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General Eustis and the South Carolina Volunteers

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This past weekend was the annual reenactment of the battle at Spring Garden Plantation, at DeLeon Springs state park. Yesterday, someone had emailed me a question about their ancestor from South Carolina who was killed during the Florida war in 1836. Since one of the battles at Spring Garden involved the South Carolina troops, it is appropriate the mention who they were.

The initial fighting in the war began when Seminoles started to raid plantation from Wacahoota and Micanopy, to the east coast, including along the St. Johns River and south of St. Augustine.

Fort Picolata, important crossing on the St. Johns River since the Spanish.

The newspapers were quick to print stories of innocent white woman and children massacred by “Indians Negroes.” Nothing got southerners more in an uproar than renegade slaves killing their masters and benefactors. South Carolina, being a plantation economy state, was concerned with Florida plantations going up in smoke, and called for volunteers to protect St. Augustine and end the Indian uprising. How little they knew what trouble they were about to get into.

Enthusiastic rallies were held, and in Charleston it was found that there were more volunteers willing to sign up for the militia than they had room for in the two regiments that were formed. They arrived in St. Augustine in late January 1836. Many of these citizen soldiers were literate, and no less than four books were written by South Carolina officers of their experiences in the war in 1836. The war was always an interest of the people in S.C., and the Charleston Mercury newspaper is a great source of information from the war.

From St. Augustine, the S.C. volunteers were put under the command of General Abraham Eustis. The plan under General Scott, was to have three columns converge on the Cove of the Withlacoochee, chase the Seminoles out and onto ships waiting in Tampa Bay to take them to the Arkansas territory. Bad plan from the very start. The eastern column from St. Augustine had the worst time of any three of the columns, getting lost in uncharted territory, and being too late to participate in the joint campaign. Because of this, it put the whole of Scott's plan to ruin. Scott blamed Eustis and the command under him for the failure, but it was the plan and not the officers ordered to carry out the plan that were at fault.

General Winfield Scott. The Seminole War was a tarnish to his otherwise 50 year career that went from the War of 1812 to the Civil War. The Seminole War was a whole different kind of warfare to him.

Not only that, but General Abraham Eustis was greatly despised by the Carolinians. If Eustis was at all thankful of the service the sons of the south were sacrificing in the war, he never indicated any feeling for them. Officers ended up despising Eustis, and the soldiers were thrown into confusion and low moral. Another odd trait that made the men despise Eustis, was that Eustis did not follow standard military protocol of the time, and wore civilian clothes, and didn't even carry a sword, the symbol of a commanding officer. These things were unheard of at the time, and especially abhorrent to the Carolinians who had a long tradition of high military standards. The campaign turned into something far different from the romantic war that the citizens from South Carolina expected. Since the Seminoles targeted commanding officers, Eustis' simple dress was probably more practical in the field, but no less shocking for the standards of the day.

Fort Barnwell at Volusia.

Eustis' command crossed over the St. Johns and had a skirmish at Volusia. Then they proceeded southeast and had another skirmish and burned the villages of Okihumpky and Peliklakaha. They crossed over what is now the Ocala Forest. The town of Eustis on Lake Eustis is the former site of Fort Eustis. You guessed it, named after General Abraham Eustis. After weeks in unmapped territory, they hit the Fort King road and went down to Fort Brooke at Tampa.

General Eustis' command crossing the Ocklawaha. So what's wrong with using the bridge?

Okay, I'll talk about Indian Key tomorrow. It's the anniversary of that event.
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