Growing up, my mother always claimed that she had “eyes in the back of her head” in which she could see myself or my two siblings acting mischievously. No matter how much I looked and stared, I could never locate that mysterious set of eyeballs. Not until I was much older did I realize the quote was not to be taken literally but figuratively. My mother, like countless mothers before and many more to come in the future, had “mother’s intuition.”
This phenomenon has been studied by experts in their respective fields and is completely out of the scope of this author’s specialties or the basis of this post. Yet, conducting research on Florida troops, I came across the following account, which dabbled in “mother’s intuition” and like the “eyes in the back of her head” has planted itself firmly in family lore.
On February 20, 1862 in Tallahassee, Florida, a 31-year old native Floridian enlisted in Company K, of the 5th Florida Infantry. He was elected 1st Lieutenant and had two brothers. Isham and Walter served under him in the same company. He left behind a wife, Laura and a plantation that had substantial wealth for that time in northern Florida, with a population of African-American slaves numbering 118 prior to the war.
Lt. Joel C. Blake was with the 5th Florida as that regiment entered the fray at Gettysburg, one of the 321 men still with the unit. As part of General Robert E. Lee’s plan of attack on the 2nd of July, the Florida Brigade, part of General Richard Anderson’s Division of General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps would strike toward the Union center. The Floridians would move out when the Alabamians under General Cadmus Wilcox initiated their advance.
Stepping out for the advance shortly after 5:00 p.m. the Florida Brigade, including the 2nd and 8th Florida Infantry Regiments, crossed the Emmitsburg Pike and slammed into Union artillery and elements of Union General Daniel Sickles’s Third Corps.
Billowing small arms and artillery fire left smoke and haze masking the field. Unbeknownst to the Floridians a Union regiment, the 19th Maine, lay in the field in front of the brigade. The devastating fire rippled through the Floridians. The two sides traded volleys before Wilcox’s advance came astride the Floridians right flank. Yet, the firing continued and with the heat, confusion, and casualties taking their toll on the command, the acting brigade commander, Colonel David Lang, ordered a retreat.
Mixing with the screams of dead and dying men on the fields of Gettysburg was one from the capital of Florida. It was just as loud and heart-wrenching as it came from a mother.
According to family tradition…or lore…Joel Blake’s mother was sitting down for supper when she was seized by panic. A vision or “mother’s intuition” brought a startling realization racing through her mind. With dread seeping into her voice, she exclaimed, “Oh my God, my Joel is dead!”
She was right. Lt. Joel C. Blake had fallen in the advance on July 2nd. To add even more anguish, the young man’s remains were never identified, as they were reported to be “completely mutilated” and could never be found.
Blake was one of the thousands of sons that fell at Gettysburg. His mother was one of thousands who felt the keen loss of a beloved child. Whether the account is family lore or “mother’s intuition” may be irrelevant. The human aspect is what makes this account so relevant.