|Fight between the Florida Judiciary
and the CSA Military
over the destruction of
Yulee's Florida Railroad
War of the Rebellion
Gainesville, Fla., June 9, 1864
His Excellency John Milton,
Governor of the State of Florida:
My Dear Sir: I beg leave as one of the co-ordinate departments of the State government respectfully to submit to Your
Excellency's consideration a state of facts as they have transpired in my judicial circuit: On the 26th day of April, 1864,
a bill was filed under oath upon the chancery side of this court in the county of Alachua, within the Suwannee circuit of
Florida, wherein the Florida Railroad was complainant and Jason M. Fairbanks, J. H. Burns, Minor Meriwether, James
A. Seddon, Secretary of War, and Stephen R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, were defendants, and this court awarded
an injunction against the defendants, their agents, employees, and servants, restraining them from removing the iron
rails, chairs, bolts, and spikes of the Florida Railroad, which was served by the officer of the law on the 27th day of
April, 1864, upon Jason M. Fairbanks and J. H. Burns, and publication was made according to law against others
beyond the jurisdiction of the court. On the 28th day of May, 1864, it was made to appear to the court, by affidavit
under oath, that the said order was disregarded, and that some of these defendants were proceeding to take up and
remove the iron chairs, spikes, and bolts, Thereupon the court issued a rule against them to show cause before the
court on Tuesday, the 31st of May, why they should not be attached for contempt in disobeying the order of said court,
which rule was served on the 28th day of May, 1864 personally upon Jason M. Fairbanks and J. H. Burns, two of these
defendants. No answer was made to the rule whatever. On the 1st of June, 1864, I received a letter from Maj. Gen.
Patton Anderson, commanding in Florida, of which the following is a copy:
Headquarters Military District of Florida,
Lake City, Fla., June 1, 1864
Hon. J. B. Dawkins,
Not until yesterday evening did I learn that the Government was without counsel in the case touching the taking up of iron from the Florida
Railroad. At the time the injunction was first served upon Lieutenant Fairbanks I advised him to employ counsel, and supposed he had
done so. I took it for granted he had placed the matter in the hands of the C. S. district attorney. Under this mistaken impression I felt that
the interest of the Government was safe and that I and its officers would not be made to appear in any other than a proper light before the
court. With a view of ascertaining how the matter stood, I addressed a note to Mr. Fleming, C. S. district attorney, on the day before
yesterday, asking an interview that I might learn the status of the case. He was absent at Gainesville when my messenger took the note
to his residence. I supposed he had gone there in behalf of the Government in this case. He returned yesterday evening, and surprised
me no little by informing me that he was of counsel for the railroad company, and that the Government as yet had never been represented
before the court. I have detailed the circumstances to show you how ignorant I was of the situation of the case, and as an apology for this
communication. I learned also from Mr. Fleming that all the lawyers of this place had already been employed against the Government in
the matter; hence, having no counsel to consult, I address you in the hope that you will put me in the right way to get the merits of the case
before the court. Is it too late to file a motion to dissolve the injunction? Upon hearing of such motion, I feel satisfied that the Government
would be able to show conclusively the best of reasons why the injunction should be dissolved. The interest of the Government in this
matter has been entrusted to officers of the Engineer Department, with whom it will take time for me to confer. I now appear voluntarily,
hoping to be able to be somewhat instrumental in arresting a conflict of authority which I honestly believe there is no cause for, and with
the hope of placing the Confederate Government in a proper light (not that of a part in contempt) before the court over which you preside.
With this hope I appeal to you to inform me whether I am too late in the proceeding, would I (in behalf of the Government) be permitted
time to employ and consult counsel, that if possible the merits of the case may be brought before the court? I have volunteered to interfere
to the extent of addressing you in this way because I have ascertained to my great surprise that the Government has not been
represented by legal advisers in the matter. Please let me hear from you on this subject at the earliest hour convenient. I send this by a
staff officer in hopes it may reach you sooner in that way than by any other.
