The Museum of Southern History
Preserving the History, Ideals and Chivalry of the South.
4304 Herschel St., Jacksonville, Florida 32210
General Lee’s Florida Brigade
Governor of Florida, John Milton Ward would be replaced by Col. E.A. Perry who would later command the Whirlwind Brigade and become governor of Florida in 1885. Perry would lead the regiment to its first fame at the Battle of Seven Pines (Fair-Oaks) on May 31, 1862. It was here that the regiment took part in charging Federal gun emplacements and capturing Battery A, New York Artillery of General Casey's Division, also known as the "Napoleon Battery." A member of the conquered battery wrote later, "Our shot tore their ranks wide open (The Florida Second) and shattered them asunder in a manner that was frightful to witness; but they closed up again at once, and came on as steady as English veterans. But again, Florida lost another of its bright young officers when George W. Call was slain while leading the left wing of the regiment. The reverence bestowed upon him when word of his death reached the capitol was second to none among Florida's fallen sons. Of 11 company commanders engaged, 10 became casualties, six were wounded and four were killed. Brigade commander General Samuel Garland's report of the Battle of Seven Pines concerning the Florida 2nd included a long role of honor for the battle. Garland wrote, "The following officers and men are brought to my attention in the reports of regimental commanders, who claim for survivors the badge of honor, to be awarded under general orders, to wit:"
Despite the courage and success exhibited by the Second's baptism to fire, it was overshadowed by the death of their commander, Colonel Ward, who was described by General Jubal Early as "…a most accomplished, gallant and deserving officer…"
Perhaps no letter written during the War better exemplified the early attitude of Southern secessionists or their feelings toward the "Cause" than the following by Florida Governor John Milton to Ward's survivors:
To Wife, Anna, the Ward sisters and brothers,
General Early who witnessed "The Peach Orchard Battle," presented the accompanying "Battle Flag," to Col. George T. Ward (your patriotic and gallant father) who was in command and whose noble daring and admirable skill, inspired the gallant forces under his command, and especially the 2nd Florida Regiment, with the fearless resolve to vindicate constitutional liberty and the Rights of Freemen, in spite of all odds and in contempt of all dangers.
Since these, at the battles fought near Williamsburg- where Col. Ward was in command and more recently and in the battle at Richmond, the 2nd Florida Regiment, under the command of Col. E.A. Perry has been distinguished among the "bravest of the brave," sustaining the noble character of its late beloved and revered commander, and in the most deadly part of the conflict bore victoriously "the Battle Flag" left in their keeping.
The accompanying letters from Col. Perry and, Capt. Brevard, will make known to you that I have been requesting as the Governor of the State of Florida, to deliver their flag to you, to be preserved as a memento of the patriotism and courage of your father.
In the future histories of the State of Florida, and of the Confederate States of America, the name and deeds of Co1. George T. Ward will be inscribed to inspire future generations with just admiration and esteem for the brilliant eloquence, refined intelligence and unblemished integrity which distinguished him as an officer upon the battle field and for the graceful generous, and inspiring, social virtues which endeared him to all who knew him, in the State and National Councils, in social scenes and around the family hearth.
May God bless and preserve you, the children of a father so eminently distinguished. With sentiments of respect I have the honor to be most cordially your, friend;
Florida Second Regiment
"Company A-Sergeant Riley, (distinguished both at Seven Pines and at Williamsburg); Corporal Rasson; Musician Cushman; Privates Bradley, Bryant, Hooper, Kennedy and Reed, (special case).
Company B-Lieutenants Jerkins and Tompson; Privates Finley, Crosby, Colson, Tidwell, Parker and Malphus; Sergeant Williams, Color Bearer.
Company C-Corporal J. B. Cason; Privates Gahagan, Wilkinson, Cone, and Miller.
Company D-Lieutenant Parker (who captured the colors of the 8th New York); Sergeant Stephens; Privates Rawles, Morrison and Walker.
