The Westside's 270-acre Camp Milton Historic Preserve may be Florida's best kept Civil War secret.
Camp Milton, named after Florida's Governor John Milton, was among the most significant fortifications built in Florida by Confederate authorities during the Civil War. Located west of McGirts Creek, Camp Milton became the eastern Florida military headquarters for the Confederate States of America (CSA), housing 6,000 infantry; 1,500 calvary; and 430 field pieces.
The goal of these fortification was to block Union advances along Old Plank Road and the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Central Railroad (FA&GC) toward Baldwin, Florida, which served as an important Confederate supply center and railhead. Following the Federal defeat at the Battle of Olustee, Camp Milton briefly protected North Florida's primary transportation networks and an agricultural region critical to the Confederate war effort.
The significance of Camp Milton's fortifications have been acknowledged by organizations such as the Bureau of Historic Preservation, the Florida Department of Archives and Historic Resource Management. In 1992, an archeological investigation of the fortification concluded that “ Camp Milton may be one of the most significant sites associated with the Civil War in Florida and state-wide, if not national, significance.” Camp Milton's fortifications were the largest fortifications erected in the state during the Civil War.
Camp Milton has been recognized as the “last remaining unrecognized and unprotected Civil War battle site in the state of Florida.” In fact, the fortification line that lies in the eastern portion of the Rails to Trails Park north of Old Plank Road is one of the very few Civil War era fortifications that has not succumbed to modern development.
Designed and built in 1864 under the supervision of military engineer, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard, Camp Milton was constructed of earth and wood in the course of several weeks rather than constructed of coquina or brick structures that required years to build. Beauregard's strategy for North Florida was for Camp Milton to draw the Federal troops out of Jacksonville and then force them from the state entirely following a pitched battle with his troops.
Though casualties were considerably light during skirmishes at Camp Milton, more prolonged military action occurred there than at any other Civil War site in Florida.
Camp Milton's natural landscape is a rich mix of various dome swamps, basin swamps and lakes. The nature trails and boardwalk that meander through its landscape provide visitors the opportunities to see little blue heron, snowy egrets, tricolored heron, white ibis, and wood storks. All these species are listed on the state's register as “species of special concern” with the exception of the wood stork, which is on both the State and Federal registers as “endangered.” The upland mixed forest provides habitat for the threatened flatwoods salamander and endangered eastern indigo snake.
Historic Cracker Farm
In 1884, John Harvey built a home on the Camp Milton site. When the State purchased the property for the establishment of Whitehouse Field, Mr. Harvey moved his home to the town of Whitehouse. Under plans for the Camp Milton Historic Preserve, the original “Cracker” cabin from the Harvey homestead has been moved back to Camp Milton within a half mile of the home's original location and is currently undergoing renovations.
Along McGirts Creek at Camp Milton, the main Confederate line once numbered up to 8,000 soldiers and stretched for more than two miles south to the railroad, which connected Jacksonville to Baldwin. This camp, named after Florida's wartime governor John Milton, was strategically located by the creek to allow the Confederate army the best opportunity to defend their position against the advancing Federal Troops. Although partially eroded and filled in with silt over time, these headwaters of McGirts Creek once ran deeper and wider, providing a critical link to transport supplies in for the Confederate soldiers stationed there.
McGirts Creek Bridge
Bridges were not always glamorous in the Civil War. Troops on the move used logs and fill dirt to span the gaps over streams, rivers, bogs and swamps. In wider channels, workers would spend entire days hauling logs into place in waist deep mud and water. Crude trestles were built where more stability was needed. Sometime these supports were fastened into adjacent trees for even greater strength. Today, a small footbridge has been constructed over McGirts Creek.
This footbridge replicates the crude fashion in which bridges were commonly built during the Civil War. These bridges were necessary, as the terrain was very difficult to move troops over. It is said that soldiers, many of whom did not even have shoes to protect their feet, would often sink up to their knees in mud when attempting to pass through these creeks.
Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail Connection
Camp Milton serves as the midway point to the 15 mile Jacksonville-Baldwin trail, which is already a popular local and tourist destination. Entrance and exit features welcome visitors to and from the site. Together, Camp Milton and the Jacksonville-Baldwin trail creates a linear park system that provides varied recreational opportunities, including biking, rollerblading, and horseback riding.
These mounds of earth are still visible today and are accessible from the boardwalk. They are a reminder of a turbulent past this site played in our city's history. Sometimes referred to as “earth-works,” “field-works,” “breast-works,” or just simply “works,” this fortification built by the Confederate Army in early March of 1864 helped protect their position against advancing union soldiers. On the earthworks, vertical logs were fastened upright with loopholes for riflemen to stand every two feet apart and platforms were built to place their heavy artillery, such as cannons. After Federal forces overwhelmed the Confederate army and took over Camp Milton, Union General George H. Gordon inspected the “breast-works” and described them as “most solidly constructed and beautifully finished.”
Camp Milton is home to over 50 “historical” trees which have been planted throughout the park. Each tree is identified along with its namesake and historical significance. Some of the trees include:
Robert E. Lee Southern Magnolia
Harriet B. Stowe Live Oak
Stonewall Jackson Prayer White Oak
Shiloh Silver Maple
Gettysburg Address Honeylocust
Learning Center and Historic Museum
Educational programs are conducted on site in the beautifully constructed 4,000 square foot Learning Center, located near the cracker cabin. It is also serves as a Civil War Center which displays artifacts found on and around the Camp Milton site. The educational programs provide cultural and environmental learning opportunities for tourists, the local community, and school groups.
Hours Of Operation
Monday thru Sunday: 9am - 5pm
1175 Halsema Rd
Jacksonville, Florida 32221
Images by Ennis Davis