"How Col. Scott Destroyed Newport"

By: Mays Leroy Gray
As published in the "Wakulla Digest"
April, 2002

After Florida seceded from the Union on January 10, 1861 Confederate troops attached Fort Sumter three months later on April 12, 1861 and the Civil War began.

Even before the attack on Fort Sumter, North Florida citizens began to prepare themselves for hostilities with the Union.

George Washington Scott (1829-1903), a merchant-planter, lived on a 1,036 acre plantation south of Tallahassee.... Scott's plantation was one of 95 large pre Civil War plantations in Leon County.  Scott constructed a dam that turned a 16 foot waterwheel which powered a cotton gin and corn grinding machinery. Reportedly, he developed his plantation into a model farm.

Attracted to frontier North Florida by opportunities in business and agriculture, George Washington Scott migrated to Leon County from his native Pennsylvania in 1852.  even before Florida seceded from the Union, Scott joined the Florida Confederate force and became one of the top cavalry commanders in Florida.

In 1863, James A Seddon, Secretary of the War of the Confederacy, directed George Washington Scott to organize the fifth Florida Battalion, known as "Scott's Cavalry", with the rank of Lt. Colonel.  In October 1864 Col. Scott made commanding officer of "Middle and West Florida and Southern Georgia".  Scott served under Brig. General William Miller and Maj. General Sam Jones, Commander of the Florida District, headquartered in Tallahassee.

On February 28, 1865 a fleet of 15 Union ships began to assemble 13 miles offshore from the lighthouse in Apalachee Bay.

With his plantation located on the south side of Tallahassee, Scott was one of the first Confederates to learn of the impending threat.

Quickly, the news of the Yankees' arrival, a mere 25 miles south of Tallahassee, Florida's capital, traveled by telegraph to nearby towns and a Confederate defensive force began to assemble at "Old Still" (now Wakulla Station) four miles west of Newport in order to repulse the invaders and defend Tallahassee.  They come by long trains via the Tallahassee-St Marks Railroad pulled by 3 steam locomotives.

At sunrise on Saturday, March 4, 1865, the Union fleet began to close upon the St Marks lighthouse under full sail and a full head of steam.  Within hours about 1,000 infantrymen of the 2nd and 99th Colored Infantry regiments, their officers and equipment debarked from their ships and came ashore near the lighthouse.  They quickly moved inland about two miles to an elevated spot of land and prepared their encampment and command post.

The Union invasion plan was to silence the Confederate batteries at Fort St Marks, land a naval force at Port Leon to pin down and neutralize St Marks, and thus protect their left flank and rear.  Another group, an infantry force, was to cross the bridge at East River, march toward and cross the St Marks River bridge at Newport, destroy Daniel Ladd's foundry used to cast shot and shells for the Confederacy and other strategic facilities at Newport, then turn westward and capture St Marks from the rear, seize or destroy the Tallahassee-St Marks Railroad, and then march into Tallahassee and capture the Florida Capital.

Learning that the Union was advancing on Newport with 700 soldiers, along with a squad of Union Navy Artillerymen armed with two field cannons, Col. Scott and his cavalry rushed down to Newport.  Immediately upon arrival, his men tore out a section of the St Marks River bridge and set the remainder of the bridge afire. 

Because of its particular location on the St Marks  River, Newport found itself trapped between the crossfire of the Union invasion forces and the Confederate defensive forces.

The next day, Sunday, March 5, 1865, Union forces marched form the lighthouse toward Newport arriving at 11 AM.  Finding strong resistance from Col. Scott's cavalry and other Confederate units dug-in along the Newport side of the river -- a strong battle between Confederate forces and Union forces followed.

The Confederates defending Newport were comprised of 60 men of Col. Scott's Fifth Florida Battalion, 35 militia, 20 marines form the gunboat "Spray" and 25 artillerymen, a total defensive force of 140 men plus reserve forces at Old Still and Fort St Marks.

Meanwhile, on Col. Scott's orders, the Confederates set fire to the primary buildings in Newport including Daniel Ladd's foundry, sawmill, gristmill, turpentine still and warehouses to prevent them from falling into the hands of advancing Union forces.  This destruction virtually wiped-out the town of Newport.  With the St Marks River bridge ablaze and fire raging through the town feeding upon fat pine wood buildings, the battle continued until nightfall in a pall of stifling heat and smoke created from musket and cannon fire mixed with the smoke from the buildings burning at Newport.

Col. Scott's cavalry and infantry units quickly prepared their defensive positions with rifle pits entrenched in sand breastworks on the west side of the St Marks River bridge.  Within a short time, three Union soldiers were killed and a number of them wounded.  The Confederate firepower was so heavy against the advancing Union forces that they were compelled to abandon their plans of crossing the river, they retreated and retired for the day.  The battle at Newport lasted about seven hours; from 11 AM to nightfall.  Although outnumbered, the Confederates performed with valor.

The Battle Of Newport As Described By Union Commanders

Major Edmund C. Weeks, the Union officer leading the Union battalion advance from Lighthouse Island to Newport stated:

"Upon arriving at Newport, on Sunday at 11 AM (March 5, 1865), I discovered the bridge over Newport River on fire, and agreeable to orders I charged on the enemy for the purpose of saving the bridge -- all under heavy fire."

"Found the enemy strongly posted behind the entrenchments on opposite side, and found that the bridge was burned at one end and cut off at the other, and that the enemy had complete command of the approach to the bridge with their musketry.  Having two pieces of artillery, I posted one to play directly across the bridge and the other on the right to enfilade their pits.  I did not succeed in driving them out."

