Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fort Pickens - Pensacola Bay

This view of Fort Pickens was taken several years ago. The road to the fort is still closed due to hurricane damage and, although the fort is still open to the public, it can only be reached by a long walk down Santa Rosa Island or by boat.
It looks like it will be at least a couple more years before the road to the fort can be rebuilt. Santa Rosa Island is extremely sensitive from an environmental standpoint and engineers are also trying to come up with a plan for a road that has at least a chance of surviving another major hurricane.
Fort Pickens was one of the three major fortifications built by the U.S. Army to protect Pensacola Bay from foreign attack. The others were Forts McRee and Barrancas. In January of 1861, realizing that he could not hope to hold the more exposed Fort Barrancas, Lieutenant Adam Slemmer moved his small garrison of U.S. soldiers across the bay to Fort Pickens under cover of night. Southern troops demanded that he surrender the fort, but he refused. Hostilities, however, were averted by the negotiation of the "Fort Pickens Truce." The truce basically constituted an agreement that Southern troops would not attack the fort as long as Union troops did not reinforce it.
Union forces broke the truce following the bombardment and capture of Fort Sumter in Charleston by landing additional men and supplies on Santa Rosa Island. Over the months that followed, both sides built up their defenses and erected as many cannon as possible aimed at each other across the bay.
Tomorrow we'll continue our look at Fort Pickens with a posting on the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, now virtually forgotten but one of the most important early battles of the war.

Monday, October 15, 2007

One of the last real Sons of a Confederate Veteran

I had an opportunity today to spend a few minutes conversing with Mr. Newton Brooks of Chattahoochee, Florida. Mr. Brooks is one of the last real sons of a Confederate veteran. His father fought as a member of Forrest's cavalry during the campaign resulting in the Battle of Johnsonville, Tennessee.

Mr. Brooks told a fascinating story of how his father became involved with Forrest and his men. Apparently his father was too young to join the service at the time, but went to visit two older brothers who were serving in the Confederate army. Since Forrest's command was about to launch its move into Tennessee, his father simply stayed with the command and went along for the "adventure." He fought at Johnsonville and was involved in the well known capture of a Union steamboat carrying a shipment of badly needed shoes. Mr. Brooks remembers his father describing how each of the Confederates carried away several pairs of shoes, trying on various ones until they finally picked out the ones they liked best.

His father, he says, never actually enlisted in the Confederate service, but fought with Forrest's men never the less. In later years, when the state of Tennessee offered his father a Confederate pension, it was declined by Mr. Brooks' father on the grounds that the family was not in need.

The current Mr. Brooks is a fascinating individual and one of the last of a disappearing generation. But, as he put it best, he's "still kicking."

Pensacola Bay

This photograph, taken from the top of Fort Barrancas shows the modern entrance to Pensacola Bay. The inlet has shifted some since the time of the Civil War. Originally it extended to the left (east) and Foster's Bank would have been visible to the right (west). The guns of Fort Pickens swept the inlet from the left while the guns of Fort McRee formed a converging fire from the right. The heavy artillery at Fort Barrancas fired straight forward to form yet another arc of fire against any enemy vessels that might run between Pickens and McRee.
In addition, the Confederates ringed the bay with what they called "sand batteries." Earthwork emplacements constructed in the shifting white sands of the bayshore, these batteries were used during the major bombardments in November of 1862 and January of 1863. Remains of them are occasionally uncovered during construction work along the bay. A two-gun battery was uncovered during construction on the Naval Air Station several decades ago. The Navy halted its construction project and allowed archaeologists to uncover the entire battery. They found that the representative sand battery had been constructed by digging out a shallow spot in the sand and then covering it with a rough wooden floor. The front of the battery was protected by wooden barrels filled with sand. Additional sand was then heaped up in front of these to provide a rampart. The two guns of this battery were mounted on pivot carriages and the tracks for the wheels of the guns were found still in place, after having been buried in the sand for more than one century.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

First Shots of the Civil War?

