Book Review: Confederate Military History of Florida

Confederate Military History of Florida, by J.J. Dickison

This book is my nominee for the worst military history of all time written by a first-hand participant.  Such an honor does not come lightly, but J.J. Dickison is highly qualified.  For one, this book contains both textbook examples of poor logic [1] and some of the most melodramatic prose in the entire body of 19th century historical literature [2], no mean achievement.  Additionally, the book neglects large areas of Florida’s military history and instead focuses on the glory and exploits of one Captain J.J. Dickison in inconclusive cavalry patrol missions, making this book a self-indulgent memoir in the guise of a military history.  The book also gets bonus points for being published by the sketchiest publisher I have ever heard of: [3].  Making the book even more offensive, the perspective of the book is horribly biased (even by the standard of Confederate propaganda works), making every battle a Confederate victory and giving the army’s casualty estimates during the Vietnam War a run for their money in terms of accuracy.  As a result, the book stands as perhaps the nadir of historical works that have ever polluted Florida.

The book’s offenses as a propaganda amount from the fact that the reader with an understanding of Florida’s history is able to notice the obvious whitewashing of the historical account in favor of the Confederates and the foul blacking against the Union.  To give but a few examples, the book twice refers to the lamentable death of Florida Governor Milton before the end of his term, but does not mention that his death was the result of suicide because he was unable to accept the need to surrender [4].  Likewise, the book dwells at length with supposed Yankee atrocities in Pensacola and Marianna, but completely erases the account of the Confederate atrocities against captured black Union soldiers after the Battle of Olustee.  This sort of blatant partisan bias and disregard for evidence disqualifies Dickison to be a historian of any competence or integrity whatsoever.

The book has a strange organization, to put it somewhat charitably.  The book as a whole (slightly over 100 pages of turgid prose) is divided into eight chapters.  The first chapter focuses on secession and the early preparations and the quasi-armistice around Pensacola.  The second chapter continues the focus on Pensacola and ends in its evacuation by the rebels.  The third chapter examines the organization of rebel forces in Florida and a very brief account of the events of 1862 and 1863, including the efforts of one J.J. Dickison to change from serving in the artillery to the cavalry.  The fourth chapter, the emotional and literal center of the book, examines the Olustee campaign.  The fifth chapter examines the inconclusive struggles around Palatka and Jacksonville in late 1864, along with the account of raids as far as Gainesville.  The sixth chapter closes the chronological account of the battles within Florida, including raids to Milton and Marianna, dubious accounts of the assault on Cedar Key, and the Battle of Natural Bridge, along with a very brief and biased account of Florida during Reconstruction.  Chapter Seven seeks to justify the bravery of Florida’s troops by examining their role within Lee’s Army of the Northern Virginia, and the eighth chapter closes the book with some partially undigested reportage of the role of Florida’s troops in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.  The result is a book that feels bloated, despite its short length, and lacks either accuracy in fact, fairness in approach, excellence in prose, or any other quality worthy of praise.

[1] See this example from page 34:  “Federal soldiers could with little opposition advance into the center of the heart of the state, expel the regularly constituted authorities from the capital, and organize a quasi-State government which should recognize the supremacy of the United States.”

[2] Two examples will suffice.  The first is from page 60:  “It was the determined purpose of the general commanding at Hilton Head to make such vigorous advances in the interior of Florida with overwhelming forces, that our troops would be forced, after a desperate resistance, to surrender or retire into Georgia and fall in with our army concentrating there.  “His dream at midnight in his guarded tent” was of the hour when Florida, her knee in suppliance bent, should tremble at his power.  But the trophies of a conqueror were not for him.  Florida’s beautiful capital, Tallahassee–the rose garden of the State, the city of fairest women–was never captured.  The enemy held every place on our Atlantic coast, and at Key West, a Gibraltar for them, their fleet could be reinforced at will and expeditions sent out to bombard every important town and city on the Gulf coast.”

The second is even more florid, from page 61:  “Dickison, believing it a surrender, ordered his men to cease firing, and dashed down the line to prevent any escape.  Just at this critical moment the enemy opened a deadly fire, and Sergt. Charlie Dickison, son of the captain [and “historian”], was shot through the heart.  He with four of his brave comrades were on the opposite side of the enemy’s column.  As he fell from his horse, Sergeant Crews, a gallant young soldier, sprang from his horse and clasped him in his arms, calling to the captain that his son was killed.  At this time the enemy’s column moved, and as they passed, Captain Dickison advanced towards his dying son and received him from his grief-stricken comrades.  This noble youth, his heart-blood flowing from his wound, still breathed but never spoke again.  Peacefully resting on the bosom of his beloved father, his pure spirit took its heavenward flight to that bright world where his angel mother awaited him with rapturous welcome.  The victory was no price for such a loss.  With the heaviness of a sorely wounded spirit, the bereaved father carried the lifeless form of his beloved one, on horseback, to the encampment 6 miles distant.  The mournful cavalcade proceeded 6 miles before transportation could be secured, and then Captain Dickison, stifling the cries of nature, made a detail of six of his brave boys, under Sergeant Crews, and confided the precious remains of his first-born to their care, to be conveyed to the ladies of Orange Springs as a sacred trust, while he remained at his post to keep watch over the enemy.”



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: Confederate Military History of Florida

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Campaigns Of The Civil War: From Fort Henry To Corinth | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: After Lincoln | Edge Induced Cohesion

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