Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Florida - Not Everyone Waved the Confederate Flag

"Blockaders, Refugees and Contrabands – the Civil War in Florida,” by George Buker, 1993

This slim, detailed book of history nevertheless adds to the overwhelming evidence that the Confederacy lost the Civil War because its own people ultimately did not support the ‘really lost cause.’  It gives the lie to the southern reactionary nationalists who claim the war was an example of solidarity among all ‘white’ southerners.  This is a foundational lie uniting some white people and the white ruling elite in the South, which is why it is essential to expose.  It is the historic background for the present neo-Confederate and Copperhead "Tea Party."  Floridians, especially, will enjoy the tale of their conflicted state. Buker is a former Navy man, now a professor.  His book suffers from common academic scourges - bad writing and a confusing narrative.  However, it is based on original research, and the facts don't lie.

Blacks, of course, don’t count in the neo-Confederate retelling, except imaginary fables about how blacks loved the plantation system and bondage.  Blacks in slavery were apx. 38.68% of the total southern population.  There were also a number of free blacks, which brought total black numbers up to 40.17% of the total southern population. It is no exaggeration to suggest that, between the blacks and the whites who opposed secession, the majority in almost every state were against it and the bloody war it brought. 

Total Population
Free Population
Black Slave Population
Free Blacks
All Blacks



North Carolina




South Carolina




1860 Census Totals:


Slave & FB

Florida actually voted overwhelmingly against succession in their first convention vote on the subject in 1860 – 258 to 95.  This showed that Floridians were not deeply convinced at all. However, at the following convention in Tallahassee in 1861, under pressure by other states who had already seceded and by violent intimidation, a vote to secede was achieved.  As Buker explains it, even Union men chose to vote yes to put the onus on the secessionists.

As the war went on, the stupid initial optimism died out – as it does in so many wars.  The Confederate government passed laws that exempted slave owners from the draft or impressed old men, the Confederate ‘regulators’ came to take what they could from ordinary farmers and workers, more and more soldiers were injured, furloughed or just plain quit, and normal citizens starved.  The weak support for the war turned into its opposite quite quickly, especially after August 1863.  While the slave and plantation areas of central Florida still supported the war, along the coasts, especially the Gulf coast from Fort Myers to Pensacola, thousands of white Floridians escaped into the swamps, islands and Union protected settlements to avoid the Confederacy. Almost every significant river outlet had a group of pro-Union renegades camped there.  Only 30% were Confederate deserters.  A significant number joined the Union army – the US 2nd Florida Cavalry was made up of these Florida refugees - or the navy, which easily took them onboard.  Others took up arms as guerilla units, guides, informers, saboteurs and even spies.  Most of these families and men were regular workers and farmers with no economic stake in the slave system. 

The Confederates burned the houses of many known western Florida pro-Union men, and imprisoned their wives and families in the Panhandle town of Marianna, which only hardened their opposition to the Confederacy.  One significant military leader was executed by Confederate firing squad as a deserter only a month before the end of the war. 

The reason the Union had so much success was because the Union navy blockaders running along the coasts of Florida understood quite quickly that many Floridians were their potential friends.  They made sure to always treat them kindly.  Then hundreds of blacks started to escape their plantations too, and the blockaders took them in.  Ex-slaves were called ‘contraband’ so as not to disturb the pro-Union racists.  The navy ships fed and clothed them, and put them to use, recruiting them to the colored infantry and the Union navy, or letting them settle in protected settlements along the coast.  The US Colored Troops (“USCT”), 2nd Infantry initially garrisoned Key West, but the Admiral realized he could use these troops to recruit more contraband.  And so he sent them up the coast, where they worked with the US 2nd Florida Cavalry in military operations as well.

The sailors, soldiers and guerillas worked together to destroy salt-making operations along the coast.  Salt was essential to curing hides and preserving food, and without it the Confederacy was in big trouble.  It took the Union navy a bit of time to understand why so much salt was being smuggled into Florida on the boats they captured, but when they understood, they wrecked salt-making kettles for miles along the Gulf coast. 

With the splitting of the Confederacy in two in July 1893 at Vicksburg, it lost access to the beef herds of Texas.  The Confederacy needed beef to feed its soldiers and Florida was a large secondary source of beef cattle grazing on its central grasslands.  So the Union started to organize raids by the 2nd Florida Cavalry and the 2nd USCT stopping the increased flow of cattle north.  They headed inland from Fort Meyers, Cedar Key north of Tampa, and other US Naval strong-points, battling the Confederate “Cow” cavalry who attempted to protect the herds. 

Throughout the whole war Key West, Fort Meyers, Pensacola, St. Augustine and Fernandina (north of Jacksonville) were all in the hands of the U.S.  These areas sheltered pro-Union civilians.  On the east coast of Florida, the Naval commanders were not interested in fomenting a civil war within the Civil War, as were the Naval commanders on the west coast.  So they did not attempt to mobilize the refugees and Union men – even though the whole eastern bank of the St. John’s River below Jacksonville was full of Union sympathizers.  Hence they missed a chance to do even more damage, and perhaps split Florida in two. 

Attitudes towards the Union army changed as men joined the army and had to obey the strict rules of newer commanders who didn’t know how to conduct warfare behind enemy lines.  Which is a lesson.  Guerilla forces are sometimes far more efficient than regular army forces in morale, intelligence and connection to the land.  Some U.S. army officers never understood this.  We should.  We now need progressive, union ‘guerillas’ behind southern lines again! 

(Other books on this subject – “Why the South Lost the Civil War,’ “County of Jones,” and “Guerillas, Unionists and Violence on the Confederate Home Front,” are all reviewed below.  This book also cites another book, “After Succession – Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism” as a source on the subject.  Another excellent book on this topic is “The People’s History of the Civil War,” available at Mayday Books.

And I borrowed it from a friend at work
Red Frog
September 11, 2013


David said...

I think that credibility is destroyed when you use terms like "imaginary fables" and "stupid". I hope the book does a better job at telling the truth.
Florida was a frontier area. If the US governemnt had spent as much effort on developing Florida as it did on the upper middle west, then perhaps Florida would not have seceded. The US Navy conducted bombardments and sacked towns like Tampa for no good reason than terrorism. The Marianna Campaign was like Sherman's March. No wonder the people fled. "Contraband" just meant ownership by the Government not freedom. The USCT were just cannon fodder at Olustee. And, BTW, there were more than a few CSA sympathizers in Northern States. I fear that this review, if not the book, is tinged with Confederophobia.

Red Frog said...

It is not a phobia, it is hatred. The Confederacy was one of the 10 greatest crimes of American history.