This photo shows the drawbridge and sally port at Fort Barrancas. Many believe that the first hostile shots of the Civil War were actually fired here on January 6, 1861.
U.S. Army sentries were on high alert during the predawn hours that morning because of reports that state militia troops might be moving to sieze the fort. Lt. Adam Slemmer, the commander of the fort, was preparing to move his men over to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, but was concerned that state forces might move against him before he could do so. Consequently he had instructed his sentries to take no chances.
In the pre-dawn gloom, the soldiers standing guard at the sally port saw several men appear on the opposite end of the drawbridge. The mysterious figures did not respond when challenged. Following their standing orders, the sentries promptly opened fire. The strangers on the bridge scattered. The rest of the garrison was summoned to quarters, but no further action took place.
A Southern militiaman later wrote that he and a couple of his comrades had gone onto the bridge during the night and were fired on by the soldiers in the fort. No one was injured.
The incident took place months prior to the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter and three days before troops in South Carolina opened fire on the supply ship Star of the West.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fort Barrancas - Pensacola

Fort Barrancas, now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, was one of the three principal fortifications constructed by the U.S. military to protect Pensacola Bay from foreign attack. Located on the site of earlier Spanish forts, the fortification actually incorporated a Spanish water battery dating from the 1790s into its design.

In this photograph, the Spanish battery is the white structure in the left hand side of the image. Constructed of plaster-covered brick, the battery was captured by Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 and again in 1818 during the First Seminole War. To further strengthen the position, American engineers designed and constructed Fort Barrancas on the bluff above the water battery. At the same time, they refurbished the old Spanish defense and incorporated it into the design.

Fort Barrancas, the brick structure in the right of the photograph, mounted a number of pieces of heavy artillery and was of unique construction. The brick walls and arches of the fort actually held a massive mound of earth in place that incorporated the parade ground. This design resulted in a fort that was almost entirely a mound of brick and earth, making it extremely strong. The rear of the fort was protected by another high bank of earth, a dry moat and scarp and counter-scarp galleries that made the work very difficult to attack from its land face. In addition, the Advanced Redoubt (described yesterday) and a line of earthworks protected the rear of the fort during the Civil War.

The batteries at Fort Barrancas were positioned so as to cooperate with Fort Pickens and Fort McRee at the entrance of the harbor to create a brutal crossfire through which any ship attacking Pensacola would have to pass.

Ironically, the three forts that were designed and constructed to oppose a foreign invasion wound up opposing each other. Forts Barrancas and McRee, along with the Advanced Redoubt, were seized by Southern troops at the beginning of the Civil War. The Union garrison from Fort Barrancas, however, moved across the bay to Fort Pickens and refused to surrender. In November of 1861 and again in January of 1862, massive bombardments took place across the waters of the bay as the forts attempted to blast each other into submission.
Fort Barrancas is open to the public daily and is located on the Pensacola Naval Air Station. To reach the fort from Interstate 10 at Pensacola, exit onto Pine Forest Road and then turn south (right) onto Blue Angel Parkway. The Parkway will lead you to the west entrance of the Naval Air Station (just follow the signs to the Naval Aviation Museum). There you will be given a pass to visit the historic forts, lighthouse and Naval Aviation Museum. Go straight ahead from the gate and turn left at the Fort Barrancas sign just past the Naval Aviation Museum. The fort entrance is ahead on the right. There is a visitor center and bookstore on the grounds and National Park Service personnel are on hand to answer questions.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Advanced Redoubt - Pensacola

This is the Advanced Redoubt, one of four fortifications constructed by the U.S. military to defend Pensacola Bay. Now a part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, the redoubt was begun in 1845 and completed in 1860. Constructed of brick and earth, the redoubt was unique among the Pensacola fortifications in that it was designed for defense against an attack from land instead of from sea.

The fort is located several hundred yards inland from Fort Barrancas, one of the primary harbor fortifications, and was designed to be defended by infantry and light artillery. Its position allowed the Advanced Redoubt to protect the landward approaches to Fort Barrancas and to the adjacent Pensacola Navy Yard and Barrancas Post. At the time of the Civil War, the redoubt anchored a line of entrenchments stretching from Fort Barrancas across the peninsula to the large bayou in the rear.

The Advanced Redoubt never came under attack, but was occupied by Confederates in 1861-1862 and then by Federal troops for the duration of the war. Located on the Pensacola Naval Air Station, the grounds are open to the public on a daily basis and include a walking tour of the exterior of the fort. The interior of the Redoubt is sometimes open for ranger guided tours.

