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BICENTENNIAL TIBITS When Pensacola moved to Greenville

In 1860, Pensacola, Florida, was a thriving town with a population of 2,876 people.

To someone who is not familiar with the history of Florida over a century ago, this figure might seem ridiculously small.

Nevertheless, Pensacola was the largest town in predominately rural Florida. It was the leading industrial center in the state.

There were saw mills, marine shops, brick mills, turpentine processing plants, ship yards and a cotton mill.

Pensacola had the best natural harbor on the Gulf of Mexico.

The building of the Alabama and Florida Railroad was in the final stages, and a second railroad, the Pensacola and Georgia was being constructed.

Then came the war. We have all learned that Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter in the early morning of April 12, 1861.

Contrary to what historians tell us about the war’s beginning, records from Florida newspapers would indicate that, in reality, the first shots of the War Between the States were fired by Federal troops at Pensacola’s Fort Barrancas on the night of January 8, 1861.

A great artillery exchange caused excessive damage to Fort McCree, along with destruction of two thirds of the village of Warrington and many buildings in the Navy Yard, including the hospital.

The houses in Pensacola, ten miles away, trembled from the effect, and immense quantities of dead fish floated to the surface.

Brigadier General Braxton Bragg issued orders to abandon Pensacola, with these instructions: “I desire that you leave nothing the enemy can use.”

Lt. Col. W. K. Beard and 100 men of the First Florida Regiment carried out the work of destruction.

Beard wrote, “I cannot close …without remarking upon the sacrificing patriotism of those whose property…in many cases all they had, was destroyed. While they regretted the necessity, none shrank from the sacrifice, and in many cases were prepared to apply the torch to all they possessed.”

The city officials of Pensacola had drawn up a plan to evacuate the town, and for the removal of all books, papers, and public documents belonging to the city and county.

When the citizens left their homes, some of them took up residence in surrounding towns, but for the most part, Pensacola’s government in exile settled in Greenville, Alabama.

Many Floridians married Greenville guys and girls. The 1870 and 1880 Butler County census records show that many of those Florida families stayed in Greenville.

Why were these families still here after the war?

Maybe they had heard that Greenville was a great place to live, so when the time came, and they needed a place to call home, they thought of Greenville.

We’d like to think so anyway.

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