Company E-Captain McCaslan; Lieutenant Reynolds (dead); Sergeant Roberts; Corporals Howard and Cross; Private Burleson.
Company F-Captain Pooser, (killed); Private Irwin, (killed); Tillinghast, Pooser and Butler.
Company G-Captain Flagg, (killed); Lieutenants Brown and Wright; Sergeant Roberts, (wounded); Private Masters.
Company H-Lieutenant Carlisle; Privates Papy, (killed), Holleyman, (wounded), A. Dupont and H. Crabtree.
Company I-Corporal Belote, (wounded).
Company K-Captain Butler, (killed).
Company L-Captain Perry, (killed); Privates Herndon, Dampier, Horton and Wilder,
During the Seven Days Battles that occurred around Richmond from June 25 to July 1, the 2nd Florida, now assigned to Brigadier Roger A. Pryor of Longstreet's Division, added to its laurels at the Battles of Gaines' Mill and Frayser's Farm. Shortly after this series of battles, the 2nd Florida was joined by the 5th and 8th Florida Regiments, as well as the 12th Virginia and 14th Alabama Regiments and was formed into a new brigade led by Brigadier General Roger A. Prior.
Although the brigade was at the Second Battle of Manassas, August 29 and 30, it was held mostly in reserve. They did, however, suffer several losses from grape and canister fire and saw limited action. It was the first time the three Florida regiments fought together as part of one unit. Pryor later reported, “The Second, Fifth and Eighth (Florida) Regiments, though never under fire, exhibited the cool and collected courage of veterans."
Pryor's Brigade, which still included the three Florida regiments, later forded the Potomac River near Leesburg, Virginia, in the early part of September, under orders from Stonewall Jackson. Its objectives were the arsenal and Union garrison at Harper's Ferry. Crossing South Mountain into Pleasant Valley, the brigade helped in the taking of Harper's Ferry on September 15th. Approximately 12,000 Union troops were captured, along with 73 pieces of artillery and a large assortment of small arms. While the victory was sweet, the brigade was quickly hurried into Maryland, arriving at Sharpsburg on September 17. Assigned to R.H. Anderson's division, the brigade would engage in the bloodiest single day of the War Between the States. The Florida regiments participated in the second phase of the battle, helping to relieve D .H. Hill, who was being pushed back by French's Union forces near The Bloody Lane. Both Colonel Hateley and Lt. Colonel Lamar of the Florida 5th were severely wounded.
After the fiery, bloody ordeal of Sharpsburg, the three Florida regiments withdrew from Sharpsburg with the Army of Northern Virginia on September 18-19, back into Virginia. After this, the three Florida regiments were finally integrated into a new brigade assigned to Colonel E.A. Perry of Florida, who was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. The new brigade was then known as the Perry Brigade, or as noted, the Florida Brigade, and it would even later be consolidated into the Finegan Brigade. Perry's Brigade would remain in Anderson's Division in Longstreet's Corps until after the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Later, it would be transferred to A.P. Hill's Corps, where it would achieve “... a reputation for gallantry second to none in the glorious army led by Robert E. Lee.”
At Fredericksburg on December 11th, a battalion of the Florida Brigade, 8th Regiment, led by Captain David Lang, would play a significant role in helping to protect the city from General Burnside's Federals attempting to cross the Rappahannock River. Burnside's men had attempted to build pontoon bridges below the town, but had met with vigorous resistance from General Barksdale’s 18th Mississippi Regiment led by Colonel Luse. The Federals attempted to dislodge the Mississippians with grape and canister, which had a telling effect, as Luse’s men were not fortified. Consequently, the Mississippians were forced to withdraw to the River Road. But early on December 11th, Lang’s Floridians, along with units from South Carolina and Georgia, helped to stabilize the battle lines. Lang and his brave battalion of only about 150 men were cited by Confederate General Lafayette McLaws for their “good service.” But Captain Lang was severely wounded, and his small unit also suffered 31 casualties. Captain R. Love replaced Land, and the position they had gained was held until later in the afternoon when they were ordered to withdraw. While the Floridians fought well, the real heroes of this phase of the battle were General Barksdale's Mississippians, who “... despite the terrible fire of musketry and artillery ... “kept Burnside's men from crossing the river.
