With a small population, Florida would contribute more goods to the Confederate cause than manpower. It produced large amounts of sustenance and its large coastline made it difficult for Union Navy efforts to curb blockade runners bringing in supplies and material from foreign markets.
Secession was declared January 10, 1861, and, after less than a month, Florida became one of the founding members of the Confederacy. Although the vote to secede passed 62-7, there was a pro-Union and anti-Confederate minority in the state, an element that grew as the war progressed.
Governor John Milton, an ardent secessionist, throughout the war stressed the importance of Florida as a supplier of goods, rather than personnel, with Florida being a large provider of food (particularly beef cattle) and salt for the Confederate Army. The 8,436-mile coastline and 11,000 miles of rivers, streams, and waterways proved a haven for blockade runners and a daunting task for patrolling Federal warships. However, the state's small population (140,000 residents making it last in size in the Confederacy), relatively remote location, and meager industry limited its overall strategic importance. Nevertheless, Milton worked to strengthen the state militia and to improve fortifications and key defensive positions.
In early 1862, the Confederate government pulled General Braxton Bragg's small army from Pensacola following successive Confederate defeats in Tennessee at Fort Donelson and Fort Henry and sent them to the Western Theater for the remainder of the war. The only Confederate forces remaining in Florida at that time were a variety of independent companies, several infantry battalions, and the 2nd Florida Cavalry. They were reinforced in 1864 by troops from neighboring Georgia.
By 1840 white Floridians were concentrating on developing the territory and gaining statehood. The population had reached 54,477 people, with African American slaves making up almost one-half of the population. Steamboat navigation was well established on the Apalachicola and St. Johns Rivers, and railroads were planned.
There were over 61,000 slaves in Florida in 1861. Their labor accounted for 85 percent of the state’s cotton production. Confederate authorities used slaves as teamsters to transport supplies and as laborers in salt works and fisheries. Many Florida slaves working in these coastal industries escaped to the relative safety of Union controlled enclaves. Beginning in 1862, Union military activity in East and West Florida encouraged slaves in plantation areas to flee their owners in search of freedom. Some worked on Union ships and more than a thousand enlisted as soldiers and sailors in the U.S. military.
Escaped and freed slaves provided Union commanders with valuable intelligence about Confederate troop movements and passed on news of Union advances to the men and women who remained enslaved in Confederate controlled Florida. Planter fears of slave uprisings increased as the war went on.
Growing public dissatisfaction with Confederate conscription and impressment policies encouraged desertion by Confederate soldiers. Several Florida counties became havens for Florida deserters as well as deserters from other Confederate states. Deserter bands attacked Confederate patrols, launched raids on plantations, confiscated slaves, stole cattle, and provided intelligence to Union army units and naval blockaders. Although most deserters formed their own raiding bands or simply tried to remain free from Confederate authorities, other deserters and Unionist Floridians joined regular Federal units for military service in Florida.
Though numerous small skirmishes occurred in Florida, including the Battle of Natural Bridge, the Battle of Gainesville, the Battle of Marianna, the Battle of Vernon and the Battle of Fort Brooke, the only major engagement was at Olustee near Lake City. Union forces under General Truman Seymour were repulsed by Florida and Georgia troops and retreated to their fortifications around Jacksonville. Seymour's relatively high losses caused Northern lawmakers and citizens to openly question the necessity of any further Union involvement in militarily insignificant Florida, and many of the Federal troops were withdrawn and sent elsewhere. Throughout the balance of 1864 and into the following spring, the 2nd Florida Cavalry repeatedly thwarted Federal raiding parties into the Confederate-held northern and central portions of the state.
In January 1865, Union General William T. Sherman issued a set of special orders that set aside a portion of Florida as a designated home for runaway and freed former slaves that had accompanied his command during its March to the Sea. These controversial orders were not enforced in Florida, and were later revoked by President Andrew Johnson.
In early May 1865, Edward M. McCook's Union division was assigned to re-establish Federal control and authority in Florida. Governor Milton committed suicide rather than submit to Union occupation. On May 13, Col. George Washington Scott surrendered the last active Confederate troops in the state to McCook. On May 20, General McCook read Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation during a ceremony in Tallahassee, officially ending slavery in Florida. That same day, his jubilant troopers raised the U.S. flag over the state capitol building. Tallahassee was the next to last Confederate state capital to fall to the Union army. Austin, Texas fell the next month.
Restoration to Union
After meeting the requirements of Reconstruction, including ratifying amendments to the US Constitution, Florida's representatives were readmitted to Congress and the state was thus fully restored to the United States on July 25, 1868.