During Sunday morning of March 5, 1865, General John Newton, commander of the Union forces, further elaborates:

"When near Newport a heavy smoke indicated the probable destruction of the bridge.  The battalion of the Second Florida Cavalry, under Major Edmund C. Weeks, was pushed on in advance to save the bridge.  This was found to be impossible, one bay of the bridge being already gone and its whole length swept from the rifle-pits of the enemy on the other side.  The conflagration was extended (to Newport) to include an iron foundry used by the enemy to cast shot and shell, one sawmill and on grist mill, and other property."

The Battle Of Newport As Described By Confederate Commanders

In his report to Confederate General Samuel Jones, Brig. General William Miller describes their defense of Newport:

"On the 5th (March 5, 1865), assuming command of such forces as had reported, I proceeded to Newport, at which place I arrived at 5 o'clock PM and assuming command, relieved the over-fatigued men of Lt. Colonel G. W. Scott, placing a company of cadets and a company of militia at the breastworks.  The enemy having driven in Col. Scott's pickets at the East River bridge on the night of the 3rd (March 3, 1865) inst., on the morning of the 4th (March 4, 1865) Major William H. Milton drove them back to the lighthouse.  On the morning of the 5th inst., the enemy advanced on the east River bridge held by Lt. Col. Scott with 60 men of the 5th Florida Battalion and one piece of Denham's Artillery under Lt. Rambo.  The development of a force of 1,500 by the enemy compelled Lt. Col. Scott to fall back towards Newport. The horses becoming unmanageable, Col. Scott was compelled to sacrifice the piece of artillery, though not without loss to the enemy, who left three of their dead unburied at the bridge and took positions behind the breastworks, from which place they adeptly opposed the enemy's passage.  The force under Lt. Col. Scott at this place was composed of 45 militia, 20 marines from the gunboat Spray, 25 artillery men from Gambell's battery, besides the force from the East River Bridge."

General Miller further stated:

"Early on the night of the 5th, it became evident that the enemy had abandoned the design of crossing at Newport, and Lt. Col. Scott's scouts reported them moving up the (St Marks) river.  I then ordered Col. Scott to move up the river to Tompkins' Mill and, subsequently, to Natural Bridge."

Confederate Soldier Gus H. West Describes the Defense of Newport:

"The battle began on Sunday afternoon at Newport, and we were compelled to burn the bridge across the river to keep the Federals from crossing.  At the time this battle took place my father, Capt. G. C. West, an old sea captain, and his family were living in Newport.  The Federals shelled the town of Newport, and the inhabitants, including women and children, had to fly to the forest to save their lives.  My mother with her baby girl in her arms, and her little boy, Allen West, then five years old, were among those who found safety in flight.  A number of bullets hit the house before they left it.  In a neighbor's house a cannon ball went through the dresser in a room where the lady of the house was engaged in making preparations for flight."

Confederate Soldier James Willson Recorded His Combat Experiences at Newport
 on That Sunday Afternoon, March 5, 1865:

"No sooner had they sallied from behind some few houses (on the east bank of the St Marks River) which partially obscured their line of approach and impetuously reached the foot of the bridge when we raised and emptied our muskets, squashing their enthusiasm.  In that instance they were not over 150 yards from us.  They retraced their steps quite as hastily as they had advanced taking refuge behind houses, trees -- squatted down behind stumps and prostrated themselves behind logs and in little pits in the earth barely sufficient to conceal them, from which, owing chiefly to the heat of the burning buildings, they insidiously changed their positions.

"Very soon the strife began -- they opened a desultory fire to which they found us not slow to reply, whenever we espied them at good range.  I could easily discern the enemy's movements.  The enemy was doubtless disappointed at not crossing the Newport bridge.  A cessation ensued for a few moments, and then having brought and positioned their two pieces of artillery -- being all that they had with them, they paid us frequent, although harmless, salutes for a while, perhaps one hour, where upon it was apparent to them we had no artillery.  Then, withdrawing theirs, by which it was thought by us, that it was done to attend another movement elsewhere, and deploying sharpshooters to protect the fight and deceive us till night fall, they concluded the day in our favor...

"The sun rose gorgeously that morning and shone vivid and warm through the day and we remained all that day and night unaltered in our position."

Re-grouping the next day, March 6, 1865, the Union forces were compelled to redirect their advance and move along the east side of the St Marks River, upstream along an old wagon road a distance of about eight miles from Natural Bridge -- a corridor of land where the St Marks River flows below its surface through a large natural underground limestone stream and sinkholes.

Well aware of this natural bridge location, and with Newport now laying in ashes, Col. Scott along with the other Confederate commanders moved the vanguard of their military forces from Newport via the Old Plank Road up to Natural Bridge and dug-in.

The Union forces continued their march to Natural Bridge and engaged a Confederate force of about 1,500 soldiers in the Battle of Natural Bridge.

For about 11 1/2 hours form 4:30 AM until about 4 PM on March 6, 1865, the Union forces challenged the Confederate line time after time.  Each time they were repulsed.  Finally, the Union forces ceased their fire, broke off the battle and began their retreat, and the Confederates were victorious.  On the following day March 7, 1865, after Union Army Commander General John Newton conferred with Naval Commander Robert W. Shufelot, they agreed to end the military operation.  The Union forces withdrew, reloaded infantry and naval forces on their ships and steamed away from Lighthouse island.

As he did at Newport, Col Scott and his cavalry again played an important military role in the Confederate victory at Natural Bridge.

Having fought with gallantry at Olustee in 1864 and now at Newport and Natural Bridge, Col. George Washington Scott became a Confederate hero throughout Florida and Georgia.

With Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, the South began its long and turbulent recovery from four years of Civil War.

On May 13, 1865, Col. Scott surrendered his command to Union Brig. General Edward M. McCook.  He was paroled on May 23, 1865, and Florida was placed under Union Rule.