Florida’s FANTASTIC Civil War Heritage Sites

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I recently came across a listing of the 12 fantastic Civil War sites, and to my dismay, none were from Florida! It was then that I realized that many folks in the North Central Region, as well as around the state, may not be familiar with the great Civil War sites that Florida offers. Florida seems to be the forgotten state of the Confederacy. Even in a 1860s Northern newspaper Florida was described as the “smallest tadpole in the dirty pool of secession”.  The state’s role in the Civil War has not been as thoroughly researched as other states in the South, but there has been a recent revival in the interest of Florida’s role in the Civil War. Florida was still a very frontier-like state at the start of the Civil War, with its territorial period having ended in 1845. The 1860 census reports that the population of Florida at that time totaled 140,424 with almost 45 percent of those recorded being slaves. More than 15,00 Floridians served in the confederate military and others, including more than 1,000 African Americans served in the Union Army. They fought in battles both in Florida and outside of the state. Eventually, decades later the “smallest tadpole” would emerge from the war as a major and influential player in the New South. Of course, this war had a lasting effect on the state, and many remnants of the Civil War remain part of the state’s great cultural history and can be seen still today. There are so many FANTASTIC Civil War sites in Florida that it would be impossible to list them all in this post. I can give a few highlights though!

The Orman House in Apalachicola.

Apalachicola is famous for its oysters, but it also has a great history. During the Civil War Apalachicola was the largest cotton port in Florida. It was the third largest cotton port on the Gulf of Mexico, behind New Orleans and Mobile. This port was an active area for blockade running as you can imagine. It was also an active area for salt production. As you stroll through the historic town you can find multiple sites relating to the Civil War.  At least 76 Confederate soldiers are buried in Chestnut Street Cemetery, along with other historical figures of the town of Apalachicola. Now a state park, the Orman House was constructed by Confederate sympathizer and businessman, Thomas Orman. Orman was arrested and detained by Union authorities during the Civil War. Local lore tells of Mrs. Sarah Orman warning Confederate soldiers up river of the approaching Union troops by walking on the roof and pretending to repair roof shingles. There are several other Civil War sites located in the town, including the Raney House and Trinity Episcopal Church.  There are many surrounding communities that have ties to the Civil War as well including St. George Island, Sumatra and Port St. Joe.

Tallahassee has more Civil War sites than you can shake a stick at! One of the lesser known sites is that of Fort Houstoun, also known as Old Fort. This is an earthen fort , one of

The 2nd Infantry USCT Reenactment Troop at the Battle of Natural Bridge Reenactment.

the few left that was constructed to protect Florida’s capital. At the time it was situated on a plantation belonging to Edward Houstoun. Today it sits in the middle of a suburban neighborhood in “Old Fort Park”. Due to the Unions defeat at Natural Bridge (just south of Tallahassee in Woodville), this fort was never utilized to protect the capital. The Tallahassee Old City Cemetery, located downtown, includes the remains of both Union and Confederate soldiers, some of who died at the Battle of Natural Bridge.

South of Tallahassee and Woodville, down by the Gulf Coast is situated St. Marks. Here, now as a state park, are the remains of Fort Ward. This fort was fist constructed by the Spanish in 1678 at the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers. Later this fort was occupied by Confederate forces in 1861. Union forces failed to take control of St. Marks and Ford Ward and the fort remained in Confederate control until the end of the war.

The Olustee Battlefield Monument.

The area surrounding Live Oak and Lake City also has several wonderful Civil War sites.  Earthenwork fortifications are visible at Suwannee River State Park in Live Oak. These earthworks were created to protect the railroad bridge that crossed the Suwannee River. Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is located in Baker County, east of Lake City.  Here is the site of the state’s largest Civil War battle. The Confederates successfully defeated the Union Army, which were forced back to Jacksonville.  A monument was erected at the site in 1899. In 1909 three acres of the battlefield were donated to the State of Florida, and the Olustee Battlefield became the first Florida State Park. Each year the largest Civil War reenactment in the state is held at this site in February.

As you can see, Florida has a ton of Civil War sites. This post just barely scratches the surface of Florida’s vast Civil War history. There are several great resources available to those wishing to learn more about Florida during the Civil War. Online you can check out FPAN’S Destination: Civil War. You can even take Destination: Civil War along with you as you visit these sites with our Civil War iPhone App.  You can also  check out the permanent Civil War exhibit at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee. The Florida Association of Museums has produced the Florida Civil War Heritage Trail booklet which is available at your local FPAN office or by contacting the Florida Division of Historical Resources. This year is the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. So take some time to reflect on this influential time in our history by visiting some of our states fantastic Civil War sites. To learn about events happening nationwide you can visit the Civil War Trusts website.