Perry's entire Florida Brigade would later see sharp and sustained action at Chancellorsville in early May. After exhaustive marching and skirmishing during the early part of the Chancellorsville Campaign, Perry's Brigade eventually joined the division of R.H. Anderson in time to march to Catherine Furnace where some of the most violent action occurred.
In his battle report, Anderson paid special tribute to "Brigadier-General Perry, and his heroic little band of Floridians, who showed courage as intrepid as any others in their assault upon the enemy in his entrenchments on the May 3rd, 1863, and in their subsequent advance upon Chancellorsville." Brigadier-General Perry's own report was similar in tribute:
"The conduct of both officers and men of my command through the tiresome marches and continued watching, as well as while engaging the enemy, was such as to merit high praise. The firm and steadfast courage exhibited, especially by the Fifth and Second Florida Regiments, in the charge at Chancellorsville, attracted my attention."
Perry noted the services of Captain W.E. McCaslan, Lieutenants D.B. Taylor, William Scott and H.F. Riley, and Majors T. C. Elder and D.W. Hinkle, and staff officers and volunteer aides. The small brigade suffered 106 casualties.
While this was one of Lee's greatest triumphs of the War, Chancellorsville would leave a bittersweet taste in the mouths of many Southerners. They had won one of the most memorable victories of the War, while at the same time losing one of their most noted generals to mistaken identity, as Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men late in the afternoon on May 2, 1863. Lee would have to march into Pennsylvania and face the capable Meade at Gettysburg with only Jackson's memory as his strength.
Less than two months before the carnage would begin at Gettysburg, Major General A.P. Hill, one of the heroes of Chancellorsville, was promoted commander of Lee’s Third Corps, of which Perry’s Florida Brigade became a part. It was said that Lee chose Hill because he was a Virginian, but notwithstanding, Hill had more than common ability. However, he now faced the task of commanding three times as many men. In Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, a corps, in many ways, operated as an army unto itself. One of Lee’s best divisions was General Anderson’s Division which, besides the Florida Brigade, was made up of hardened brigades led by Generals Mahone, Posey, Wilcox and Wright.
On July 1, General Henry Heth of Hill’s Corps led his division into Gettysburg from Cashtown, some eight miles away. Neither Hill, nor Lee or any other Confederate commander suspected that the main body of the Union Army was near Gettysburg, and no special attention was given to the places that the different units had in the advancing column. These miscalculations were only a part of a series that would fortuitously lock the two great armies in a titanic conflict, the coup de main of the War.
During the same day the Florida Brigade, with the rest of Anderson’s Division, was moving from Fayetteville, Pennsylvania toward Cashtown where they were ordered to clear the Shippensburg-to-Greenwood Road of Union pickets – thus allowing the advance of Edward Johnson with Ewell’s reserve artillery. Because the Florida Brigade’s commander, E. A. Perry, was suspected of having typhoid fever, the tested Colonel David Lang assumed his command. While Lang had never commanded more than a regiment, he would show his steel during the next three days. The Florida Brigade would take part in some of the deadliest charges of the battle on the second and third of July and would have its ranks decimated, suffering 445 casualties from a sparse brigade of only 700 men present. This amounts to 64 percent casualties.
Colonel Lang and his little Florida Brigade marched in with Anderson's Division. Hearing heavy activity in the direction of Gettysburg, they were ordered toward the front, having first served as Anderson's rear guard. But the brigade remained posted along with that of Wilcox, Wright, Posey and Mahone until Longstreet arrived the following day. When Longstreet appeared, the Florida Brigade was moved to the front and posted on the right of the town.