I am, judge, very respectfully, your obedient servant.
On the 2d of June I replied as follows:
Gainesville, Fla., June 2, 1864
My Dear Sir:
Yours of the 1st of June has just been handed me, in relation to taking up the iron from the Florida Railroad, and permit me to express my
gratification at its tone and temper. A conflict between the civil and military is at all times to be lamented, but at this time especially the
different departments of the different departments of the State and Confederate Governments should harmonize and co-operate together
for the accomplishment of a common purpose. I confess I have been much surprised at the course of things in this matter, but I hope
now the approaching unpleasantness may be avoided. You inquire, "Is it too late to file a motion to dissolve the injunction?" It is not, and I
will hear it at any time and give time for the employment of counsel. In the meantime, however, the order of injunction is still in existence,
and the court expects that it will be obeyed and respected, and that the parties upon whom rules have been served to show cause why
they should not be attached for contempt shall make their return in writing.
I am, general, yours, most respectfully, &c.,
James B. Dawkins,
Matters remained in this condition until 7th of June, when hearing that the order from this court was being disregarded
I addressed the following telegram to Major-General Anderson, to whit:
I am just informed that Lieutenant Fairbanks is proceeding in violation of the injunction in the railroad case. I had been led to believe from
our correspondence that matters would be suspended, and hearing nothing from you since, I trust my information is incorrect.
James B. Dawkins.
To which he replied June 8, 1864:
I regret that Lieutenant Fairbanks construes it his duty to proceed with his instructions and not to pursue the course I advised. I informed
Mr. Yulee and Colonel McLeod of Lieutenant Fairbanks' determination, and would have written to you but for my sickness. I write to-day by
mail in explanation.
The court upon this information issued an attachment against Jason M. Fairbanks and J. H. Burns, whereupon the
sheriff makes the following return:
June 8, 1864
Attempted to serve the within attachment by informing the defendant, Jason M. Fairbanks, that he was my prisoner at Lake City the 8th day
of June, 1864, within the jurisdiction of the court, whereupon said defendant resisted and refused to be arrested, and read an order from
Maj. Gen. Patton Anderson, addressed to the military under his command, to protect and defend said defendant from arrest under and by
virtue of any civil process for that purpose, which reading of said order was in the hearing and addressed to the provost guard, consisting
of several men armed with muskets and bayonets, who peremptorily said that said Fairbanks should not be arrested, whereupon I was
compelled by this manifestation of force to desist from any further attempt to enforce the attachment. None of the other defendants were
Samuel W. Burnett,
Thus you will see that the orders emanating from this court have not only been disregarded, but these persons have
placed themselves in open defiance to its mandates. I have therefore thought it my duty to appeal to you, as the Chief
Executive of the State, to vindicate the majesty of the law and "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."
I am, your obedient servant,
James B. Dawkins,
Judge of Swannee Circuit of Florida
P. S. -- I have entrusted this communication to Mr. C. P. Cooper to insure its delivery.
J. B. D.
Tallahassee, Fla., June 14, 1864
His Excellency John Milton,
Governor of Florida:
Sir: Being the bearer of a communication from his Honor James B. Dawkins, judge of the Suwannee circuit of this
State, on the subject of a contempt manifested toward the court over which Judge Dawkins presides, by Jason M.
Fairbanks, a lieutenant in the C. S. military service, in a matter before said court, in which the Florida Railroad
Company are complainants and said Jason M. Fairbanks and others are defendants, and being also one of the
counsel representing said Florida Railroad Company in said cause, I frankly and without hesitation take the liberty of
saying to Your Excellency that no impediment or obstacle has ever been intended to be interposed on the part of the
complainants to a speedy disposal of the issues involved in said controversy, and that an early adjudication of the
case is desired by the complainants. And as counsel aforesaid I pledge myself that no unnecessary hindrance or delay
will be caused by said complainants to having the matter taken up by appeal or writ of error to the supreme court of
the State at the earliest possible day after the rendition of any final order or decree of the circuit court with which said
defendants may be dissatisfied, the same benefits being accorded us if the decision is adverse to the complainants.
