Florida's plantation economy and Southern population tied the state to the other Deep South states on the slow road to succession. There would be opposition from some Floridians, but with the rise in the North of the abolitionist movement and the attempt to limit the westward march of slavery, Florida Democrats found themselves allied to the states rights wing of the Democratic Party. The Democrats of Florida joined the Southern Rights Association.

By 1860 Florida was clearly in the category as a plantation state. The fastest growing area of the South was the fertile hills between the Apalachicola and Suwannee Rivers, a region best known as Middle Florida. With Florida's capitol city of Tallahassee in the center of this farming belt, the planters, allied by trade and marriage to successful professionals and merchants dominated the young state. Two out of every slaves worked in the cotton and tobacco fields of this area.

The Florida Whig Party which contained many notable planters and businessmen opposed states-rights views, but the slow decline of their party as a national institution in 1856, made it difficult to recruit new supporters. They did form the American Party and came within just 400 votes of defeating secessionist Democratic Governor Madison Starke Perry. Four years later, many of these ex-Whigs backed Constitutional Unionist Presidential candidate John Bell.


Florida's two Senators, David L. Yulee and Stephen R. Mallory were cautious about secession, but neither opposed Perry's outspoken attack on Northern activities. The two major opponents of secession were Key West Judge William Marvin and former Governor Richard Keith Call, who believed that a state could not leave the Union. They could not offset rising fear over Northern and abolitionist interference caused by John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry and the new Republican Party's platform against new slave states.

At the Southern Democratic Convention in June of 1859, the Florida delegation dominated by planters was the only state to join South Carolina to threaten secession if the Democrats don't openly oppose the antislavery forces. When the National Democratic Convention selected Stephen Douglas of Illinois and a moderate platform, Florida's delegation backed a Southern Democratic candidate for President as the solution.

While the majority of Floridians even in Middle Florida did not own slaves, few Florida small farmers had the time to engage in politics and most were not registered to vote. The heavily wooded hills of West Florida and the rivers of East Florida were dotted with independent farmers growing vegetables and fruits. Often distant from the nearest town and dependent on their own livestock, the small farmers were more concerned with the lack of transportation to markets than slavery.

In 1860 there were just seven hundred free blacks and freedmen residing in Florida. Most worked in the port towns of Jacksonville, Pensacola, and Key West, mainly in transportation and lumbering and fishing.

With the Democrats running three candidates in 1860, Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans won the White House and took control of dozens of Congressional seats held in the North and Midwest by Democrats. South Carolina did not wait to discover what the Republicans would do with Congress, but elected to vote on secession and called for votes in the other slave states.

Governor Perry called a convention of secession in January of 1861 in Tallahassee to decide upon Florida's future. The men who came represented mostly the rich, conservative order of the state. Of the 69 delegates, 58 were slave owners. Perry was so certain the planters would win the vote, he ordered the seizure of the Federal arsenal at Chattahoochee and all Federal coastal forts. The poorly manned forts at Saint Augustine and Fernandina were easy to occupy, but Fort Taylor on Key West was guarded by Union ships. The Pensacola forts would be another issue.

Nevertheless, those who opposed secession as unconstitutional were strong in East Florida and in some large port towns. They tried to delay the vote stating that Florida should wait for the decision of Alabama and Georgia. Many planters wanted Florida to become the second state to secede after South Carolina. When the moderates strategy defeated, only seven delegates voted to delay an early secession vote. Florida voted to secede as soon as the news arrived from South Carolina.


Florida became an independent state. By February seven Southern states had seceded and elected to meet in Montgomery, Alabama, to form the Confederate States of America. They would not wait for Virginia to secede nor would they wait for Lincoln's inauguration to find out what Republican policies would be adopted.

Governor Perry hoped the seizure of Federal arsenals in St. Augustine, Fernandina, and Chattahoochee, would provide the state militia with much-needed weapons. Others hoped the show of force across the Deep South would convince the North of the South's determination to protect its institutions.

