The Battle of Newton - Newton, Alabama
Battle of Newton, Alabama
The battle took place late in the Civil War when
Confederates surprised a Union raiding party in the
streets of Newton, Alabama.
Battle of Newton, Alabama
A monument pays tribute to
the local men who defended
Newton against Joe Sanders
& his Union raiders in 1865.
Site of the Courthouse
The Union raiders for heading
for the old Dale County
Courthouse in Newton. It
once stood on this square.
The Battle of Newton - Newton, Alabama
Civil War Fight in the Wiregrass
Copyright 2012 & 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Updated: March 17, 2014
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Newton, Alabama
The town was the county seat
of Dale County in 1865. The
Union horsemen were taken
by surprise as they arrived.
Newton Battle Monument
The battle is reenacted each
October at John Hutto Park in
Newton. This year's event will
take place October 20-21.
A detachment of Union soldiers got way
more than it bargained for when it rode into
Newton, Alabama, during the closing days of
the War Between the States or Civil War.

Newton, a charming community on the
Choctawhatchee River, was then the county
seat for Dale County, Alabama. The
courthouse there housed tax, conscription
and other records that listed the names of
men who had served the Confederacy at any
point during the war.

Lt. Joseph G. Sanders, an officer in the 1st
Florida Cavalry (U.S.) and many of the men
who followed him had taken up arms in
support of the South before deserting to the
other side. With the end of the war in sight,
they determined to destroy any record of their
involvement with the Confederacy.

Their opportunity came when Gen Alexander
Asboth, commanding at Pensacola, sent a
detachment under Sanders on a small raid
into Washington County, Florida. Their orders
were to confiscate (i.e. steal) horses and
return to their camp at Fort Barrancas as
quickly as possible. Sanders, however, did
not follow orders and instead went into
hiding at the Forks of the Creek swamp near
Campbellton in Jackson County, Florida.

From this position just below the Alabama
line, they watched and waited for a chance to
strike Newton and burn the courthouse along
with all of the records it contained. While the
men in Sanders' original detachment were
all soldiers from the 1st Florida Cavalry
(U.S.), they were joined in the swamp by men
who were outlaws plain and simple.

The swamps and woods of South Alabama
and the Florida Panhandle were then filled
with deserters, Unionists and outlaws. Many
of these men would be called "conscientious
objectors" today, but others were violent and
dangerous men who used the was as an
excuse to rob, steal, burn and pillage.

Local citizens in Dale County didn't really
distinguish between those, like Sanders,
who had crossed the lines and joined the
Union army and the others, like John Ward
and the apparently unrelated Jim Ward who
simply headed what were called Raider
Gangs. And because Joseph Sanders had
headed a raider gang himself before joining
the 1st Florida (U.S.), the men led by him are
generally remembered today as "Sanders

Courthouses had become favorite targets of
the raiders, especially by the final year of the
war. Jim Ward's gang had burned the Coffee
County Courthouse in Elba in April 1864. A
second group of "incendiaries" torched the
Jackson County Courthouse in Marianna,
Florida, in January 1865. The Dale County
Courthouse at Newton was next on their list.

Forming his men in the Forks of the Creek
swamps, Sanders led them north across the
line into Alabama on March 14, 1865. His
plan was to strike Newton that night, but the
news of the movement raced forward much
faster than the raiders themselves. Word
reached Newton hours before Sanders and
his men planned to reach the town.

The news, as might be expected, created
great alarm in Newton, but the handful of
men in the community decided to defend
their town.

Grabbing their guns and what ammunition
they could find, the men of Newton gathered
on the town square. Their only real plan was
to defend the courthouse and they took up
positions to do that. As other men came into
town and heard of the danger, they took up
weapons and joined the small group.

Among the men who reached Newton that
afternoon was Jesse M. Carmichael, former
corporal from Company E, 15th Alabama
Infantry, who had been given a medical
discharge after he was seriously wounded at
Sharpsburg (Antietam) in 1862. After a brief
talk with the other defenders, he offered to
ride out and watch for signs of Sanders'

John McEntyre joined him and the two men
had ridden out about four miles when they
suddenly heard the hoof beats of oncoming
horses. Turning back into town, they reached
the square to find that about thirty men had
gathered there.

Carmichael advised them to form an
ambush on the edge of town and the
volunteers formed in a brushy area to wait for
the raiders. He then rode back out to observe
Sanders' approach.
Battlefields in Alabama
Obviously not expecting resistance, the
raiders came straight up the road from the
southeast. Carmichael was watching them
when a rider came up and told him the small
group of defenders had decided to pull back
into town. He immediately put spurs to his
horse and arrived at the town square to learn
that Captain Joseph Breare, a Confederate
conscription officer, had arrived with his
company and taken command.

Breare determined to defend Newton from as
deep in the town as possible. Still believing
that an ambush was the way to go, Jesse
Carmichael and three other men took up
positions by the corner of a hotel east of the
square. Six other defenders formed in a side
street between Carmichael's position and
the square. The other men were held back
on the west side of the square by Captain

With the men thus formed, Sanders and his
raiders rode into town. Carmichael held back
the men with him from firing until the raiders
had passed them and were moving up the
street for the courthouse:

...When I thought that the opportunity had
come, all four of us - some with double-barrel
shotguns, and others with muskets charged
with buck and ball , turned loose upon them
as unexpectedly as if the last trumpet had

The unleashing of the volley from directly
behind them stunned Sanders and his men.
Their surprise was magnified when the six
men between Carmichael's position and the
square also opened fire:

...Rev. Callaway and his five men, who were
secreted between some stores, fired into the
head of the column. A more complete
surprise was never perpetrated, and in a
moment all was confusion, and the bush-
whackers stampeded.

Sanders and his men broke for the edge of
town and safety, defeated by ten men firing
from different directions in the dark. His
losses were 3 killed and 5 wounded. None of
the volunteers was injured.

Newton had been saved, but as a militia
officer reported, the raiders had stolen "much
property in the country before they reached
here." The men of Breare's company, he
said, never had "a chance to fire a gun."

This was not entirely true as George Echols,
one of the men taking part in the ambush,
was a member of Breare's conscription unit.
The Battle of Newton, though, had been a
total victory for the defenders and its memory
is preserved in the town today.

The old courthouse no longer stands but the
town square has been preserved and can be
seen on King Streeet (AL 134) in downtown
Newton. A historical marker there details the
history of the town, including the 1865 fight.

Directly across King Street from the square
can be seen a stone monument that pays
tribute to the men who defended the town
during the Battle of Newton. Just across the
Choctawhatchee River Bridge can be seen
the reconstructed
Sketoe's Hole, site of the
local ghost story of the "hole that will not stay
Sketoe's Hole
Newton is known to many for
another Civil War landmark,
Sketoe's Hole. The focal point
of a ghost story, it has been
called the "Hole that will not
Stay Filled."