To visit the Redoubt and nearby Fort Barrancas, just exit off Interstate 10 onto Pine Forest Road in Pensacola and turn south on Blue Angel Parkway (follow the signs to the Naval Aviation Museum). The parkway will lead you to the west gate of the Naval Air Station where you will be given a pass to allow you to visit the old forts, Pensacola Lighthouse and, if you like, the Naval Aviation Museum. The forts are directly ahead after you enter the gate. You will see the Naval Aviation Museum on the left and will then take an immediate left at the sign pointing the way to Fort Barrancas. Barrancas is on your right after you make the turn and the Redoubt is ahead on your left. There is a visitor center and book shop at Fort Barrancas that offers interpretation for both forts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pensacola Bay

Over the next few days, we will continue a look at some Civil War points of interest around Pensacola Bay. Just as beautiful today as it was at the time of the war, Pensacola was (and is) a critical port on the Gulf of Mexico. Before the outbreak of the war, the U.S. Navy maintained a large Navy Yard here with all of the facilities necessary to repair and supply large vessels. To defend the entrance to the harbor, seen here, the government had constructed a series of large masonry fortifications. The largest of these, Fort Pickens, stood on the western end of Santa Rosa Island where its guns could sweep the harbor entrance. Directly opposite Fort Pickens stood Fort McRee, a smaller masonry fort that combined with Pickens to create a brutal crossfire through which any attacking fleet would have to pass.

On the land side of the bay stood Fort Barrancas, a third powerful fort that could bring heavy artillery to bear should an enemy vessel successfully run the gauntlet created by Forts McRee and Pickens. Immediately below Barrancas, on the same site, was the Water Battery. Originally constructed by the Spanish, this facility mounted guns that could send solid shot skipping across the water of Pensacola Bay.

Finally, to the rear of Fort Barrancas and connected to it by a line of earthworks stood the Advanced Redoubt, unique among the Pensacola fortifications because it was a masonry fort designed to protect against an attack from land instead of water.

Over the next few days we'll discuss these various fortifications and their current state of preservation. We'll also provide some information on Civil War activity in and around Pensacola Bay, so be sure to check in with us.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Christ Church in Pensacola

Pensacola's Christ Church, located in the downtown historic district facing Seville Square, is a beautiful landmark with a rich Civil War history.
When the Confederates withdrew from Pensacola in early 1862, they left the historic old church standing. Union troops, who occupied the city in the wake of the Confederate withdrawal, used the structure for a variety of purposes. It served as a hospital and was used for storage, etc., for the duration of the war. A Union field fortification stood in the square near the church.
Today the church is one of the landmarks protected as part of the Historic Pensacola Village complex. The University of West Florida provides guided tours through the church and several other nearby structures on a daily basis.
The structure is beautifully restored. Although the main sanctuary dates from the 1830s, the tower and gabled roof were added during the late 1800s.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Susannah Smith - 2nd Maine Cavalry

This photograph is one of my favorite Civil War images. Discovered in a collection of photographs of members of the 2nd Maine Cavalry, it is of a woman armed and in uniform. A notation accompanying the photograph identifies here as Susannah Smith.
The 2nd Maine spent most of its career in Florida as part of the command assigned to the District of West Florida. From its base at Barrancas Post near Pensacola, the regiment participated in numerous raids and expeditions in Northwest Florida and South Alabama. The 2nd Maine sustained its heaviest casualties during the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864.
I will confess, I know very little about this photograph. Some sources have speculated that she was a soldier in the regiment, but I also think it entirely possible that the photograph was taken as a prank. If anyone has any thoughts, I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Ocheese Landing - Apalachicola River

This photo is of Ocheese Landing, an important riverboat landing and port on the Apalachicola River in Calhoun County, Florida. Ocheese (sometimes spelled Ocheesee) had been a site of some importance for decades. An important Lower Creek village was located here at the time of the War of 1812 and during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818 the warriors of this village sided with the Seminoles and their Red Stick Creek allies against the U.S. Armies led by Andrew Jackson and Edmund P. Gaines (who later surrendered U.S. facilities in Texas at the beginning of the Civil War). In mid-December of 1817, a sharp battle was fought here between hundreds of Seminoles and Creeks lining the riverbanks and a supply flotilla of U.S. Army vessels trying to make its way upriver.

During the 1820s the site gained prominence as an important riverboat landing and by the 1830s was a community of some size. It briefly served as the county seat for Florida's short-lived Fayette County and was the location of the Jason Gregory plantation which continued to operate here through the Civil War.

Confederate troops often camped here briefly during the war and the warship C.S.S. Chattahoochee also regularly moored at Ocheese Landing during its operations on the Apalachicola. Some of the victim's of the accidental explosion and sinking of the Chattahoochee in 1863 were brought here temporarily before being taken on upriver to Chattahoochee and Columbus.

