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


Rick said...

It seems you are unaware of the armistice agreed to on Jan 29, 1861 between the U.S. and the state of Florida, which stated the U.S. would not attempt to reinforce Ft. Pickens and the southern forces there in turn would not initiate hostilities against the fort.
This armistice was broken on the night of April 11th. when Capt. Vogdes, under orders from Gen Winfield Scott, reinforced the fort.

Dale said...

If you continue to read the posts from January, you will see that I discuss the Fort Pickens Truce in considerable depth. The Brooklyn, actually sailed before the truce was negotiated. This post was part of a daily series that looked back on January of 1861, with notes about the events that happened each day during that critical month. The posts for later in the month discuss the truce.