Union forces in Florida abandoned such undependable locations at Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee in Pensacola Bay.On January 8, 1861, Florida militia showed up at midnight at the bridge to Fort Barrancas. Union sentries drove them away by firing shots. First Lt Adam Slemner had just 81 soldiers and he knew Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island was easier to defend. After spiking the cannon in those two forts, the Union troops fled to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. Rebel groups from Alabama occupied the deserted Pensacola Navy Yard with its key dry-docks. Yet, this shipyard is useless without access to the Gulf of Mexico, past Fort Pickens.

Fort Pickens

The South waited the new President's actions and discovered that Lincoln was determined to preserve the Union and to maintain, if only for symbolic status, whatever Federal sites were left in the South. The firing on Union supplies at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor official placed the North and the South in a Civil War. It was almost a relief to Florida leaders to know the fate of the Confederacy. Virginia left the Union and as richest and largest Confederate state got the capital switched to Richmond.

Florida was requested to recruit 5,000 soldiers. In three months, Florida had 6,772 volunteers. Ironically, the majority of the South's volunteers were small farmers who owned no slaves.


The immediate strategy of Lincoln's Government and part of a greater strategy to straggle the Confederacy, known as the "Anaconda Plan" was the Union blockade. Florida's huge coastline and extreme distance from the North made it impossible to defend. Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory, the only Floridian in the Rebel Cabinet, had to reject attempts to protect Florida's huge coastline. The South had no battleships and whatever coastal defenses could be constructed, they had to be utilized to protect Savannah and Charleston.

Union gunboats surrounded state. Fort Taylor in Key West, a city that refused to join secession, supplied the Union units. Fort Pickens was reinforced and despite heavy bombardment the Northern forces remained in Fort Pickens, rendering Pensacola worthless.

Florida provided the South with two useful products: cattle from the interior south of Ocala and salt from operations along the coast. In January, Union troops began a strategy that they hope would eventually cut off these goods from northward shipment. In January 1862, Yankee troops occupied the port of Cedar Key, the Gulf terminus of the Yulee railroad. In March, a Federal fleet sailed down the St. Johns and captured the port of Jacksonville.

Florida sailors like Captain James McKay were exempt from Confederate service because their ships smuggled Florida cattle to Spanish Cuba, for much needed gold coins and supplies. Federal gunboats tried to control Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. Blockades out of Key West never caught McKay, but 232 smugglers were arrested. When they failed to find smugglers, the gunboats attacked salt factories and sometimes innocent Cuban fishing camps. Salt and cattle were so vital to the war effort that people in these industries could avoid the Confederate draft.

When Union forces began the attack on the Mississippi Valley to split the Union in half, the Confederacy realized that Florida ranked second in the seceded states in cattle production. The grassy plains around Gainesville was the cattle center with as many as 10,000 cattle observed on Payne's Prairie. As the threat of Union troops grew greater, herds were raised further south to the Kississimmee Valley.

Of all the early Florida cowboys, none was as notable as Jake Summerlin , a daring and reckless king of prairie. He traded the peaceful life of a planter for the excitement of open cattle grazing. Later, when the rail routes were destroyed, Summerlin allied with McKay and A. F. Hendry in smuggling cattle to Cuba. Despite heavy Union gunboat operations, the smugglers utilized shallow draft boats and a knowledge of the maze of islands in southwest Florida to allude capture.

By 1863 Summerlin was rich. Cattle in Havana sold for $30 and only $3 to the Confederate government. Brigadier General John Newton in Key West sent a fleet of nine steamers and three schooners to Punta Rassa on the Caloosahatchee to try to close off the cattle trade. Cuban doubloons could buy a lot a weaponry for the Confederacy and Union did not want this Florida contribution to the Confederate resistance to continue.


The Civil War was completely disruptive to the home front. Before the end of the conflict some 15,000 Floridians out of a population of just 78,000 whites fought in the Civil War. Some 1,209 whites and 1,044 African-Americans from Florida served in the Union Army. Despite exemptions on overseers, government workers, salt makers, and cattlemen, Florida produced more than its share of combat troops.

Since much of the war was miles north in Virginia and Tennessee, few Floridians could have advantage of leaves to return to Florida. Florida's leadership believed Florida was often mistreated by policy which seemed to favor the larger states.

Women administered many of the farms and stores with the men folk at war. As a state of small farmers, the suffering caused by absentee workers was great. Ancestral looms and crude tools replaced manufactured items.

