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Natural Bridge Historical Society, Inc.


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Battle of Natural Bridge

Early on the morning of March 6, 1865, shots rang out in southern Leon County where the St. Marks river temporarily flows underground then reemerges thus forming a natural bridge. These shots marked the opening skirmish of the Battle of Natural Bridge. Union soldiers, comprised of the 2nd and 99th Regiments U.S. Colored Infantry were advancing on Tallahassee, the state capitol. Union General Newton, commanding the district of Key West and Tortugas, had landed his men at the St. Marks lighthouse. Unable to cross the river at Newport, a decision was made to flank the Confederate position by making passage further upriver at the Natural Bridge. Anticipating such a move, General William Miller, commander of the Military District of Florida, had hastily assembled a contingent of citizen soldiers and available troops from the Southern Confederacy, including young cadets from what is now the Florida State University.

 

The Southern defenders arrived at the battle site scarcely 30 minutes prior to their Northern attackers. They immediately formed a crescent shaped line of battle centered on the Natural Bridge and dug in. Following an initial probe by skirmishers, by the time the main body of Union troops took their position they found themselves facing a formidable defense. Nevertheless, over the course of the day, the Yankees made three seperate charges over the Natural Bridge. On each charge they swept to their left against the Confederate right flank. Each charge was repulsed by murderous artillery and small arms fire. By days end, the Union attackers retreated to the protection of the Federal fleet.


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The Monument

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Let there be no mistake . . . the monument at the Natural Bridge Battlefield State Historic Site is a memorial to the Confederate defenders. Erection of the present monument was the work of the Anna Jackson Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), under the authority of a 1921 Act of the Florida Legislature. It was not an easy task. The effort took over ten years. A committee to acquire title to the battlefield was formed on March 6, 1911. Fund raising began and a land survey was commissioned. Fortunately, Mr. J.R. French offered up a parcel of land which is part of the current park site as a donation to the UDC. In the meantime, Mr. J.B. Fletcher, a confederate veteran of the battle, began to lobby in earnest for a permanent monument and park. UDC Chapter minutes record that, "out of his meager funds, [Mr. Fletcher] has erected a small monument". . . a precursor to the monument now located st the site. On January 20, 1919, Mr. Fletcher requested assistance of the Anna Jackson Chapter at the unveiling of a monument at Natural Bridge. This first monument was described as a single pillar of brick covered with white mortor, though Mr. Fletcher expressed plans to build a similar pillar on the other side of the road and to connect the two with an arch. While the arch was never completed, each pillar was capped by a twelve pound cannon ball. On July 21, 1921, the Florida legislature appropriated $5,000 which it entrusted to the Anna Jackson Chapter for the construction of a permanent monument dedicated to the defenders of the Battle of Natural Bridge. Around October 1921, a contract for erecting the monument was let to the Clark Monument and Stone Company of Jacksonville, Florida. The monument was to be placed on four additional acres donated by James R. and Mary A. French. The monument which exists to this day was dedicated on the Memorial Day of the South . . . April 26, 1922.


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Florida Park Service

 

Ultimately, the Anna Jackson Chapter transferred title of the monument and site to the State of Florida. The Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park is now part of Florida's state park system. It is included in the National Register of Historic Places. Since 1978, the Florida Park Service, in conjunction with the UDC and living historians, has hosted a commemoration of the Battle of Natural Bridge, including a full scale reenactment of the battle.


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Natural Bridge Historical Society

 

The Natural Bridge Historical Society, Inc. (NBHS) was incorporated in 1999 as a Citizen Support Organization (CSO) to work in cooperation with the Florida Park Service to preserve and enhance the Natural Bridge Battlefield State Historic Site. As one of our first projects, on March 5, 2000 in conjunction with the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, the NBHS installed a new monument commemorating the soldiers, both North and South, who gave their lives at the Battle of Natural Bridge.


Lest we forget

 

Unfortunately, the current park site under State ownership is only a small fraction of the original battlefield, much of which is privately owned. As growth and development occurs in the area, the Natural Bridge Battlefield becomes more and more threatened. One primary goal of the NBHS is to educate the public about the historic and cultural importance of the site and to work with the State of Florida to acquire additional segments of the original battlefield before development consumes this important part of our heritage. Please help us by becoming a member . . . TODAY!


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