Battle of Florida

It was just light enough to distinguish the outline of the covered wooden bridge across the North Fork of the Salt River when we reached it about four o'clock in the morning of Tuesday, July 22, after what, had it not been for three stops of about twenty minutes each, would have been a continuous run of thirty-three hours. If a single inhabitant of the little village of Florida, the birthplace of Mark Twain, had ended his peaceful slumber he made no sign. We passed through rapidly and noiselessly. The South Fork of Salt River by the road is about a mile from the North Fork and, like the latter, was at that day spanned by an old wooden bridge boarded up on the sides and covered up by a shingled roof. The village is somewhat nearer the North Fork. In- stead of crossing the bridge we went to the ford above, watered our horses and bearing off up the narrow valley a hundred yards, dismounted for a short encampment.

Colonel Porter sent Captain Hickerson, the commissary, with a guard of three or four men back to the village for supplies. It was just sunrise when the commissary and rear guards met on the street, and almost immediately they were fired upon by a detachment of Major Caldwell's battalion of the Third Iowa Cavalry. Captain Hickerson's horse was wounded slightly and in the excitement following the surprise young Fowler, of Captain Stacy's company, was captured. Our men gave a hurried volley and came down on the run. Colonel Porter ordered a rapid move on foot against the enemy and directed Captain Penny to take twenty well mounted men and harrass their flank and rear.

"Mudd, you have the best horse in the regiment. Come on."

"Captain, my horse struck lame about an hour ago, and I find a patch of skin knocked off his fore ankle."

"Well, you and Vansel and McAtee fall in with the men on foot."

I had exaggerated the lameness a trifle. I had never been under fire on horseback and the idea didn't impress me very pleasantly, but my main objection was my solicitude for Charlie. I had petted him from the day he was born. We understood each other so well and were such good friends. I was afraid I would lose my patriotism if he were killed. Captain Penny with our company, less the three, galloped up the main road, and we took a short cut through the woods on a double quick. Some man up the line suggested that, "Like as not, Captain Penny will strike those fellows before we get there."

"Let us see, then," answered his neighbor, "that he doesn't."

And the race began. Our three had lost a little time on account of Captain Penny's detail and we had to bring up the rear. The wooded hill was a little heavy, but we soon scaled it and reaching the flat made a dead run toward the enemy. They had hastily formed on the far side of a narrow street or alley, in the edge of the village next to our line of approach. The head of our column struck their right and our rear had to run across to take position on their left. Their fire was a little sharp, but from our point we could not see that any damage was done.

 A rail fence ran perpendicularly to the line of battle and we had to cross it to take our place. One or two bounded over it; the next man jerked off the rider and leaped over, followed by two or three. Then one tugged at the stake as if to make a gap for an easy passage, but concluding he hadn't time, sprang over and on. A man was standing by watching the maneuvers in a fever of impatience. Judging by his wrinkled features and the color of his hair and ten days' growth of beard he was between sixty-five and seventy years old. The map of Ireland was written all over his face. I had seen him in camp, but I have forgotten his name if I ever knew it. He was a good card player, and expert jig dancer; considering his age, not bad on a song, and his droll wit and unfailing good humor made him popular with everybody. He had a white clay pipe in his mouth, the stem not over two inches long and at which he puffed vigorously. Seeing that the indecision of the men as to whether they would jump over the fence or lay down a gap was wasting valuable time, he took the pipe out of his mouth, emitted a huge expectoration and blurted out:

 "Tear the fince all to hill."

 While at the fence it was told us that the Federals had called out to us not to shoot, that they belonged to our command and then immediately fired a volley into us, killing Captain Marks, our quartermaster. I was too far away to hear this from the enemy and after the engagement made considerable inquiry, but could find nobody who knew the report to be true. True or false, it caused some demoralization among a part of our men. At the fence McAtee became separated from us and went to about the center. He was only a few steps away from Captain Marks when he was shot. The captain died instantly, the bullet striking him near the center of the forehead. He was a good officer and a very estimable gentleman; quiet, dignified, clean of speech and gentle. I have forgotten where his home was.

