Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 18, 1861 - U.S. Troops land at Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson (NPS Photo)
This is part of a month-long series on the miltiary aspects of Florida's secession from the Union.

January 18, 1861

The steamer Joseph Whitney arrived at Fort Jefferson on Garden Key 150 years ago today and successfully landed Bvt. Major Lewis G. Arnold's command at the fort. Despite the fact that the fort was massive in size and still unfinished, Arnold and his men were optimistic about their chances of holding it.

A private letter detailing the situation at Fort Jefferson was mailed from Key West on January 20th:

Fort Jefferson (NPS Photo)
...Fort Jefferson covers the entire surface of Garden Key, and has an area of 13½ acres. Although not fully armed, it is completely closed, and cannot be surprised by an escalading party. The first and second tiers (casemated) are completed, and the six curtains and six bastians are pierced for over 350 guns. A wide ditch, communicating with the sea, surrounds the entire work, and is protected by a counterscarp of great strength. The guns of the fort command the inner harbor. The outer anchorage is beyond the reach of the heaviest guns. Fort Jefferson, when completed, will mount 450 guns, and will require a garrison of 1000 men. - Private letter dated Key West, Florida, January 20, 1861.

Casemates of Fort Jefferson (NPS Photo)
The idea of Arnold, four other officers and 64 men holding a fort covering more than 13 acres and requiring a garrison of 1,000 men seems astounding, but Fort Jefferson was protected as much by its location as by its walls and armament. Located some 70 miles off Key West, the fort would not be easy for an attacking force to approach, nor would it be easy for an enemy force to land or get across the wide moat surrounding the fort. 

To put the works in a state of defense, arrangements were immediately made to move 10-inch Columbiad cannon from Fort Taylor at Key West by ship out to Fort Jefferson. The first of these guns were moved within days of the arrival of Arnold's men.
In Pensacola on this same date, meanwhile, Colonel William H. Chase made a third demand for the surrender of Fort Pickens. Lieutenant Slemmer once again asked for time to consider the matter, but ultimately refused a third time to give up the fort.

To follow a day by day accounting of events from across the South, be sure to visit our sister blog: http://civilwardaily.blogspot.com.

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