Photo of Fort Pickens Site of Florida Civil War Battle

Before the Civil War, Florida was a haven for runaway slaves. Almost ½ of the state's 140,000 residents were African-Americans, and most of them were free men. However, when America began the bloodiest conflict in its history, Florida would not be on the former slaves' side that populated it.

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On January 10, 1861, a few short months before the onset of the Civil War, Florida became the third state to secede from the Union. Due to its geographical position as the southern-most Confederate state, Florida's role in the Civil War was limited. However, this did not mean that there were no battles to be fought in Florida.

There were four notable battles fought in Florida. First, was the Battle of Fort Pickens, where a Florida regiment of 1,000 troops tried and failed to take the fort back from Union troops. Second, was the Tampa Naval Battle, a "two-day barrage" on the port of Tampa by Union troops, in which there were no casualties.

Third, was the Battle of Olustee, Florida's deadliest battle and one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles. Despite reinforcements from black regiments defecting from the Confederacy, Union troops could not defeat the Confederate soldiers. The final significant action was the Battle of Natural Bridge. Confederate soldiers successfully defended Tallahassee from the Union army, making it the only Confederate state capital to avoid capture by Union troops.

Despite being the third state to secede from the Union, not all of Florida's residents supported the Confederacy. This divide was especially challenging for Florida cattle ranchers.

According to Trent Saunders, "Many cowboys wanted nothing to do with the war and chose to sell their beef to both sides until the union troops started to conduct raids on their ranches, and they found themselves thrust into the war. Most of the ranchers fought off union troops strictly to protect their ranches, livestock, and salt production."

Read more of our articles on Florida history here.


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