Saturday, May 15, 2010

Egmont Key - A Station on the Florida Blockade

One of the guardians of sand that flank the main channel leading into Tampa Bay, Egmont Key is a barrier island on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It is also one of the most significant historic sites in the state.

Used as an internment camp during the Third Seminole War, the island had been the location of an important lighthouse since the 1830s. The original structure, however, had been badly damaged in the Great Hurricane of 1848 and its replacement had just been completed in 1858. The War Between the States erupted a short time later and Southern forces removed the lens to prevent the light from assisting the Union navy in its efforts to navigate the coast.

The Federals responded by occupying the island. A sketch drawn in 1862 shows the Stars and Stripes flying from the top of the lighthouse as small vessels move offshore. The lighthouse tower was used as an observation platform and the navy began resettling refugees on the key during the same year. By the end of the Civil War, it had become the location of an important refugee camp where Southern Unionists came to escape the Confederacy.

Union blockade ships regularly stopped at the island for information and to deliver food. Its location at the mouth of Tampa Bay made Egmont Key an important point on the blockade and the presence of the refugee camp there also made it a key recruiting station for the Federal army. A number of men from the island volunteered for service in the 2nd Florida U.S. Cavalry, a Union regiment raised in Florida. The navy continued to provide food for their families while they served.

The island today is preserved as Egmont Key State Park. The old lighthouse still stands and visitors can also explore what remains of Fort Dade, an important artillery post dating from the Spanish American War. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/egmontkey.

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