Women, children left behind when Florida joins the Confederacy
After almost two decades of peace in Volusia County, the domestic tranquility of the entire country was shattered in the most dramatic of ways.
This time, hostile confrontations were not fought over land ownership, but rather over slave ownership.
Slavery had been well-established in the United States since the earliest days of its Colonial period. Any abolitionists’ hopes that slavery as an institution would eventually wither away had been demolished by the invention of the cotton gin in 1794.
Previously, it had taken one slave approximately 10 hours to separate 1 pound of cotton fiber from the seedpods. Using a cotton gin, two slaves could produce 50 pounds in just one day.
With this greatly heightened productivity, by the presidential election year of 1860, two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton was being provided by the U.S. Southern states, and many fortunes were created.
Before critic of slavery Abraham Lincoln could even be inaugurated, seven Southern states seceded and formed a Confederacy. Florida was the third state to join these ranks.
With the Confederate resistance needing to muster an army, each member state was asked to supply a quota of soldiers.
The resulting exodus of nearly all of Florida’s able-bodied men caused the burden of protecting families and property to fall on the women, children and elderly who were left behind.
Area settlers’ memoirs recorded the devastating effects of losing all the adult men on the small farms and ranches of West Volusia.
Dora Blackwelder and her children were down to very little food and resources when a party of Yankee soldiers showed up on their property searching for supplies.
Daughter Martha recalled that her mother told the men she had “a little corn meal, but ain’t got me no tobaccie for my pipe.”
To the family’s astonishment, some tobacco was brought in immediately, and the soldiers insisted on transporting all the family members to St. Augustine, where they could be “safely cared for.”
Three weeks later, the family decided to return to their West Volusia homestead and struck out overland on a journey that took six days.
Dora’s sisters-in-law did not fare as well as she had. Probably because of suspicions that the Clifton brothers were supplying food to the Rebels, when Yankee soldiers raided their farm, everything the army couldn’t use was destroyed. Phoebe Clifton said she was left with not so much as a comb.
Ruben Marsh Jr. had joined the Confederate States Army as soon as the war started.
Like many on both sides of the conflict, he believed his side would quickly prevail.
Young men were particularly eager to enlist immediately for fear the fighting would be over before they had a chance to take part. However, as the war dragged on, Marsh followed the common practice of hiring a substitute so he could return to his responsibilities at home.
Once there, he and a neighbor kept their cattle safe from Yankee raiding parties by driving them into the Spruce Creek islands for the winter.
One day, Yankee soldiers came to Marsh’s homestead when he was away at Cabbage Bluff and threatened to burn the house down if his wife didn’t summon Ruben Marsh.
When he finally arrived and subsequently refused to take an oath of allegiance to the federal government, the soldiers confiscated Marsh’s horse and mule, and took him and all the men in the area to Hilton Head as prisoners. His wife was left with two young boys to care for and no means to plow the fields.
When Marsh and the other area men’s prison terms in Hilton Head were finished, they refused an offer of federal pay to stay there and work for the government.
Marsh reportedly replied, “There isn’t enough money in the United States to keep me from going home.”
He walked overland to St. Augustine, where he purchased a horse he knew he would need on his farm and rode it back to his Central Florida property.
In the ensuing days, Marsh continued with his farming and livestock business and returned to operating his Cabbage Bluff store.
Cow hunters and blockades
Florida was the least populous of the Confederate states, with only 16,000 who fit the conscription category of white males between the ages of 18 and 45.
Thus the state’s greater contribution to the Confederate cause would be realized in goods rather than manpower.
The best commodity Florida had to offer was its cattle herds, since it had the longest history of ranching of any state in the U.S.
By the time the war was in full swing, Florida’s vast scrub was thick with free-ranging longhorns left over from the Spanish cattle ranches that had dotted the territory 200 years before the ranches of the west.
Especially after the fall of Vicksburg in 1863 gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union, and cut off Confederate access to Texas beef, Florida cattlemen drove large herds across the Central Florida prairie to provide all the beef that was needed to feed the Rebel troops.
Over the course of the Civil War, only one major battle took place on Florida soil.
On Feb. 20, 1864, a federal force pushed west out of occupied Jacksonville, and engaged with Rebel troops in the town of Olustee, 10 miles east of Lake City.
On the other hand, there were many local skirmishes that occurred due to federal raids into the interior of the state.
Common targets for these kinds of clashes were the sugar mills that supplied Confederate troops. In April of 1864, one such raid occurred at the Starke family’s Spring Garden cotton and sugar plantation.
Its water-powered sugar mill had been rebuilt after the Seminoles burned it, and now, more than 30 years later, the property was once again totally destroyed, this time by Union forces. That same year, a Union gunboat attack on a sugar mill 2 miles from the city of Enterprise was foiled by the Confederates.
For the most part, however, the pioneers of Central Florida saw little fighting.
The most troublesome aspect for them, particularly in the final two years of the war, was the increasing likelihood of being harassed by renegade bands of deserters and draft dodgers from both sides.
These bandits found convenient cover in the swamps and dense forests that blanketed the middle of the state, and made their living by rustling cattle and raiding the homes of the settlers.
Sneak attacks of this kind persisted for several years after the war ended. Most Central Florida pioneers made it a practice to carry firearms with them at all times.
— Ryder and her husband, Bob Wetton, live in DeLand and are active members of the West Volusia Historical Society. For information about obtaining a copy of her book Better Country Beyond, call the Historical Society at 386-740- 6813, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All proceeds from the sale of this book go to the West Volusia Historical Society’s Bill Dreggors Fund, which helps finance the printing of books about West Volusia history.