James M. Denham


Lieutenant Colonel John Wilder of the Union occupation force was stationed for most of the Civil War in Key West. A week after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox he visited Cedar Key. Located near the mouth of the Suwannee River, Cedar Key was an important rendezvous point for refugees, Union troops, Confederate deserters, and Unionist sympathizers. On April 20, 1865, Wilder wrote his mother that when he arrived there were about 2,000 white refugees, a “great curiosity; crackers most of them— that is poor whites, not more intelligent or virtuous than the negroes.” He described them as “pale, cadaverous, ignorant, and many of them fierce.” Some of the group had joined the Federal army. “Most of them,” he claimed, “have been persecuted by” the Rebels “and are very implacable. They are splendid rifle shots and go about all over the state. They talk of killing this man or that, when they go out as a matter of course— not in fight, but in murdering him.“