Sunday, December 12, 2010

Aboard the U.S.S. Hendrick Hudson off St. Marks, Florida

St. Marks Lighthouse
In the month of January 1865, Northern newspapers reported much speculation that Confederate forces were preparing to open St. Marks in North Florida as a major port for blockade runners.

It is unclear from the available documentation how true the reports were. The U.S. Envoy in Havana, Cuba, had notified the Collector of the Port of New York that, "the secessionists in Havana are making efforts to stake out the harbor of St. Marks as a new port for blockade runners, so that they may enter with steamers in the night time." There is also evidence that some efforts to stake out the channel of the lower St. Marks River were underway in January and February of 1864.

The speculation surrounding St. Marks began after Union forces captured Fort Fisher at Wilmington, North Carolina. The capture of that massive earthwork led to the closure of the port of Wilmington, one of the last safe havens for blockade runners making their way into the Confederacy.
U.S.S. Hendrick Hudson

The entrance to the St. Marks River was blockaded in early 1865 by the U.S.S. Hendrick Hudson. Commanded by Charles H. Rockwell, the son of a Reformed Dutch Church pastor in Catskill, New York, the ship had once been the Confederate blockade runner Florida. Captured at St. Andrew Bay (today's Panama City) earlier in the war, the steamer was converted to a warship by the Union navy and assigned to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron.

I recently found a short letter written from aboard the Hudson by Rockwell to his father that I thought might be of interest. It was received in January of 1865:

  My ship, the Hendrick Hudson, is a very fine vessel of seven guns and one hundred and twenty officers and men, and, in case of emergency, can go as fast as most others. I have three vessels under my command, and shall be for some time very busy in conducting operations against the enemy in this vicinity. These consist of small expeditions, conducted with a view to surprise them, and accomplish the object desired. - C.H. Rockwell."

You can learn more about the historic fortifications of St. Marks at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanmarcos1 and the beautiful old St. Marks Lighthouse at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stmarkslight.

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