Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Civil War: Alabama Militiamen meet a Tragic Fate

Civil War era church in Campbellton
One of the most tragic episodes involving Alabama's Civil War militia or, as they are often termed, "home guards," took place along the Florida state line on September 27, 1864.

As the war had progressed and larger and larger numbers of men and boys went away to fight on the main fronts, Alabama turned for much of its defense to a state militia organization. Companies were organized in counties across the state, with regiments formed from every few counties. These operated under the command of regimental officers, while the local commanders were elected by the men themselves.

Original Salt Kettle at St. Andrew Bay, Florida
In the fall of 1864, detachments of militiamen from Dale County were assigned to guard oxcarts carrying salt from the works on St. Andrew Bay in Florida back to Alabama. Salt was a vital commodity both for the Confederate military and for the civilian population as well. A necessity for use in preserving meat in those days before refrigeration, it was vital to survival for people from all walks of life.

On September 27, 1864, as Union troops under Brigadier General Alexander Asboth attacked the Florida city of Marianna, a detachment of Dale County militiamen were making their way nearby with an oxcart loaded with salt. They had somehow missed the Federal column as it made its way to Marianna that morning, but things took a tragic turn when they reached the stateline town of Campbellton that afternoon.

Lt. Col. A.B. Spurling, 2nd Maine
As the Dale County men came into Campbellton, they saw gray-uniformed soldiers ahead. But these men were not what they seemed. The "Confederates" turned out to be disguised Union soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew B. Spurling of the 2nd Maine Cavalry. Spurling had been detached with a small group of men from the main Union column four days earlier, with instructions to pursue a body of Confederate cavalrymen who had eluded capture at Eucheeanna in Walton County, Florida.

Spurling and his men donned Confederate uniforms and took off into the stateline country. Please click here to read more about his brief visit to Geneva, Alabama.

They reached Campbellton at the same time as the Dale County men and, according to an account of Spurlings operations, captured an "army wagon" and three Alabama militiamen.

Tragically, these three men disappear from the record and are never heard from again. Local tradition in Dale County holds that they went off to "get salt at the bay and never came home." Their fate seems to have been dark.

Spurling and his men were operating undercover, behind enemy lines. Because they were wearing Confederate uniforms, they knew that if they were detected they would face immediate execution as spies. Carrying along prisoners could prove fatal to the colonel and his men if they stumbled across a Confederate patrol.  This left them with only two options:  1) release the men, and 2) kill them.

Since the men never returned home, the only logical conclusion is that they were taken into the woods and killed by the undercover Federals. Their bones likely rest somewhere near the state line in Jackson County, Florida, to this day.

To learn more about the 1864 Marianna Raid and Spurling's undercover activities, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition .

It is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle and iBooks devices. You can also read more about the raid at

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