Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Battle of St. Johns Bluff - Jacksonville, Florida

One of the least known yet most significant battles in Florida took place during the first days of October 1862 at St. Johns Bluff, the key to the city of Jacksonville.

Union troops or the Federal navy had already occupied virtually other key port in the state, leaving only Jacksonville. Confederate engineers had done their best to protect the vital city by constructing batteries and massive earthwork fortifications at St. Johns Bluff on the south side of the St. Johns River and Yellow Bluff on the north side. While the Southern troops never had time to arm the works at Yellow Bluff, the fort at St. Johns Bluff was finished and was bristling with cannon and defenses when the Union fleet appeared off the mouth of the river.

Three Union warships moved up and opened fire on the St. Johns Bluff batteries on October 1, 1862, and the Confederates in the fort responded with determined cannon fire of their own. A spirited artillery exchange continued for some time before the gunboats withdrew. The attack was a test of the Southern defenses and quickly convinced Federal officers that the fort could only be taken by a combined land and sea attack. Troops were landed, but the difficult terrain surrounding the mouth of the St. Johns proved to be an additional natural defense and it took them until October 3rd to get into position to join the attack.

When the Union gunboats moved forward again, however, there was no response from the cannon of the fort. A boat party went ashore and found, to the surprise of the entire Federal force, that St. Johns Bluff had been abandoned. The gateway to Jacksonville was open and the city fell to Union troops just two days later. Confederate General Joseph Finegan called the retreat by the garrison at St. Johns Bluff "a gross military blunder."

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