Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 15, 1861 - A Demand is made at Fort Pickens

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

January 15, 1861

As Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer and the soldiers and sailors in Fort Pickens continued to prepare the fort for defense, they were again confronted by representatives of the State of Florida on January 15, 1861, 150 years ago today.

Colonel William H. Chase, commanding the state forces at Pensacola Bay, requested a conference with Lieutenant Slemmer. He was accompanied by Commander Ebenezer Farrand, who just three days earlier had been an officer in the United States Navy. After Slemmer agreed to receive them, Chase read him a letter demanding the surrender of Fort Pickens:

Col. William H. Chase
Listen to be, then, I beg of you, and act with me in preventing the shedding of the blood of your brethren. Surrender the fort. You and your command may reoccupy the barracks and quarters at Barrancas on your simple parole to remain there quietly until ordered away, or to resume the command of the harbor should an adjustment of present difficulties in the Union be arrived at…Consider this well, and take care that you will so act as to have no fearful recollections of a tragedy that you might have averted, but rather to make the present moment one of the most glorious, because christianlike, of your life. - Colonel William H. Chase, State of Florida, January 15, 1861.

Colonel Chase was a well-known figure in Pensacola, as he had been the officer who had supervised the construction of Fort Pickens, the very fort he was now calling upon to surrender. He had been placed in charge of the growing force of soldiers from Florida and Alabama that was gathering in Pensacola and Governor Madison S. Perry had authorized him to take any steps necessary to seize all of the forts. State troops now occupied Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee, the Navy Yard and the Advanced Redoubt, with only Fort Pickens remaining in the hands of U.S. soldiers.

In reply to Chase's demand, Lieutenant Slemmer inquired as to the strength of his forces:

I asked, “How many men have you?” The colonel answered, “Tonight I shall have between eight and nine hundred.” I then said that I would consider his letter, and would give my answer the next morning. - Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, U.S. Army, February 5, 1861.

Slemmer later reported that he asked for the delay to give his exhausted men time to rest. They had been working and standing guard duty around the clock for days. He also wanted to consult with the naval officers commanding the U.S.S. Supply and U.S.S. Wyandotte, which were still in Pensacola Bay.

Chase agreed to resume the discussion the next day. You can learn more about historic Fort Pickens by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortpickens1.

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