Our right extended six or eight feet beyond their left and very near the home of Dr. Johnson, showing that we outnumbered then slightly. Ben Vansel was the end man and I the next. To our left was a company of which no member was known to Ben or myself. Somehow I got the impression that it was from the Blackfoot country in Boone County, but I had no opportunity to verify its correctness.[i]  The enemy's fire was fierce, but the men on our left were not firing and Ben commented on it, wonderingly. Before he finished speaking, two young ladies ran out of a house near by that of Dr. Johnson-right into the thickest of the flying bullets, waving their handkerchiefs and shouted in enthusiastic excitement:

 "Hurrah for Jeff Davis! Give it to 'em, my brave boys; give it to 'em."

 It was a novel and inspiring sight. Ben and I stopped to enjoy it a while. The Blackfoot men seemed amused but did not heed the exhortation. 

The two girls were Miss Lucy Young, the daughter of the Rev. John F. Young, who lived adjoining Dr. Johnson on the east, and Miss Sue Johnson, sister of Dr. Johnson. Both have been dead many years, but Miss Young has a sister, Miss Lizzie Young, still living in Florida.

 A low rail fence was in front of us. Forty feet distant and a little obliquely to my left stood the end man of the Federals. I never knew that I had killed a man. Here was a chance. The impulse seized me much to my amazement. He had a rosy face, blue eyes, pleasant countenance, six feet high, well built and erect. Perhaps he was the favorite or only son of his parents-perhaps of a widowed mother. I brought up all these things to drive off the impulse, but it wouldn't go. I might have driven it away had not that white horn button, an inch in diameter, holding together the waistband of his trousers, mocked me. It seemed to laugh at me and say:

 "You can't."

 Grasping the slender fence stake in my left hand to give a firm rest to the barrel of my musket, I took a careful sight, saying: "Ben, watch me drive that fellow's breeches button clear through him.

 Ben's gun was a carbine. He lowered it and stood watching me. As I was about to pull trigger the man next me ran up, snatched my arm from its rest, saying:

 "They are our men."

 Loosening his hold, without saying a word, I quickly recovered my gun rest and aim. He repeated his maneuver and I mine. He played his act the third time, asserting more and more vehemently that they were our men. I became furious. Knocking him sprawling with my clenched fist, I yelled out:

 "I don't care a damn if they are; they are shooting at us and I'm going to shoot at them. Don't you see," addressing his fellows, "that while those men are in their shirt sleeves every one of them has on pale blue trousers? How many of our men have on pale blue trousers?"

This seems to them to be reasonable and a number of them began firing. A young lady ran out of the house of a Mr. Wilkerson in our front, and mounting the stile around which our bullets were raining, shouted: "They are running like dogs; give it to them, boys." This was Miss Vena A. Riddle, who taught in the school near by, though she seemed too young for a teacher. We soon found that she was right and that the enemy were running. As soon as I could I caught my aim, but by this time their whole line was in rapid retreat. I fired at my man and missed him. He and four or five others ran in the direction of where there were eight good horses hitched to a fence. The main body had gone obliquely to our left. I suggested to Ben that we head off the little squad and get the horses. He readily agreed and we jumped over the low fence, scaled two high board fences that marked two right-angle boundaries of the yard of Mr. Wilkerson's home, and which we could have avoided by bearing to the left, which course, however, would have thrown us in the line of a hot fire. When the Federals saw we were running to intercept them they evidently thought we were the advance of a larger force and they turned sharply to the left and quickly joined the flying main body. This left the field clear for Ben and me, and we thought surely the Blackfoot men would stop firing, at least in our direction, but they poured another volley into us and the bullets whistled uncomfortably close to our ears.

 "Ben, I don't believe I want those horses-at the price." 

"I'm sure I don't."

 We went back faster than we came. 

When we got to our place in line Ben said: "Do you know why our men fired on us ?"

 "No, do you ?" 

"Yes, it was because you have on that Federal blouse."

 "Sure enough; that comes of being caught with stolen goods. This blouse and this musket belong to the Memphis militia. The blouse is more comfortable for hot weather than my coat. I ought to have pulled it off before coming, as I did at the fight last Friday, but I forgot it. I shall be more careful and wear it only in camp or on the march hereafter."

