Take a drive across any back road in America, and you're sure to discover some obscure historic site that leaves you remarking, "I can't believe I never knew about that!" For Civil War enthusiasts, the American South offers plenty of tucked-away Civil War battle grounds, some of which may be so small that you've never read about them in even the most inclusive Civil War history book. When my family embarked on a Florida vacation in July 2021, that's exactly what happened to me when I stumbled across the site of the Battle of Marianna.
Many Civil War battlefields took place in fields, wooded areas, and so forth. That isn't the case with the Battle of Marianna, though. Instead, the battle raged in the town's streets on September 27, 1864. The battle took place when Brigadier General Alexander Asboth--alerted that Union prisoners were held at Marianna and told that the town was going to be fortified--left Fort Barrancas in Pensacola, Florida, and headed to Marianna (1). The approaching Union troops, totaling 700 soldiers on horseback, probably caused quite a stir as they marched through six Florida counties on their way to the inland town (1). The Confederate Army at Marianna had a weakness that was often characteristic of their wartime experiences--they were greatly outnumbered and depended on militia, reserves, volunteers, and wounded soldiers to defend the town against the imminent Union attack (1).
Per Battle of Marianna historian Dale Cox, Union commander "Asboth and his men made a bold attack up the main street of the city while a flanking party moved in behind Montgomery and his defenders. The fighting moved up Lafayette Street from the edge of town as Asboth drove back the commander and his mounted forces, only to charge right into an ambush prepared by the men of the Marianna Home Guard and local volunteers who joined in when the news of the Federal approach reached the city" (1). For Asboth, the battle had grave consequences. The Union commander, along with nearly everyone in his command who was fighting at the column's head, was wounded (1). For the 2nd Maine Cavalry, the Battle of Marianna marked a detrimental day for the regiment. The cavalry unit had more soldiers killed at Marianna than anywhere else during the war (1).
Not only was the Battle of Marianna fought on the town's main thoroughfare, but the fighting also shifted to incorporate the town's cemetery. In fact, fighting took place at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where soldiers endured close combat. Cox notes that soldiers fired at each other from just yards apart (1). Not only would this leave a physical toll--due to the velocity and close range in which bullets were fired--but it would also create a mental strain. Enduring close combat, perhaps even viewing the color of the enemy's eyes, would not come without consequences. Although not recognized as a disease at the time, PTSD manifested itself in Civil War soldiers as a sort of battle shock, a phenomenon in which soldiers were often still mentally experiencing combat even after gunfire ceased. While the "shock" might subside for some soldiers over time, the memories would remain. While no primary documentation regarding the physical or mental anguish of post-Battle of Marianna combatants was uncovered, the general trials of war applied to both large and small scale engagements.
Even after the Confederate Home Guard surrendered, Federal troops kept up the volley of gunfire into Confederate forces (1). Southern soldiers--firing from the windows of a church and two homes--saw this atrocity take place after their Southern comrades surrendered and refused to give up the fight (1). Though a modern church now stands, the church that witnessed the Battle of Marianna burned as a result of the battle, as did both of the homes that Southerners fired their guns from (1). Four men and boys perished in the flames, furthering the deadly aftermath of the day for both combatants and townspeople alike (1).
Although the fire took the lives of four men, there was an unlikely survivor of the fire--the church's Bible. According to legend, a devout Union officer who opposed orders that the church be burned rushed into the building and retrieved the sacred text. Popular history often places Major Nathan Cutler as the Bible-saving hero, though doubt is shed on this claim since Major Cutler, years later, had no recollection of this version of the event happening (3). However, considering the Bible was saved from the flames, it is likely that a soldier rescued the Bible from burning (3). No matter how the Bible was saved, the 19th century treasure is still housed at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, a testament to the battle and a Christian soldier's demand that the Bible be saved. (Learn more about the historic Marianna Bible here.)
While the Battle of Marianna is not renowned like the battlefields at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and more, it is nevertheless important. For soldiers who lived through the Battle of Marianna, the consequences were widespread as "more than 25% of the male population of Marianna had been killed, wounded or captured" by the time the September battle had drawn to a close (1). For Marianna residents, it further demonstrated that the conflict could easily come close to their doorsteps and reap grave outcomes for those involved in the fighting.
Now that we've discovered a bit more about the Battle of Marianna, let's take a look at a few of the soldiers involved in the conflict.
