Camp Milton Historic Preserve
1225 Halsema Road North
Jacksonville, Florida
(Whitehouse, Florida)

The Post-Olustee Confederate Siege of Jacksonville, Florida

​Camp Milton Historic Preserve protects the remains of earthen fortifications built during the 1864 Confederate siege of Jacksonville, Florida. The park is in the Jacksonville community of Whitehall.

The Battle of Olustee (February 20, 1864) ended a Union dream of conquering much of eastern Florida in time to establish a loyal government and count the state's electoral votes counted that year's Presidential election. Maj. Gen. Truman Seymour's beaten Union army fell back to the outskirts of Jacksonville, with Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan's Confederate force in slow pursuit.

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard arrived in Florida from Charleston to assume command of the Confederate forces. He reported the arrival of his army at "Camp Milton, near McGirt's Creek, Fla." on March 2 in a report to Richmond dated five days later. It was the first time that the name "Camp Milton" - which honored Gov. John Milton of Florida - is believed to have appeared in official reports.

Beauregard recognized that his army was too small to encircle Jacksonville completely, so he focused instead on blocking the Old Plank Road and Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Central (FA&GC) Railroad to block another westward advance by Union soldiers in Jacksonville. To accomplish this, he placed his army astride those transportation routes and behind a remarkable system of fortifications. 

A Union officer later described the works designed by Beauregard with wonder:

The breastworks were made of huge logs firmly fastened and covered with earth. The log part was 6 wide at the bottom and 3 at the top. They were proof against field artillery. The stockades were composed of timber from 12 to 16 inches thick, with loop-holes 2 feet apart. Their base was protected by earth thrown up from a ditch which ran along the whole line of works. There was a salient or re-entering angle at about every 150 yards. Two batteries in the rear completely commanded the railroad, and in addition to being very strong were most elaborately finished, having a sharpness of outline almost equal to masonry. - Brig. Gen. George H. Gordon, June 4, 1864.
Camp Milton Historic Preserve in the Whitehall community of Jacksonville preserves a line of Confederate fortifications built after the Battle of Olustee.

The Confederate cavalry withdrew from the Camp Milton defenses knowing that they did not have the numbers to defend them, but they did not go away without a fight. The Southern horsemen moved to cut off Gordon's command from its base in Jacksonville:

The object of the movement having been accomplished, I ordered, on the morning of the 2d June, a return to Jacksonville. As the troops were about forming the enemy appeared in their front and opened a skirmishing fire with some show of numbers. Several reports from the front represented the enemy in strong force, and attempting to cut off my retreat by turning my position and gaining the defile at Cedar Creek. - Brig. Gen. George H. Gordon, June 4, 1864.

Realizing that the Confederates were on the verge of blocking his return to Jacksonville, which was defended by only 400 men, Gen. Gordon accelerated his movement and swept aside the skirmishers before the main Southern force could get into position.

Maj. Gen. Patton Anderson, who commanded Confederate troops in the area, did not think much of the Federal advance:
  
...On the morning of the 2d, all our cavalry was advanced, met advanced guard of the enemy between Baldwin and McGirt’s Creek, drove him back to Jacksonville. Our lines are as they were before the movements. It was probably a reconnaissance by the enemy. Our loss trifling. - Maj. Gen. Patton Anderson, June 3, 1864.

Perhaps more intense but less bloody were the "night battles" waged at Camp Milton in March 1864 between different parts of the Confederate army. 

The fights began when the 6th Georgia Infantry challenged the 1st Georgia Regulars to a "battle with lighted pine burs." The soldiers threw burning pine cones at each other until the 1st Georgia surrendered, much to the amusement of other soldiers in the line.

The battle led to new encounters until finally, the men of Harrison's brigade challenged those of Colquitt's brigade to such a fight. As many as 2,500 Confederates took part, some of them even resorting to throwing pine knots instead of cones. So many soldiers were bruised that Gen. Colquitt ordered a halt to the "actions."
The earthworks are difficult to see in photographs but can be viewed
from the boardwalks that lead through the Camp Milton site.
The Confederates expected to fight another great battle along the Camp Milton line but were disappointed. Gen. Seymour's advance to Olustee had been made contrary to orders from his commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Q.A. Gilmour. The disaster that befell the Union army eliminated plans for other such movements, and the Federals instead remained behind their fortifications at Jacksonville, sending out only occasional raiding forces.

Gen. Beauregard returned to Charleston and from there was soon ordered to North Carolina and eventually Richmond. The size of the Confederate army was reduced as regiments went back to their former positions in Georgia and South Carolina until - by June 1, 1864 - only a token force of cavalry remained behind the earthworks at Camp Milton.

Brig. Gen. George H. Gordon led a Union force of 2,459 men out from the Union defenses of Jacksonville on that day. Advancing in two columns, they soon reached Camp Milton:
  
…The front and rear of the enemy’s works were gained by the two columns at about the same time, but too late to capture the enemy. Evidences of his hasty flight were apparent in burning trestle-work upon the railroad and in abandoned stores and forage. I found the line of fortifications one of great strength, capable of offering a successful resistance to a very large force. - Brig. Gen. George H. Gordon, June 4, 1864.

Gordon's men set fire to the wooden parts of the defenses but did no real damage to the earthworks themselves.
Interpretive panels help visitors learn more about the archaeology and history
of Camp Milton and life in Jacksonville during the Civil War.
The importance of the Camp Milton fortifications diminished as the war continued. The action shifted to other fronts and, although Confederate troops occupied the works from time to time, no major battles took place.

Rain and the elements gradually reduced the earthworks, but it took modern development and the westward expansion of the Jacksonville to destroy most of them. About 725 feet of the original 15,840 feet of the line survive today. Camp Milton Historic Preserve was established to save them.

The park offers visitors a chance to explore the original fortifications, one of the most extended surviving stretches of Confederate siege works in Florida, via a long boardwalk that loops through them. The mounds and ditches are still easily visible from the elevated trail, and interpretive panels provide information on their original design and appearance. A reconstructed part of the line stands nearby.

The preserve also features a reconstructed campaign bridge over McGirt's Creek, along with nature trails, trees brought as seedlings from important Civil War sites around the country, a preserved 19th-century farm, and more. A "rails to trails" project connects the park to other points of interest and communities in Jacksonville. It follows the rail line that the fortifications were built to block.

An education center on the grounds protects a collection of Civil War artifacts.

While history is the main attraction at Camp Milton, the preserve is also a great place to enjoy wildflowers. Many different varieties grow along the trails.

Camp Milton Historic Preserve is open daily during regular daylight hours and is free to visit. The address is 1225 Halsema Road, Jacksonville, Florida. It is in the western edge of Jacksonville in the Whitehall area. The map below will help you find it:
The soldiers at Camp Milton eased their boredom by battling each other in "pine cone battles" that sometimes involved thousands of men. 

Click the play button below for a quick video tour of Camp Milton: