was born according to some biographers,
in what is now Monroe
County, West Virginia,
or Virginia around 1820. He moved to South
an early age , he
later served as a
cavalry officer in the state militia. Around 1856, he moved to Marion
settling near Orange Lake at his plantation "SUNNYSIDE".
Prior to the
secession of Florida from the Union, Dickison quietly went about building up
his holdings, and by 1860 he was considered a wealthy planter and had four
children by two marriages, two sons Charles, and R. L. who served under
their father in the Confederate Army.
outbreak of the war, Dickison began forming a cavalry company in Marion
County it. But before the organization was completed, John M. Martin, a
leading citizen of the county offered to join if it was converted to
artillery, and was known as the Marion Light Artillery Unit. Dickison agreed
to this with the provision that Martin become captain of the company while
he served as first lieutenant. Soon Dickison returned to Ocala, after
resigning his commission as first lieutenant, and raised his own cavalry
company, Company H. Second Florida Cavalry was ready for service in July of
1861. Dickison was elected captain and William H. McCardell first
explanation of the formation of the Leo Dragoons states that in May of 1862,
The Marion Light Artillery reorganized for the war, as a result of the
reorganization Dickison lost his status as First Lieutenant. The blow to his
ego and his commanding officer, John Martin who at the request of Dickison
wrote Brigadier General Joseph Finegan, the district commander, asking him
to make Dickison a quartermaster. Martin stated that the loss of Dickison
was not only mortifying, but a pecuniary loss as well.
the Marion Light Artillery on May 29, 1862. Luckily, noting was heard on the
request to be assigned to the quartermasters appointment, and Dickison on
the 2nd of July began to raise the last company needed for the formation of
the 2nd Florida Cavalry Regiment. It was mustered in on August 21, 1862.
Three days later the company moved to Gainesville to procure arms and
equipment. They were stationed in Jacksonville, and then moved to Palatka.
The company was
composed of volunteers from Putnam, St. Johns, Marion, Alachua, Clay, Duval,
Bradford, Columbia, Sumter, Volusia, Hillsborough, Madison and Nassau
Counties. The company never number over 200, however, the Federal Troops
always exaggerated the numbers in their official reports.
Most of the
equipment that the company used were outdated such as uniforms being
supplied by the ladies' sewing societies. firearms were muzzle-loading
Enfield rifles, ancient pistols, and varied types of fowling pieces.
strategy of Captain Dickison greatly hampered the movements of the Federal
troops in the St. Johns River valley. He would strike suddenly, then
disappear, only to strike again at a point some distance from the first
attack. Union sentries walking their lonely outpost were in dread of these
surprise attacks. The constant threat to supply lines as well as lines of
communications, made Dickison's company a marked prize by the Union military
authorities. Many attempts were made to capture the dashing captain and his
command, but the most difficult problem was to locate them. So insistent and
continuous were the operations of company "H" along the St. Johns that the
Union troops called the territory on the west bank of the river
Captain Dickison never attained the historical importance of General Francis
Marion of Revolutionary War fame, his military tactics and exploits were
similar. The British troops named General Marion, the "Swamp Fox". To
Dickison the Union troops were a little more generous--they called him
"DIXIE." Often in their dispatches Dixie was reported to be in a trap.
Somehow the trap never closed fast enough, and Captain Dickison would be
heard from some miles away from the purported trap, harassing the enemy's
Dickison was endowed with the quality of military strategy necessary for
leadership in guerrilla warfare. Their territory ran from the Georgia line
to the Tampa/ Ft. Myers area. And no part of the territory was safe from
their attacks and carefully planned raids-WELAKA, FORT BUTLER, GAINESVILLE,
CEDAR KEY, BRADDOCKS FARM, PALATKA, JACKSONVILLE, GREEN COVE SPRINGS, ETC.
They patrolled the St. Johns River area, and eastward to the coast. The
Federals would remove all boats on the west bank of the St. Johns with
gunboats, but the rebel leader crossed the river almost at will. He
frequently brought back more prisoners than he had men in his own command.
They would ambush Union foraging expeditions, and capture pickets, and
stragglers from the battle fields, and often bluffing the enemy into
surrendering without firing a shot. Even when he was not engaged in
attacking the enemy, the fear was there. Union forces spent most of their
time in St. Augustine, or a few of the scattered posts. The Federals could
occupy the towns, but they were never able to effectively control the
"Dixie" had a
flatboat capable of bearing only a dozen troopers together with their mounts
which he kept hidden in the river swamps so that it usually took him all
night and most of the next day to make a crossing.
Cove Springs, Welaka, and other ports, were important shipping points for
the areas around them. Supplies were gathered from the plantations in the
vicinity of these ports and landings and shipped to the Confederate armies
operating in the border states. Transportation was limited. The Union forces
were interested in controlling the rich farming region, and cutting the
supplies that the Confederate armies needed in the north. Therefore, the
Federals sent in gunboats to patrol the river, so the Confederates moved
their headquarters a few miles from Palatka, and waited for the Union troop
One of the
objectives of the Union secret agents was to drive the slaves away from the
plantations and farms, so that crops could not be harvested, and also for
them to join the Union troops. Dickison uncovered this plot and captured
many of the runaway slaves, and supposedly crushed a probable slave revolt.