 "I tell you what I think," said Ben. "What ?"

"That there are a number of girls in this village that would like mighty well to be boys now. I bet you they'd make the Yankees see sights."

"Wasn't it fine, Ben? I saw Mrs. Sharp do the same thing at Wilson's Creek last year, but I was too; far away  to take it all in. These were young tots beside her, but they had the spirit all right. I should like to take each one by the hand and tell them so."

"Of course, a boy like you would."

"Why not?"

"Mudd, it was too bad that fellow jerked your arm away. I knew you could do what you said. When you put your eye down the barrel it was as still as death."

"Ben, I don't think I ever missed a target in my life. But now that it's over, I'm glad that the Blackfoot did pull my arm away. I don't know him but I'm going to look him up and tell him I'm glad he did it. I don't wish to know that I have killed a human being. I can not account for my desire to shoot the Federal. Had I succeeded, I feel that I should never forgive myself. Ben, I'm awfully ashamed for losing my temper and using the language I did. You can count all the oaths I ever let slip on the fingers of one hand. I think it an abominable habit. Think, too, of swearing when bullets are flying around you. I knew a man, the first lieutenant of the Callaway Guards, Company A of my regiment, at Wilson's Creek last August, who couldn't speak a sentence without four or five oaths. He had his right side to the Federals, his right arm raised over his head grasping his sword, the oaths rolling off his tongue, when a cannon ball struck him just below the armpit, cutting him nearly in two.[ii] It was a fearful sight."

Miss Riddle, now postmistress at Huntington, Ralls County, writes: "I was teaching at Florida and boarding at Mr. Wilkerson's. Very early in the morning I was awakened by Mrs. Wilkerson, who said there was trouble in town. Mr. Wilkerson had gone out to ascertain the cause of the alarm. Swift horsemen seemed to be going up and down the main street. We went into the garden for a while, but the 'zip, zip' of the minie balls over our heads convinced us that the house was a better place. It was all so unexpected so sudden that I do not think I am capable of giving a correct account; not an entire one, at least. Two Federals walked through our open hallway and one fired out eastward. I think it must have been at our boys, who were trying to get the horses hitched at the board fence south of Dr. Goodier's place." [Miss Riddle is mistaken in this. The firing was at Captain Hickerson's commissary guard The horses were left undisturbed until the action was over. Ben Vansel and I made the first attempt to get them and failed.] I tried to take in the situation. I put my head out of my window but drew it in when a clothes line a few feet away was cut in two by a minie ball. Presently I thought I saw signs of the Federals giving away and Iran out to the stile and told the boys that the Federals were running. It was said that I used a swear sword, but that was an exaggeration. It was with me as if we had escaped a horrible death. We were right between the two fires. I heard Lieutenant Hartman say, 'Come on, I am your friend,' and immediately after he fired, and I think he killed Captain Marks. I think it was the next year that Hartman came through Florida on some business. He wished to get his dinner and have his horse fed, but he failed to get either. Shortly after the battle I saw a man without a coat and he seemed to be sick. I asked a friend to give him a coat, but he was afraid of being charged with 'aiding and abetting rebels,' so I bought the coat and presented it to the coatless one. Lucy told me that she saw the Yankees retreating, many of them two on a horse. One of your men named Baker was shot in the jaw and too badly hurt to travel, and there was one wounded Federal left on the ground. We took the two to the church and treated them both alike, taking delicacies and flowers every day. Baker had to be fed principally on soup. Uncle Robert Goodier had charge of them and attended them day and night, but the ladies visited them several times each day. One day the Federals came and made Baker take the oath. I asked him if he were going to keep it. He said, 'Yes, I'm going to keep it. I'm going to be loyal to the Union until I am able to ride. I shall then change my allegiance, as the United States laws recognizes my right to do, swear fealty to the Confederacy and fight 'em again. Had they paroled me I should have kept it until exchanged.' The older boys used to teach two little fellows about four years old, named Dolph Johnson and Brit Hickman, to climb the fence and cry 'Hurrah for Jess Davis' whenever the Federal soldiers came through, which was sometimes daily. Captain Marks and young Fowler were buried in the graveyard on the Florida hills and my brother thinks the citizens afterwards placed a monument on the captain's grave. Lucy Young and I were dear friends and so were Lucy and Sue Johnson. My parents were natives of Virginia, but I am proud of my native State-Missouri.

