assembling a joint strike force aimed at capturing Tallahassee and liberating the POW camp at Thomasville. While a land force composed mainly of U.S.C.T.s (detachments of the 2nd and 99th infantries) and commanded by General John Newton landed near the lighthouse at the mouth of St. Marks River and headed north, a powerful naval flotilla would clear the water defenses.

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.
The author's next project is already at an advanced stage. Click on the link provided for more information about the upcoming book The Battle of Massard Prairie: The Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas.


  1. Three ROTC detachments have battle streamers, all from CW service. Two -- VMI and the Citadel -- are well known, but few can name the third.

    Give up?

    It's Florida State University.

    About a dozen teen-aged cadets from West Florida Seminary (a predecessor institution, located on the same grounds) participated at Natural Bridge, where they acted as artillery guards.

    I was in ROTC at FSU and we used to have a detachment go down every year for the ceremonies.

    We were very proud of our battle streamer.

    Fred Ray

  2. Fred,
    You'll be happy to know that Cox does cover the Cadet story in detail.


  3. Drew,
    Just wanted to say thanks for the kind words. The Cadet story is really a fascinating part of the battle. I found that they actually stood duty at an advanced part of the line in the Confederate center. One of the main Union attacks was directed at their position, but they fought well.

    Dale Cox

  4. Drew,

    Thanks for the reviews of both Cox books. I ordered both as a result.



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