Women collected their old linen, dresses, tablecloths, draperies, and sheets to make bandages for the wounded. Women wore Dixie bonnets of plaited palmetto leaves and sandals made from corn shucks for heels. Huge fund raisers helped build soldiers' lodges in Tallahassee and Monticello.

Even the household of the large plantations faced grave shortages caused by the blockade, the destruction of the South's transportation system, and lack of skilled laborers. Candles burned where gas lanterns were once lit. Homegrown vegetables and pork headlined the diet, since quality foods were to the military. Whites discovered the food items of slave menus. Coffee was made by soaking cottonseed in water. Wallpaper was removed to make writing tablets. Turpentine became a medical mouthwash and every town had a spider house to grow cobwebs to cause wounds to clot more quickly.

Everyone from planter to slave felt the impact of the Civil War. Despite the fears that slaves would rebel, most slaves remained on the plantation, often assuming all roles of field and barn management. While many slaves headed to Jacksonville to join the Union Army, others were hired by the State of Florida to rebuild roads and bridges.


Florida was so far south it had its own Civil War. The occupation of defensive Jacksonville in March of 1862 opened the possibility of an invasion of Union gunboats down the St. Johns River to attack Palatka and the citrus region. Yankee forces found many Northern sympathizers in this region of interstate trade and business.

In February of 1864, the expectant invasion of the Florida interior began as General Truman Seymore marched from Jacksonville toward Lake City, the largest town between the Atlantic and the Suwannee and the center of the railroad routes northward. Rebel forces from Georgia and Florida volunteers descended upon the railroad depot town of Olustee, thirteen miles east of Lake City.

In the Battle of Olustee, the largest battle in Florida's Civil War, Confederate troops crushed the Union advance and sent the Federal troops retreating to Jacksonville. The center of the railroad remained open for the moment.

With this invasion halted, Northern raiders elected to invade into cattle country to disrupt farms and cattle herds. Northerner troops from the Gulf swept toward Marianna. A raid into the Alachua prairies led to the Battle of Gainesville where Union troops to stopped by Florida's "War Eagle" cavalry leader, Colonel John J. Dickison. While Florida had a coastline too large to defend, the peninsula was long and narrow and Dickison's forces could move in any direction to quickly defend the interior.

Union troops decided if they could not destroy the railroad route to the north, they would destroy it from the Gulf side. Federal forces marched northward up Yulee's rail line from Cedar Key, but were halted in the Battle of Cedar Key.


The harsh realities of the war developed many divisions in the Florida political and economic community. Small farmers resented those large planters who refused to destroy their cotton fields and produce needed vegetables. The Union blockade skyrocketed prices as coffee went to $1 a pound and pork to $60 per barrel. Many traders and smugglers made fortunes at the expense of the desperation of others. Under the Confederate Impressment Act, the military could take food, clothing, and other vitals for use in the War. This meant that Florida, already a poor state with limited resources, was being stripped of essentials for daily survival.

As the war in Tennessee turned against the Confederacy, more Floridians were ordered into battle. General William Sherman's invasion into Georgia convinced Florida leaders that the integrity of the Deep South had been destroyed and the advantages of the North were offsetting the performance of the South's great military leadership.

A fact that other Southern states usually ignore is the reality that Florida furnished more men in proportion to its population than any other Southern state. Florida's casualty rate was extremely high since most of the fighting was in Virginia and Tennessee, too distant from Florida for Florida troops to return to their home on even a one week leave and return. This led to high desertion rates by 1864. With one third of all white males over twenty in uniform by 1864, more and more Florida activities were run by women and African-Americans.

Yankee troops in the winter of 1864 decided to invade Tallahassee and Florida's prosperous cotton kingdom. Florida's capital was but twenty miles from the sea and vulnerable to attack as Florida units were fighting elsewhere. The arrival of a large Federal force at St. Marks caused panic in Tallahassee, but volunteers of wounded veterans and young cadets from Tallahassee academies joined the Florida defenses.