" Miss Lizzie Young writes: "What you have written about the girls in the fight here is correct, as that is the way I have always heard it. I was small at that time, being younger than my sister, although I remember the morning of the fight quite well. Captain Marks was killed in my father's orchard; also one man wounded there, but I have forgotten his name. One wounded Federal was found in Dr. Goodier's henhouse. The wounded rebel was taken to our home, but in the afternoon both men were taken to the church and cared for by the citizens until able to be moved. Several persons now living here remember the fight, but they were quite young. Two old ladies are still here, Mrs. Jane Goss and Mrs. N. J. Davidson. The younger ones have all married except myself. They are M. A. Violette, Mrs. Mary B. Vandeventer, Mrs. Sallie C. Richart and Mrs. B. D. Pollard. The picture of my sister is a poor copy of one taken eleven years after the battle. I could not find the original. She was a strong rebel. She gave Captain Hickerson a small silk rebel flag when he was taking breakfast at my father's, just after the battle. The Federals killed young Fowler just beyond the school house when they began to retreat. He and Captain Marks are buried here."

One of the captains inquired of Colonel Porter if the retreating enemy should be followed.

"No, if we engaged their whole force I don't care to pursue them; nothing could be gained by it. If we fought only the advance, the remainder may come up and if they do they will find us ready. We couldn't catch them on foot and it would take too much time to get our horses."

We were ordered to take position behind the church and the school house and keep well out of sight of the road by which the Federals retreated and on which they would be likely to appear in the event of another attack. Half an hour later pickets were sent out and we were directed to break ranks and return to camp. I loitered a little and presently I noticed a crowd that seemed to be under some excitement. I went into it and found it was hemming in two Federal prisoners just sent in by Captain Penny and I soon learned the cause of the trouble. When young Fowler was captured he was put under our fire and when the Federals started to retreat a revolver was rammed into his face and he was shot dead in full sight of his two brothers. The two Fowlers were in a frenzy of passion and were demanding that the prisoners be immediately hung in retaliation. Their friends resolutely joined in the demand and nearly every one present voiced his approval. Fate seemed black for the prisoners. One of them, Samuel Creek, of Company F, vouchsafed not a word. He was the coolest and apparently the most unconcerned man on the ground. He was a good looking, well built young man of about twenty- five years. His eye moved slowly over the crowd of angry men, but his pulse never quickened and the color in his face never dimmed. The other prisoner, Robert E. Dunlap, was Creek's opposite in shape and temperament. Three inches taller, he weighed less; hatchet face and eagle nose. Angular and awkward, he was a bundle of nerves. His quick glance shot here and there with an intensity painful to witness. He seemed to take in everything done, said and even thought. He was talking to save his neck. His face, white with emotion, bespoke intelligence and kindness and when he turned his handsome blue-gray eye full upon you his earnest appeal for mercy-not craven but manly-stirred your deepest sympathy. All in vain. He might as well have tried to stem the hurricane by whistling against it. Young Fowler was a model boy; his two brothers were handsome, intelligent, educated and popular. Stacy's men had one will in this matter and it was for vengeance. Dunlap's knees shook and his voice faltered, but with a powerful effort he controlled his momentary weakness and continued his desperate fight for his life.

"Men," he said, "I can't blame you for how you feel in this matter. I admit you have the right to retaliate. The laws of war justify it. But is it fair? I tell you, men, it is hard for us to suffer death for the crime of another man. Neither of us had anything to do with the murder of the prisoner. I abhor such a crime. My record in the army has been an honorable one. I have never done a thing I should be ashamed for any of you to know. Now, men, put yourselves in our places: How would you like to suffer a disgraceful death for something for which you are not responsible? My last appeal to you is that if you will retaliate on us, shoot us, don't hang us."

