Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31, 1861 - The Month of Secession comes to an End

Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee
This posting concludes a month-long series on the military aspects of Florida's Secession from the Union, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 31, 1861

As the month of January 1861 came to an end, Floridians found themselves as members of a controversial but fledgling independent republic. In fact, the state had become one of the least populated independent republics in the world.

The free and slave population of Florida combined had totaled only 140,424 people of all ages in the 1860 census. Of all the states east of the Mississippi at that time, only Delaware had fewer people. Of this total, only 19,605 were white males aged 15-49, the primary demographic for military service in the coming war, and some of these were certain to take up the Union cause.

U.S.S. Wyandotte at Pensacola, 1861
Governor Madison S. Perry had anticipated the coming of secession and had moved aggressively to organize the state's militia and even to move against U.S. military installations. The Apalachicola Arsenal at Chattahoochee; Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marcos) and the St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine; and Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee, the Advanced Redoubt and the Navy Yard at Pensacola were in the hands of the state by the end of January. State forces had also begun construction of an earthwork battery called Fort Steele at Mayport at the mouth of the St. Johns River to defend Jacksonville.

Fort Clinch on Amelia Island, still in an unfinished state, remained nominally in Federal hands as no Florida troops had been sent to take it, while Fort Taylor and the East and West Martello Towers in Key West, Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas and Fort Pickens at Pensacola Bay remained firmly in possession of the United States.

Lt. Adam J. Slemmer, U.S. Army
As circumstances would soon prove, the most important military post in Florida was likely Fort Pickens. The state, with help from Alabama and Mississippi, had marshaled a sufficient force to storm it, but January came to an end with no such move having been taken. Colonel William H. Chase, assigned to command the secessionist troops at Pensacola Bay, had delivered three surrender ultimatums before finally hesitating to act for so long that Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer and his force of fewer than 100 U.S. soldiers and sailors had been able to mount sufficient artillery to defend the fort. January ended with Chase and former U.S. Senator Stephen R. Mallory promising President James Buchanan that they would not attack at all so long as U.S. troops did not reinforce Fort Pickens. The so-called Fort Pickens Truce all but guaranteed that the fort would remain in Union hands and that Pensacola Bay would be useless to either the State of Florida or the Confederacy.

Florida would spend only one month as an independent republic. The secession convention had authorized the state to send delegates to a meeting of the Southern states set for February in Montgomery, Alabama. That meeting would lead to the formation of the Confederate States of America. But for one month, from early January to early February of 1861, the flags (there were more than one) of an independent nation flew proudly over the public buildings and military positions of the state.

To learn more about the historic sites and points of interest in Florida, please visit

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29, 1861 - The Fort Pickens Truce

Inside Fort Pickens by an Officer, 1861
This is part of a month-long series on the secession of Florida, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 29, 1861

Less than 24 hours after he was notified of the telegram from former U.S. Senator Stephen R. Mallory of Florida pledging not to attack Fort Pickens if the United States did not reinforce it, President James Buchanan issued the following order:

Upon receiving satisfactory assurances from Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase that Fort Pickens will not be attacked, you are instructed not to land the company on board the Brooklyn, unless said fort shall be attacked, or preparations made for its attack. The provisions necessary for the supply of the fort you will land. The Brooklyn and the other vessels of war on the station will remain, and you will exercise the utmost vigilance, and be prepared at a moment’s warning to land the company at Fort Pickens, and you and they will instantly repel any attack on the fort. - President James Buchanan, January 29, 1861.

The orders officially put what became known as the Fort Pickens Truce into place. The agreement between President Buchanan in Washington, D.C., and  Mallory and Chase in Pensacola all but ended any plans by state forces to take Fort Pickens. The fort would not be reinforced by Union troops until April, when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, and by then the fort had been so prepared defense that any attempt to storm it was unlikely to succeed.

While he negotiated the Fort Pickens Truce in hopes of avoiding bloodshed and preventing war, Stephen Mallory undoubtedly came to regret the agreement. He soon assumed new duties as Secretary of the Navy for the Confederate States of America only to find one of the South's finest deepwater ports blocked not by the Union navy, but by Fort Pickens. As long as the massive armament of the powerful fortress commanded the entrance to Pensacola Bay, Mallory could make but little use of the outstanding facilities at the Pensacola Navy Yard (where the U.S.S. Pensacola had been constructed before the war). With its ship-building facilities, the yard could have helped the Confederacy launch a real blue water navy. Instead, the Fort Pickens Truce assured that the new nation would never have the chance to do so.

Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28, 1861 - An Overture from Florida to the U.S government

Stephen R. Mallory
This is part of a month-long series on the military aspects of Florida's Secession from the Union, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 28, 1861

As more than 1,000 volunteer soldiers from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi sat and stewed over their inactivity in camps lining Pensacola Bay, recently resigned U.S. Senator Stephen R. Mallory made an overture that would guarantee that the men's efforts had been in vain.

Mallory had just arrived back at his Pensacola home from Washington, D.C., to find how close to war his home city had come. With militia forces drilling and U.S. soldiers frantically mounting artillery in Fort Pickens, the future Confederate Secretary of the Navy realized that the spark that would ignite war going be struck at Pensacola at any minute.

After conferring with Colonel William H. Chase, who commanded the state forces gathered at Pensacola, Mallory sent a telegram to Senators John Slidell of Louisiana, Robert Hunter of Virginia and William Bigler of Pennsylvania, all of whom were still serving in the U.S. Senate on January 28, 1861. Slidell and Hunter would soon resign, while Bigler's term ended soon in March of 1861. All three were Democrats and had been close friends of Mallory during his years in Congress.

The purpose of the telegram was to offer a deal to President James Buchanan, who was in the final months of his Presidency. If Buchanan would not reinforce Fort Pickens, Mallory offered, the state forces at Pensacola would not attack the fort.

The overture would lead one day later to what became known as the Buchanan or Fort Pickens Truce. While Mallory's intent was to avoid bloodshed or an outbreak of war at Pensacola Bay, the truce would guarantee that Fort Pickens would remain in Union hands throughout the war. This would have dire consequences on the hopes of independence for the Southern states. I'll post more on that tomorrow.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 27, 1861 - Impatience at Pensacola Bay

Flag flown by State Troops at Pensacola
This is part of a month-long series on the Secession of Florida, which took place 150 years ago.

January 27, 1861

As January of 1861 neared an end, the standoff at Pensacola Bay continued to drag on. Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer and his small band of U.S. soldiers and sailors remained safely behind the walls of Fort Pickens, while a growing force of Southern troops continued to drill and mount guns at positions ringing the bay.

As was the case with volunteers turning out in states across the South, the soldiers from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi at Pensacola were enthusiastic and eager for action. As the days dragged on, they chafed at the idea of being forced to wait day after day instead of moving immediately on Lieutenant Slemmer and his men in Fort Pickens.

A good account of the mood in the camps appeared in late January in the Mobile News:

Camp at at Pensacola Bay, 1861
There is a vast deal of impatience and discontent among the troops, especially in our regiment. The men are "eager for the fray," and are very free and outspoken in their criticism upon the loss of time by delay and inactivity. If something is not done here by next Tuesday, there will be a revolt against the commanders. I and my friends propose to leave on that day. I have no time to waste in garrison duty. I submit to military prudence by withholding at present any discussion of the means proper to be used to take the fort. I will say, however, that it can be taken by our present force in twenty-four hours. I have prepared the plan, and it has been discussed day and night in my room, by numbers of officers. I have submitted it to two resigned officers of the navy, and they heartily approve it. At a proper time I shall make it public. - Unidentified Soldier from Alabama, January 1861.

The Alabama soldier who wrote of his dissatisfaction was encamped near Fort Barrancas on the mainland and wrote that his regiment was quartered in the former Marine Hospital at the Pensacola Navy Yard. It was possible, he said, to see the looming cannon of Fort Pickens from the building's piazza:

Navy Yard by an Officer at Fort Pickens, 1861
...Nearly all the guns have been shifted to the land side, and the most active preparations have been made for defence. Our preparations consist in four Dahlgren long thirty-two guns mounted at the Navy-Yard, to rake the Bay, and prevent any vessels from coming inside Fort Pickens. -- At Fort Barrancas we have mounted about twenty-five 32-pounders. At Fort McCree there are four Columbiads and a large number of heavy guns, none mounted, unless it has been done to-day. Fort Pickens mounts 215 guns, and requires a garrison of 2,000 men. -- Its present garrison consists, as far as we can ascertain with certainty, of 83 soldiers. Some sailors have been sent to it from the ship steamer Wyandotte and the storeship Supply. It is supposed that they could not spare more than fifty men. If this supposition is correct, the garrison does not exceed 133 men. A majority of this number of this number are believed to be disaffected and averse to fighting us, but are compelled by military discipline.

