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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Florida Women and the Civil War

We are nearing the end of 2015, which means the end of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Combat ended in the spring of 1865, with dates that vary from April to June, but the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery was not ratified until December, and so the 150th should go on to include that. Military histories almost always end with the last battles, ignoring the fact that social and political history does not end when armies call it quits.

Life goes on, especially for women and their families. The postwar period often can be more difficult than war, especially in an era when there was no Veterans Administration. Confederate survivors could depend only on bankrupt state governments, and without clearly authorized law enforcement, anarchy prevailed. Several Southern states had civil wars after the Civil War, as hatred between political factions continued unabated. Especially former slaves lived with daily terrorism, including rape and lynching. There is much to be learned from the era, and I think today’s students would benefit from a more thorough understanding of Reconstruction instead of the usual emphasis on the war itself.

That is especially true of Florida, where only the Jacksonville area experienced significant battles. Florida, in fact, was so unimportant that Tallahassee was the only state capital that Union troops did not bother to occupy during the war. Soldiers came quietly on May 10, several weeks after Governor John Milton -- who had strongly advocated rebellion against the Union -- saw the horror of what he had done and killed himself on April Fools Day.

Catherine Hopley, the English governess that Governor Milton hired for his children, foresaw Confederate defeat long before he did, and she went back home in 1863. Even before she left, this elite family was suffering from wartime shortages. Like Tea Partiers today, Confederate leaders refused to acknowledge the reality of globalism and especially how very dependent they were on international trade. Florida had virtually no manufacturing at the time; the Confederacy was far behind on developing a navy; and when the US Navy successfully blockaded Florida ports, the governor’s governess wrote:

“Of medicines there were none… We often had no rice…no white sugar…no more tea, and no more imported fruits. The cook was limited in her baking for want of [baking] soda. Mrs. Milton was in perpetual dread of illness… Quinine sold for twenty dollars an ounce; castor oil, twenty dollars…; common cloth half a dollar a yard; children’s shoes, and very inferior ones, from three dollars upwards.” That Florida men put their own priorities first, however, is clear in the fact that rum from Cuba remained widely available.

We have lots of letters and diaries that women kept during and after the war, and today I want to tell two such stories that were cut from my recent book, They Dared to Dream: Florida Women Who Shaped History.

* * *

Maria Louisa Daegenhardt was the daughter of German immigrants John Henry and Mary Margaret (Trielieb) Daegenhardt. They had come to Palatka, near Jacksonville, and then in 1846, went on to Tampa’s Fort Brooke, where he worked as a civilian tailor on soldiers’ uniforms. Maria Louisa, one of five girls, was born in 1854. Her family lived in a 14-room house that they built at Franklin and Madison Streets. Although we have no evidence, her mother probably ran that large structure as a boardinghouse, a very common occupation for German women. There is no doubt that the family benefited from the work of slaves.

When Union gunboats invaded Tampa in June 1862, Maria Louisa wrote that the Yankees very politely informed residents that “every woman and child” should evacuate before [artillery] shelling began the next morning.” Her father walked nine miles into the country and found a farmer willing to retrieve the Daegenhardt family. “We stayed five days,” she said, “but when we came back, the gunboat was gone and had not thrown a shell.” Fort Brooke, which was basically where today’s convention center is, had been built in 1824 to control Seminoles, and four decades later during the Civil War, was largely vacant. Apparently naval officers took a look and decided that Tampa’s fort wasn’t worth the gunpowder.

The next invasion, in October 1863, had a more specific goal and was more serious -- and Mary Margaret had to deal with it alone, as her husband died between the two confrontations. The all-female family was eating their noon meal, when “one large shell came whizzing over our home, knocking the shingles off the roof of the dining room… Mother quick told us to go out of town. We hurried up along the riverbank. There was an old Negro woman living there. We went to her house, shells still flying. Then we saw a bright flame of fire up the river… The Yankees had…set fire to a large schooner…that was loaded with cotton. While we all were there looking, a shell came near us and burst… The boats left the next day, taking all the Negroes they could.”