Since then I have heard the great orators and actors of the country; have witnessed the most exciting events of the Confederate and Federal Congresses; listened to the pleas of  famous advocates in notable trials, but I have never witnessed a more dramatic incident; I never heard a more forceful appeal. But Dunlap's talk was still the whisper against the tornado. The growing cry for vengeance was hushed by the approach of Colonel Porter. Edging his way into the crowd he asked the cause of the excitement. One of the Fowlers told him. He turned sharply on Dunlap.

"What is the name of the man who killed Fowler?

"Lieutenant Hartman."

"Did you see him do it?"

"Yes, sir; just as he gave the command to retreat he drew his revolver and shot the prisoner."

"What command do you belong to?"

"The Third Iowa Cavalry."

"Major Caldwell's battalion?"

"Yes, sir." "Where is Major Caldwell?"

"He was at Paris yesterday."

"I'll find him. I know Major Caldwell. He is a good soldier and a gentleman. I'll send him a flag of truce this afternoon and demand of him the surrender of Lieutenant Hartman. I shall hold you two men as hostages for the delivery of Hartman. If that is refused, we will then string you up. But I know Major Caldwell will do what is right. He is an honorable man."

That settled it. Creek's countenance showed the same unconcern. The drawn lines in Dunlap's face relaxed; his breathing became easy. The high tension was broken. He spoke not a word, but his eye told his gratitude. He peered anxiously into many faces as if searching for sympathy. He got it, but there was no revelation that he recognized the fact.

There was something in Colonel Porter's manner which told me the affair was settled for good. The next morning but one it was reported that the flag of truce brought back the news that Lieutenant Hartman had been wounded in the engagement and that he had died. I learned a little later from fountain head that no flag of truce had left our command, but I kept the information to myself.

Lieutenant Cravin Hartman served until the end of the war, despised and hated by his own men and brother officers. One of the latter writes me that "it was reported and generally believed that Lieutenant Hartman died with his feet about one yard off of and above the ground, which was quite appropriate, some place in Arkansas." Another writes to the same effect. Two or three years after the war I was told by a Federal Captain who had been my schoolmate and who knew Hartman in the army, that he was satisfied Hartman was killed by his own men. He was sure that they would have shot him in battle if the opportunity had come for it to be done without detection.

Lieutenant Stidger is now living in Colorado. Samuel Creek is now a respected citizen of Fairfield, Iowa. Dunlap died two years ago in Keosauqua, Iowa. Their names were given-I had forgotten them-by Captain B. F. Crail, county surveyor, Fairfield, Iowa, who was a sergeant in the action in Florida. He also informed me that Sergeant Lewis G. Balding was the name of the man I drew bead upon-that is, he was "the man who stood on the extreme left." Sergeant Balding was killed October 23, 1864, in an engagement at Big Blue, Missouri.

Captain Crail has given me information concerning this and other affairs that I could get nowhere else.

Captain Penny finding that he could accomplish nothing without exposing his men to our fire, so close were the lines of battle, held off and waited. When the break came he galloped into the retreating column. The Federals were getting away rapidly, but they were not demoralized. Sergeant Crail and his men made matters interesting for a little while. The horses of Mose Beck and Bob South were shot. Next to Captain Penny, Bob was the largest man in the company. His fall shook him up so that a severe fever set in, which rendered him unfit for service for a long time. He was much attached to his horse, a fine animal which he had raised from a colt, and his worry over its loss probably aggravated his illness.

Of this incident Captain Crail writes: "You had eight of our men prisoners the same time you took Creek and Dunlap. I took six of them from you before you got them into camp. Who was the captain who took them? He had one of the men on the horse behind him. The captain caught Kirkpatrick by the left ankle and threw him off his horse when it was running at full gallop. There were two of my men on one horse (Henderson and Bristow) who, when I passed them, stopped their horse, jumped off him, in place of turning him around, and ran to the rear. I fol- lowed Creek to within forty feet of your camp."

