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Marion Light Artillery

History of Marion Light Artillery

 

          Organized in June 1861 at Amelia Island, Florida, the Marion Light artillery saw action in the Western Theater, serving on the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

         

          Maj. J. J. Dickison, a citizen of Marion county, fitted for cavalry service as a staff officer of General Hardee while a citizen of South Carolina, had engaged in recruiting soldiers for independent cavalry service in the Confederate army. Before his company was complete a proposition was made by Capt. J. M. Martin, a graduate of the Charleston military school, who preferred artillery service, that the company be changed to artillery.  This was agreed to, provided he would accept the position of captain, to which proposal he assented. It was then organized at Ocala as the Marion Light Artillery, with John M. Martin, captain; J. J. Dickison, first lieutenant; R. P. McCants, second lieutenant, and Wm. Tidwell, third lieutenant.

       

          On the 4th of November, 1861, the company was ordered by Governor Milton to Fernandina, and instructed to call on Col. D. P. Holland for the battery of field pieces in his possession belonging to the State of Florida, with all its equipment, and to report to Brigadier-General Trapier, commanding district of Florida. In the absence of Captain Martin, Lieutenant Dickison reported the command to Col. Charles Hopkins, then in command of the post, and was received by him into the Confederate States army.  On the 21st of November Lieutenant Dickison reported first and second lieutenants present with 6 non-commissioned officers, 45 privates and 26 horses, with certainty of 29 additional privates with the requisite number of horses, the remaining officers to arrive in a few days with a roll of 106 men.  He was then ordered by Colonel Dilworth, commanding the department, to make requisition on the quartermaster and commissary, the company having been received into the Confederate service as field artillery and attached to the Third regiment of Florida volunteers.

 

        The company remained on Amelia island about five months.  On the concentration of the enemy's gunboats in good view of the island, General Trapier deemed it advisable to remove his forces to the mainland, as our defensive works, consisting mostly of sand batteries, were not impregnable.  During the evacuation of the island the gunboats came up and shelled the trains as they were moving freighted with our troops and many citizens who sought refuge in the interior.  The only casualties were the killing of two worthy and prominent citizens.  As couriers were continually coming in with reports that the enemy were landing, the artillery was kept ready for any emergency and was ordered from place to place to intercept the invaders.  For a short time this command en-camped near the St. Mary's river and thence were ordered to Sanderson, where, from the unprecedented severity of the weather, they suffered privation and much sickness, which resulted in several deaths from measles and pneumonia.  From this point they were ordered to Camp Langford, thence to Three-mile branch in the vicinity of Jacksonville, where they remained faithful sentinels on the outpost until the latter part of May, at which time the company was reorganized.

       

          In June, 1862, a telegram was received from the war department ordering Captain Martin to proceed to Dalton in supporting distance of Chattanooga.  On their arrival they did not long remain inactive, being soon ordered to join Gen. Kirby Smith, and doing most effective service in their first and most important fight at Richmond, Ky. On this memorable occasion the gallant and heroic Martin was seriously and at the time feared to be mortally wounded.  Our brave Johnson, Tidwell, Boring and Hols-houser were killed early in the engagement, nobly displaying the valor and chivalry of men devoted to a sacred cause. At this battle, the Marion light artillery was the only corps from Florida present, and was placed in a most conspicuous position.  Gen. Kirby Smith briefly addressed them just as the fight commenced, and in his own eloquent manner appealed to the corps to maintain the honor of their State in the coming fight, and nobly did they respond to the appeal. The battery was immediately moved forward into the hottest part of the battle, and by its efficiency contributed in no small degree to the glorious achievements of that memorable day.

 

"How fiercely that battery was hurled on the foe

Where the minie ball hissed and where hurried the shell;

Too severe was our fire--the foe are in flight--

And our noble chief said, with voice clear and loud,

'You have won us the fight, our Florida's proud.'"

 

        On recovering from his wound, Captain Martin returned to his command in the West and remained at his post until elected a member of Congress. After serving two terms he desired to engage again in active service in the field and was assigned to duty in Florida, with a command of six independent companies of infantry, which were eventually consolidated into the Ninth Florida regiment and ordered to Virginia, where they were destined to pass through many sanguinary conflicts, coming forth from their baptism of fire and blood with all the honor and distinction that could be desired by the Con. federate soldier--the highest type of a patriot in arms.

