The other day I went to my favorite indie bookstore in the nearby town of Marianna, FL, to drop off some copies of my new book Stepping Out of Time. What I found was a big sign in the window that said, “Going Out of Business Sale,” and a normally meticulous store in disarray inside.
I did some browsing, bought a box full of interesting used books and gave a copy of my book to the owner, Mike Downum, to read while flying to a funeral in California the next day. I also got a brief history lesson about a Civil War battle that I never knew had taken place right in front of the store 150 years earlier.
In mid-September, 1864, US Brigadier General Alexander Asboth learned that some Union soldiers were being held prisoner in the tiny town of Marianna, FL, several days to the east of his position near Pensacola. Assembling a force of about 700 men, cobbled together cavalry units plus the 82nd and 86th US Colored Infantries, Asboth headed east along the Gulf coast.
The mission was to retrieve the few prisoners, loot the rich plantations of cattle, free slaves and destroy property in the town. Several days later, on the morning of September 27, 1864, Asboth’s force prepared to take the town from the north with a flanking unit to the west.
The town’s defenders consisted of a small force of regular cavalry plus the Home Guard, a local militia of several hundred elderly men and school boys either too old or too young for the regular army. Added to that was a handful of wounded Confederate soldiers recuperating from battles further north. Despite being badly outnumbered, the ragtag group fought bravely for their homes and families, down the main street and into a church cemetery. The battle ended after fierce, in-close fighting that resulted in both sides losing about a quarter of the men they started with. That was the furthest incursion into northwest Florida ever made by the Union army.
More than a century later the second battle of Marianna is winding down. Chipola River Book & Tea will be closed in another two weeks. Mike, a woman by the way, told me that a continuing bad economy and competition from Amazon forced her to finally surrender after many years of being an established fixture in the small town. She resisted closing for a long time, but like the Home Guard years earlier she found herself surrounded and outgunned by a larger and more powerful force.
Small town businesses live a precarious existence in today’s world and they have to rely on a small population of regular customers to survive. Mike, like her forebears, will attempt to rebuild but with an entirely new business model. She is already retired and it will not be an easy transition, but I admire her tenacity and drive. She hopes to reorganize her inventory and sell used books on Amazon. I wish her every success possible as she endeavors to restart in a whole new direction.
If you have a small independent bookstore near you, please help to keep them open by shopping there. I had hoped this article would be to announce that my book was now available in Mike’s shop, but like her I have to adopt the Amazon model as well. However, I will donate free copies to any other indie in this area to sell as they see fit. And of course I will never slow down buying books as long as there are brick and mortar stores to buy from.