An artillery battery was established by Confederates across the river on Rock Bluff in Gadsden County and a large chain stretched across the river here to delay any attempted ascent of the river by the U.S. Navy. The earthworks of these gun emplacements can still be seen at nearby Torreya State Park as can the original Gregory plantation house, which was moved from Ocheese across the river to the park during the 1930s.

Nothing remains at all of the old town of Ocheese, although one of the large oak trees that once stood in the yard of the Gregory house can still be seen. The other was destroyed in an act of random vandalism.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Roster of the West Florida Seminary Cadets

This is a recreated roster of the Corps of Cadets from the West Florida Seminary that I was able to assemble while working on my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. The cadets played a key roll in the battle at Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865, but not all were present on the field. The younger members of the corps were held back by Confederate officers and assigned to non-combat duties in Tallahassee during the campaign. The others, however, held a salient near the center of the Confederate line and were heavily engaged in the battle.

If you know of any members I have missed, please let me know so I can verify them and add them. For more information on the Battle of Natural Bridge, please visit: www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex.

Capt. V.M. Johnson, Instructor (VMI Graduate)
J.W. Adams
William H. Anderson
Tom Archer
Jack Baker
George L. Baltzell
Charles L. Beard
Eddie Blame
Curtis Brown
Elijah Bryan
John Call
Byrd Coles - Cadet 2nd Lieutenant
Franklin P. Damon
Herman Damon
Henry Ware DeMilly
James B. Dickson
Charlie Donaldson
John Dubose
Charlie Dyke
Charlie Ellis
Tom Frazier
Lonnie Gunn
Richard Hayward
George Houston
Miles Johnson
Jessie King
Bob Ledsmith
Dan Meginais
John Milton (Joined March 5, 1865)
Charlie Mims
Charlie Munnerlyn
Tom Myers
W.W. Pearce
Charlie Pearce
William W. Perkins
Hunter Pope
Egbert Nims
Thomas A. Polhill
William F. Quaile
L.H. Raines
Arthur L. Randolph
Henry Randolph - Cadet 1st Lieutenant
William A. Rawls
Dick Saunders
D. Shepard Shine
T.G. Pratt Thompson
Sam Tonge
Luther Tucker
Milton Tucker
George Ward
J.W. Wethington - Cadet Captain
Sam Weathington

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Cadets at the Battle of Natural Bridge

While working on my new book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, I devoted considerable time to trying to identify all units that participated in the battle and as many of the individual soldiers who fought there as possible. This data was included in the appendices, which comprise about half of the volume.

Much has been written about the role of the cadets from the West Florida Seminary during the battle. These boys were really not any younger than the teenagers serving in any number of Florida units, but there is something moving in the legend of the young school boys of Tallahassee marching out to fight as tearful mothers and sisters watched them go.

In truth, the cadets were probably the best trained unit on the field at Natural Bridge. They drilled daily under the command of their instructor, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute. They had been called out at the time of the Battle of Olustee, but as best as can be determined did not arrive on that field in time to fight. The did do service after the battle, however, as guards over prisoners, etc.

By the time of Natural Bridge (March 1865), the cadets were officially considered a company in the 1st Florida Militia (the identity assigned the state's home guard units) and were one of the few properly armed and uniformed companies to fight in the battle. Most of the younger boys were left behind to perform non-combat duties in Tallahassee during the campaign, but the older ones held an important salient in the center of the Confederate line. One of the primary Union assaults was directed at their position in the defenses.

A few accounts that on the surface appear disdainful of the cadets still survive, but upon closer review it is possible to determine that these writers were actually describing one of the 1st Florida Infantry Reserve companies and not the cadets, who were at a different position in the lines.

The boys served under fire at both Newport (March 5, 1865) and Natural Bridge (March 6, 1865) and performed extremely well in battle.

For more on the Battle of Natural Bridge, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex. Also, please consider my book on the topic.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Florida's Historic "Old Capitol"

Located in the heart of downtown Tallahassee, Florida's historic "Old Capitol" building is now preserved as a museum. The central portion of the beautiful old strature dates to the 1840s.

It was here that Florida's Secession Convention in 1861 voted in favor of secession from the Union. Governors Madison Perry, John Milton and A.K. Allison all worked from an office in the Old Capitol during the Confederate era.