       

          At the reorganization of the Marion light artillery Lieutenant Dickison, preferring cavalry service, withdrew from the command, and it was then that he received the order, previously mentioned, from General Finegan, to raise a cavalry company to complete the Second Florida cavalry regiment, to be mustered into the Confederate State's service for three years or for the war.  The new company which he formed was composed of citizens from the counties of Marion, Alachua, St. John, Putnam, Bradford, Duval, Columbia, Clay, Volusia, Sumter, Hillsboro, Nassau and Madison.  It was organized in August, 1862, at Flotard pond and mustered in by Maj. R. B. Thomas, adjutant and inspector-general on General Fin-egan's staff, electing as its officers J. J. Dickison, captain; W. H. McCardell, first lieutenant; D. S. Brantly, second lieutenant; M. J. McEaddy, third lieutenant; with 5 sergeants, 4 corporals and 63 privates. During the period 1862-63 the roll was increased to 70 privates and changes made in rank of officers.  Dr. J. A. Williams held the position of surgeon until the close of the war.  From Flotard pond they moved to Gainesville, remaining there a week, procuring arms and ammunition, the horses being private property; thence to Jacksonville, where they did picket and other duty for several weeks, and later were ordered to Yellow bluff, and thence to Camp Finegan.

       

          After the enemy began demonstrations on the St. John's the command was ordered to Palatka, 75 miles from Jacksonville.  While on the march they captured a large number of negroes who were endeavoring to escape to the enemy, and by this timely capture discovered a plot which had been set on foot to drain that part of the country of slaves.  They also captured a number of deserters. A small scouting party was sent from Palatka in the direction of St. Augustine, where they captured 1 lieutenant, 2 non-commissioned officers and 2 privates. Information being received that the Federal troops were in the habit of visiting at the Fairbank place, about one and a half miles from St. Augustine, Captain Dickison crossed the San Sebastian river early in October, 1862, and proceeded to the point where it was expected the enemy would appear.  They did not come out in usual force or at the usual time. Six companies, about 350 strong, had crossed the San Sebastian river four miles below the point at which our forces had crossed, to capture our wagon train and cut off the escape of our forces.  A detachment of our command held them in check until the train was drawn off, when Captain Dickison came up with his detachment and captured their rear guard of officer and 26 men. The enemy held their position for several hours, then fell back in the direction of St. Augustine, without doing any injury to the Confederates, 43 in number, who had so gallantly repulsed them.  The next night our command returned to Palatka and was ordered to Jacksonville where they engaged in several hot skirmishes. Soon afterward being sent back to Palatka, they engaged the transport Mary Benton, with 500 negro troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Billings, March 27, 1863.  This officer was wounded and about 75 killed and wounded, without loss on our side. The following day Jacksonville was evacuated.  For several months afterward the company guarded all the country from St. Augustine to Smyrna.  This duty being too heavy the command was reinforced by Company C, Capt. Wm. C. Chambers, and did good work protecting the landing of supplies from our blockade runners.

      

          In the meantime the enemy's gunboats were concentrating in the St. John's river, and the Confederates, having neither naval forces nor batteries at the time on the river, could make no resistance. Jacksonville was in possession of the enemy, affording opportunity to land at pleasure a large army. Fernandina was held by them, a valuable stronghold, where they could concentrate troops and at any time advance with a force of 15,000 to 20,000 troops into the heart of the country, our forces having been greatly depleted by the call of troops to Virginia and the western army.

       

          In the winter of 1863 Captain Dickison was ordered to Fort Meade to act in concert with Colonel Brevard, who was sent to take command of a battalion near that point as the enemy was in considerable force in the neighborhood of Fort Myers.  At this critical time the enemy, learning of the scattered state of our troops and being strongly fortified by reinforcements from Hilton Head, made rapid preparations for an invasion of the State, anticipating an easy capture of Lake City, a permanent occupation of that region and a triumphant march on to Tallahassee, the capital, where they could be in communication with the Federal forces at the Gulf ports. With such co-operation the whole State would be occupied by the Federal army.

       

          Before reaching Fort Meade Colonel Brevard was ordered to return with his troops, in anticipation of the battle of Olustee.  After a march day and night of 575 miles with little rest, they were too late by twelve hours to take part in the battle.

       

          A frightful disaster which signalized the spring of 1863 in west Florida was the explosion of the boilers of the gunboat Chattahoochee. This vessel, carrying six guns, had been built for the protection of the river whose name she bore, and at the time of the accident was lying at anchor 25 miles above Apalachicola.  On May 30th Commander John J. Guthrie was informed that nine Federal launches had come up the river and captured the schooner Fashion, loading with cotton, and he immediately ordered steam up to go to the assistance of the schooner. In a few moments the boilers of the gunboat exploded, sinking the vessel, killing 16 persons and severely scalding many others.  Among those who lost their lives was Midshipman Mallory, who had distinguished himself by pushing his way first aboard the frigate Congress at Hampton Roads, after she had struck her colors to the Virginia.  The guns of the Chattahoochee were taken off and mounted in battery on the shore, and reinforcements being sent down by General Cobb, then in command in that district, the enemy was prevented from taking advantage of the disaster.  In a short time the gunboat was raised and repaired so that she was of service thereafter in defending the river.

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Marion Light Artillery
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