Thursday, June 23, 2022

Review - "Hidden History of Civil War Florida" by Robert Redd

[Hidden History of Civil War Florida by Robert Redd (Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, 2022). Softcover, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography. Pages main/total:117/141. ISBN:978-1-4671-5087-3. $21.99]

The prolific Hidden History series highlights the lesser-known people, events, and stories of this country's small towns, cities, and regions. Though they retain strong local flavor, the Civil War titles in the series seem to be aimed at a wider audience than most. Additionally, in many instances the "hidden history" aspect is rather liberally interpreted by the writer, with subject matter ranging from pretty well known topics to obscure ones by any measure. The newest installment in the series is Robert Redd's Hidden History of Civil War Florida.

A string of early-war Union successes in seizing key sections of the southern coastline reluctantly convinced Confederate authorities that their entire maritime border could not be directly defended. Redd's chapter dealing with the Confederate capture of Fort Marion in 1861 and the loss of both it and nearby St. Augustine to Union forces the next year illustrates that realization and what it meant to Florida, which was largely denuded of already scarce men and guns. A lengthier chapter looks at Volusia County, its blockade-running role via Mosquito Inlet, and its timber industry during and after the war. Similar to St. Augustine, the situations at New Smyrna and Mosquito Inlet demonstrated further evidence of the low-priority nature of Florida's military defense and the gradual stranglehold that the Union blockade established along the state's Atlantic and Gulf shores.

Redd does not incorporate into his discussion the largest battle fought in the state (Olustee in 1864), soundly reasoning that that campaign has already been well addressed in existing works such as William Nulty's excellent Confederate Florida: The Road to Olustee (1990). However, a pair of engagements of a more "hidden history" nature are examined in the text, with a chapter recounting the 1864 Battle of Marianna and another discussing the role of the West Florida Seminary Cadets in the 1865 Battle of Natural Bridge.

One of the best chapters traces Florida's role as one of the principal beef suppliers to the Confederate commissary, a reliance that became increasingly critical once Union seizure of the Mississippi River cut off direct ties to Texas. The state's economic contributions are well recognized and have even received book-length treatment in the modern literature (see Robert Taylor's Rebel Storehouse: Florida's Contribution to the Confederacy). Collecting and protecting herds of Florida beef was considered so crucial to the war effort that a special military unit was authorized, the "Cow Cavalry," to escort cattle to designated transshipment points. One might also add Florida's status as an important supplier of salt for the Confederate home and military fronts, its organized collection facilities a frequent target of Union blockading ships and shore raiders (for some context on that and the Unionist influence in the state see George Buker's excellent Blockaders, Refugees, and Contrabands: Civil War on Florida's Gulf Coast, 1861-1865 (1993, R-2004).

A pair of Florida connections to the Lincoln assassination plot are spotlighted in another chapter. In it the odyssey of Lewis Powell's skull, which is buried in a family plot in Florida's Geneva Cemetery, is recounted, as is Dr. Samuel Mudd's period of imprisonment in Florida. Only four years into his life sentence confinement as Fort Jefferson, convicted co-conspirator Mudd was pardoned by President Johnson for his selfless actions in treating a deadly yellow fever epidemic at the prison.

Redd also offers a compilation of recommended Civil War sites for visitors to consider and in another chapter provides a brief summary of the Florida secession convention. All of the material in the book is fully documented in the endnotes, and a generous allotment of photographs accompany the text. Readers should also draw their attention to the author's introduction, which furnishes a solid selective overview of the modern historiography of Civil War Florida. Combining sound research with engaging content presentation, Robert Redd's Hidden History of Civil War Florida ranks among the best of the Civil War-related entries in the series.

No comments:

Post a Comment

When commenting, PLEASE SIGN YOUR NAME. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be deleted. Thank you.