Hernando County

Civil War Hardships Brought On Change

written and submitted by: Roger Landers

this article appeared in the Hernando Times Edition of the St. Petersburg Times Monday, December 25, 2006.

The Christmas tree was ready. Gifts, silver ornaments, glassware and vases adorned the branches. Then an unfortunate mishap occurred. The tree tipped over, and the dismayed adults and shocked children were horrified.

That was Christmas 1884 at the Brooksville Methodist Episcopal Church. The children thought it a tragedy; the adults, knowing what they had been through in recent years, prayed it would be the worst tragedy the children would endure in their lifetime.

A short 20 years earlier, the American Civil War had ended. The devastating effects of the war on the former soldiers and those left behind and the changes in the rules, roles and relationships in society are still evident today.

For Hernando County, the war was hard. No fewer than three companies of soldiers left the state to serve the cause of the South. The women, children, older residents and slaves would have to fill the void left by the absence of the men.

Young men served in a scattering of Florida units. Dr. John P. Wall, a son of Judge Perry G. Wall, served as a surgeon at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, Va. Eugene Lykes, eldest son of Fredrick Lykes, a member of Company E of the 2nd Florida, died from wounds after the Battle of Seven Pines. William E. McCasland, former principal of the Brooksville Academy, and later captain of Company E of the 2nd, was killed at Gettysburg, Pa.

Twenty percent of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry of Florida was made up of Union men from Hernando County. They would be a part of the Federal force that raided Hernando in the summer of 1864.

Three local companies in the 3rd, 8th and the 9th Confederate regiments served outside Florida. Two other companies, organized locally, saw service only within the state.

Company C, 3rd Florida Infantry

Perhaps the best known of the Hernando companies was Capt. Walter T. Saxon's Company C of the 3rd Florida. The Hernando Guards, later known as Hernando Wildcats, were mustered into service at Fernandina on April 10, 1861.

Company C served in Florida and Alabama before ordered to Perryville, Ky., with the Army of Tennessee. In the Battle at Perryville, losses are heavy, including the wounding of Frank E. Saxon. The 3rd Florida was so devastated by the fall of 1862, that Company H was combined with Company C with Capt. Saxon as commander.

In late December 1862 and January 1863, Company C and H of the Florida Brigade engaged in the Battle of Stones River at Murfreesboro, Tenn. Their losses were again heavy. The 3rd later fought on at Chickamauga, Atlanta, Franklin and Nashville.

Originally, the 3rd had 950 men and officers. At the surrender, only a remnant existed. Of the four Saxon men who enlisted at the beginning of the war, only Capt. Walter T. Saxon was present at the end in Greensboro, N.C., on April 26, 1865.

Company F, 8th Florida Infantry

Young men from the northeastern part of the county formed themselves into Capt. Felix Simmons' Coast Guard Artillery and offered their services to the state. After they reorganized as Company F of the 8th Florida Infantry, Simmons resigned his commission because of age. His son, Henry Clay Simmons, took over. The 8th, by then part of the Florida Brigade with the Army of Northern Virginia, had a complement of 950 men.

The 8th fought in the battles of the Second Bull Run and Antietam Creek, and by the winter of 1862 the 8th was in camp near Fredericksburg, Va. They engaged in the savage fighting near there in December.

After participating in the major battles of the eastern theater, including Gettysburg, when the surrender came in April 1865 only four officers and 28 men were present. Two were from Company F: J.R. Griffin and George A. Latham.

Company C, 9th Florida Infantry

Originally organized in May 1862 as the Captain John Parsons Company of Independent Florida Volunteers, the company reorganized as C Company of the 6th Florida Battalion (State Troops). With Capt. Samuel Hope in command, they saw service at Tampa, Bayport and Crystal River until September 1863.

In December of that year, they rushed to Camp Finegan near Tallahassee to defend against the Federal movement on the capital. They fought in the Battle of Olustee in February 1864.

The Florida Battalion then reorganized as the 9th Florida Infantry and was sent to shore up the Army of Northern Virginia. Upon arriving at Petersburg, Va., Capt. Hope learned of his election to the Florida Legislature and resigned his commission.

The 9th remained in the trenches of Petersburg and was at the site of the Battle of the Crater in July 1864.

On Dec. 1, 1864, at Petersburg, Leroy McKeown suffered a serious wound, and was captured and later discharged by the Federals at City Point, Va.

When the 9th surrendered at Appomattox in April, Company C had 89 men.

The home front

Soon after the war began, the lack of necessities hit hard. The women of the community stepped in to fill the void left by the men at war. Nancy McKeown ran the family blacksmith shop at Lake Lindsey. Leroy McKeown wrote letters home telling of the tedium of camp life and his wish to be back home. Here is one:

Army Post

Tampa, Fla.

Dec. 23, 1863

Dear Wife

Seat my self to scribble a few lines to you to let you now how I am getting along. I am as well as common. I received your kind leiter in dew time. Which I was glad to se that you was well, but sory to hear that Anne was so porley, but I hope she is better by this time. The health of the company's is purity good now. Strapletun (Frances Stappleton) is minding stove. I recun you have seen David Allen before this time and I had thought I would have went this week, but Major Thomas has come down, and I could not get off. We all had to stay Here. I will be home next week if nothing happens for I wasnt to see you all so bad. I don't know what to do. Call (Calvin Mason) & me will walk up one of these days. He is on gard today. I have to cook. We have to live on rice & pork. We have 3 days rationing of flour & 4 of rice. I get along very well with the flour, but the rice, Keep it away from me for it is poor living for me. Well I have nothing to rite that would interest. So I will come to a close so no more at pesent but remains. your loving husband until death

Leroy McKeown

By the winter of 1864, the situation was desperate throughout the county. The previous spring had been extremely dry, and there was a poor harvest. The lack of basic food reached a critical state.

At the urging of Gen. Joseph M. Taylor, Hernando County's only Civil War general, County Judge P.G. Wall wrote to the governor asking for assistance by furnishing corn. He noted that almost all of the cattle, including the milk cows, were needed to feed the army in the field.

So for the little ones, the loss of their Christmas tree with its presents in 1884 was quite a tragedy. For those older than 25, however, there was a greater December tragedy to recall. Surely they prayed that the children should never suffer as they.

Roger Landers is retired from the Hernando County School District, where for nearly 33 years he was a teacher, principal and district administrator. He is the historian for the county's Heritage Museum, historical adviser to the new Hernando County Historical Advisory Commission and a member of the Florida Historical Society. He can be reached at roger58@gate.net.