^August 17, 1864, In Gainesville, 342 Union troops of the 75th Ohio Mounted infantry, reinforced by two companies of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry and supported by a battery of 3 cannons from the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery under the command of Colonel Andrew L. Harris occupying the city were attacked from the rear by some 200 soldiers of the Second Florida Cavalry under Captain Jonathan J. Dickinson (companies H and F), supported by local militia, elements of 5th Florida Cavalry Battalion and a small artillery battery of two cannons. http://www.civilwaralbum.com/misc5/gainesville1.htm
^The Battle of Marianna then degenerated into a brutal fight in the cemetery behind the church. The battling forces fired at each other from just yards away. Even after the main body of the Home Guard surrendered, Union troops fired a volley into their ranks. Seeing this, Confederates firing from the windows of the church and two nearby homes refused to surrender and continued to fight. The church and both homes were burned to the ground. Four men and boys died in the flames. http://www.battleofmarianna.com
^March 6, 1865, Maj. Gen. John Newton's army marched out before dawn on March 6. from the fleet in St. Marks Bay, attempting to cross the river at Natural Bridge. The troops initially pushed Rebel forces back but not away from the bridge. Confederate forces, protected by breastworks, guarded all of the approaches and the bridge itself. The Federal withdrawal left Tallahassee as the only Confederate Capital east of the Mississippi River not to fall during the war. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/natural-bridge.html
^The Battle of Olustee also known as The Battle of Ocean Pond, February 20, 1864. In February 1864, Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour moved deep into the state, meeting little resistance on February 20, he approached Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan’s 5,000 Confederates entrenched near Olustee. The Union forces attacked but were repulsed. The battle raged, and the Union line broke and began to retreat. Finegan could not exploit the retreat (due largely to few and sick horses), much of the fleeing Union force to reached Jacksonville, abandoning equipment all along the way. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/olustee.html
^October 1–3, 1862, Brig. Gen. John M. Brannan [US]; Lt. Col. Charles F. Hopkins [CS]. A fortified Confederate battery on St. John’ s Bluff near Jacksonville, designed to stop the movement of Federal ships up the St. Johns River. Union Brig. Gen. John M. Brannan embarked with about 1,500 infantry aboard the transports on September 30. The flotilla arrived at the mouth of the St. John’ s River on October 1, where Cdr. Charles Steedman’ s gunboats—Paul Jones, Cimarron, Uncas, Patroon, Hale, and Water Witch—joined them. The Bluff held off the Naval squadron until the troops were landed to come up behind it, the Confederates quietly abandoned the works. http://www.nps.gov/hps/abpp/battles/fl003.htm
^October 9, 1861, Col. Harvey Brown [US]; Confederate Brig. Gen. Richard H. Anderson [CS]. After midnight on October 9, Brig. Gen. Richard Anderson crossed from the mainland to Santa Rosa Island with 1,200 men in two small steamers to surprise Union camps and capture Fort Pickens. He landed on the north beach about four miles east of Fort Pickens and divided his command into three columns. After proceeding about three miles, the Confederates surprised the 6th Regiment, New York Volunteers, and routed the regiment. Col. Harvey Brown sallied against the Confederates, who reembarked and returned to the mainland. http://www.nps.gov/hps/abpp/battles/fl001.htm
^Other Name: 'Yankee Outrage at Tampa.' June 30-July 1, 1862, Capt. A.J. Drake [US]; Capt. J.W. Pearson [CS]. On June 30, a Union gunboat came into Tampa Bay, turned her broadside on the civilian town, and opened her ports. The gunboat then dispatched a launch carrying 20 men and a lieutenant under a flag of truce demanding the surrender of Tampa. The Confederates refused, and the gunboat opened fire. The officer then informed the Confederates that shelling would commence at 6:00 pm after allowing time to evacuate, after a day of exchanging fire the Federal gunboat withdrew. http://www.nps.gov/hps/abpp/battles/fl002.htm
^The Battle of Braddock Farm, February 8, 1865, also known as the Battle of Dunn's Lake (currently called Crescent Lake). A Federal wagon train on a mission of pillage and plunder, under the command of Colonel Wilcoxon and the 17Th Connecticut Regiment was attacked and captured by Captain J. J. Dickison with elements of Companies B and H or the Fifth Florida Battalion of Cavalry. The Federal colonel was killed by Captain Dickison as the battle concluded in a (Hollywood style) man to man action. For the south it represents the ability of the Confederates even at this late date in the war to stage a significant raid behind Union lines and escape with prisoners and supplies across the St. Johns River. http://www.fcphs.com/Battle_of_Braddocks_Farm.htm
^The Battle of Station Four opened at 7 a.m. on February 13, 1865. At 7 a.m, Union pickets spotted the Confederates approaching and opened fire. The Confederates responded with the fire of 120 rifles and a 12-pounder field gun. The Confederates finally ran short of ammunition and fell back slightly, a move that also gave the Federals a chance to fall back across the trestle into Cedar Key. http://civilwarflorida.blogspot.com/2010/04/battle-of-station-four-cedar-key.html
^March 1, 1864, 10 days after the Confederate victory at Olustee the outnumbered Union forces had fallen back to Cedar Creek to take advantage of its natural barrier. The marshy ground also hampered the Confederate advance and a short, intense fight ensued. After half an hour, Union forces continued their withdrawal toward 3 Mile Run (today's McCoy's Creek). http://www.museumsouthernhistory.com/warcomestoflorida/battleofcedarcreek.htmll
U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 volumes in 4 series. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.