The Federal report is: HEADQUARTERS THIRD IOWA CAVALRY, Paris, Mo., July 22, 1862,-11 A. M. SIR: At daylight this morning Joe Porter, with his whole force, three hundred strong, come into Florida from the north, and encountered fifty of my men there. After fighting nearly an hour my men retreated. Our killed, wounded and missing number twenty-six. The enemy's loss in killed will greatly exceed ours. I can maintain my position here, but I have not sufficient force to hold the town and pursue. I cannot tell at this hour whether Porter will return north, continue south, or remain on Salt River. I go to Florida at once with one hundred men. I would suggest that a force three hundred strong be sent out to Florida at once. Respectfully, H. C. CALDWELL, Major Third Iowa Cavalry. COL. LEWIS MERRILL, Saint Louis, Mo. JUDGE HENRY C. CALDWELL Major of Third Iowa Cavalry

This report gives fifty as the number of the Federal force. Captain Crail in a letter to me says there were twenty men of his company, F, and two sergeants under Lieutenant Hart- man, and the same number of Company G under command of Lieutenant Stidger. Hartman, being senior officer, was in command. If Major Caldwell made his report on his own knowledge, the number must be taken out of controversy: It was fifty. But if his report was based on information obtained from Lieutenant Hartman it is entitled to no credence whatever. The veracity and integrity of Major Caldwell has never been questioned. The same can be said of Captain Crail. With him, however, it is a matter of recollection after forty-six years, and my recollection differs from his. It seems to be as fresh in my memory as if it were done yesterday that the head of our column, which became our left, struck the right of the enemy evenly; that we reached the line of battle by a movement similar to that of a spoke in a wheel making the one-fourth of a revolution; that I was the end man but one on our right, and that our line overlapped theirs less than ten feet. We had between ninety and ninety-five men engaged on foot.

The official report says "our killed, wounded and missing number twenty-six." Captain Crail says that they had twenty six men wounded and none killed. Considering the two missing-captured by us-there is a discrepancy, but that is a small matter. I am sure the captain is right about the loss in killed. They could not have had a man killed without the fact being discovered by us. Our loss was two killed-Captain John Marks, killed in battle, and Fowler, killed while a prisoner-and two wounded, not seriously- a man named Baker and the name of the other not remembered. Had not nearly a third of our men kept their fire, being mistaken as to the identity of the Federals, their loss would have been much heavier.

The Fulton Telegraph gave this account of the affair:

On Tuesday morning, July 22, at daybreak, Lieutenants Stidger and Hartman with fifty men of the Third Iowa Cavalry encountered the guerrilla Porter and his band, three hundred strong, at Florida, in Monroe County, and after fighting nearly one hour were obliged to retire.

Out of Lieutenant Stidger's squad of twelve men there were three missing--Henry Grogen, supposed killed; R. Dunlap and Wm. Miller.

Wounded and brought in-Joseph Brinnergar, in the arm; David Miller, in the head; William Clark, in the hip. Of Lieutenant Hartman's squad, missing--Garnett, Fuller, the two Kirkpatricks, Henderson, Mineely, Lindsay, Car penter, W. T. Bristow, (formerly compositor in this office), Long, Fletcher and Creek. Wounded and brought in-First Sergeant Baldwin, in the arm; Corporals Jones, Palmer and Hern; McBurney, the two Orndorffs, severely, and Charles Davis. O

Our men fought desperately.

[i] This was a mistake. Hon. C. C. Turner, presiding justice of the Boone
Court, sends me forty-two names, including his own, as a partial list of
the Blackfoot Rangers, under command of Captain Frost and Lieutenant
Bowles, and says they joined Porter "about July 26." Comrade C. H.
Hance, city treasurer of Los Angeles, California, sends seven names,
including his own, as having gone from the vicinity of Renick, Randolph
County, to join Frost's company in Boone County. This list includes one
name in the list of forty-two. He mentions the same incidents as Judge
Turner, but does not give the date on which the company joined Porter.
I well remember the date. It was the morning of Sunday, July 27. Until
the receipt of this information I did not know that the Blackfoot Rangers
and Captain Frost's company were the same. The names are given in
Appendix K. So the Blackfoot Rangers were not in the engagement at
Florida, and I have failed to learn the identity of the company I thought
was the Blackfoot.

[ii] The same ball decapitated Isaac Terrill and wounded three men. Terrill
and I made all the cartridges used by our regiment that day. Each con-
tained nine bullets. There were issued to each man a hundred cartridges
and a gallon of bullets, with orders to pour down a handful after ramming
the cartridge home.