In one 44 hour
time period, Company "H" had captured two companies of Federal troops,
consisting of 88 infantrymen, 6 cavalrymen, and various guns and other war
equipment. They had travelled 85 miles, and returned to their headquarters
with their prisoners intact, without a loss of a man.
The next time
the action picked up was in May of 1864, when the Union gunboats and
transports began to appear on the St. Johns. Dickison was given Lieutenant
Mortimer W. Bates with a unit of artillery and 25 men to aid in harassing
Dickison and his men split up
trying to out maneuver the enemy, they watched from entrenchments around the
town of Palatka, and decided to try to intercept the "COLUMBINE" at
the cavalry troop and the artillery battery and tried to reach their
strategic point first, however, as they reached the area, the Columbine was
speeding just passed the area. They next waited for the "Ottawa,"
the largest of the Federal Gunboats and transports on the river. The river
was difficult to navigate at nightfall, and the boat anchored for the night.
The Confederates set up their guns in strategic positions, and then they
waited, it was pitch dark, however, after a few minutes, the boats lit their
torches and made them perfect targets for the Confederates.
The Ottawa was
badly damaged. It remained anchored for 30 hours while repairs were made. It
was reported that several men were killed and wounded on the boat, however,
Dickison reported that not one of his men had been killed.
The next day Dickison ordered
Lt. Bates to set up at Horse Landing and await the gunboat, "COLUMBINE".
Around 3 o'clock smoke from the vessel was seen. Dickison permitted the
gunboat to approach within 60 yards of the wharf, and then he gave the order
to fire. The attack was so sudden that the men aboard panicked. After the
second volley of fire, the boat was rendered helpless, it floated on a
sandbar and stuck. A fight lasted for 45 minutes but the first two volleys
had won the fight. The flag of surrender was hoisted by the Union forces.
Lt. Bates on board to accept the surrender. He found that of the original
148 men, only 66 remained, and 1/3 of these were badly injured. After the
dead and wounded were removed, Dickison ordered the craft burned. Dickison
scored another military success against great odds. Not a single man was
lost in the attack. One man was slightly stunned by the explosion of a Union
presented Lt. Bates with a handsome sword that was taken from a Union
officer as a token of his appreciation of the marksmanship and bravery of
One of the
officers captured was Major General Foster, who was in command of the
Federal forces operating in the St. Johns River valley. He told Dickison
that there was a major effort to capture or destroy Dixie, and that two
regiments had disembarked at Palatka, and were scouring the countryside
looking for Dickison and his command.
received a message that the Union forces had landed and seized Palatka.
Dickison returned to Palatka and after evaluating the situation, requested
headquarters to send him additional forces. After a short skirmish with the
Federal cavalry, the Confederate troops retreated, Dickison lost three of
his men who were captured, and the enemy seized his camp. The Federal
cavalry pursued for about 1/2 mile, and they gave up the chase.
cavalry battalion numbered 280 strong, they were better equipped, and out
numbered Company H. Dickison continued to advance, and they were forced
slowly back to Palatka, some six miles away. A number of the union soldiers
were captured, Dickison with 30 men engaged in a hand to hand battle. During
a lull in the firing, Sergeant Charles Dickison thought there was an intent
to surrender, and proceeded to advance, suddenly the Union forces opened
fire and he was mortally wounded, his body was taken to Orange Springs, and
the ladies of that community buried him. This was one of the best examples
of individual military strategy, and leadership during the War. HE drove the
enemy to within hailing distance of the Union garrison at Palatka, where
2,000 troops were stationed, the Union force lost 14 killed, 30 wounded, 28
captured, and Dickison lost 1 killed, and one wounded.
Battle of Palatka, "Company H" was returned to picket duty along the St.
Two more major
battles soon followed, the Battle of Gainesville, and Waldo.
The end of the
War found Dickison at Waldo. He surrendered and was paroled at Waldo on May
20, 1864, still a captain despite repeated efforts by his superiors to get
him promoted. A few days later, Secretary of War, John C. Breckinridge of C.
S. A. arrived at Gainesville, carrying his appointment as a colonel.
He was also instrumental in aiding and
abetting the escape of Breckinridge to Cuba after the War. He had been asked
to accommodate the fleeing President of the C. S. A. , Jefferson Davis,
however, Davis was captured in Alabama*
(it was near Irwinville, Georgia -- Only 70 miles north of the
Florida state line !!!) before he
could make it to the safety of the Florida Swamps, and the elusive
Confederate Swamp Fox.
idolized by his men, and became one of Florida's greatest heroes of the war.
In 1864, the Florida Legislature voted Dickison and his command their
thanks. Major General Sam Jones, Brigadier Generals Joseph Finegan, and John
K. Jackson. Dickison commanders, repeatedly commended him and urged his
promotion. Only the Confederate War Department bureaucracy kept him from
obtaining a well earned colonel before hostilities ceased.