Sunday, June 27, 2010

Battle of Crystal River, Florida - An Incident on the Gulf

As the blockade tightened on the coast of Florida in the summer of 1862, numerous small raids and encounters resulted. Usually these were instigated by the Union Navy, but occasionally Confederates struck back, as they did on the Crystal River in June of 1862.

As the number of Federal warships on the coastline grew, the captains commanding them demonstrated clear predictability in their actions. When they spotted a small schooner or sloop at the mouth of an inlet or river, for example, they usually dispatched armed sailors in a small boat to capture it. Blockade runners usually carried cotton or other products that increased their value and in those days, the crews of U.S. warships shared in the value of the prizes they seized.

Noticing how the blockaders usually responded to sighting a vessel, a group of Confederates on the lower Crystal River laid a trap that would prove wildly successful. Using a small sloop as a decoy, they led Acting Master David Stearns and 7 armed sailors into the mouth of the river. As a squall blew up and concealed the boat from the view of the U.S.S. Beauregard which lay offshore, the Confederates aboard the sloop drew Stearns and his men into an ambush.

The fight left five of the Union sailors dead on the spot. Another, Stearns himself, was mortally wounded and died later in the day. Curiously, his name was preserved in local legend as "Captain Ireland," an indication that he may have been an Irish captain. The other two members of his party were taken prisoner. One immediately switched sides and joined the Confederates. The other proved to be a runaway slave and was immediately hanged by his captors.

The incident has been remembered on the coast as the Battle of Crystal River. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/crystalriverbattle.

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