Despite the desire of such men as the letter writer for action, however, Colonel William H. Chase continued to hold off on moving against Fort Pickens. January 27, 1861, passed without action at Pensacola Bay, giving Lieutenant Slemmer and his men another day to improve their defenses and prepare for action.

To learn more about Fort Pickens, please visit

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 26, 1861 - Amnesty for Suspects from the "Calhoun County War"

Governor Madison S. Perry
This is part of a month-long series on the Secession of Florida, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 26, 1861

A remarkable event took place in Florida 150 years ago today when Governor Madison S. Perry, who was leading an insurrection against the Federal government, pardoned another group of men who had been arrested the previous fall for doing exactly the same thing. The following item appeared in the Tallahassee Floridian on January 26, 1861:

A proclamation has been issued by Governor Perry, in accordance with instructions proceeding from the State Convention, declaring an amnesty for offences committed against the criminal laws of the State in the counties in Calhoun and Franklin during the past year - Tallahassee Floridian, January 26, 1861.

The "offences committed" were part of an uprising that began on September 24, 1860, in Calhoun County when a band of armed men attacked members of the Durden and Musgrove families:

Photo Courtesy of Justin Hall
...Yesterday in Calhoun, styling themselves 'Regulators,' went to the house of one Jesse Durden, and we learn shot him, giving him a mortal wound. They then met and shot Willis Musgrove from his horse, who died instantly, also wounding Larkin C. Musgrove. These are the facts as we have been able to gather them, but it is believed that last night another battle was fought between the Regulators and the Durdens. All this happened near Abe's Spring Bluff, in Calhoun Co. - Marianna Patriot, September 25, 1860.

The outbreak quickly grew into a situation of all out war in Calhoun County, with the regulators threatening to drive all persons from the county who were not approved by them. Circuit Judge J.J. Finley (soon to become a Confederate officer) declared that an insurrection was underway and ordered out the state militia from Jackson, Gadsden and Liberty Counties. Led by Brigadier General William E. Anderson of Marianna, the state troops marched into Calhoun County to the home of U.S. District Judge McQueen McIntosh at West Wynnton. From a camp there, the soldiers moved through Calhoun County to round up the leaders of both sides in the "war," 

A total of 57 men were arrested by the militia. Thirty of these were released on bond while another 27 were escorted to jails in Marianna and Apalachicola pending trial. The first of the insurgents, a man named King, was acquitted by a jury in November of 1860 and the others were sent to Marianna to stand trial. 

Governor Perry's order, however, pardoned them for all offenses and as a group they entered the growing military forces of the state.

If you would like to read more about the "Calhoun County War," please see my book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years, which includes a detailed account of the incident. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25, 1861 - Fort being constructed at the Mouth of the St. Johns River

Mouth of the St. Johns River
This is part of a month-long series on the Secession of Florida.

January 25, 1861

When Florida seceded from the Union, the citizens of Jacksonville found themselves completely without defenses. Unlike Pensacola, Key West, St. Augustine and Fernandina, the important Atlantic Coast port had no large masonry forts to protect it from enemy attack.

With the St. Johns River providing a gateway deep into the eastern portions of Florida, state forces moved immediately to prepare defenses for the city. Within days of the secession of the state, attention was given to a site at Mayport on the south side of the mouth of the river. The start of construction on what would become known as Fort Steele was detailed in the Jacksonville Mirror on January 19, 1861:

Capt. Holmes Steele, with a detachment of his gallant company, proceeded to St. Augustine a few days ago, and have succeeded in transporting four 32-pounders from the fort at that place to the mouth of the St. Johns, to be placed in position to command the entrance of the river, and one 10-pounder, to be placed at some point upon the river between the mouth and Jacksonville. Those guns were transported by teams upon timber carts under an escort of fifteen men. The volunteers, with a large negro force, are throwing up earth-works and excavating ditches for the defence of their position. - Jacksonville Mirror, January 19, 1861.

The cannon came from the old Spanish fortress Castillo de San Marcos, then called Fort Marion, which had been occupied by state troops on January 7th. 

Work on Fort Steele continued through the end of January and the fort would serve as a front line defense for Jacksonville for months to come. It stood on the site of today's naval base and no trace of the earthworks remain.

