Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Anniversary of the Seizure of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee

Today marks the 148th anniversary of the 1861 seizure by state troops of the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee, Florida. It was the first significant incident of the Civil War in Florida.

The seizure of the arsenal was one of the Civil War incidents I covered in depth in my recent book, The Early History of Gadsden County. Over the next few days I will post the arsenal seizure story from Chapter 18 of the book here at Civil War Florida.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the entire book, it can be ordered by clicking here.

-Excerpt One -

Capture of the U.S. Arsenal

The surrender of Pascofa in 1843 brought peace to Gadsden County, but as had so often been the case in the early history of the area, it was not to last. Less than two decades passed before the people of the county once again found themselves facing the prospect of war. The enemy this time was not war parties of Creeks and Seminoles, but rather the military might of the United States of America.

Decades of bitter dispute between North and South had produced explosive tension that by 1860 needed only a spark to ignite. The spark proved to be the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States. Although Lincoln expressed no desire to interfere with domestic institutions (such as slavery), the bitter political dispute had gone too far. South Carolina seceded from the Union and other states – including Florida – planned conventions to follow suit.
The political move to secession was accompanied by military preparations, in the anticipation that the Northern states might fight to hold the Southern states in the Union. In late 1859, the Florida Legislature approved a reorganization of the state’s militia. The new law placed the militia west of the Suwannee River, including Gadsden County’s units, in the First Division. Each division was divided into brigades, with Gadsden County’s companies becoming part of the Second Brigade, and each brigade was then filled by regiments assembled by state senate district.
On March 7, 1860, Governor Madison S. Perry called for a statewide election to fill the officer corps of the newly organized militia. The governor’s proclamation required the men of Gadsden County to vote for a major general of the First Division, brigadier general of the Second Brigade and a colonel, lieutenant colonel and major for the 7th Regiment, which was to be raised in Gadsden and Liberty Counties. Each company was also instructed to elect a captain, 1st lieutenant and 2nd lieutenant.
William Gunn of Quincy was elected as colonel of the 7th Regiment. Although he and his men could not have known it at the time, the Gadsden County unit would take the first action of the War Between the States in Florida.
As it became obvious that Florida would secede from the Union, the state’s senators and congressman in Washington began an obvious effort to learn as much as they could about the armament and supplies on hand at Federal military posts in the state. On January 2, 1861, Senators David L. Yulee and Stephen R. Mallory wrote to the Secretary of War from the Senate Chamber in the U.S. Capitol, requesting that they be provided with the number of troops and “amount of arms, heavy and small, and ammunition, fixed and loose, and the various forts and arsenals at that state.”
There was then only one arsenal in Florida, the U.S. Arsenal at Chattahoochee. Acting Secretary of War J. Holt went so far as to request that the Ordnance Office provide him with the information requested by Florida’s senators, although he apparently had no intention of giving it to them. The information was provided on January 3rd by Captain William Maynadier:
…There is only one arsenal in the State of Florida, and that is one of deposit only. It is called Apalachicola Arsenal, and is situated near the town of Chattahoochee, at the junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers. The arms, ammunition, &c., now at that post, are one 6-pounder iron gun and carriage, with 326 shot and canisters for the same, 57 flintlock muskets, 5,122 pounds of powder, 173,476 cartridges for small-arms, and a small quantity of different kinds of accouterments.

Yulee and Mallory tried again to obtain the information on January 7th, but the Secretary of War informed them on the 8th that the “interests of the service forbid that the information which you ask should at this moment be made public.”
Although the senators did not know it, the matter was no longer an issue by the time of their second request. Anticipating that the U.S. government might try to reinforce or remove the arms and ammunition, Governor Madison S. Perry took the first action of the war in Florida by ordering Colonel Gunn and the 7th Regiment from Gadsden County to seize the arsenal:

Sir: Reposing special confidence in your patriotism, discretion, and integrity, I hereby authorize and empower you to raise a company of picked men and proceed to the Apalachicola River and seize and possess the arsenal, arms, ammunition, stores, buildings, and other property now in the possession of the General Government, and retain the same subject to my orders. You are requested to act with secrecy and discretion. You are further authorized to call out the Seventh Regiment Florida Militia for all aid in its power to render that you may deem necessary to retain occupation of said arsenal.

- End of Excerpt -

I will post more from this chapter in the next post.

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