A Federal Raid into Southeast Alabama

by Allen W. Jones

From THE ALABAMA REVIEW October, 1961

When Alabama joined the confederacy in 1861, the citizens of the state never expected to experience an invasion by Union troops.(1) Most people in the state thought the war would be over within a year and they all believed that the fighting would be confined to the Upper South and to the Border States. Alabama was protected on all sides by sister Confederate States. The Gulf coast area around Mobile was the only area exposed to the enemy and this was easily defended by fortifications around Mobile Bay. The people of Alabama believed they were secure from enemy invasion.(2)

During the first year of the war Governor A.B. Moore and his staff did not seem very concerned with a plan of defense for the state and spent their efforts supplying the Confederacy with men and supplies.(3) In February, 1862 the war became a reality for the citizens of Alabama, when a Federal raiding expedition sailed up the Tennessee River to Florence. The arrival of Union troops on the "sacred soil" of Alabama greatly alarmed the public and they flooded the Governor's office with demands for protection. In the spring and summer of 1862 Governor John Gill Shorter focused his strength and attention on driving the enemy from North Alabama.(4)

While Union troops spread the horrors of war through North Alabama, the people in South Alabama were alarmed by the enemy's capture and occupation of New Orleans and Pensacola.(5) Governor Shorter attempted to calm the fears in the Gulf coast region by announcing his intentions to organize a large military force "to repel invasion and to place Mobile in a state of defense." He proposed to recruit sixty companies of volunteer "minute men" from the counties of Southwest Alabama. The Governor made no mention, however, of using this force for the protection of any area of the state, except Mobile.(1) By the late summer of 1862 the defenses of that city had been made almost impregnable and all the Federal troops had retired from North Alabama. This gave shorter an opportunity to turn his attention to the defenseless area of Southeast Alabama.(2)

The counties of Covington, Coffee, Dale, and Henry, with the adjoining part of Northwest Florida, were generally poor and sparsely populated. This region, which contained many swamps, caves, and dense thickets, had become a hiding place for deserters, runaway slaves, Tories and conscripts.(3) During the fall and winter of 1862 Shorter and Governor John Milton of Florida made appeals to the Confederate Government for the protection of this area.(4) The Secretary of War responded to these demands with the assignment of Brigadier General Howell Cobb to a new command, the Department of Middle Florida, with boundaries extending from the Suwannee River to the Choctawhatchee River.(5)

Governor Shorter, convinced that a more positive program of defense was needed, on November 4, 1862 appealed directly to President Jefferson Davis for the formation of a new military department to be composed of thirty counties in Southeast Alabama, Northwest Florida and Southwest Georgia.(6)

In the meantime, Brigadier General Cobb assumed command of the District of Middle Florida. After making an examination of the territory, he informed General Pierre G. T. Beauregard that it would be impossible to defend the 140 miles between the Suwannee and Choctawhatchee rivers with the small number of troops which he had.(7).

The Union forces that operated along the Gulf coast and around Pensacola were aware of the inadequate Confederate defenses in the area and in November, 1862 Acting Master Elias D. Bruner, commander of the blockading schooner Charlotte, and Lieutenant James H. Stewart of the Ninety-First New York Volunteers, who was stationed in Pensacola, made plans to send a raiding expedition up the Choctawhatchee River. The purpose was to seize a steamship called the Bloomer which was anchored aboutone hundred miles inland. Stewart agreed to furnish a detachment of twenty-five soldiers and Bruner promised to provide the necessary naval personnel to put the Bloomer in order and return it down the Choctawhatchee.(8)

On December 17 Stewart and his men joined Bruner and the crew of the Charlotte, which was anchored at East Pass near the east end of Santa Rosa Island, and, after securing extra boats, arms and ammunition from the U.S.S. Potomac, moved across Choctawhatchee Bay to La Grange Bayou where they camped the evening of December 24. While there, the raiders were joined by a Mr. Jones, formerly of Geneva, Alabama, licensed United States ship pilot.(9)