In addition, the building served as the primary military headquarters in Tallahassee. It was here that Major General Samuel Jones and Brigadier General William Miller developed their successful strategy for the 1865 Natural Bridge campaign. Cannon were placed here during the war and it was the sound of these guns that summoned out the local Home Guard units prior to the Battle of Natural Bridge. Following the battle, many of the Confederate troops were honored here. The ladies of Tallahassee presented the cadets from the West Florida Seminary with a new flag during a ceremony in the Old Capitol a few days after the fight at Natural Bridge.

The building was slated for demolition during the 1970s, but Floridians rose up against the plan and the Old Capitol was, instead, preserved and restored. It is now open to the public during regular hours and includes numerous exhibits on Florida's history.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Black Confederates in Florida

The subject of African Americans serving in the Confederate armies has been much debated over the last decade or so, with some holding that tens of thousands served while others have maintained that some did serve and actually fight, although usually as the servants of white Southern soldiers.

Curiously, some of the greatest evidence for active service by black Confederates comes from Florida. This is curious because the state had enacted codes that prohibited non-whites from owning or carrying firearms during the days prior to the war.

In August of 1864, a small Union force from Pensacola attacked a Confederate camp at Milton in Santa Rosa County. The Confederates were from a company of Alabama cavalry and a local militia or "home guard" company and were removing iron for use in military manufacturing. Following a running skirmish, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth reported that the 2nd Maine Cavalry had captured several of the Confederates including three armed and mounted "colored" men. The records of the Alabama unit involve do not reveal any African American members, but one member of the local home guard reported in his pension application that the prisoners were from his company. They were held briefly by the Federals and released. Their names are unknown.

During the fall of 1864, Brigadier General William Miller in Tallahassee sought and obtained permission from the Florida Legislature to conscript a force of 1,000 enslaved laborers from plantations for use in improving roads, railroads and building fortifications. By December he was able to report that 100 of these men were working on a road in Gadsden County, while others were at work on the railroad to Live Oak.

Subsequently, following the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865, Union officers reported that the Confederates had established training camps at Tallahassee and Andersonville, Georgia, and were giving military instruction to a force of more than 2,000 black soldiers. The Tallahassee camp likely included the men conscripted the previous fall by General Miller, but further research is needed to verify this.

Records also indicate that during the spring of 1865, shortly before the end of the war, Major General Samuel Jones issued orders from Tallahassee naming white captains for companies of "Negro troops" then being formed across the state. What became of these units at the end of the war is not known. They were not included in Jones' surrender and apparently just disbanded.

Additionally, at least one African American is known to have served with the Confederate artillery at the Battle of Natural Bridge. Washington Taylor was a member of Captain Patrick Houstoun's Kilcrease Light Artillery. He appears on the muster rolls of the unit, along with the notation "Negro." He has a Confederate service record that indicates he was a cook.

I would love to hear from anyone with family connections to African American soldiers who served in either the Union or Confederate forces in Florida. Documenting their experiences would prove valuable to future generations.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Return of the Flag of the 4th Florida Infantry

This photograph, taken during the United Confederate Veterans reunion in Marianna on September 27, 1927, shows the return to Florida of the regimental flag of the 4th Florida Infantry. The colors were captured by the 111th Ohio at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, on November 30, 1864. The three men in the center of the photograph were Union veterans from Ohio. The identity of the man on the left is not known, but he appears to be a Florida Confederate veteran.

The 4th Florida could only be described as a "fighting" regiment. When formed in 1862, the regiment included 926 men and 47 officers. When it surrendered in North Carolina at the end of the war, only 23 were left. At Stones River, the 4th carried 458 men into battle and in two days of fighting lost 163 killed and wounded and 31 missing. By the time of the Battle of Chattanooga, only 172 men were left. After the battle, there were only 18. The entire rest of the regiment was either killed, wounded or captured.
During the Atlanta campaign, the 4th was consolidated with the 1st Florida Cavalry (dismounted) and the two regiments fought combined during the rest of the Atlanta and during the Franklin and Nashville Campaign. During Hood's ill-fated charge against the Union forces at Franklin, the consolidated 1st and 4th Regiments were severely mauled and the 4th lost its regimental colors.

For many years after the war, Confederate veterans gathered in Marianna on the anniversary of the 1864 Battle of Marianna. The 1927 observance was marked by the return of the colors of the 4th Florida to their rightful home.