Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Battle of Vernon, Florida

One of the least known episodes of the Civil War in Florida took place on September 28, 1864, as Union troops turned back toward the coast from the Battle of Marianna.

As they left Marianna, the Federals followed the old Vernon road that led southwest into Washington County and into the town of Vernon. Along the way they confiscated livestock, destroyed crops and burned barns.

Then the county seat of Washington County, Vernon was the designated muster point for the Vernon Home Guard, a militia unit made up of men and boys from across the county. Commanded by Captain W.B. Jones, a former lieutenant in the 4th Florida Infantry, the company had rallied on the morning of September 28th in response to an urgent plea from Marianna for help.

Joined by several disabled soldiers and regular Confederates home on leave, Jones and his men also "enlisted" several additional men in the community who were either too old or otherwise unfit for military service. Mounted on horses, these men left Vernon at about mid-morning and started up the road to Marianna. They had no way of knowing that the bloodied Union column, fresh from the battle there, was moving in their direction on the same road.

The two forces met when the men of the Vernon Home Guard came down the slope on one side of Hard Labor Creek and the vanguard of the Union column, made up of men from the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry, came down the opposite slope at the same time. The meeting apparently came as something of a shock to the men of both sides.

According to eyewitness accounts of the encounter, the Union soldiers apparently tried to avoid a fight and ordered Captain Jones and his ragtag command of 30-50 men to disperse. They apparently began to do so, but according to tradition a man named Stephen Pierce began to verbally abuse the Federals. A former soldier from Company H, 4th Florida Infantry, Pierce had been discharged due to disability but had joined with the Vernon men as they rode out that morning. The confrontation escalated, shots rang out and suddenly the Union soldiers unleashed a volley on Jones and his unprepared men.


According to one of the Vernon men who was wounded in the skirmish, he was shot in the shoulder and Pierce fell dead in the Union volley and the rest of the men broke and retreated. The Union troops charged. Other eyewitnesses described a running fight that continued for several miles to Vernon. Although most of Jones' men managed to escape, several were captured and carried away as prisoners of war. Captain Jones was among them.

The site of the "Battle of Vernon" is located at Hard Labor Creek in Washington County, near the intersection of Mitchell and Owens Pond Roads just northwest of Wausau. A small wooden bridge crosses the creek within sight of the skirmish location. The grave of Stephen Pierce, the only man killed in the fight, can be found just up the hill in the cemetery at Washington Church. There are no historic markers at the site.


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