On Christmas morning Bruner sent Stewart and Master's Mate Edward Crissey with two boats of soldiers to Four-Mile Landing at the extreme eastern end of Choctawhatchee Bay. This advance party was ordered to seize all the horses and teams it could find. Later the same morning Bruner moved the main body of the expedition forward, leaving the vessel at La Grange Bayou in charge of Coxswain Nathan S. Mallory and five men. When Bruner arrived at Four-Mile Landing, the advance party had secured a number of horses and teams which were used to pull the howitzer and carry the provisions. By three o'clock in the afternoon the expedition had unloaded the gun, ammunition, and supplies from the Charlotte and were ready to push forward. They traveled sixteen miles before camping for the night.(10)

Early in the morning of December 26 the raiders broke camp and marched rapidly northward. The halted in the afternoon within seventeen miles of Geneva. From this point Bruner sent out a scouting patrol to ascertain whether the route was clear and whether the steamship Bloomer was afloat. One of the scouts returned to state that she lay one mile below Geneva and that no enemy troops were in the vicinity.

At three o'clock the next morning, December 27, Crissey and twenty men moved ahead and by daylight had located Stewart and boarded the Bloomer without being discovered. A few hours later Bruner arrived with the main body of the raiding expedition. Pilot Jones and the engineers quickly determined that the ship could be put in running order within twenty-four hours. Bruner immediately put his crew to work while Stewart and his men guarded the operation.

The engineers and mechanics labored throughout the night and by eight o'clock Sunday morning, December 28, reported everything was ready to move. But when the engine was fired, they discovered a hole in one of the boilers. This unexpected event delayed action until three o'clock in the afternoon.(11)

The citizens of Geneva did not discover the presence of the raiding party until Sunday morning, when the engine of the Bloomer was fired. H.W. Laird, a prominent Genevan, began immediately to organize a force to arrack the "Yankee Invaders." By night he had assembled about two hundred and fifty men.(12) Laird suggested that they pursue the raiders whose were now on their way down the Choctawhatchee River towards Florida, in the Bloomer. Colonel B.W. Starke, Judge J.G. Moore and others from Elba quibbled as to the propriety of going out of the state. Other citizens opposed the pursuit because they did not have horses and weapons. Starke reminded the crowd that their only effective weapon was a 4-pound signal gun and "whenever it fired, hoards of Yankees would probably surround us and take us all prisoners." This threw the men into confusion and the emergency army quickly lost it aggressiveness. And when Laird announced that he was going to give chase to the invaders, only seventy-eight volunteers agreed to follow him. His plan of pursuit was hastily abandoned when it was discovered that less than half of his followers has horses and guns.(13)

In the meantime, the Federal raiders aboard the Bloomer steamed slowly down the river towards Choctawhatchee Bay. The trip took almost three days and was described by Bruner as "one of the very worst rivers I have ever been in." On December 30 the Bloomer arrived safely along side the Charlotte in La Grange Bayou. Bruner divided his crew and both ships weighed anchor. Lieutenant Stewart and his men were delivered to Pensacola and the Bloomer was turned over to the United States Navy.

Brigadier General Neal Dow, commander at Pensacola, sent a caustic protest to Rear Admiral D. G. Farragut, commander of the Gulf Squadron, United States Navy, regarding Bruner's claim to the Bloomer as a prize of war, stating that the Bloomer was the rightful prize of the Army and that Bruner had taken the ship illegally. The General's account of the raid described Stewart and his men as the organizers, directors, and heroes of the capture. Farragut promptly replied that he would order an investigation of the disputed prize of war.(14)

While the United States Army and Navy debated the ownership of the Bloomer, Governor Shorter made preparations for the defense of Southeast Alabama. Governor Milton of Florida wired Shorter that "an enemy force of 250 with artillery had captured and burned Geneva and was advancing on Elba," adding that Tories, deserters, and Negroes were joining the enemy and that it would take at least "one thousand men to protect this part of west Florida and south Alabama." Shorter immediately appointed Colonel James H. Clanton a special aide-de-camp and ordered him to the region "to repel the invasion." Clanton left Montgomery on December 30 and arrived in Elba two days later, "authorized to call volunteers, cavalry and infantry, and, if need be, to order out any number of militia companies in Dale and Coffee Counties, and in the name of the Governor of Alabama, to provide arms, ammunition, subsistence, and quartermaster's stores by purchase of impressment."(15)