I have the honor to be, Your Excellency's very obedient servant,
C. P. Cooper,
Solicitor for Florida Railroad Company.
Tallahassee, June 14, 1864
His Excellency John Milton,
Dear Sir: Appreciating the embarrassing position Your Excellency occupies in consequence of the unfortunate collision
that has occurred between the civil courts of the State and the military authorities of the Confederate States in the
cause now pending before Judge Dawkins in the Suwannee circuit court, wherein the Florida Railroad Company is
complainant and Jason Fairbanks et al. are defendants in the cause, I do not represent the complainant--have refused
so to do. My connection with the cause is to represent the sequestration fund. As C. S. attorney, under the
sequestration act I have sequestrated as belonging to alien enemies nearly $2,000,000 in stock, and nearly $800,000
in free land and first mortgage bonds in said Florida Railroad Company. I have been endeavoring to protect this fund,
and felt that it could be properly done before Judge Dawkins' court, a tribunal in which he had but recently decided the
impressment act to be constitutional. I united in the motion for a rule on Mr. Fairbanks to show cause why he should
not be put in contempt for disobeying the injunction, and also in the motion for an attachment against him when he
persisted in disobeying the mandate of the court. Should Lieutenant Fairbanks answer and purge himself of the
contempt, I will exert whatever influence I possess to have the cause speedily tried in the circuit court, and will agree
with defendants' counsel to have the cause tried without delay at an extra term of the supreme court to be called for
that purpose, and in the meantime will take no action against Lieutenant Fairbanks in the C. S. court before the first
Tuesday in July for the intermeddling with sequestrated property.
C. S. Attorney
Tallahassee, June 14, 1864.
Hon. James B. Dawkins,
Judge of the Suwanee Circuit, Gainesville:
Dear Sir: Your communication of the 9th instant has been handed to me by Charles Cooper, Esq. I regret extremely
the conflict of authority which has occurred and while I concur in opinion with the Confederate authorities as to the
existing military necessity for a removal of the iron from parts of the Florida road and its appropriation in connecting
the Pensacola and Georgia Railroad with the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad in Georgia, yet my judgment does not approve
of the utter disregard of the judicial authority of the State. Believing yourself to have had jurisdiction in the premises,
upon the application of the parties in interest you could not properly have refused the injunction. It seems to me that
there is no good reason why the agents of the Confederate Government did not move upon sufficient causes, if any
existed, to have the injunction dissolved. I shall submit a copy of your communication to the President of the
Confederate States and to Major-General Anderson, and as the Executive of the State demand the proper respect
due to your authority. It is possible that counsel could not be employed to move for the dissolution of the injunction,
and an urgent necessity existed in the judgment of the military authorities which would admit of no delay; but whatever
the causes may be, I will demand that they shall be respectfully submitted to your consideration, and will extend the
support due from the Executive to the judiciary of the State, and to the utmost of my ability consistent with the safety of
the State. In the present unhappy condition of the country nothing can justify a conflict between the State and the
Confederate Government but an absolute necessity for the protection of civil liberty as intended to be secured by the
constitution of the State and of the Confederate States.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
Governor of Florida
Executive Department, Tallahassee, June 14, 1864.
