On the 6th of March, 1865, towards the end of the civil war, Confederate and Federal troops fought for control of a vital natural river crossing of the St Marks River, just south of Tallahassee, Florida's state capital. The battle was very significant because the bridge was the gateway to the city. One of the aspects of the Battle of Natural Bridge that makes it such as legendary tale is that many of the Confederate troops were young men, teenage boys and cadets from what is now Florida State University.
The Natural Bridge itself is a short section where the St Marks River sinks underground, providing one of the few places to cross. Confederate scouts who were monitoring the Federal army's movements realised they were heading for the Natural Bridge, and immediately positioned themselves to the west bank of crossing. When the federal troops arrived just before dawn, they began to move across the crossing, only to be greeted by showers of artillery and musket fire.
They took up defensive positions, and returned fire, whereby a bitter stalemate developed. The Confederates continued to reinforce their position throughout the day, pushing additional troops and artillery on to the scene. By 12 noon they had twice as many cannons on the ground as their enemy and had extended their lines to form a slight semi-circle connecting to the river above and below the crossing.
The Federal troops attempted to penetrate the confederate lines eight times, but were continually rebuked by heavy fire; suffering heavy causalities in the process. After a day of fighting, the Federal troops realised they could not force their way across Natural Bridge and began to withdraw their troops, felling trees to slow the Confederate troops' pursuit. The battle was over - the Confederates has successfully defended the crossing, and in doing so, prevented the capture of Tallahassee. Casualties on their side were remarkably light - just 3 killed and 22 wounded. The Federals suffered much heavier losses, with 21 killed, 89 wounded and 38 captured. The battle of Natural Bridge is honoured by the Natural Bridge Historical Society, which was created to preserve and enhance this historic site.
The organisation strives to raise funds to maintain the park, and incorporate improvements, such as monuments and plaque commemorating the battle. Every year hotels in Tallahassee become full of tourists and historical enthusiasts who converge to watch the re-enactment of this historic battle, with more than 200 hundred members taking part from all over Florida and the rest of the USA. This takes place on the exact site of the original battlefield, in what is now Woodville, Florida, and follows as closely as possible the movements of the troops, recreating an accurate portrayal of this highly significant battle. It may have only lasted a day, and involved relatively small numbers of troops, but the Battle of Natural Bridge remains Florida's most crucial fight and even today, the fact that Tallahassee was saved by the bravery of local men and boys is a source of great pride for Floridians.
Isla Campbell is an online, freelance journalist and avid traveler and pilates devotee. When not on the road she lives on the outskirts of Oban.