The Story of Florida’s
Confederate Cow Cavalry
By William Russell
By the last year of the war, the armies of the Confederacy
starving, as well as the citizens of the South. Food was extremely
and where Union troops had moved through an area, they commandeered the
food supplies of the Southerners leaving them with little to sustain
The contrast between Federal and Rebel soldier was also startling.
one’s uniform or clothing fell from a pair of bony shoulders, the
uniform was, for the most part, well filled. But there was food to be
for the South. Unfortunately, it was in Florida where beef, pork, and
commodities were available but shipments to the starving south were
The Union had pretty much blockaded every Southern port, so delivery by
water was virtually nil. That left only one route—overland, through
scrub, palmetto, and swampland. And that’s how the famous “Florida Cow
Cavalry” was born.
The following story, “Cracker,” is based on
reading before the Florida Historical Society at Mountain Lake, on
8, 1940, by Theodore Lesley, the grandson of one of the members of the
Confederate Cattle Battalion of Florida, and from other information
by Kyle S. VanLandingham and David Bamford, whose ancestors served in
battalion and who maintain a very informative website on the subject. I
am grateful to them for their assistance.
-W. R. Publisher
First of all let’s define the term,
has, when referred to native Floridians, as having a somewhat negative
meaning. Not so. The term stems from the early days when Florida
and later Confederate cow cavalrymen, in lieu of the rope used by Texas
cowboys, wielded a bullwhip, l0- to 12-feet long made of braided
and when snapped over a cow’s head, made a sharp “crack.” Thus was born
the term, “cracker.”
When the Civil War broke out, many Floridians heeded
the call to arms, joining units that were shipped out to fight the
in places far north of their homeland. Two Florida regiments were sent
to the aid of the Army of Tennessee while others went to fight
the Army of Northern Virginia. This
Florida for the most part, and certainly
the homes of the men “who went away to war,” unprotected from bands of
roaming outlaws and army deserters.
As the war dragged on into the final years, the
South was reeling from the acute shortage of food as a result of the
Union sea blockade. They needed meat and other goods and they needed
badly. Thus, Florida, with her great cattle herds was ordered by the
government in Richmond to furnish meat for the army of General P.G.T.
who maintained his headquarters in Savannah, Georgia. As Theodore
put it, “the state Commissary officials undertook this duty immediately
and entered with great energy upon the task of assuming beeves from
prairies for the Northern drives.”
But the Commissary Department had discovered that
most able-bodied men in the state had volunteered at the first call for
soldiers making them unavailable to lead the drives. To remedy this,
state turned to General Braxton Bragg, who commanded the Army of
where many Floridians were serving. Florida wanted Bragg to detail from
their present duty a number of the most experienced and able-bodied
to assist the state in driving the cattle herds north for shipment to
starving south. At first the request was denied, but finally great
from higher sources “was brought to bear on this commander” and just
the fall of 1863, he sent a number of Florida men home for this service
(Note: The main character, Tree Hooker, in Rick Tonyan’s Guns of
Palmetto Plains, published by Pineapple Press in 1994, is one of
Confederate soldiers detached to Florida for “cow” service).
DROVERS FACED HARSHIPS
Although many of the early drives were
drovers faced numerous hardships and obstacles along the Florida trail.
In his oral presentation to the Historical Society in 1940, Lesley
a typical drive from Fort Meade, east of Tampa, to Savannah.
At that time the cattlemen were loosely organized.
In March 1864, the Florida Commissary Department under the head
Major Pleasants W. White, proposed that the Confederate drovers be
into companies, each appropriately staffed with officers, arms and
as any other army in the field. That same month the CSA War Department
in Richmond authorized the formation of the units into a battalion,
consisting of nine companies with a strength of approximately 800 men.
It was given the official name of lst Battalion Florida Special
but generally referred to simply as the Cattle Battalion, Cow Cavalry,
Commissary Battalion, or Munnerlyn’s Battalion.