To learn more about other historic sites in the Jacksonville area, however, please visit

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24, 1861 - The U.S.S. Brooklyn sails for Fort Pickens

U.S.S. Brooklyn  (Library of Congress)
This is part of a month-long series on the military aspects of Florida's Secession from the Union, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 24, 1861

 Although he often is described by modern writers as a man who wavered in the face of the secession of the Southern states, President James Buchanan authorized expedition that set sail 150 years ago to reinforce Fort Pickens. It was a movement that easily could have sparked the Civil War that leaders of both sides claimed to hope to avoid.

In a well-known secret, the U.S.S. Brooklyn steamed out of Hampton Roads, Virginia, en route to Pensacola Bay. On board were reinforcements for the beleaguered Union garrison of Fort Pickens, as well as needed supplies for the fort. The two companies of artillerymen were commanded by Captain Israel Vogdes.

The departure of the Brooklyn, a powerful steam and sail powered warship, was known immediately in the Southern states, as is evidenced by a report that appeared in the Richmond Daily Appeal the next day:

President James Buchanan
The U. S. steam sloop of war Brooklyn, which had been lying off Fort Monroe since her return from Charleston, went to sea yesterday on another peaceful mission. She is ordered to intercept Government vessels heretofore authorized to go into Pensacola and prevent their doing so, in order to obviate trouble--first, by the attempt which the Floridians might make to seize and hold them; and secondly, as consequent upon this State action bloodshed and other serious losses. Before leaving Hampton Roads, however, she received on board, from the fort, two companies of artillery, under Capts. Vodges and Langhorne, a step which, we presume, is only precautionary. - Richmond Daily Appeal, January 24, 1861.

While the Richmond paper's account of the mission of the Brooklyn was inaccurate, its details regarding her destination and the strength of the army force aboard was startlingly correct.  President Buchanan had ordered the vessel to proceed to Pensacola Bay where the troops under Captain Vogdes were to be landed to reinforce the garrison holding Fort Pickens. Vogdes would then take command of the fort from Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, who had been holding out in the face of repeated demands from state troops that he surrender the post.

The move by Buchanan held every potential of igniting the spark that would start war between North and South. Any attempt to reinforce Fort Pickens would likely cause Confederate forces not only to open fire on the Brooklyn but to launch an attempt to storm the fort. Blood would be shed and the fate of the Union and the newly declared Southern republics would be decided by a conflict of arms.

To learn more about Pensacola and its historic forts, please visit

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23, 1861 - A Deserter's Account of Fort Pickens

Inside Fort Pickens by an officer, 1861
This is part of a month-long series on the Secession of Florida, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 23, 1861

Southern newspaper readers were fascinated on this date today by the unique observations of a deserter from Fort Pickens at Pensacola. Although the identity of the man was not given, his account of the strength of the fort appeared in the Richmond Daily Dispatch 150 years ago today:

Fort Pickens, with 200 U. S. soldiers, and mounting 212 guns, is commanded by Lieut. Slimmer, a native of New England, who refuses to surrender. A deserter of it says: 

Land Face of Fort Pickens
Under the protection of its immense batteries the ships of an enemy could make good their harbor in the Bay of Pensacola, or if they did not care to run the risk from shore batteries, which could not be in very dangerous range, they could land forces and supplies on the fort to the eastward on Santa Rosa Island, which is some forty miles long, and thus throw in reinforcements and rendezvous even an army at the fort without interruption, unless of a force intrenched on the island itself, in the rear of the fort — which, however, is almost if not quite as defensible from rear as front. If we are to have war, the seizure of this stronghold is, of course, of the first importance, for unless it is occupied by us it will secure to the enemy a base of operation along our whole Gulf coast, and keep open a road right into the heart of the South, which cannot be obstructed by any fixed fortifications.

Officer's Sketch of Fort Pickens, 1861
If it is to be seized by direct power of arms, it will not be by a force coming under its guns from the water approach. It must be stormed by a sudden attack from a heavy force concentrated on the island to the eastward, which will take it with a Zouave-like rush in double quick time — pouring into it in such numbers as to at once overpower every chance of resistance on the part of the garrison. Though done in the night, and with the quickest movement, and though escaping loss from the batteries in the approach, the work at the walls will be a bloody business if the garrison have a mind to make it so.

