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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jackson County Receives International Military Attention

Foreign Military Officers Tour County, Visit Attractions and Learn History

By Times Staff

Marianna – One of the more intriguing events in recent memory took place in Jackson County on Saturday as a group of 60 military officers from the United States as well as Central and South America toured key points in the county as part of the U.S. Army’s “Strength through Allies” initiative.

The officers, many accompanied by family members, arrived by bus from Fort Rucker on Saturday morning for a visit to Florida Caverns State Park. After touring the famed caves, they continued on to Marianna for a requested tour of Marianna’s Civil War battlefield.

Marianna’s Civil War history has received growing attention following last year’s international publication of writer and historian Dale Cox’s popular book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida. The book and its related websites have had the unexpected benefit of sparking additional tourism to Jackson County, bringing visitors and tourism dollars to the area. Saturday’s visit was the largest organized tour of the battlefield so far.

The tour began at the intersection of Lafayette and Russ Streets in Marianna, where the battle started on September 27, 1864. Following introductory comments by Stan Peacock, a state official with the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), historian Dale Cox took the officers on a walking tour of key points of the battlefield. Speaking to the group, largely composed of Spanish speaking officers from Central and South America, through interpreters, Cox explained the tactics of the battle and shared many of the colorful stories included in his book.

His comments focused on the actual events of the battle, on its impact on the community and Florida as a whole, on the often overlooked significance of the Battle of Marianna as a day of liberation for more than 600 enslaved African Americans in Jackson County and on the racial diversity of the troops fighting at Marianna. A highlight was when he described how a Union officer was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in preventing the intentional shootings of prisoners on the grounds of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

Following the tour, Stan Peacock presented a well-received display of both Union and Confederate equipment. The interactive presentation featured demonstrations of various weapons and other items and a lively question and answer period. Peacock and Cox then took the visitors on a guided tour of the cemetery at St. Luke’s, explaining the historical importance of many of the individuals buried there. Members of the Theophilus West Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, accompanied by their family members, wore 19th century uniforms and assisted in the interpretive effort.

The tour was conceived by officials at Fort Rucker, Alabama, as a way of introducing international students there to the area and helping them to gain a better understanding of the history and culture of the United States. There are early indications, based on its success, that the tour may now become an annual event.

It also is a sign of the growing popularity of Jackson County as a spot for tourism and the growing interest in the Battle of Marianna as a significant event.

Editor's Note: To learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit Dale Cox's book on the battle is available locally at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna.

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