Maj. Gen. Patton Anderson,
Headquarters, Lake City:
General: I submit respectfully to your consideration copies of a correspondence which will be handed to you by the
Hon. John B. Galbraith, attorney-general of the State, between the Hon. James B. Dawkins (the presiding judge of the
Suwannee circuit in this State, and myself, relative to the impressment of the iron on the Florida Railroad, and also
copies of letters addressed to me by James Banks and Charles Cooper, Esq's., attorneys, who represent the parties
interested. I regret extremely that this conflict of authority should occur, especially at this time, and desiring, if it be
possible, by any means, that this difference may be adjusted speedily and amicably, I address you for the purpose of
requesting that you will exercise whatever authority and discretion you may have to that end. I am informed that there
is no disposition on the part of those interested for the Florida Railroad to produce any unnecessary delay in the
adjudication of the questions arising between the Confederate Government and the Florida Railroad, and that the
interests of the Government cannot suffer by a proper respect to the laws of the land. You are aware that it is my duty
to see that the laws of the State are executed. I greatly desire, under the peculiar circumstances, that this may be
done quietly and efficiently, and I apply to you, as the highest Confederate military authority in the State, to render
such assistance as you can in maintaining the law. Mr. Galbraith, the attorney-general of the State, is fully possessed
of my views in regard to this controversy, and will communicate with you frankly upon the subject.
Governor of Florida.
Tallahassee, June 14, 1864
General: I have officially invited your attention to a correspondence between Judge Dawkins and myself, relative to the
proceedings in chancery upon the application of the Florida Railroad Company to enjoin the removal of the track of
parts of the road. I have much reason for entertaining the opinion that if a motion shall be submitted to dissolve the
injunction, if properly maintained in argument, that the injunction will be dissolved. In fact, I have no doubt of the
success of such a motion, and when informed by Lieut. J. Fairbanks that a writ of injunction had been granted, advised
him to employ counsel and have an effort made to dissolve the injunction. I presume that he found it troublesome to
procure an attorney or solicitor in East Florida. You were mistaken in supposing Mr. Fleming the C. S. Solicitor; Col. C.
C. Youge of this place is. I have to-day had a conversation with him and D. P. Hogue, Esq., who was consulted by
Major Meriwether while here upon the subject,and these gentlemen will, upon your application, proceed immediately to
see and submit to Judge Dawkins a motion to dissolve the injunction, and will sustain it, and I would respectfully advise
this course to prevent, or rather remedy, the conflict of authority between the civil and military authorities of the State
and Confederate Government, which at this particular crisis in the history of the Confederate States might prove very
detrimental to their general welfare. The occasion would be certainly seized upon with avidity by the opponents of
President Davis' administration, and handled to increase the excitement and opposition already existing in Georgia
and North Carolina, with which I presume you are familiar, and to encourage and sustain which Mr. Toombs has
recently published a letter to Governor Brown calculated to do mischief, provided he has not forfeited the public
confidence, which I think is probable. In the progress of this revolution Florida has acted well her part, and it would be
extremely unfortunate at this particular juncture of affairs if a controversy should occur within her borders between the
civil and military authorities in despite of the constitution of the State and of the Confederate States, and the anxiety
and purpose of her loyal and gallant people to sustain the President in his patriotic and able administration of the
Government of the Confederate States.
I am, respectfully, yours, &c.,
Lake City, Fla., June 15, 1864.
His Excellency John Milton,
Governor of Florida, Tallahassee:
I am this moment in receipt of your several communications covering copies of letters from Judge Dawkins to yourself
and your reply thereto between the officers and agents of the Confederate Government and those of the State of
Florida, growing out of that taking up of the iron from the Florida Railroad by the former. I regret exceedingly that there
should be even any appearance of conflict between the State and Confederate Governments at this time, and assure
you I shall use my utmost power consistent with the orders and instructions I may have or receive from superior
authority to arrest so deplorable an event. I concur with you entirely in the belief that wen the facts are all before the
State court the matter can be adjusted without infringing at all upon its dignity or disregarding its orders. Under this
belief and with this hope I have written to Col. C. C. Young, C. S. attorney, requesting him to appear in the case and
represent Lieutenant Fairbanks and myself, that we may not appear in a false light by suffering a default to be
entered. In this connection I beg leave to call your attention to a copy of the order which the sheriff refers to in his
return to the process of attachment issued and attempted to be executed upon Lieutenant Fairbanks. You will see by
its terms that the sheriff has misapprehended them and its whole tenor. So far from disregarding the
authority--legitimate authority of the State-it invokes its aid and sustains Lieutenant Fairbanks in the legitimate
discharge of his duties against vexations intermeddlers or those pretending to have authority to thwart him.