Its leader, Charles J. Munnerlyn, was from
Decatur County, Georgia. Although born in South Carolina, he grew up in
Georgia where his family moved and was educated at Emory College (now
University). He studied law, was admitted to the bar
but never practiced. In 1861 Munnerlyn was elected to the Confederate
as a representative from Georgia and was one who voted for the
Law (the first draft in American history). The idea was met with great
opposition and was probably the reason for his defeat in his reelection
He then joined a Florida cavalry company as a
and served in that capacity until July 1864 when he was authorized by
to form the Cow Cavalry battalion, operating under the Commissary
As Theodore Lesley put it, “No doubt, his former political connection
the Southern capital was the reason for him to be chosen…”
To bring order out of chaos, Major Munnerlyn’s first
thought was to organize the stationing of troops at locations where
might meet any Union invading party and at the same time bring
to the surrounding countryside. The first three companies that
under his command were stationed near Brooksville where Munnerlyn also
had his headquarters, with Captain Leroy C. Lesley commanding one
his son, John T., with a company in the Tampa area; and Captain F. A.
heading the company of cow cavalrymen near Fort Meade.
The companies were made up of those Confederate
soldiers who had been detached from the Army of Tennessee, which
about 80 while the remainder was drawn from the local militias, many of
them young boys 18 and under. The state law at the time required
every able-bodied man between a certain age (and it varied as the war
on) to belong to some command. Also, cattle owners who had previously
exempt from military service were now subject to the draft, either as
or “reserves.” The Cow Cavalry also included a few deserters who had
rounded up. One of the most controversial figures in the Cattle
was a wealthy cattle rancher named Jacob Summerlin. A Unionist by his
admission, and declared so in a request to U.S. President Andrew
for a pardon following the war, he reportedly had been selling his
to Cuba at a hefty price, rather than to the Confederacy which was
much less per head. His operation was halted and he was “forced” to
the Cow Cavalry, serving in Captain Francis A. Hendry’s Company A in
Fort Meade area. In his request for the pardon in 1865, he maintained
he never “fired a shot at a U. S. citizen,” obviously referring to
Meanwhile, other commands soon followed until there were a total
of nine. It should be noted that one of the companies, under the
of Captain Edward Lutterloh, actually served under J. J. Dickinson’s
and didn’t re-join the Cow Battalion until the end of the war.
When not assigned to guarding and driving the
herds, the cow cavalrymen performed numerous other duties, including
up deserters, fighting the Federals out of Jacksonville and St.
who were constantly attempting to stop the cattle drives, and repelling
landings by the Union Navy along the rivers and coastlines of central
south Florida. Some of them conducted raids of their own against the
A vivid and exciting description of life on
a cattle drive in Civil War Florida is contained in Rick Tonyan’s
Following the roundup of the Florida cattle from
the scrub and palmetto range south of Kissimmee, and in the Indian
country, the “beeves” (as the cattle were called) and hogs (most drives
usually included the “porkers,” would be herded north, towards Lake
with the initial destination, Baldwin, then a railhead for shipment to
Southern forces in Georgia and Alabama. Along the way there would
be stopovers at locations that had cow pens or corrals where the
could be contained for the night. The town of Enterprize
then with a “z” would become the seat of Volusia County until DeLand
founded in 1882) was such a stopover.
Mostly, the drives remained east of the St. Johns
and crossed wherever drive leaders considered appropriate. In the
character Tree Hooker’s case, he preferred the crossing at Palatka (at
that time spelled Pilatka), particularly after Captain Dickinson and
raiders freed the town of Yankee troops. But they would be back
in the novel, Tree was forced to find other locations for crossings.
BALDWIN RAILHEAD BURNED
But before reaching Baldwin, located just
I-10 near Jacksonville, Tree learns that the railhead has been taken
by Union forces out of Jacksonville and the town virtually burned down
and the railroad torn up, forcing him to drive the herd on up to the
at Brunswick, Georgia, another three-weeks on the trail. The
victory at Olustee in north Florida in February 1864 had pretty much
up the corridor to the starving South.
Then it was back, round up another herd and drive
north again, experiencing stampedes, bad weather, the environment, and
the occasional detour around Union patrols out looking for them in an
to “rustle” the herd and take them to St. Augustine. Outlaws,
and other bad hombres preyed on the cattle guard also.