In the Battle of Natural Bridge this ragtag defensive force halted Union advancement and drove them back to the Gulf. Florida, thus, became the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi to not fall to Union attack. This last battle in Florida meant little as Northern armies penetrated the South, separating Florida's resources from the Confederate armies.


As early as the spring of 1865, there were reports that the South was losing the Civil War, but in Florida, where every Union invasion had been repelled there remained optimism. Governor Milton was less optimistic for he received officials and human reports of the destruction and misery of distant battlefields. As Florida's declining forces returned to Tallahassee, wounded and befallen of disease, Jefferson Davis was requested more soldiers from Florida. Milton argued that Florida's tiny pool of troops had already were damaged by favoritism to larger Southern states.

When Milton, his wife and son went to Marianna to view the destruction of farms there, a group of Confederate soldiers, accused of being deserters for going home to plant crops for their families, invaded Tallahassee in a vain attempt to kidnap the Governor. The disconsolate Milton went to his mansion Sylvania, entered his office, and committed suicide.

Milton did not hear about General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox eight days later.Acting Governor Abram Allison, already shocked by Milton's actions, did not at first believe that the Civil War was over. Even upon acceptance of the truth, many planters believed they had successfully defended their cause.

While small groups of veterans refused to surrender and hid in the dense forests and marshes of Panhandle Florida, most Floridians recognized that slavery was at its end and so was a way of life that had dominated the Florida economy.

Jefferson Davis and Stephen Mallory was captured en route to Florida, but Secretary of the Confederate Treasury Judah Benjamin escaped Florida from a sailboat in Sarasota Bay. It was rumored the Confederate Treasury was buried near Newberry by an advance calvary unit sent by President Davis. Others questioned whether they was enough money to even count the cargo as a treasure. 



The legacy of defeat would linger for generations in Florida. Of the state's 15,000 soldiers, one third would fail to return home. Thousands more were wounded or injured in a way one would not notice. They had been promised by U.S. Grant and the victorious Union leaders that respect and honor would dominate the day, but it would be politicians who would decide their situation, not their fellow uniformed adversaries.

The small farmers who constituted the Confederate Army tried to rebuilt their ragged properties. The large toil of deaths of veterans just several years after the close of the war are indications of the indirect effects of war injuries and disease. Yet they were not totaled as war casualties nor were their entitled to disabled benefits like their Union counterparts.


Jacksonville, Cedar Key, Key West, and Pensacola soon filled with Northern investors, government officials and opportunists. Former slaves, in the confusion of the day, flocked to the coastal cities to seek employment. Homeless families from Georgia and Alabama entered Florida in hopes to locating deserted homesteads.

Southerners were sickened to see old estates sold to outside investors and large plantations subdivided in land auctions. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln put theRadical Republicans with their abolitionist friends in charge of Reconstruction. Planters feared these politicians more than the occupying Union troops who could prevent a race war.

Before the Radicals had silenced Lincoln's successor, the Unionist Democrat Andrew Johnson from Tennessee, Floridians had quickly adopted Lincoln's plans for a quick return to the Union. Moderate Judge William Marvin , headed the provisional government, reinstated most Southern Democrats, and backed a new State Constitution that protected property rights.

In 1865, the Democrats still controlled the Florida Legislature and passed "Black Codes", limiting the voting rights of African-Americans. Florida elected conservative David S. Walker Governor to protect the planter aristocracy.

The Democratic return to power was short-lived. When the Radical Republicans had fully taken control of Congress, they suspended all Southern Governments and disfranchised all Confederate officers and elected officials, thus removing the vote from the Southern Democratic leadership. Florida was placed under the Third Military District and the Radicals began the registration of African -American voters into the Southern Republican Party.

The new Republican coalition of black and white voters elected the first Reconstruction government, a group dominated by new businessmen and former slaves. African-Americans held two dozen key jobs in Tallahassee and Dartmouth-educated Jonathan Gibbs was elected the first Florida Commissioner for Education as well as serving as Secretary of State. Florida's black population was not as large percentagewise as South Carolina and Mississippi, but showed that years of slavery did not mean a lack of leadership skills.


The goal of the Radical Republicans was to assure that the Civil War meant permanent change in the South and national politics. This would be accomplished, it was thought, by the creation of a Southern Republican Party, dominated by moderate whites and African-Americans; and by providing political and economic power to the former slave.

