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Murder at Camp Scott, Florida

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Below, is a map from the Florida state archives/library. (You can download a better map from their catalog.) "Sketch of the Country East of the Suwannee..." Believed to have been sketched in 1841, from the area between Fort Fanning and Newnansville. Northwest of Newnansville is "Natural Bridge" on the Santa Fe River, now part of O'Leno State Park. The tiny black square above the natural bridge is Cantonment Winfield Scott. It is not named on this map, but this is one of the few maps that includes the post.

map 2 - Copy

Of the many, temporary, forts and posts during the 2nd Seminole War, was Cantonment Winfield Scott. Near the land bridge on the Santa Fe River near High Springs, which is now the area of O’Leno State Park. We have been researching this site with encouragement from the park manager, who recently inquired to me about some inconsistent information on the death of the First Sergeant there, which subsequent research revealed the details of the incident.

The only death listed at Camp W. Scott, is 1st Sgt. Philip Rohrback, listed in Sprague as died from the all too common, “Disease unknown.” Our research has told of a much different fate.

Cantonment, or Camp Winfield Scott, was only in existence for about 9 months, from August 1841 to May 1842. Named after General Scott, who assumed the position as Commanding General of the U.S. Army following the death of Gen. Alexander Macomb. The orders of the command ascension of Scott were received just a few days before the order was given from Fort Brooke to establish this new camp that became Cantonment Winfield Scott. It was established by 2nd Dragoon soldiers from Fort Wacahoota, and garrisoned first by the 2nd Dragoons, and then the 7th Infantry. At the time of our incident in 1842, it was garrisoned by Company G, 7th Infantry. The 7th was headquartered at Fort Micanopy, and seems to share the misfortune, as did the 2nd Dragoons, of seeing a lot of fighting and bloodshed in this part of Florida.

But the one soldiers listed as dying at Camp Scott did not die in battle, and did not die from “disease unknown” as listed in Sprague. He was killed by one of his own soldiers.

Despite all the killings and bloodshed in the territory, it is said that it was safer at Fort Micanopy outside the fort, taking your chances with the Indians, than inside the fort. It seems that it was no different here. Probably a cause of the troubles was the constant whiskey peddlers, who are sometimes said to have surrounded these frontier posts and outnumbered the garrison by at least two to one. From other various letters I have read from the officers who wrote about the death of Rohrback, Lt. Hopson of the Dragoons, and Capt. Seawell of the 7th, they must have been very glad to leave Florida and never look back.

On February 25, 1842, Musician Chandler Hastings, was about 450 yards outside the pickets of Camp Scott, supposedly hunting for some game to add to the menu. He was armed with a fowling piece (small shotgun), a powder horn, shot pouch, and had a haversack around his neck. Apparently he also took a side trip to the local peddler of spirituous liquors.

First Sergeant Philip Rohrback approached Hastings, and asked, what was in his haversack? It was apparently hanging low, with bulky contents.

“Squirrels,” replied Hastings.

Sgt. Rohrback examined the haversack, and pulled out two bottles of spirituous liquors. Most likely followed by a rebuke in typical First Sergeant-fashion. Hastings was ordered to return to the garrison, while the Sergeant was holding the two bottles of liquor.

Hastings demanded his bottles back, to which the Sergeant said, “No.”

Wherein, Hastings cocked his fowling piece, and shot the First Sergeant point-blank in the chest. The surgeon’s report said it probably killed him instantly. But Hastings didn’t stop there, and started pounding on Rohrback’s head with the butt of his gun; extensively fracturing his skull.

About 50 yards away, this was all observed by Private James McFadden, who yelled for Hastings to please stop, but to no avail. McFadden ran back to the garrison and told the commander what happened.

Now, during this time, the Army did not have a Judge Advocate Corp. And trials held were “Courts of Inquiry,” composed of officers. The only serious crime that the Army could execute anyone for, was for mutiny--where lawful orders were opposed. For many violations of conduct, the guilty service members would be discharged from the service. The United States was very careful at this time not to have the military like it was in other countries and empires, where the military was judge, jury, and executioner for legal matters. For a case of murder like this one, the guilty member was discharged from the service to face the magistrate of the civil court.

So Hastings was discharged from the service and turned over to the Alachua County Court. Private James McFadden who had witnessed the affair, was called to testify in court in Newnansville.

Hastings was found guilty of murder by the Alachuca County Court, and transferred up to Duval County, where he was hanged on June 1st, 1842.

So it is a very serious matter when one is lying about squirrels!
Current Location:
The Kimball Library of Seminole War History
Current Mood:
accomplished accomplished
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