Shoot out at Marianna

Actor Gary Cooper starred as Marshal Will Kane in High Noon, a classic Western replete with a shoot out in the dusty streets. In late September 1864, a Maine cavalryman got into repeated shootouts with Confederate home guards defending Marianna, Fla. There came a particular moment when the Mainer faced his own version of High Noon.

His repeater carbine firing fast, Edward H. Cushman, sergeant, 2nd Maine Cavalry, limped away from a shoot out with multiple Confederates at Marianna, Fla. on Tuesday, September 27, 1864.

While not an Old West duel-in-the-streets with six guns blazin’ and admiring ladies watching from the store-front windows, the results were the same: bodies and blood enough to go around.

Hailing from Sumner in Oxford County, the 21-year-old Cushman mustered with Co. M, 2nd Maine Cavalry, on January 2, 1864. The War Department promptly sent the regiment to the Gulf Coast and ultimately to Union-held Pensacola in Florida.

The Union commander at Pensacola, Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth, decided to raid deep into the Panhandle in September 1864 to destroy Confederate facilities and troops as far away as Marianna, where Union prisoners were supposedly gathered.

Commanded by Lt. Col. Andrew Spurling, three 2nd Maine Cavalry battalions boarded the steamer Lizzie Dean at Pensacola on Friday, September 16. The 700-soldier expedition also included elements of the 1st Florida Cavalry Regiment (U.S.) and the 82nd and 86th U.S. Colored Infantry regiments.

Lt. Col. Andrew Spurling commanded the 2nd Maine Cavalry during a September 1864 raid against Marianna, Florida. (Maine State Archives)

The Lizzie Dean crossed Pensacola Bay and put the soldiers (all riding horses or mules) ashore at Deer Point. Asboth crossed the bay on September 18 to take charge of the expedition.

Dueling with Confederate cavalry on the approach to Marianna, the Union troops attacked the town on September 27. While home guards armed with shotguns, rifled muskets, and pistols hid inside the buildings and behind fences along both sides of the road (modern West Lafayette Street) along which the Federals approached, Confederate cavalry engaged the lead Union troopers, then withdrew into the town.

Without reconnoitering, Asboth ordered Maj. Nathan Cutler and his 2nd Maine Cavalry battalion to charge into Marianna — and straight into the home-guard ambush. Staggered by heavy gunfire, the battalion withdrew, and Maj. Eben Hutchinson and his battalion charged, cleared some wagons that blocked the road, and like Cutler’s men caught another home-guard and Confederate cavalry volley.

Although Cutler and Hutchinson went down wounded, the 2nd Maine boys chased the retreating enemy cavalry into Courthouse Square and a nasty fight involving Union troops sent to outflank the original ambush site. The Southern riders fled over a bridge spanning the Chicola River; on foot, the home guards reached St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and fired rapidly from behind a board fence.

Black Union infantrymen went after the home guards with fixed bayonets — and up rode Co. M, 2nd Maine Cavalry.

Clattering up to the church, Cushman dismounted as “a ball was fired from a monument in the church yard, and passed by his head, and lodged in his horse’s head,” a Maine newspaper reported. Three other home guards fired at Cushman “from behind a hedge in the yard.”

Although the 2nd Maine Cav had been issued single-shot Burnside breech-loader carbines, Cushman evidently carried an eight-shot Sharps carbine, because the newspaper article strongly suggests that he fired eight shots before reloading. Cushman fired “where he judged” the Confederates “were by the smoke, and as fast as he fired at them[,] they would drop their guns and run for the woods.”

Cushman burned through seven bullets in one magazine; annoyed by the Confederate shooting from behind the monument, Cushman lowered his carbine “as if to reload.” Believing the Yankee briefly defenseless, “the rebel stepped out … and instantly received the remaining [Sharps] shot through his body.”

Along with Sgt. Edward Cushman, Capt. John M. Lincoln of Co. D, 2nd Maine Cavalry, charged around the corner of a church in Marianna, Florida and collided with a few dozen Confederate home guards. (Maine State Archives)

With one Confederate down and three others fled, Cushman then charged the church on foot with Capt. John M. Lincoln of Co. D (and Pembroke). Cushman carried his Sharps and a revolver (likely a Remington), and Lincoln held “a revolver in each hand.”

Cornering the church on the run, “to their surprise they met about forty rebels who fired buck shot at them at them at short range, but strange to say, hit neither of them,” the newspaper reported.

Then a Confederate “within a few feet” of Cushman “fired a ball through the thick of his left thigh.” Firing furiously with every weapon they carried, the wounded Cushman and the intact Lincoln “rushed into the midst of the rebs … shooting many of them down before they had time to reload” and taking 27 Southerners prisoner.

“Thirteen others crawled under the church,” which a Union officer ordered burned over them, the paper noted. “Their charred remains were counted” afterwards, but the number is probably too high, as another source claims only four bodies were found.

Noticing a home guard behind a tree, “Cushman ordered him to surrender, and he stepped out apparently intending to do so.” Then, only 20 feet or so from Cushman, the Confederate “instantly raised his gun to fire.”

This was Cushman’s High Noon. The home guard and Cushman fired simultaneously; the Southerner’s bullet punched through the Yankee’s right thigh, but Cushman sent his bullet “passing through the reb’s body.” The Confederate went down; soon “faint from the loss of blood,” Cushman “started for the rear.”

When an Army surgeon wanted to leave behind the badly wounded Sgt. Edward Cushman at Marianna in Florida, Cushman’s company commander, Capt. John H. Roberts, ordered the brave soldier evacuated to safety. (Maine State Archives)

Fired upon by one more home guard as he limped through Marianna, Cushman used “his gun for a crutch” and reached the makeshift Federal hospital. Examining his wounds, he discovered that “he was shot through the thick of both thighs, one ball striking the bone hard enough to break it, and the other ball passed between the bone and the main artery.”

And another “ball passed through the right groin, close to the hip joint, and made a slight wound upon the left leg,” Cushman realized. Yet a fourth bullet had “struck his gun just as he had fired, which would otherwise have probably passed through his lungs.”

The Union surgeon accompanying the raid ordered the badly wounded Cushman left behind. If so, Cushman responded, give me my loaded revolver because I am “determined not to be taken alive.”

Capt. John H. Roberts of Co. M ordered Cushman brought out “in a mule cart” that traveled “150 miles … over a rough woods road.” Cushman’s “wounds were not dressed till the fourth day.”

After a month spent recovering in an Army hospital at Pensacola, Cushman sailed for Maine on a medical furlough. Soon he was “in excellent health, able to go about the neighborhood on crutches.”

Edward Cushman was discharged for medical disability on July 25, 1865.

Sources: Maine Farmer, published as Remarkable Escape of a Maine Soldier by Daily Whig & Courier, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 1865; Ned Smith, The 2nd Maine Cavalry in the Civil War, McFarland & Co. Inc., Jefferson, N.C., 2014

To learn more about the Battle of Marianna, check out this excellent video at https://www.battleofmarianna.us/

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

 

 

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.