The second Reconstruction Constitution, set up by the Radicals, was designed to provide progressive change in Florida. It provided for universal manhood suffrage, free public schools in every county, and a road improvement plan. It placed huge powers in the hands of the Governor, who was a Republican.

Military rule in Florida was supposed to terminate on July 4, 1868, but Governor Harrison Reed, fearing retaliation by conservative white forces requested the continuation of Union forces. While Federal troops controlled the large towns, rural Florida soon erupted in racial violence and the rise of supremacy terrorist groups like the Klu Klux Klan. A railroad shipment of military arms for Reed's Tallahassee troops was intercepted by southern whites and terrorism became common in rural areas.

While Reed returned Florida to Congress and promoted the redevelopment of the state economy, the mismanagement and corruption of inexperienced state leaders hurt Reed's goals. Reed's attempts to increase the number of black voters met with violence.


Florida was one of five Southern states to have two carpetbagger governors during Reconstruction. Yet Harrison Reed from Wisconsin and M. L. Sterns from Maine were neither militant abolitionists nor abusive opportunists. Reed was a Republican newspaper editor sent by Lincoln in 1863 to Fernandina to administer the confiscation of Rebel property in Florida. He lost his status with the Radicals for opposing plans to prevent Confederate officers from voting, but stayed in Florida where he gained the backing of moderates.

Reed won the governorship in 1868 against a Democrat and a Radical Republican. He had the backing of business leaders, moderate African-Americans, and the Freedmen's Bureau, but angered both the Radicals and Democrats. The Radicals thought he was becoming a Rebel and Southerners viewed him as a carpetbagger. The inclusion of African-Americans into state and local government was viewed by Southern Democrats as the end of political stability, but the Reconstruction governments were ones of moderation and economic reform. Josiah T. Walls , a Union veteran from Virginia, became Florida's first African-American Congressman in 1870.


Much of the Congressional legislature of Reconstruction was designed to help the freedmen gain political and economic unity. The Freedmen's Bureau was certainly hated by Southern whites. Yet, after two hundred years of slavery, old habits were hard to change. African-Americans who fled to Florida's cities for jobs found the carpetbaggers taking them or that they had no qualifications for urban employment. Urban blacks had their own stores and businesses with little room for employing others. As land distribution plans failed, the rural African-American found only tenant farming, sharecropping, and jobs on white estates for opportunities. Led by Josiah Walls (photo below), African-Americans proposed moderate reforms in Congress for the South.

The Florida Bureau issued three thousand homesteads to African-Americans, more than any other Southern state. Its first state director Thomas W. Osborn was respected by moderates for his massive food relief program. Unfortunately, most of these farms were on poor soil and had been deserted by white farmers.

The Freedmen's Bureau's greatest problem was that it was also a political tool of the Republican Party. While Osborn worked to develop job opportunities, his aide Colonel John T. Sprague recruited black voters into the Republican Party. This was a direct challenge to the control of the South by the Southern Democratic Party.

The greatest shortcoming of the Reconstruction plan was the reality that Florida would remain an agricultural state, with the greatest land areas in the hands of Southern planters and farmers, most of whom were Democrats. African-Americans could not easily escape their economic dependence from their political enemies. Whenever the Democrats regained local control, they passed new Black Codes to eliminate black voters with laws requiring poll taxes and literacy tests and other political rules.


ThePresidential Election of 1876 marked the end of Reconstruction. In a bizarre ending to a close election, Florida was one of three Southern states which had two winners. Democrats claimed the election results made Democrat Sam Tilden the winner, but Republican Governor M. L. Sterns rejected the vote in several rural areas as rigged and ruled that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes had the vote.

In Washington, the disputed election was determined in a smoke-filled hotel room where the press never found how Republican and Democratic committee members fully resolved the issue. Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the winner of all three states (including Florida) while Republican officials were announcing the removal of the last Federal troops from the Florida.African-Americans felt they had be betrayed in a game of power politics.

Reconstruction was now terminated. The Southern Democrats could systematically eliminate the Republican black vote, while trying to restore Florida to a conservative, agrarian Southern state.