At 5:00 p.m. on the second, Colonel Lang learned from General Anderson that General Longstreet was engaging the enemy and that the Florida Brigade had been ordered to "advance with General Wilcox, holding all the ground the enemy yielded." Anderson's brigades, which included the Florida, were ordered to attack "individually and successively." Wright's Brigade, a part of Anderson's Division, was north of Spangler's Woods, a thick hardwood area just below Seminary Ridge and about a mile east of Cemetery Ridge (see map). The Florida Brigade waited in anxious expectation near the eastern edge of Spangler's Woods behind a group of farm buildings. The other two brigades, led by Posey and Mahone, rested on the ridge-crest between Spangler's Woods and McMillan's Woods. The Spangler barn was of some use for cover, until Federal artillery began to reach it. Finally, Wilcox, followed by Lang on the left, began to advance, driving the Federals ahead of them as they advanced from Seminary Ridge to the base of Cemetery Ridge. Wilcox passed the Emittsburg Road south of the Codori house, while Lang brushed alongside of the farm buildings, passing over the ground that would be traveled the next day by Kemper of Pickett's Division.
(See map). CLICK MAP TO ENLARGE IMAGE
The Florida Brigade continued to advance on Wilcox's left, receiving "murderous fire of grape and canister, and musketry, from Union positions." In a letter to General Perry, Colonel Lang pointed out that the Florida regiments suffered terribly, but advanced nobly uphill at a double-quick pace. The brigade swept through the trough between the Rogers' house and the Codori’s barn. (See map). Wilcox and Lang continued this steady advance until about 7:00p.m. Colonel Lang and his command were able to route everything in his front until it reached a small stand of trees in front of the main Federal line.
After a brief rest for his weary brigade, Lang attacked the brigade of General Joseph B. Carr with great ferocity. The fighting that waged between these two adversaries was more destructive to the Federals, as Lang applied pressure on Carr's front and flank. Lang later remembered that at no time in the War had he seen as many dead Federal soldiers on the ground over which he passed.
Lang's charge was made with the aide of a deafening yell, which caused Carr's Federals to flee to the woods, leaving several cannons behind. They were still able to save their horses and limbers in a somewhat orderly retreat. However, during the charge, the Florida Brigade had become scattered, and Colonel Lang was forced to halt in order to re-form his regiments.
During this time, Lang received word that General Wilcox's brigade had been forced back by a heavy Federal force, thus leaving Lang's right flank totally exposed. This allowed the Federals to pass more than 100 yards to his rear, in an attempt to surround him. As the Florida Brigade was forced to fall back, Lang made several attempts to rally his men, but they were absolutely exposed to torrents of Union fire. During the initial charge, Union fire had raked the fields below, causing many casualties to Lang's regiments, and he was forced to give up the land his troops had so gallantly gained. By the end of the day, the Florida Brigade had lost almost half of its original force.
On the day after Lang's courageous charge, General George Pickett led his division across the same open terrain from where the Florida Brigade had been forced to withdraw earlier. The Union center was almost broken, but it was not to be, as converging cross fires of Union batteries from Cemetery Hill and Little Round Top cut the brave Southerners down like wheat. Minutes after the remnants of Pickett's Division retired from the field, the Florida and Wilcox Brigades were “... thrown forward as a forlorn hope." The “... two reformed brigades of about 1,400 men advanced to the charge nobly." But as they pressed on toward Cemetery Ridge, they were stopped by heavy columns of Union Infantry that plunged forward, unfettered by Confederate artillery that had exhausted its ammunition. "Having but one line, the enemy paid his undivided attention to us ..." Lang later wrote. And there was no recourse beyond retreating. At the day's end, the Florida Brigade had only 22 line officers and 233 enlisted men left for active duty. But the brigade was still able to hold its position until the night of July 4th when it received orders to withdraw to Hagerstown, Maryland.