The commander has committed the same act of hostility that Anderson did at Moultrie, but we do believe that he will soon surrender the fort, as the commandant at Baton Rouge did the arsenal, on the grounds of the presence of an overwhelming force, and the plea of avoiding useless blood shedding. He is reported to have said he would not fire on his countrymen. We do not believe that he will. 

The editor's belief that Lieutenant Adam Slemmer in Fort Pickens would not fire on Southern forces does not coincide with the statements provided by the officer himself in his reports to Washington, D.C. He planned to defend the fort by all means at his disposal and was fully prepared to shed the blood of any attacking force to do so.

To learn more about Fort Pickens, please visit

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22, 1861 - The Confrontation Grows at Pensacola

Advanced Redoubt
This is part of a month-long series on the military aspects of the Secession of Florida from the Union, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 22, 1861

The confrontation between Southern forces and the small group of U.S. soldiers and sailors holding Fort Pickens continued to grow late in the month of January. Cities both North and South watched and waited, citizens fearing that conflict could erupt at any minute.

In the North, people were able to follow the developments through dispatches telegraphed from Pensacola and New Orleans and published in newspapers across the Union. The following examples are from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 19. – In reply to the demand for two thousand troops by the Governor of Florida, the Mayor of this city sent word that the men could be raised in forty-eight hours if Florida would equip them. The Governor of Florida replied “send them immediately.

There is great excitement here, and meetings are being held to to-morrow to raise the men.

Pensacola Bay from Fort Barrancas
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 19. – The pilots of Pensacola have been notified not to bring in United States vessels under the penalty of death.

A ship is ashore nineteen miles east of Fort Pickens, supposed to be the store ship Supply….

PENSACOLA, Jan. 18. – A force of two thousand men have been concentrated in and about the Navy Yard, under the direction of State authorities, and troops are arriving from all directions.

The U.S. steamer Wyandotte is lying at the entrance of the harbor, and is communicating with Fort Pickens. The families of the U.S. officers stationed at the Fort have been placed on board the steamer, which is out of coal and other supplies, but is not allowed to enter the harbor.

Learn more about the history of Pensacola and the forts there at

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 21, 1861 - Yulee, Mallory and Hawkins Resign from Congress

David Levy Yulee
Part of a month-long series on the Secession of Florida which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 21, 1861

The secession of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi took on stark meaning to the rest of the United States on this date in 1861.

Unofficially led by Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, a group of U.S. Senators and Representatives from the seceded states resigned from their posts in the U.S. Congress. Among the men in the group were Senators David Levy Yulee and Stephen R. Mallory and Representative George S. Hawkins, all of Florida. It was reported that Mallory had tears in his eyes as he delivered his farewell address from the floor of the Senate Chamber.

The three men were among the most distinguished Floridians ever to serve the state in Washington D.C.

David Levy Yulee, for example, was a leading Florida planter, businessman and industrialist. He built the first railroad to link the Atlantic Coast of the state with the Gulf. Cars had just begun rolling the full length of the railroad from Fernandina on the Atlantic to Cedar Key on the Gulf when the secession crisis erupted. Before the war ended he would see one of his houses burned to the ground and great damage done to his commercial interests. His name is memorialized today by Levy County.

Stephen R. Mallory
Stephen R. Mallory, who had not been in favor of the immediate secession of Florida, would serve as Secretary of the Navy for the Confederacy. It was under his direction that one of the most ambitious times of research, development and ship construction in American history would take place. The ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (formerly the U.S.S. Merrimac) was a clear sign of Mallory's innovative mindset. His belief in the value of ironclads ignited an arms race between North and South to build more and better ironclad ships and, in turn, cannon that could penetrate the iron plating of the vessels. And the success of such commerce raiders as the C.S.S. Alabama and C.S.S. Florida speaks for itself.

George S. Hawkins
George S. Hawkins, the lesser known of the three, actually had great influence on the development of the state of Florida as we know it today. A lawyer by trade, he served on the first Florida State Supreme Court. When his home city of Apalachicola was evacuated by Confederate troops in 1862, Hawkins' sent his law books to Marianna where his former home still stands. An eyewitness account of the Battle of Marianna (September 27, 1864) describes how the books were saved from destruction at the hands of Federal raiders by a young girl who sat atop them and protected them. Many of Judge Hawkins' opinions helped shape the laws of Florida.