Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Battle of Bayport, Florida - A Civil War action in Hernando County

On April 3, 1863, a flotilla of small boats from three Union warships attacked the Confederate harbor of Bayport in Hernando County, Florida. Although the resulting action has often been overlooked, it should rightfully be called the Battle of Bayport.

Bayport was a small but bustling commercial port during the years before the War Between the States. Located along the Florida coast north of Tampa Bay, the small harbor could not handle large ships, but could be navigated by the small schooners and sloops then common in Florida waters. When the war began and the Union blockade became reality, Bayport was converted into a port for the blockade runners that operated from the various small inlets along Florida's Gulf Coast.

By early 1863, Union warships were on station at Tampa Bay, Cedar Key, St. Marks, Apalachicola, St. Joseph Bay, St. Andrew Bay and Choctawhatchee Bay. With these larger harbors all but closed to Confederate commerce, the captains of blockade runners turned their attention to points such as Bayport.

After the Union navy learned that a surprising number of Southern sloops and schooners were operating out of the port, a decision was made to attack. On the night of April 2, 1863, boats set out from three warships operating offshore and at 9 a.m. the next morning, the attack began. Six blockade runners were in port at the time of the raid and since Bayport was defended by an artillery battery and Confederate infantry, it did not take long for fighting to break out.

Confederate artillery from the Bayport battery opened fire with solid shot from 900 yards and the Union boats returned fire with their howitzers once they closed to within 400 yards. For the better part of an hour, the two sides blasted away at each other, but casualties and damage were minimal. At the same time, the Confederate infantry opened fire with rifles from various points around the channel. It was long range firing, but two of the Union sailors were wounded.

The Battle of Bayport ended with two of the blockade runners on fire, one burned by the Federals and the other burned by the Confederates to prevent her capture. It was a partial success for the Union, but the sailors did not achieve what they had hoped and finally rowed away under fire from a rifled field piece brought up by the Confederates.

I have to say that I was stunned when I searched out Bayport. It is now the site of a recreational park that is simply one of the most beautiful in Florida. The very nice pier gives a panoramic view of not only the inlet at Bayport, but the Gulf of Mexico beyond and the coastal marshes and channels that were used as hiding places by blockade runners during the Civil War. The park is less than fifteen minutes from Florida's famed Weekiwachee Springs. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bayportbattle.

1 comment:

RoadDog said...

Another one of those little-known Florida actions.

These are the blockade-runners that have just recently been "found."

Keep up the great work on this and your other blogs.