1865 March 9: Frank Harding in the Battle of Natural Bridge
The Battle of Natural Bridge was fought on March 6, 1865, near Tallahassee, Florida. A small band of Confederate troops and volunteers, mostly composed of teenagers from the nearby Florida Military and Collegiate Institute (would become Florida State University), and the elderly, prevented Union forces from crossing the Natural Bridge on the St. Marks River. The Confederate forces, protected by breastworks, guarded all of the approaches and the bridge itself. The action at Natural Bridge lasted most of the day, but, unable to take the bridge in three separate charges, the Union troops retreated to the protection of the fleet. The Union troops consisted of African-American soldiers of the United States Colored Troops, including Frank Harding’s company. The battle prevented the Union from capturing the Florida capital and made Tallahassee the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi River not to be captured by Union forces during the war.
The original letter is in the Frank D. Harding Papers (River Falls Mss AB), University of Wisconsin-River Falls University Archives and Area Research Center.
On board Str. [Steamer] Magnolia Off Cedar Keys
Fla. — March 9th 1865
Once more safe, but somewhat demoralised. We have had two days hard fighting, at first we were victorious but finaly [sic] repulsed. Our whole force amounted to 893 muskets, all negroes but about 134 which were men from Florida, and were not engaged in the fight.
Our men fought first rate against the heaviest odds. Not one of them flinched although charged on more than twenty times. I lost my first Lieut. and nine men, but came out first [best?]. We captured one twelve pd. riffled [sic] piece which the enemy tried to re-capture but were not successful.
I will write to you the particulars next time.