On December 31, 1862 Shorter wired Major General S. B. Buckner, commander of the District of the Gulf with headquarters in Mobile, to send a company of cavalry and a battery of artillery across the state to intercept and cut off the Geneva raiding expedition. Buckner promptly directed his chief of staff to lead a heavy cavalry force with artillery from Pollard through Andalusia to Geneva.(16)

By the time the Confederate troops from Pollard arrived in Geneva, Clanton had fromed a company of cavalry rangers. During January, 1863 this combined force operated in Northwest Florida, arresting Union sympathizers and deserters and seizing or destroying their property. The operations of this force around Choctawhatchee Bay brought alarm to the United States Gulf Squadron. Acting Master Bruner, who was still stationed in Choctawhatchee Bay, notified Admiral Farragut that a force of "800 rebel cavalry and infantry, led by Colonel Clanton," was preparing to attack. The attack never occurred.(17)

Several Alabama newspapers carried vague and exaggerated accounts of the Geneva raid. The Selma Morning Reporter concluded, January 2. 1865, that it was "intended as a feint to draw off our troops from Mobile or some other important point." The Troy Southern Advertiser was of the opinion that the enemy was trying to establish himself at the head of the Choctawhatchee River for the purpose of harassing all of Southeast Alabama.(18) The Montgomery Weekly Mail was the most optimistic. Its editor noted that no damage had been done by the enemy and that, therefore, the purpose of the raid was probably "to reconnoitre the country and perhaps steal chickens and pigs for the Christmas festivities."(19)

This brief, bold raid into Southeast Alabama did a great deal more than frighten the citizens. Governor Shorter and others responsible for the defense of the state were suddenly made aware that their back door was open to the enemy. On January 10, 1863 Shorter wrote to President Davis, describing the situation and requesting his co-operation in establishing a proper defense. He informed him that he had instructed Clanton "to raise and muster into the service of the state, for thirty days, a force adequate to drive out the enemy and protect the southeast corner of the state." In and effort to hasten the formation of the emergency force, he continued, he had authorized Clanton to include in his enlistment men in Covington, Coffee, Dale, Henry, Pike and Barbour counties who were liable to conscription. He expressed belief that many of the men who were evading conscription would promptly enlist in the state service for thirty days. He recalled that Clanton had earlier received authority from the War Department "to raise for six months' service, a regiment of cavalry to be composed of men not subject to conscription and to be employed in the 'defense of the Coast of Alabama and Florida, west of the Apalachicola River'." In conclusion, he suggested that Clanton be permitted to enlist companies or smaller numbers instead of a complete regiment, because of the shortage of able-bodied men.(20)

In order to insure prompt action, Governor Shorter detailed his brother, Colonel Eli S. Shorter, as a special aide and sent him directly to Richmond to visit the President. In late January Colonel Shorter met with Davis and with Secretary of War James. A. Seddon. The meeting resulted in the approval of all of Shorter's proposals. The President pointed out in his approval that the conscripts taken into Clanton's organizations would be "held subject to the acts of conscription whenever the demand for service elsewhere became necessary."(21)

Armed with full authority, Clanton launched a vigorous recruiting campaign. He proceeded so rapidly that his authority was extended to other counties through South Alabama, and he was permitted to enlarge his command to a brigade. The work continued until September, 1863 and, when it was completed, Clanton's Brigade included forty companies. As a reward for his fine work, Clanton was commissioned a brigadier-general on November 16, 1863. What had begun as a small force for the protection of Southeast Alabama, had become one of Alabama's greatest contributions to the Confederate cause.(22)

While Governor Shorter planned his defense, the captured Bloomer was christened the U.S.S. Bloomer and assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. She served along the northwest coast of Florida until June, 1865, at which time she was wrecked and sunk in East Pass, off Santa Rosa Island, Florida.

When the case of the Bloomer came before the United States Claims Court at New Orleans, February, 1864, the prize was awarded to Master Bruner and his crew. The United States paid $5,100 for ship. Eighteen months later, on September 22, 1865, the Bloomer was sold to S.P. Griffin Company, Woolsey, Florida, for $1,500.(23)

1. This paper was read at the annual meeting of the Alabama Historical Association, Montgomery, April 21, 1961.

2. Albert B. Moore History of Alabama (University, Ala., 1934), 428-429; L. D. Miller, History of Alabama (Birmingham, 1901), 154-156.