Headquarters Military District of Florida,
Lake City, May 24, 1864.
Officers and others throughout this district acting under military authority will furnish Lieut. J. M. Fairbanks, Engineer Bureau, every facility
for expeditions travel throughout the district and within our military lines. Being engaged in a most important work, having for its object the
defense and protection of this portion of the Confederacy, no impediment must be thrown in the way of his success. He must be
forwarded and assisted in every legitimate way that may be in the military power, and if necessary must be protected from arrest or
interference by any one, in the proper discharge of his duties. The work he is engaged on is a military necessity, which cannot be omitted
without disastrous consequences to the cause in general and to the people of Florida in particular. It is therefore hoped that the civil
authorities of the State will heartily co-operate with Lieutenant Fairbanks and will not permit themselves to be made the instruments of
impeding or delaying him in this important work.
Pledging you my cordial and sincere support in every attempt to avert any disagreeable conflict between the civil or
military authorities of the State and Confederate Governments, and thanking you for the hearty co-operation which
you have at all times given me in the administration of the military affairs of the district,
I am, Governor, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Headquarters Military District of Florida,
Lake City, July 5, 1864.
Maj. Charles S. Stringfellow,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Charleston, S. C.:
Major: In the execution of the order which I have received from department headquarters in regard to taking up the
iron, fixtures, &c., from the East Florida railroads, in conjunction with the officers of the Engineer Bureau, who have
been charged more immediately with that work conflicts of authority have arisen between the authorities of the State
and Confederate Governments, which, if not judiciously harmonized, may lead to embarrassments of an unfortunate, if
not very serious, character. I therefore propose to submit a brief statement of the present situation for the
consideration of the major-general commanding. In March last, when it was supposed by the friends of and parties
interested in the road that the Government was about to take up the iron for military uses, an injunction was prayed
and obtained from the circuit court of this district, and served upon Lieutenant Fairbanks and others, who had been
directed to commence the work, restraining them from doing so, %c. Lieutenant Fairbanks consulted Major Meriwether,
of the Engineer Bureau, under whose orders he was acting, as to the course he should pursue. The result was that he
gave no heed to the process of the court. About this time I received the order of the major-general commanding,
directing me to give Lieutenant F. all assistance in my power to take up the iron, &c. Work was commenced. I furnished
the detail for the work and the necessary military guard to protect the working party, and impressed the engines and
flat cars necessary for transporting the iron to Live Oak. After some two or three miles of the iron had been taken up
an officer of the court summoned Lieutenant Fairbanks to appear before the judge at a given day thereafter, and show
cause why he had not obeyed the former process, or why he was in contempt, &c. This process Lieutenant F. declined
to obey also. Subsequently the sheriff attempted to arrest Lieutenant Fairbanks and take him before the court, but was
prevented from executing the process through the instrumentality of a military force which I had placed at Lieutenant
Fairbanks' disposal. The judge (Dawkins) finding it out of his power to enforce the orders and decrees of the court in
the premises submitted a history of the case to the Governor of the State, and requested that the power of the State
be interposed to uphold the dignity of its courts, and to enforce their decrees. Judge Dawkins has since informed me,
unofficially, that the Governor had promised him that his authority, &c., should be upheld. Thus the matter stands. As I
was not made a party to the suit, and as no restraining order had ever been served upon me, together with the fact
that my former acquaintance with the judge had been of a very pleasant character, I had unofficial access to him which
been of a very pleasant character, I had unofficial access to him which Lieutenant Fairbanks and others who were
directly parties did not enjoy. After the injunction had been served upon Lieutenant Fairbanks--which was before I had
received any instructions in the premises--I foresaw difficulties arising which would result in a conflict of State and
Confederate authority unless steps were taken to avert it. Consequently, when the second process was served upon
him, requiring him to come in and purge himself of contempt, &c., I did not hesitate to advise him to do so.
