Coinciding with last year’s 145th anniversary of the Battle of Marianna, the town of Marianna and Jackson County revived the celebration of Marianna Day. The commemoration of the Battle of Marianna has a long history and, early in the twentieth century, many Florida communities observed the anniversary. The events were typically organized by United Daughters of the Confederacy chapters and were refined affairs, involving recitations, musical performances and readings. Local veterans and children were invited to participate. The following accounts are probably representative:
“Wednesday afternoon at two-thirty, Mrs. Jos. E. Wilson entertained the veterans and Daughters of the Confederacy at the beautiful home of her father, Col. W. T. Weeks, on Cherry street.
The house was elaborately decorated with large and small flags, ferns and roses. On the front veranda was placed a large punch bowl and Mrs. J. M. Brownlee served the arriving guests with this refreshing beverage.
The chapter historian, Mrs. J. M. Alvarez, arranged a program suitable to the occasion, which was the anniversary of the Battle of Marianna, and was as follows:
Invocation, Rv. W. G. Law
“A Medley of Southern Airs” – Played by Victrola
Solo, “Somewhere a Voice is Calling” – Mrs. A. Z. Adkins
A paper on the Battle of Marianna by Mr. H. Robinson, of Jacksonville, sole surviving Confederate participant, read by Mrs. R. A. Weeks.
Paper, “Wrongs of History Righted” – Mrs. J. M. Alvarez
Song, “Silver Threads Among the Gold” – Victrola
Solo, “Mother McCree” – Mrs. A. Z. Adkins
The approach of refreshments was announced by white paper napkins being distributed among the guests . . .
The veterans thoroughly appreciated the occasion and were enthusiastic in the praise of the honors shown them.”
Bradford County Telegraph, Sept. 29, 1916.
Pensacola was disorganized in 1908 but then held two Marianna Day events in 1909:
“At eight o’clock this evening there will be special services at Christ church in celebration of the anniversary of the battle of Marianna, Rev. P. H. Whaley conducting the services. All the southern organizations are extended a special invitation to attend. The crosses of honor for the veterans will not be presented at this time, owing to the fact that the order for them could not be filled immediately.”
Pensacola Journal, Sept. 27, 1908
“The United Daughters of the Confederacy held a very interesting exercise at the armory hall Monday at 10:30 a.m., to commemorate Marianna Day and Raphael Semmes’ birthday. The president, Mrs. W. R. Snead, presided. The following program was rendered:
Prayer – Rev. Clyde Johnson
Suwanee River – Chapter
Report of Chapter – Miss. M. F. Milton
Instrumental Solo – Miss Gussie Whitaker
Recitation, 'Marianna' - Miss Clara Lorley
Poem of 'Battle of Marianna,' written by Mrs. F. B. Chapman, read by Mrs. B. S. Liddon.
'Dixie' – By children of Confederacy"
Pensacola Journal, Sept. 29, 1909
At the Hotel Escambia, a reception, given “in honor of Marianna Day… and also in compliment to the Confederate Veterans…proved a success in every particular.” At this event “Members of all the Confederate associations in the city together with many of their friends were present.” The program was similar in format, although different in content, from the armory hall event. The evening concluded with the presentation of “crosses of honor.”
Pensacola Journal, Sept. 28, 1909
Also in 1909, Gainesville’s Kirby Smith UDC Chapter gathered for a “meeting of historical nature” that was “well attended” at the residence of the chapter’s president, Mrs. H. H. McCreary. This event included music and readings, featuring the recitation of a paper titled “The Battle of Marianna and Reminiscences of the War” by the chapter’s historian, Mrs. F. M. Prewitt.
Gainesville Daily Sun, Sept. 28 and 30, 1909
In 1913, the Miami UDC chapter held a picnic to commemorate Marianna Day and marked the occasion by unveiling a “handsome monument” to Confederate soldiers at the courthouse.
