Grant Visits Florida

“History of Grant’s Visit to Florida in 1861”

The “BAKER” house, in process of preservation at Florida, Missouri, is a memorial to U. S. GRANT’s first move toward combat in the Civil War.

About the middle of July 1861, Col. GRANT was ordered to move his regiment against the force of Gen. Tom HARRIS, presumed to be camped at Gum Spring on the eastern edge of Monroe County. The Gum Spring campground was a pretty valley in the Salt river hills much used by organized and organizing pro-Southern groups as a hideaway and training camp. A strong, spring-fed, creek flowing through the valley provided plenty of drinking water.

Gen. HARRIS moved to the camping place after the “battle” on July 11, at Monroe City. While there a report was brought to him of GRANT’s preparation to move against him and by the time GRANT started HARRIS was moving far away from the camp ground.

GRANT and his men marched to the camp; using teams and wagons only to carry food, armament and equipment. They spent a night on the way and the next day moved on to the “Rebel” camp ready for a fight. GRANT was leading a recently formed regiment to their first experience of combat. He felt the great weight of his responsibility and dreaded the moment when his men would come into view of the camp and find the enemy in armed waiting. But when they crested the last hill before the valley they found the campground empty. On inquiry it was discovered HARRIS and his men had retreated days ago. GRANT then led his men back to Florida and the regiment rested there for the night.

According to tradition GRANT stayed in the present day “BAKER” house, built before the Civil War for Dr. James GOODIER. This house still stands, a long neglected building, until this month closed from view by the thick growth around it of shrubs, vines and young black locust trees. It is now valued as one of GRANT’s “field headquarters” of the war, and efforts to open it to view and preserve it are in effect.

However, the significance of GRANT’s movement into the Florida area is not merely the fact that he was quartered in a certain house there and remained overnight. The march to, and stay in, Florida has much more meaning than “GRANT slept here.” Aside from its strict military significance, it was a big step in GRANT’s self discipline and in the training of his green regiment. GRANT had a regiment, made up for the most part of independent minded Illinois farm youth, who had previously refused to serve under a Colonel assigned to head them GRANT was trying to shape this regiment into an orderly, war-fightable group of men. Before the move to the Florida area his regiment had the unexciting job of guarding the rebuilding of the railroad bridge over the North Fork of Salt river near Hunnewell. Orders to move against Gen. HARRIS and men in camp at Gum Spring meant a war assignment of excitement and danger. HARRIS’ force was known to have seen some combat, to be of regimental strength and on home ground. An earlier attempt by Union troops to force HARRIS from the area had been halted short of Florida. The new orders meant the uttermost business of war, killing and being killed. This concert of tension for forthcoming combat must have given GRANT’s men a strong pull together.

GRANT testified to his fear on approaching HARRIS’ campground. It was, he said, a relief to find the enemy had left the camping place and instructive to see that the enemy was as afraid of him as he had been on the enemy. He gained a confidence for combat which he never lost. Soon afterwards he became a General and was ordered to command a district form Ironton, Missouri. Finding the enemy nearby in large force he immediately planned a large offensive and had the offensive boldly started when ordered to release command of his district to another General. He said his experience against HARRIS had inspired him with confidence.

We may warrantably believe that feelings somewhat similar to GRANT’s were working in his men and the anti-climactic result of the movement against HARRIS had a like lesson to them. Moreover, the men were testing GRANT, and their Colonel’s resolute leading to attack the force at Gum Spring must have proven to the 21st Illinois that they had an able and courageous commander. While they gained some confidence on their own action they gained additional confidence from their test of their leader.

Also, on the way and while at Florida, GRANT was given a fine opportunity to impress on his men the need to be soldiers and not robbers, vandals or marauders. That he did so impress them is testified to by Braxton POLLARD, who was 20 at the time and lived near the town of Florida. In 1923, he said, “GRANT not only established headquarters in Florida but took over most of the homes as quartering places for his troops. A squad was sent to my father’s place, with notice from GRANT that they were to be entertained. Any crops or stock that might be lost, he promised, would be paid for. All of us were warned to keep indoors until further notice. GRANT soon marched away. Although Florida was Southern all the way through, it retained wholesome respect for GRANT after he was gone because he had the utmost courtesy and consideration.” 

I find in an old APPEAL that John S. BLUE, who was 14 at the time, recalled that GRANT stayed at Dr. GOODIER’s place and that most of his men camped south of town near the Hickman mill and “Dug Out Hill” spring.

Miss VANDEVENTER of Mexico, Missouri, on reading about the “BAKER” house, wrote Mrs. L. R. JANES that she always heard from her parents and other old residents of the Florida area that GRANT was a guest of Dr. GOODIER. Dr. GOODIER and Rev. YOUNG, the Methodist minister, she said, were Federalist. She also recalled that Lucy YOUNG, sister of “Lizzie” YOUNG and daughter of the minister, was said to have waited on the supper table the night GRANT stayed in the “BAKER” or old “GOODIER” house.

Source: Newspaper article from the appeared in the 26 Oct 1961 Monroe County Appeal dated October 26, 1961; submitted by Judy Barker Barklage.