After the Battle of Gettysburg, General Wilcox insisted that if Posey's and Mahone's Brigades had been sent out at the time he had dispatched his adjutant to Anderson for help on July 2, the Federal line could have been broken. Anderson replied, admitting the facts but insisting that he was under orders from AP. Hill to hold two brigades in reserve, and that when the distress from Wilcox had come in, Anderson had been unable to find Hill and refer the situation to him.
A July 8 dispatch from Hagerstown to the Richmond Enquirer made the following observation regarding the two Confederate brigades on July 2:
Here we have two whole divisions, and two brigades of another, standing idle, spectators of one of the most desperate and important assaults that has ever been made on this continent-15 or 20,000 armed men rested on their arms, in plain view of a terrible battle, witnessing the mighty efforts of two little brigades, contending with the heavy masses of Yankee artillery, without a single effort to aid them in the assault, or to assist them when the heights were carried ... It was now apparent that the day was lost-lost after it was won-lost, not because our army fought badly, but because a large portion did not fight at all.
While the fate of the Southern Cause was virtually sealed after the bloody battle of Gettysburg, where Lee's army suffered over 20,000 casualties, the War was far from over. Many savage encounters still lay ahead, and the Florida Brigade would participate in some of the most ferocious..
Later, at the Battle of Bristoe Station, October 14, 1863, " ... the brigade was conspicuously engaged, losing a considerable number killed and wounded; among the latter Lieutenant Colonel William Baya, commanding the Eighth Regiment." The depleted brigade would again see sharp action, in the Campaign of the Wilderness, May 5 and 6, 1864. It was here that General Lee, with only 75,000 troops, prevented Grant's 115,000 from turning his flank. The carnage was terrible on both sides, but Grant's casualties were more than 17,000 men, and Lee held his position. The Florida Brigade again lost as many as 250 men, and among the severely wounded was it's Commander, General Perry, who was finally forced to retire from combat duty. What was still left of the Florida Brigade, about 250 men, was consolidated with Finegan's new Florida Brigade, which had reached Richmond on May 25, 1864. The newly arrived brigade, distinguished in part by its rough, homespun battle dress, had soon joined Anderson's division at Hanover Junction, Virginia. From the new troops of Finegan and what was left of Perry's old brigade, a new Florida brigade was again formed, made up of remnants of six Florida regiments: 2nd, 5th, 8th, 10th and the 11th. The average effective strength of each regiment at the time was about 200 men.
One of the most noted performances of the newly formed Florida Brigade took place at the Second Battle of Cold Harbor in early June 1864. At the time, part of the main Confederate line was being held by a small division commanded by the famous Major General John C. Breckenridge. His men were being strongly pressed from their original positions and were forced to pull back to where the Florida Brigade was being held in reserve. Ordered forward, Finegan's Florida Brigade responded quickly, with the help of crack units from Maryland.
Colonel David Lang, from the old 2nd Regiment, led his men to within 50 yards of the Union line at which point it began to collapse. The Federals were soon in full retreat, and the Florida troops were able to retake the breastworks lost earlier by Breckenridge. "The new troops fought like tigers," wrote a captain of the Florida Brigade.
Later in the day, however, the Federals were able to regroup and return. The Floridians attempted to retain Breckenridge's original line, but they were showered with a terrible torrent of Federal fire. In an attempt to dislodge the Union troops, an audacious but ill advised charge was launched, led by Floridian Major Perkins Bird. It was soon halted, and a large number of Floridians were killed. Still another frontal assault was ordered. This time, segments of the Florida Brigade were led by Captain C. Seton Fleming, brother of Francis Fleming. Fleming was a tested and intrepid young officer and he saw the order as non sequitur, particularly in light of Bird’s recent action. Fleming knew that once he led his men from their breastworks, they would probably never return. The order had come from beyond the battle scene, but, like many other soldiers in many other wars, he never considered not obeying the order nor making what he considered a valid sacrifice.
