Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20, 1861 - Stalemate Continues at Fort Pickens

Fort Pickens in 1861, by an Officer.
This is part of a month-long series on the military aspects of Florida's Secession from the Union in 1861.

Januarhy 20, 1861

It was a rainy month at Pensacola Bay, as Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer and his force of fewer than 100 men from the U.S. Army and Navy continued to hold Fort Pickens in the face of a growing force of state militia from Florida and Alabama commanded by Colonel William H. Chase. 

Chase had demanded the surrender of the fort three times, but Slemmer had also refused three times. On January 20, 1861 - 150 years ago today - he continued the work of mounting heavy artillery for the fort's defense:

…A party of sailors from the steamer Wyandotte came to assist us to mount a 10-inch columbiad. They labored that day and part of the next with imperfect materials, but at last succeeded in placing it in the trunnion beds…We have had almost continued rain since the occupation of the fort. - Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, U.S. Army, February 5, 1861.

With each additional cannon mounted in the fort, the odds against the state militia troops being able to storm it increased. By concentrating on getting artillery ready for action, Slemmer was making sure that Chase and his men knew that any move on Fort Pickens would be bloody and deadly.

Senators Yulee and Mallory, still hoping for a negotiated settlement between North and South, had advised Governor Madison S. Perry in Tallahassee that the capture of Fort Pickens was not worth one drop of blood. It was the best advice they could offer at the time, but the delay in attacking meant that the fort would remain in Federal hands throughout the war. The most important port in Florida would remain closed and the Confederates would lose total use of the finest navy yard on the Gulf Coast.

If you would like to read more about the forts and other historic sites of the Pensacola area, please visit


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