Today, we are pleased to welcome guest author Michael C. Hardy. You may visit his website at http://www.michaelchardy.com/
At times we get caught up in the bigger War, epitomized by places like Chancellorsville or the Atlanta Campaign. There was, however, another war being fought while this bigger War was taking place. It was a much more personal War. Two events–the June 1864 Camp Vance Raid in western North Carolina and the July 1864 Bayport-Brooksville Raid along the Gulf Coast of Florida–are good examples of the episodes taking place in that “other” War.
It might be argued that the Confederate conscription law hit North Carolina the hardest. Thousands of men had no desire to serve in the Confederate army. They simply wished to be left alone. Yet the law forced them into service. Two training camps were established, one in Raleigh, and eventually, one in the western part of the state near Morganton; this base was named Camp Vance. Once eastern Tennessee fell to Federal forces in the fall of 1863, Camp Vance became a tempting target. In the spring of 1864, a Tennessee Unionist, George W. Kirk, received permission to recruit his own regiment, and he devised a plan to capture Camp Vance.
He led a force of around 120 men through the wilderness, and on June 28, surrounded and captured the Confederate base. Captured at Camp Vance were three companies of junior reserves, then in the process of organization, and an unknown number of men who had been held in the guardhouse (40-50 men, maybe). Kirk then set fire to the camp, burned a local railroad depot and train, and then began his return up the mountain toward Tennessee. Along the route, he was forced to fend off several attacks by local troops. In one of these attacks, Kirk used some of the junior reserves as human shields and laughed about the Confederates shooting their own men. Upon crossing the crest of the Blue Ridge, Kirk played a part in burning the home of Col. John B. Palmer (58th NCT), and destroying the Cranberry Iron Works. He eventually returned to east Tennessee with 150 prisoners, 40 slaves, abundant horses and mules and other plunder, and numerous recruits for his own regiment, the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US). The men Kirk recruited for this raid were from western North Carolina. The guides he used were dissidents who were living in the area. The men he recruited for his regiment were also from the area. One of the most critical points about the regiment that Kirk raised, the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US) is often overlooked: they did not join the United States army for some lofty goal, like preserving the Union. These men crossed over the Tennessee/North Carolina line long enough to join the Federal army, to get fed, clothed, and armed, and then slipped back across the border to raid the farms, homes, and businesses of local pro-Southern people. The 3rd NCMI (US) never functioned as a regiment until April and May 1865, when it became a part of Stoneman’s Raid. Their war was much more personal, and almost always against friends and family.
In some ways, the Brooksville-Bayport Raid bears many similarities to Kirk’s Camp Vance Raid. The 2nd Florida Cavalry (US) was organized in late 1863 and early 1864, and consisted of pro-Union, or at least anti-Confederate, Florida men. Just who conceived the plan of a raid into Hernando County is unknown. On June 30, 1864, two companies of the 2nd Florida Cavalry (US) and two companies of the 2nd United States Colored Troops, set out from Fort Myers. Their purpose was to disrupt the movement of cattle heading north toward the main Confederate army in Tennessee, and the civilian market in places like Charleston. After disembarking near Anclote Key, the group moved inland. They were under the command of Capt. John F. Bartholf, 2nd USCT. There were, however, plenty of men serving in the two companies of Florida Cavalry who were from the very area through which they were marching. As in Kirk’s Raid, there were several small skirmishes fought along the way. Contesting the advance of the Federals were members of the First Battalion, Special Cavalry, at times referred to as the Cow Cavalry. At one point during the raid, Capt. Leroy G. Lesley (CS) rode out under a flag of truce and, according to a Federal officer, “induced Capt. Greene and myself [Lt. William McCullough] to desert the Union cause, and move back to Dixie.” The Federals raided numerous farms along the raid route, including Lesley’s, taking food and pretty much whatever else suited them. Several homes and/or outbuildings were burned, and salt works were broken up. The Federals never actually reached Brooksville, but turned back toward the west and, on July 11, reached the Bayport Inlet. The U.S. Navy had arrived the day before. The Confederate cannon that could have been captured had been relocated a few days before– to Brooksville.
While the organizers of these two raids might have stated lofty goals on paper – the capture of Camp Vance and the destruction of railroad bridges for Kirk’s Raid, or the disruption of the flow of cattle for the Bayport-Brooksville Raid, what was accomplished was much more personal, more bitter. These were raids conducted by “union” men who had been run out of the areas that they called home. While the war was far from being won in the summer of 1864, these local Unionists seized upon the recent gains in east Tennessee and the lack of protection in Florida in order to exact a measure of revenge on their former neighbors.
In the long run, the raids did benefit the Union’s war aims. Kirk’s raid demonstrated just how open western North Carolina was to attack, while the Bayport-Brooksville Raid deprived the Southern Confederacy of much-needed supplies. Both raids further added to the demoralizing effects the war was having on the Southern people.