The noted correspondent P.W. Alexander, with a Savannah newspaper, wrote, "Both of these auspicious and desperate charges were made with no thought of glory, honor or reward, but solely from a sublime sense of duty." Such sentiments are difficult for people today to believe, much less to understand, but they were felt by soldiers from both the North and the South during this War, which Winston Churchill would later refer to as the Last Gentleman's War.
Alexander continued “As with Bird's earlier charge, the second assault accomplished nothing, save the sacrifice of more brave Floridians. While accurate statistics or losses sustained by the Florida Brigade are unavailable, they were undoubtedly substantial. Fleming's charge on June 3 was part of the last phase of the Second Battle of Cold Harbor. On June 5, the Floridians fell back to a new defensive line and except for periodic artillery barrages, the two armies attempted to rest and recover from the previous month’s bloodletting.” But it was after Cold Harbor that R. W. Alexander gave a vivid account of the earlier action. He explained the will and eagerness of the Florida Brigade to respond to its orders and said that they charged the enemy like a whirlwind, thus giving the Florida unit the nickname of Whirlwind Brigade.
"After Cold Harbor, the Whirlwind Brigade marched to Malvern Hill, Virginia ... thence, made a forced march of 25 miles to Petersburg where the brigade was placed in the front line ... and were [sic] for three days exposed to terrific fire of artillery."
From Petersburg, the brigade was marched 10 miles at night to Reams Station-a railhead south of Petersburg. Reaching the battle lines at daybreak, the brigade was immediately thrust in the line of battle “... where they charged the enemy, driving him back in their sector in a running fight of four miles." At Reams Station, more than 2,000 of General Hancock's Federal veterans were captured. But such victories meant little by this time. Lee's once-gallant Army of Northern Virginia had been reduced to an assemblage of under-equipped, underfed, fragmented units. Few companies were even half strength, and Grant continued to receive an unlimited supply of reserves and materials. The great Homeric adventure that had early on featured daring cavalry charges and valiant bayonet attacks was playing out. Even the most sanguine Confederates knew by 1864 that the “Great Cause” had become a lost cause. Lee only hoped that his dogged army could somehow win concessions for the men he had so skillfully and nobly led. And the War inexorably ground on, and the small Florida Brigade would suffer on with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia until Appomattox.
In August 1864, the Florida Brigade participated in an attempt to destroy the Federal breastworks on the Weldon railroad, which connected Petersburg, Virginia to Weldon, North Carolina Union forces were firmly entrenched, and a hail of artillery and rifle fire turned the brigade back. Still, the Florida Brigade had again distinguished itself.
Other small encounters followed, but it was not until the first week in December that the gallant Florida Brigade was involved in another significant conflict. The brigade had been ordered to make a forced march of some 50 miles to a small place named Belfield, Virginia, as Lee hopelessly attempted to cover all flanks with a skeleton army. Finally reaching the Federal rear on the third day, the exhausted Floridians engaged in skirmishing, but the Union troops were able to escape, and the hard, shivering march was to no purpose. Bravery and tenacity sometimes took up the slack caused by dwindling columns and a lack of weapons and ammunition, but deadening fatigue and short rations soon took their toll. The enfeebled Army of North Virginia was finding it more and more difficult to march at the old speed in bitter, wintery weather. It must have been particularly true for the Floridians.
The Floridians were later involved in the battle known as Hicksford Raid, where the Federals were turned back with artillery fire. But Grant’s grip tightened as new reserves continued to join his columns, and by February 7, 1865, Federal lines were extended as far south as Hatcher’s Run, and the important Weldon Railroad was destroyed as far as Hicksford, near the North Carolina border. When General J. B. Gordon led an attack against Federal lines near Hatcher's Run, the Whirlwind Brigade, along with other elements of Mahone's Division, led a successful charge causing the Federals to flee in confusion before dark stopped the battle.
