Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida

Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida

Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida

Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida


A captivating history of the Civil War in northeast Florida

"Captures in rich detail the competition between the Confederates and Unionists, blacks and whites, and civilians and soldiers in the region. A fascinating and illuminating story told through compelling and persuasive prose."--Aaron Sheehan-Dean, author of Why Confederates Fought

"A fast-paced social history of the Civil War in northeastern Florida."--John David Smith, editor of Black Soldiers in Blue

When the Civil War finally came to North Florida, it did so with an intermittent fury that destroyed much of Jacksonville and scattered its residents. The city was taken four separate times by Federal forces but abandoned after each of the first three occupations. During the fourth occupation, it was used as a staging ground for the ill-fated Union invasion of the Florida interior, which ended in the bloody Battle of Olustee in February 1864. This late Confederate victory, along with the deadly use of underwater mines against the U.S. Navy along the St. Johns, nearly succeeded in ending the fourth Union occupation of Jacksonville.

Writing in clear, engaging prose, Daniel Schafer sheds light on this oft-forgotten theatre of war and details the dynamic racial and cultural factors that led to Florida's engagement on behalf of the South. He investigates how fears about the black population increased and held sway over whites, seeking out the true motives behind both the state and federal initiatives that drove freed blacks from the cities back to the plantations even before the war's end.

From the Missouri Compromise to Reconstruction, Thunder on the River offers the history of a city and a region precariously situated as a major center of commerce on the brink of frontier Florida. Historians and Civil War aficionados alike will not want to miss this important addition to the literature.


More than twenty-five years ago, I was asked to edit a draft of Richard A. Martin’s two-volume history of early Jacksonville. the Florida Publishing Company had commissioned the draft several years before with the intention of publishing it during the American bicentennial celebrations. the nearly twelve-hundred-page draft was instead placed in storage until 1981, when I was asked to prepare a manuscript limited to the Civil War chapters. I added insights from a number of primary source documents and, with assistance from Richard Martin and James Robertson Ward, completed the manuscript in summer 1984. Jacksonville’s Ordeal by Fire: a Civil War History, with Richard A. Martin as primary author, was published in August 1984 by William Shivers Morris iii, the chief executive officer of the Florida Publishing Company. To the surprise of everyone involved, all five thousand copies sold in less than a week.

With the book out of print, editors of academic presses asked me to revise the book with a more scholarly focus. Mr. Morris indicated by telephone that he did not intend to republish the book and gave me permission to proceed with a new manuscript as I thought appropriate. Since Mr. Martin had no continuing interest in the book, I began work on a new manuscript, but put it aside when other obligations intervened. in 2005, I returned to the project with the help of history majors at the University of North Florida who enrolled in sections of my Local History Seminar. Grants from the unf Board of Trustees made it possible for students to assist with the research at the National Archives and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The result is Thunder on the River: the Civil War in Northeast Florida. the narrative is intended to be engaging yet scholarly, reflecting the academic emphasis requested by publishers two decades ago. Thunder on the River is a local history placed in a national context and informed by the remarkable array of Civil War scholarship that has appeared in recent decades. It draws on dozens of research trips to the National Archives and the Library of Congress . . .

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