Orlando Daily Sentinel, Sept. 19, 1913
One account of an early Marianna commemoration suggests a less formal and, perhaps, one hopes, a less sedate event: “S. M. Robertson, J. B. Locky, D. C. Buie, W. H. Waldon and J. Baxley attended the meeting of Confederate Veterans at Marianna Friday. The occasion was a celebration of commemoration of the Battle of Marianna. They say they had a most enjoyable time and were treated royally.”
Chipley Banner, Oct. 3, 1912
A journalist reported a poignant moment during the 1927 observance. That year, the Florida division of the United Confederated Veterans held their reunion in Marianna to coincide with Marianna Day. For the first time, the elderly veterans in attendance rode the parade route in automobiles rather than march on foot. An official explained that this change was necessary because the “cost” for these aged veterans of walking “was too high in past years…invariably the task has overtaxed a man and we have lost a part of the precious few.” The 1927 event also saw the participation of Union army veterans who returned the flag of Gen. Finley’s Florida brigade captured at the Battle of Franklin.
Atlanta Constitution, Sept. 28, 1927
As can be seen from the above accounts, the observance of Marianna Day was often the preserve of the UDC. The role assumed by the UDC and the popularity of these early twentieth century Marianna Day celebrations may have been spurred, to some degree, by Mrs. Fannie B. Chapman. Mrs. Chapman, the widow of Washington Chapman, lived in Marianna during the war years and Reconstruction before moving to Pensacola. She became very involved in the UDC, rising to leadership positions. Around 1908-10, Mrs. Chapman wrote a series of articles for the Pensacola newspapers recollecting ante-bellum and war-time Jackson County. Her account of the Battle of Marianna is an important source. Interestingly, during the chaos of the fall of 1869, Mrs. Chapman displayed her implacable courage when she probably saved the life of her servant’s friend, a young African American named Joseph Nelson, who had been seized by the Regulators taking control of the town. Mrs. Chapman marched up to the chief of the Regulators and declared Nelson’s innocence from involvement in violence and then demanded and obtained Nelson’s release from custody. The Chapmans may also have played a role in 1869 in protecting other persecuted African American families.
The commemoration of Marianna Day, at least as a public event, slowly faded over the course of the twentieth century as the last individuals with memories of the War passed away. Also, as Florida’s population changed rapidly during the mid and late twentieth century, the explicitly nostalgic “Lost Cause” nature of the programs greatly limited their appeal. We do have an account, however, of the centennial celebration held at Marianna in 1964, featuring an appearance by U.S. Senator (and former governor) Spessard Holland:
“The Celebration of the Centennial of the Battle of Marianna, was held in Marianna at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, on Sunday afternoon, September 27, at two o’clock, with the William Henry Milton Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in charge.
The services began with a religious service held in the main body of the church, and then the assembly filed out to the Parish House for the main program with Senator Spessard Holland as speaker. Mrs. Wilson L. Baker of Tampa, president of the Florida Division of the U.D.C. presented Senator Holland to the assembly, after the singing of “Dixie” by the group and a choral number by a group from Chipola Junior College.
Senator Holland gave a resume of the battle, stating that it was fought on the grounds where the first Episcopal Church stood, that it was burned during the battle, along with two fine residences, that there were casualties on both sides, that the Federals retreated to Pensacola with their wounded. The Federals were trained militia, sent to take the territory as a valuable farming source of Confederacy supplies along with the salt works on the coast, and the Confederate forces doing the defending were of “The Cradle to Grave,” being boys under fifteen and men too old for army service, who were at home farming. They only had old fire arms, no military weapons, but made a brave effort to defend their homes.”
Gadsden County Times, Oct. 1, 1964
The organizers of Marianna Day in 2009 preserved the historical origin of the celebration - to commemorate the valiant defense of the town and remember the fallen – while broadening its scope to encompass a festival with music and events that welcomed the entire community. Hopefully, with such an inclusive program, Marianna Day will continue be a great success and the precedent for an annual celebration.