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Florida Volunteer Militia Soldier Records

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The ten volumes of Florida Volunteer soldier muster rosters have been digitized and are now available on the internet. It was originally published by the Florida National Guard and put in a few libraries in Florida about 20 years ago. But it was such an obscure source that only a few people knew that it even existed. (Myself being one of the few.) But the time I had in the library was limited, they could not be checked out, so I could not take the time to review it like I wanted.

One thing this does is provide more information for the 3rd Seminole War skirmishes. I found a lot more dates for battles around Big Cypress that I did not have beforehand.

Reading the lists, it is a "who's who" of Florida settlers during antebellum Florida. Central Florida cattle baron Jacob Summerlin and later assassinated Orange County Sheriff David Mizell can be found among the rolls. Famous names among Florida cattlemen like the Osteens or Barbers. And a few surprises, with units commanded by David Levy (Yulee) and Dr. Frederick Weedon, a few months before Weedon removed the head from the deceased Osceola. And if you are related to someone who was a settler in Florida during these wars, there is a good chance that their name will be on there somewhere.

This is a good source for forts that were manned and established by the Florida Volunteers. Skirmishes they participated in and the dates. And soldiers that were killed in battles.

It gives a better idea of the desertion rate of enlisted soldiers. How many, and sometimes where they went AWOL. Some of the desertions are very interesting. At one point Aaron Jernigan deserted, but I don't think it is the same as the Jernigan who founded Orlando because the age is different. The Aaron Jernigan who founded Orland did not fare much better and was dismissed by the governor as company commander and replaced by his brother.

And Willoughby Tillis deserted at the end of the 3rd Seminole War. He went from being at the battle of Black Point at the beginning of the 2nd Seminole War, became a 1st Lieutenant in one of the Florida units, and was active in the 3rd Seminole War when the biggest battle of that war took place on his farm. I guess he finally said that was enough and ran off. Today you can see where is buried outside of Fort Meade, Fla.

Desertions in the 2nd Seminole War were not unusual. A single company would sometimes have anywhere from one to four. But the rate during the 3rd Seminole was much higher. One unit during the 3SW had a sixth of the company desert. I think the harsh conditions during that time and the unforgiving climate of Big Cypress were very unappealing.

Some soldiers even enlisted in the Army. Apparently the military life appeared very attractive to them, rather than return home to their impoverished homesteads. Of those who enlisted in the Army, it states that one enlisted in the 7th Infantry Regiment, and one enlisted in the 2nd Dragoon Regiment. The regiments of the other enlistees are not given.

One of the more interesting episodes listed is by Major Sylvester Churchill in April 1841, when a company refused to show up for a muster to be sent home. Capt. John Curry's company was in service for 17 days (not a long time of service) when they were ordered to come to Fort Clarke (Alachua County) and be mustered out. They were scattered to various forts around Alachua, but the captain and his men refused to attend the muster. Curry wrote Churchill, "that he should not attend the muster nor require his company to attend." It does not say why they refused, but it might be because they were ordered to 90 days service and didn't like traveling home after only 17 days. Also, the area they were serving was the most dangerous in the whole territory, and they may have felt an obligation to stay and protect the local citizens.

Horses were often noted. A mounted soldier would received rations and pay for his horses. But it wasn't easy on the horses that would often die from disease or exhaustion. The death of the horses and cause is often listed. There are even a few that are listed as killed by snake bites.

On November 27, 1857, the Seminoles killed almost an entire company's horses grazing in a pasture. This was probably in retaliation to recent raids by the Army who burned several villages in Big Cypress. But one of the horses with that unit died three months before on the steamer Grey Cloud, which was also the boat that departed with Billy Bowleg's people at the end of the 3rd Seminole War.

And horses were more valuable than Negroes. Slaves are listed as servants to the officers on occasion, and if they died there are not any more details. And personal descriptions or information about the slaves are never given. Not often a name of the person is even revealed.

The most bizarre case I found in the records was when General Taylor accused one Florida soldier as being a deserter from the regular Army. It is very serious when you are accused of desertion (which can be a hanging offense) by the commanding general in Florida. The charges were investigated, and proved to be false.

Some of the reasons for soldiers being discharged were interesting. And a bit hard to figure out; like, "discharged for inefficiency," or "inability." I can only imagine.

Some soldiers killed each other and were arrested by civil authorities. One of those arrested subsequently escaped from jail.

So, I hope to investigate these lists further.
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