At the close of the roundup and cattle drive season,
which generally followed the first frost that damaged the grass, the
Cavalry would return to normal Army routine back home, pulling picket
protecting the countryside from deserters and outlaws, and patrolling
the coastlines to repel Union landings. The battalion participated in
skirmishes and battles during its tenure including the Union raid at
However, the Cow Cavalry’s most significant military action was an
attempt in February 1865 to capture Fort Myers on the coast of
Florida, which had been occupied by Union troops in early 1864.
Indeed, the Federal occupation of Fort Myers was
one reason for the establishment of the Cow Cavalry, since the Federals
conducted raids in the interior, attacking loyal Confederate citizens
rounding up cattle for their own use at Fort Myers.
During one season, it is estimated that 15,000
“beeves” and hogs were delivered to Charleston, Savannah, and
General Hood’s army.
In December 1864, Munnerlyn was promoted to Lieutenant
Colonel and his assistant, William Footman, to major. Several months
the war was over and Munnerlyn formally surrendered his battalion to
Federals on June 5, 1865, almost two months after Lee’s surrender
Appomattox. Several companies had surrendered the previous month.
In June 1865, in a final act of Confederate
patriotism, Captains Lesley (son and father), and the McKay family,
Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin in his escape through
central Florida en route to Cuba and eventually England.
In general, the Cow Cavalry was successful in its
attempt to feed the South, and although it was active for only about a
year, it drove a number of beef north (the total number is not known)
succeeded in keeping at least central and south Florida free of Yankee
occupation. Much of Munnerlyn’s success can be attributed to
Dickinson and his band of Confederate raiders, who operating along the
St. Johns, kept the Yankees off-balance and distracted.
After the war Colonel Munnerlyn returned to Decatur
County and became active in the local government. He and his wife,
Shackleford, had nine children.
The former leader of Florida’s famous cow
cavalry, died in 1898 at the age of 76.
(For additional and detailed information about the cow cavalry
go to Kyle S. VanLandingham and David Bamford’s prolific and
Special thanks to Kyle and David for their
and permission to use certain aspects of their website. –W.R.)
CATTLE DRIVE REENACTMENT
An annual cross-state ride is held the first full week in
March of each
year. For 2002 the dates are March 3-9. The ride begins at a site just
east of Bradenton and ends in Ft. Pierce, a total of approximately 120
miles. Each day’s ride is approximately 15 to 20 miles long. The
of the ride is to draw attention to Florida’s horse and cattle
The ride travels along right-of-way on Rt. 64 and riders have to be at
designated points at certain times of the day. The annual event is
by the Florida Cracker Trail Association.
For further information about the Cow Cavalry
and the history of cattle raising in Florida, read Joe A. Akerman,
book, FLORIDA COWMAN, A History of Florida Cattle Raising,
by Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Kissimmee, Fla., 1976.
* * * * * * *
(NOTE; A circular or flyer calling on Florida citizens to
Soldiers of the South” was written and posted by Major P. W. White,
Commissary Officer in Florida. Following the fall of Vicksburg in 1863,
Florida became the main source of beef for the Confederacy. Major White
posted the flyer asking the citizen cattle farmers to do their duty and
provide subsistence for the south and the Confederate armies. At this
cattlemen were reluctant to roundup and drive their cattle north
the Confederate government could not pay the high prices demanded by
cattlemen. In his letter of November 2, 1863, he defends his actions by
posting the circular. His letter provides a good summary of the serious
situation facing the Confederates’ food situation. While the Florida
Cattle Battalion was not officially organized yet, the detailed men
the Army of Tennessee were assisting in driving cattle north to the
railheads. However, Akerman, in his book, Florida Cowman,
the following: “Although it was not intended for general circulation,
circular was posted in many spots and soon became general information.
General Pierre G. T. Beauregard (who commanded the forces in the
later asserted that it was ‘one of the major causes of the Union
to Jacksonville and thence to Lake City.’” (This, of course, culminated
in the Battle of Olustee in February 1864, a Confederate victory that
drove the Union out of Northern Florida except for bases at
and St. Augustine. – W. Russell).
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information contained herein are copyrighted
and may not be reproduced in any form without
written permission of the editor and its authors.
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