To visualize this in today’s Tampa, think of the girls as running from their home by Lykes Gaslight Square down to what everyone calls the Beer Can building and then racing north on the path of today’s Riverwalk. All of that was rural then, but they would have run along the Hillsborough River past today’s Museum of Art, crossed modern Cass Street, and then gone beyond the John Germany Library and the Straz Center to find shelter. The “old Negro woman” who welcomed these white girls was Fortune Taylor, and in 1863, both she and her husband Benjamin still belonged to the pioneer Howell family. A longtime couple, they would be Tampa’s first African-Americans to marry when that became possible in 1866. He died in 1869, but she continued to work their homestead, and in 1875, received the deed to 33 acres from the federal government. Fortune Street is named for her -- and yes, we need a historical marker or a Riverwalk statue or some recognition of this unusual woman.

The fire that the Daegenhardt girls saw from Fortune Taylor’s home was upriver near today’s Lowry Park. Captain James MacKay had hidden a ship there that he intended to slip out into Tampa Bay and on to Britain, where textile mills were starved for cotton. Millions could be made if such ventures were successful, and throughout the South, many men attempted to outrun the Union blockade for such profits. MacKay came from Scotland, as did his wife, Matilda – and his mother-in-law Sarah Cail, who was wealthy enough to endow Tampa’s first Baptist church. They arrived in 1846, the same year as the German Daegenhardts. Sarah Cail paid the construction costs of building the church, with the county donating the land, in 1854. The Methodists had opened their building just a year earlier – which means that Tampa had no church (other than the chapel at Fort Brooke) from its 1824 beginning to 1853. Almost everywhere, piousness among pioneers is greatly exaggerated.

But back to the all-female Daegenhardt family. Like many others in former Confederacy, their major postwar problem was obtaining food. As Confederate money lost its value, the widow Daegenhardt had to pay $25 for a bushel of sweet potatoes. They grew a garden, but food from other climates was impossibly expensive, and Maria Louisa said, “we had no flour or coffee for four years.” Given this, Mary Margaret Daegenhardt did not hesitate to complain to Fort Brooke’s commander when a soldier wantonly shot a pig that Maria Louisa was tending. The commander apologized, promised that the soldier would be punished for frightening the girl, and reimbursed the family for the hog with $5 – in American money.

* * *

Anna Givens Harrison was a contemporary of the Daegenhardt girls, about ten years old when the war ended, and her story also centered on food. Union troops occupied former Confederate states to prevent renewed rebellion and to enforce civil rights for former slaves, and Tampa was no exception. Anna (or her brother) exaggerated the number of occupation soldiers, but the rest of her story rings true. “We were all at breakfast,” she said, “when my younger brother…came running in and told my father the Yankees were marching into town, fifty thousand of them…

“The Yankee soldiers, Negroes commanded by white officers, didn’t give us much trouble… Only a few homes were searched for money or valuables. The looters did come to our home, but they only ripped open a feather bed and turned out drawers and such like. They didn’t get either our money or our silver. Father had only a few days before put the buckskin bag, in which it had been saved [during the war], in a secret place in the chimney.

“But they killed our cow. It used to pasture down near the fort. One night it didn’t come up so we guessed what happened. The next morning we saw a bunch of Negro men down in our back lot. Jane, my elder sister, took a pistol and went down to see what they were doing. ‘What are you doing here?’ she demanded. [They replied] ‘We’re out of meat and are going to kill this hog.’ ‘No, you won’t,’ Jane told them, showing her pistol. ‘You’ve killed and eaten our cow… if you lay your hands on our hog, I’ll blow your brains out.’ That attracted their officers, who came and sent them away. That was about the worse that happened to us. It might have been worse but for Jane.”


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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