3. See the Governor A.B. Moore Papers (Alabama State Department of Archives and History, Montgomery); Alabama Acts, 1861 (Montgomery, 1862). Moore reported that Alabama had furnished 27,000 men to the armies of the Confederacy by October 7, 1861.

4. Miller, 158-170; Moore, 430-431

5.James G. Randall, The Civil War and Reconstruction (New York, 1937), 579; Julien C. Yonge, "Pensacola in the War for Southern Independence," Florida Historical Quarterly, XXXVII, 357-360 (Jan., Apr., 1959).

1. Columbus (Ga.) Weekly Enquirer, March 18, 1862.

2. Walter L. Fleming, Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama (Cleveland, 1911), 69; Miller, 164.

3. Shorter to James A. Seddon, Jan. 14, 1863 (in Shorter Papers, Alabama State Department of Archives and History, Montgomery); Fred S. Watson, Piney Wood Echoes, A History of Dale and Coffee Counties, Alabama (Elba, 1949), 141-142; Bessie Martin, Desertion of Alabama Troops From the Confederate Army (New York,, 1932), 49-50.

4. Shorter to Seddon, Sept. 22, 1862, in War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1907), 1, XIV, 630 (hereinafter ORA).

5. See Horace Montgomery, Howell Cobb's Confederate Career, Confederate Centennial Studies, No. 10 (Tuscaloosa, 1959),99 ff; ORA, 1,XIV,677.

6. This proposal was endorsed by Governors Joseph Brown of Georgia and John Milton of Florida. It suggested that the states of Alabama, Georgia and Florida be authorized to call for six months' volunteers from among "those not subject to conscription and those subject to conscription between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five years." The regiments organized under this authority would be turned over to the Confederate Government which would appoint a commander for the group(ibid., 1.XIV,716-717).

7. Ibid., 1,XIV, 702-705, 737-738.

8. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, 1894-1927), 1,XIX, 425-426 (hereinafter ORN). The Bloomer was a 130-ton sidewheeler with high pressure engines. She was armed with one 32-pound gun and one 12-pound gun. Her owner is not known and the reason for the ship's location in the Choctawhatchee River is a mystery. She is believed to have been built in New Albany in 1856 (ibid., 2,I,46).

9. ibid.,1,XIX,425-426.

10. Montgomery Weekly Mail, Jan. 14, 1863.

11. ORN, 1,XIX, 425-426.

12. Geneva County was not established until December 26, 1868. The town of Geneva was located in Coffee County during the war and it had a population of 126-22 Negroes and 104 whites. See W. Brewer, Alabama: Her History, Resources, War Record and Public Men from 1540-1872 (Montgomery, 1872), 258.

13. Laird to Shorter, Jan.6, 1863 (Shorter Papers).

14. ORN, 1,XIX, 425-428; ORA, 1,XV, 629.

15. Telegrams, Benjamin Porter, S. Mabry, and John Milton to Shorter, Dec. 29, 30, 31, 1862 (Military Records Division, Alabama State Department of Archives and History, Montgomery); ORA, I, LII (2), 401-402; Shorter to Milton, Jan. 10, 1863 (Shorter Papers).

16. ORA, I, LII (2), 402; Buckner to Shorter, Jan.2, 1863 (Shorter Papers).

17. Troy (Ala.) Southern Advertiser, Jan.. 28, 1863; ORN, I, XIX,, 574-575.

18. Jan.7, 1863.

19. Dec. 31, 1862.

20. ORA, I,LII (2), 411;ibid., I, XV, 939-940; Montgomery Weekly Advertiser, Jan. 7, 1863.

21. ORA, I, XV, 939-948; ibid., I, LII(2), 411, 414-415.

22. Clanton's Brigade included the 57th Alabama Regiment Infantry, the 61st Alabama Regiment Infantry, 6th Alabama Regiment Calvary, 7th Alabama Regiment Calvary, Clanton's Battery, and Tarrant's Battery (in Clanton Folder, Military Records Division of the Alabama State Department of Archives and History, Montgomery); see William Garrett, Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama for Thirty Years (Atlanta, 1872), 632-645.

23. ORN, I,XX, 718-719; ibid., I, XXI, 120,, 744; ibid., I, XXII, 3,12,25,38,56,106,118,120,128,171,188,212,230,256; ibid., 2,I,46.