"In this conflict the baseness, cruelty and perfidy of our foe have exceeded precedent," Governor John Milton of Florida wrote the Legislature. "They have developed a character so odious that death would be preferable to reunion with them."
Evidently, Milton meant it. The war was ending. Florida was broke and occupied by Union forces. Milton expressed his views to the Legislature before returning to his family's Sylvannia Plantation on April 1, 1865. On arrival, Milton inflicted a fatal gunshot to his head. He was 57 years old.
Having been elected before Florida's secession, both the Federal and Confederate governments considered Milton the lawful governor. It was complicated. The Union would continuously occupy several federal installations throughout the war. The bulk of the Confederacy's coastline was in the state. Thus, Florida became the target of most of the blockade.
Nevertheless, Milton vigorously backed the Confederacy. Milton built an active state militia, provided the Confederacy with an important source of food and salt and attempted to seize any Union strongholds in the state. He even named his youngest child, born in 1861, Jefferson Davis Milton.
Milton was vocal on his thoughts regarding trade and blockade runners. As a cotton plantation owner with over 2600 acres, Milton advocated cutting off trade in cotton to, "all foreign countries which refuse or hesitate to recognize the independence of the Confederate States."
Milton was against blockade running to obtain "guns, firearms and munitions of war" as many of the vessels were captured with the result "our enemies have been armed at our expense for our subjugation."
Milton also felt that the blockade runners' focus on profit had a negative impact on Florida's efforts as a supply chain. He wrote to CS Secretary of War Seddon, "the wives and children of Soldiers in Virginia and Tennessee are threatened with starvation ... (because) I find it impossible to procure teams to transport provisions in consequence of the interference by speculators engaged in the violation of the blockade who are demoralizing our army and a portion of our citizens."
Before the war, Milton survived a deadly steamboat accident. On July 1, 1845, he was scalded by steam from a ruptured boiler. Family lore asserts that a not uncommon percussion cap accident was the cause of Milton's death.
According to the Governor's son, Major William H. Milton, his father had come home from Tallahassee depressed over the collapsing fate of the Confederacy. As his father enjoyed bird hunting, the Major suggested that they go out in the fields and shoot. The Governor agreed and went to his bedroom to retrieve his shotgun. Suddenly, the family heard the sound of a shattering blast.
Major Milton claims that everyone had forgotten the gun had been previously loaded at the time of the nearby Battle of Marianna. When the Governor set the stock on the floor, the bump caused the hammer to press against the percussion cap which caused the shotgun to fire, killing his father.
All the same, the president of the Florida Senate, Abraham K. Allison, was sworn in as governor of Florida later that day. Milton is buried at Saint Luke's Episcopal Cemetery in Marianna.