From what I knew of Judge Dawkins' disposition to yield a hearty support to the Confederate authorities in everything,
and of the great necessity--military necessity--which the Government was under, of having the iron at once, I did not
apprehend any difficulty whatever in the way of his acquitting himself before the court, and of procuring, upon motion,
a dissolution of the injunction. This advice was given because of the well-grounded faith I had in the course which the
court would pursue in case a showing was made for a dissolution of the injunction. Lieutenant Fairbanks at first
consented to take the course I advised, but on referring more particularly to his written instructions he concluded that
he could not enter the courts of the State without violating his written orders. When the matter was submitted to the
Governor of the State by Judge Dawkins he (the Governor) immediately sent the attorney-general of the State to my
headquarters for the purpose of conferring on the subject, and devising, if possible, some means of avoiding a direct
conflict as feared. The Governor also wrote me on the subject, but only in general terms, leaving the details to be
canvassed by Mr. Galbraith, attorney-general, and myself, in our personal interview. Mr. G. urged the important
Lieutenant F. appearing in court, purging himself of the contempt and moving to dissolve the injunction. Lieutenant
Fairbanks was consulted, and agreed to suspend further work till he could take legal advice in the matter. I am today in
receipt of a communication from him in which he informs me that upon consulting Messrs. Yonge & Hogue,
Attorney-at-law, he has concluded not to appear in court, &c.
This is a brief summary of the case as far as I am informed of it. I am still of the opinion that at any time before the final
decree of the court is entered in the case, if Lieutenant Fairbanks will appear in court, disclaim all contempt (perhaps
suffer a nominal fine for the same), move to dissolve the injunction, and, in sustaining his motion, make proof of the
great military necessity which exists for taking up the iron, the court would sustain his motion. I feel confident this would
have been the result before the matter reached its present status. Now, the legal contempt has been persisted in till
perhaps personal feelings may be more involved than parties themselves may be aware of. Of course I shall carry out
my instructions; that is, I shall furnish labor and military protection to the working parties who are taking up the iron. But
I have deemed it my duty to give the history of the matter for the information of the major-general commanding. It may
not be improper to remark in this connection that one lever which the friends of the road wield potentially in exciting the
people against the action of the Engineer Bureau in this case, arises out of their constant asservations that this action
is not approved at Richmond, but is the action alone of subordinate officers, without the sanction of the President or
Secretary of War. I do not believe the people could be induced to take sides with any party, class, or corporation who
openly refused to acquiesce in any demands the Government might make upon them; but in this case they are made
to believe that it is not the Government, but interested officers who are seeking to obtain the iron, as they say, by
despoiling a weak State of her resources to enrich other more powerful and influential communities.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hdqrs. Dept. of S. Carolina, Georgia, and Florida,
July 12, 1864.
I have directed Major-General Anderson to furnish no force to resist the regularly constituted State authorities, the
force he has heretofore given being intended to assist Lieutenant Fairbanks in his work and protect him from
interruption by unorganized parties. This matter threatens serious trouble, and I call especial attention to it. Lieutenant
Fairbanks does not act under my orders. His instructions come, I believe, from the Engineer Bureau at Richmond.
Adjutant and Inspector General's Office,
July 21, 1864.
Respectfully submitted to the Secretary of War.
H. L. Clay,
July 23, 1864.
To Engineer Bureau:
You will please confer on this at once with me.
J. A. S.,
Having conferred with the honorable Secretary of War in person and sent forward Mr. Howard, attorney, to attend to
the case in the courts of Florida, this paper is respectfully returned to the War Department.
J. F. Gilmer,
Major-General and Chief of Bureau.