Monday, January 10, 2011

January 10, 1861 - Florida Secedes from the Union & Drama continues at Pensacola Bay

Florida's Historic Old Capitol
This is part of a month-long series on the military aspects of the secession of Florida, which took place 150 years ago today.

January 10, 1861

As a large crowd gathered outside the Old Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida's Secession Convention met for its critical day. By a margin of 62 to 7, they approved the state's Ordinance of Secession. A short time later Governor-elect John Milton of Jackson County walked out onto the east portico of the capital and announced the decision to the people assembled there. Celebrations interrupted in the capital city and then in other towns and communities across the state as word spread by telegraph and word of mouth. Please click here to learn more about Florida's historic Old Capitol.

Lt. Adam J. Slemmer
In Pensacola, meanwhile, Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer continued his desperate effort to move his men from their exposed position at Fort Barrancas on the mainland across the bay to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. Commodore James Armstrong finally supplied a barge and small boats from the Pensacola Navy Yard and the crossing began:

…At 8 a.m. on the 10th a flatboat was sent to the wharf, which was loaded, as well as all the small boats which could be had. We were landed at Fort Pickens at about 10 a.m. On the way over, Captain Berryman turned over to me thirty ordinary seamen from the yard, without arms or equipments of any kind. We labored all day until night carrying up the stores to the fort, and arranging for its defense. I directed that all the powder in Fort Barrancas should be taken out and rolled to the beach, for transportation if possible; if not , for destruction.- Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, U.S. Army, February 5, 1861

Mortar at Fort Pickens
Secessionist troops in the area undoubtedly watched the crossing but made no effort to interfere with it. As a result, Slemmer was able to get most of the gunpowder along with the fixed ammunition for his field guns over to Fort Pickens. By nightfall, the U.S. soldiers and the 30 men who came to reinforce them from the U.S. Navy were housed at Fort Pickens and doing everything in their power to prepare the massive fort for defense.

On the mainland, the Pensacola Navy Yard remained in Union hands, but this situation would change two days later. The heavy guns of Fort Barrancas bearing on the bay had been spiked, but no other major damage was done to the fort or the adjacent Barrancas Barracks. No mention is made in the reports of any damage being done to either the cannon or structure of the nearby Advanced Redoubt.

To learn more about Fort Pickens, please visit

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