The Cow Cavalry

As the Civil War progressed, the Confederate Army's beef supply began to dwindle. A Florida battalion was soon formed and stepped up to the challenge of providing this much needed resource in the face of overwhelming odds.

With most of the Mississippi region under Union control by 1863, the Confederates lost an important source for their beef supply. This presented a massive threat to the Confederate Army’s efficiency as a fighting force. With this setback, Confederates began to look at Florida as another option. Unlike the Mississippi region, the Union did not have a significant presence in Florida. While Florida had plenty of cattle, it lacked the number of railroads necessary to effectively carry them by train. Moreover, since most of the Confederate forces were farther north in Virginia or out west, Florida was largely ineffective against local Union cattle raids in the area. A Tampa Captain named James McKay was adamant about creating a fighting force to put an end to these Union encroachments. McKay wrote a letter to Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon proposing the creation of a new Florida unit that would transport the cattle north while also protecting them from the Union. From there, the letter was sent to Richmond, where the proposal was approved. The Cow Cavalry was born. This battalion was led by former Confederate politician C.J. Munnerlyn. In total, there were nine companies formed under it. Units were formed in different regions of Florida and often engaged in combat with Union troops or provided protection for the cattle being moved up north. The Union was determined to disrupt these large cattle movements, and the men had to constantly be on alert. Throughout its existence in the war, the Cow Cavalry also faced problems outside of Union forces. Florida did not have many military-age men available, so Munnerlyn had to resort to recruits that were either too young or too old to fight effectively. In October of 1864, the Confederate Government sought to change the draft status of the Cow Cavalry members which would bring them into the regular army. Despite this looming threat, Seddon ultimately agreed to leave the cavalry as it was. While the writing was on the wall for the Confederacy in early 1865, Munnerlyn’s men continued to operate. In February of that year, the Cow Cavalry carried out its largest operation of the war. Starting in Tampa, they began a nearly 200-mile march to raid Fort Myers. They made their way through several Union detachments on their journey and later arrived at the fort. A skirmish ensued, and Munnerlyn was unable to break through the fort’s defenses. He eventually ordered his men to retreat. In April of 1865, cow herding season officially began in Florida. This time, however, the Cow Cavalry’s operations were cut short. Despite the fall of Richmond, the Cow Calvary was largely kept in the dark, as officers were afraid that it would destroy the troops’ morale. This led to increased tension between the two groups. Eventually, word got out and things would only get worse from there. By the end of May, Union forces occupied Tampa and demanded the surrender of nearby Confederate holdouts. On June 5, Munnerlyn officially surrendered the Cow Cavalry to the Union. Florida may not have seen as much action as other Southern states during the Civil War, but the Cow Calvary played a major role in helping the Confederates to continue fighting for as long as they did. The odds were certainly stacked against this battalion. The Cow Cavalry did not have the resources the Union had, or the manpower, nor did they have a large quantity of men in good fighting shape. In 2007, a monument commemorating the battalion was erected in Plant City.

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Monument location: 605 N Collins St, Plant City, FL 33563