By April 2, General Lee's lines had begun to break, and there were no reserves left to fill the gaps. A few days later General Custer captured what was left of the 5th, 8th and 11th Florida Regiments-parts of the Florida Brigade commanded by General Theodore Brevard, Many of the Floridians were without shoes, and most only had a few rounds of ammunition.
The remaining members of the Florida Brigade marched to Farmville, a little village near Appomattox, where a sharp encounter ensued. The remnants of the Whirlwind Brigade Whirlwind Brigade again made a good showing, but the War was over for them, as Lee's proud army finally had to "yield to overwhelming numbers and resources."
Perhaps it could be said that Lee's lingering resistance won some sort of reprieve for his soldiers. Certainly Grant's terms of surrender were more than fair. Most of the Florida veterans owned little at the beginning of the War, and they would resume civilian life with even less.
There is no question but that Lee held a special charity for the members of his Florida Brigade. Perhaps it had to do with his well-known noblesse oblige and the relative exigencies even in the Confederate Army of the Florida soldiers. In 1870, he included Florida in a trip he took through part of the South. On several occasions, he retired to his quarters in order to avoid the masses as they cried out to him. The general was forced to make several appearances, but no speeches were given to the onlookers. After visiting Cumberland Island, Georgia where his father is buried, he boarded the steamer Nick King, which ran from Savannah to Palatka. Shortly after the steamer entered the St. Johns, Lee and his daughter arrived in Jacksonville. As soon as the docking procedures were completed, a committee from the city came aboard and made the visit official.
When the plank fell, the number of veterans and their families that came aboard the steamer caused the steamer to lower its hull. Aware that many more were on the pier, Lee walked out onto the deck and approached the rail. As he gazed into the sun a unique event occurred: "Starting at the front of the crowd, men took off their hats; like a ripple through the sea of people, hats were removed until all were bareheaded. A complete silence fell on the throng, a silence of admiring reverence as if the people thought it would be worse than discourtesy to applaud the old chieftain who embodied in their eyes the Cause for which they had fought. The very silence of the multitude," reported the Jacksonville Union, "spoke deeper feeling than the loudest huzzas could have expressed." Many of these men had served with the Florida Brigade.
The War Between the States became America's Homeric epic. It was marked by countless sacrifices and heroics on both sides, but there were few Confederate or Union units that distinguished themselves more nobly or sacrificed more willingly during the great conflagration than the little Florida Brigade that came to be known fondly as the Whirlwind Brigade.
Despite its small population and its lack of military, preparation, Florida provided more than 15,000 troops for the Confederate Army during the great conflict known as the War Between the States. There were more soldiers from Florida than there were registered voters. Sent in many directions, most of the Florida units served with great distinction but none more than the Florida Brigade, or the Whirlwind Brigade, a sobriquet won the Second Battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864. Serving with the Army of Northern Virginia, it would become one of General Robert E. Lee's favorite units.
During the first year of the War, there was no Florida Brigade as such with the Army of Northern Virginia, It would be at Sharpsburg, or the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, that a brigade of three small Florida regiments would first be organized into a new brigade assigned to Colonel E.A. Perry of Florida.
One of the regiments making up Perry's Brigade was the 2nd Regiment Florida Infantry, made up of volunteers coming mostly from what was then known as East and Middle Florida. Led by the popular George T. Ward of Leon County, the regiment was fully mustered for service on July 13, 1861. One of its volunteers was a 19-year-old private named Francis P. Fleming. The handsome Fleming would win a battlefield commission and would one day become governor of Florida. Confederate Colonel J. J. Dickison would later write of the Florida Second as being made up of “... the bravest, most gallant and gifted of Florida's patriotic sons."
The Second had first tasted action under Brigadier General J.B. Magruder's division at Yorktown in September 1861. Ironically, it was the same location where the ancestors of both sides had met earlier, as comrades in arms in 1781. Under the command of Floridian Colonel Ward, Magruder described the action by the Florida Second as brilliant against a superior Federal force.