St. Luke's Episcopal Church holds a history steeped in the Civil War, considering the battle raged in the church and the cemetery. There are numerous Civil War veterans interred in the graveyard, and here are a few men of note:
John C. Carter
A private in company E of the 6th Florida Infantry, Carter was a casualty of the Battle of Marianna and is buried at St. Luke's Episcopal Cemetery. Military documents indicate he enlisted for three years (or the war) at Marianna (2). St. Luke's Episcopal Church notes that Carter burned to death inside the church (3).
Myrick enlisted in Company B of the 15th Confederate Cavalry at Marianna on March 14, 1862. Military records indicate Myrick was wounded in action on November 8, 1863, though no battle, skirmish, or accident is listed in regards to his wound. Apparently, Myrick recovered as he was placed on detached service, per General Maury's orders, in early 1864 (2). Sadly, Myrick was just months shy of reaching his 21st birthday--he burned inside St. Luke's Church and is now laid to rest in the cemetery with his original grave marker (3).
Woodbury or "Woody" Nickels is reportedly the youngest Confederate soldier casualty at the Battle of Marianna (3). The 16-year-old was shot while fleeing from the church, and he burned to death (3). Purportedly, he fell on the church's steps and eventually died, all while clinging to Captain Jesse Robinson's headstone (3). Buried on the same day of the battle, it's likely that Nickels is buried at St. Luke's Church, even though his headstone has not been located (3).
Men of the 15th Confederate Cavalry
If you're interested in visiting the graves of Confederate veterans, St. Luke's Episcopal Church offers plenty of opportunities to do so. In fact, including Littleton Myrick, twelve members of the 15th Confederate Cavalry are interred in the church's graveyard (3).
Other Confederate Burials
Besides numerous burials of 15th Confederate Cavalry soldiers, there are also soldiers interred at the church's cemetery who served with the 8th Florida Infantry, 6th Florida Infantry, 5th Battalion Confederate Cavalry, and more (3). There are many Civil War graves to see at St. Luke's Episcopal Church!
Graves of Interest
With numerous interments spanning the eras, there are non-Civil War era graves you might want to view, including War of 1812 and World War II veterans, author Caroline Lee Hentz, and politician William Hall Milton (3).
Now that we've explored a brief overview of the battle and a few Civil War graves of note, it's time to discuss a few must-see stops on your tour through Marianna, Florida! First, be sure to check out the town's courthouse. With numerous markers that list important historical facts, it's vital for history enthusiasts to spend adequate time perusing interpretive markers on the courthouse's lawn.
Of course, it's also important to check out any historical markers dotting Marianna's road sides. These signs will add context to the battle and/or history of Marianna. As is most often the case for historians, it's always a good idea to stop at historical markers to discover more about the region you're visiting.
Visitors can probably expect to spend much of their time in St. Luke's Episcopal Cemetery, where there are numerous graves of interest to stop and visit. The cemetery is a bit larger, so expect to do a little walking if you want to thoroughly explore the cemetery's grounds.
While some battlefields are tucked away from "civilization," visitors should expect Marianna to be entirely different, as the site is still located in town. In fact, there are dining options so that visitors don't have to pack snacks (unless they just want to). Plus, since it isn't a massive battle ground like other Western Theater sites, it's not really necessary to pack hiking gear or other necessities of the like.
As always, every visitor to a historical site will have a different experience. While the Battle of Marianna does not rival Chickamauga, Shiloh, or Stones River in size, it is nevertheless a must-see site if you're in the area. For Civil War historians, the battle lends perspective to the war, illustrating that it doesn't take a large battle to have a massive impact.
(1). Cox, Dale. "Battle of Marianna." Visit Jackson County, https://visitjacksoncountyfla.com/attractions/battle-of-marianna/
(2). Various Fold3 Muster Rolls.
(3). St. Luke's Episcopal Church, https://www.stlukesmarianna.org/
About the Author: Kass Cobb recently graduated with her Associate in Arts degree and is a college junior currently pursuing a Bachelors of Science in History from Liberty University. She's also minoring in creative writing. Her efforts to preserve the past have been recognized by Congress, DAR, SAR, SUVCW, DUVCW, and more. Kass first became obsessed with history in eighth grade through a unit on the American Civil War. She began researching her family's heritage and discovered that she is a direct descendant of eleven Civil War veterans, ranging from an "excellent soldier" and Andersonville Prisoner of War to a "patriotic Kentuckian" and United States Colored Troops soldier. Kass is passionate about sharing the stories of United States veterans, specifically those who fought in the Civil War. One of the ways she does this is by obtaining grave markers for veterans. When Kass isn't busy planning historical events for her community, placing signs at cemeteries, decorating her ancestors' graves, or researching her family's past, you'll find her antique collecting, studying her Bible, reading, singing, and enjoying nature on her family's farm where pets outnumber people.