Thomas Brannen Family and The Second Florida Cavalry
By Brad Brannan
During the Civil War the blockade of Confederate ports played a major role in determining the outcome of the war. After Union forces cut off the supply of beef from west of the Mississippi, the Confederate Government turned to Florida for beef and salt.
The blockade of the West Coast of Florida fell upon the East Gulf Blockading Squadron (EGBS) of the US Navy. It was this squadron that was directly responsible for the formation of the Second Florida Cavalry.
Through a series of events, individuals including the family of Thomas Brannen turned to the EGBS for protection after deserting from the Confederate Army. In turn these refugees and deserters provided intelligence information and beef to the sailors. Eventually many of the families were relocated to Key West, Egmont Key in Tampa Bay and Cedar Key. Over time many of the refugees took the Oath of Allegiance and became sailors in the US Navy. Others worked with the blockaders and became members of the 2nd FL Cavalry.
In the summer and fall of 1863, Acting Master’s Mate Henry A. Crane of the sloop USS Rosalie began working with refugees in the Charlotte Harbor area. Charlotte Harbor was the port used by blockade-runners shipping beef to Havana. Crane, a former army officer in the Seminole Wars, used the influence of Enoch Daniels to approach the army and navy commanders in South Florida about using refugee Floridians to fight for the Union. This was the seed that would become the 2nd FL Cavalry.
Among the refugees near Charlotte Harbor was Milledge Brannen. It is not clear if he is related to the Thomas Brannen family. What is known is that he was born in Columbia County and moved to Charlotte Harbor after deserting the Confederate Army. He had served in the Seminole War and enlisted in Co K, 8th Florida Infantry after attaining the rank of second lieutenant. He deserted after the company reorganized and was not selected for a commission. Milledge assisted the Rosalie in the capture of blockade-runners on the Peace River. There is no mention of Milledge enlisting in the Union army or navy.
As for the members of the Thomas Brannen family, many began military service with the Confederate Army but deserted and returned home due to various reasons. Once in the Taylor County area John R. Brannen associated himself with William W. Strickland. Strickland deserted after being refused leave to visit his seriously ill wife. To avoid conscription agents he moved deep into the swamps of the Ecofina River and formed what became known as the Independent Union Rangers of Taylor County. John R. and William A. Brannen (unknown if related) were members found on a muster roll recognized as William Strickland’s band. Along with Francis J. Brannen, Houston Brannen, James F. Cruce and Thomas O. Cruce they joined the Union Army and served in the 2nd FL Cavalry.
The 2nd FL Cavalry participated in operations involving cattle raids and the destruction of coastal salt works. These operations were supported by the EGBS and US Colored Troops from St. Vincent to Charlotte Harbor.
In March 1865 the 2nd FL Cavalry was involved in a plan to capture Tallahassee. These plans include joint operations of the army and navy with six members of the 2nd acting as saboteurs to destroy a railroad trestle over the Aucilla River. The tracks were to be torn up in order to prevent Confederate reinforcements arriving. It was hoped that tearing up the tracks would send the train and it’s passengers into the river. Among the six members detailed were William W. Strickland and John R. Brannen, with Strickland in command. Strickland decided to burn the trestle rather than tear up the tracks in order to give warning to the engineer of the train. However, the train managed to make it over the trestle and arrived at the next station. A Dr. Treadwell led ten mounted men with hounds back to the trestle to capture the saboteurs. Shortly thereafter the dogs caught the scent and the men of the 2nd Cavalry were surrounded. During the capture three of the men were killed and one escaped. Strickland and Brannen were captured and taken to Tallahassee. Both were said to be wearing blue uniforms. Confederates then defeated the Union forces at Natural Bridge.
In Tallahassee John Brannen and William Strickland were found to be deserters and were court-martialed. Both were convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad on March 18,1865. The execution took place on the top of a hill just south of the capital. In the center of the field two green pine saplings were placed in the ground twenty feet apart. The troops serving as the firing squad were mustered and marched to within twenty feet of the condemned men. The command to fire was given and both men shot.
The account of the capture and execution of John Brannen and William Strickland is found in " My Recollection of the Confederate War" by S. M. Hankins, Cpl. CSA. Cpl. Hankins was on board the train to be derailed at the Aucilla trestle and present at the execution. Originally he was selected to be among the firing squad but begged to be relieved from that duty. His typescript can be found in the Florida Archives in Tallahassee.
Other material was taken from "Blockaders, Refugees, & Contrabands" by George E. Buker.
Prepared January 3, 2000.
(This article was prepared by Brad Brannan, 4 Apple Tree Lane, Winter Haven, FL 33884. Brad is a direct descendant of Thomas Brannen, discussed in this article. )