Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 27, 1861 - Impatience at Pensacola Bay

Flag flown by State Troops at Pensacola
This is part of a month-long series on the Secession of Florida, which took place 150 years ago.

January 27, 1861

As January of 1861 neared an end, the standoff at Pensacola Bay continued to drag on. Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer and his small band of U.S. soldiers and sailors remained safely behind the walls of Fort Pickens, while a growing force of Southern troops continued to drill and mount guns at positions ringing the bay.

As was the case with volunteers turning out in states across the South, the soldiers from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi at Pensacola were enthusiastic and eager for action. As the days dragged on, they chafed at the idea of being forced to wait day after day instead of moving immediately on Lieutenant Slemmer and his men in Fort Pickens.

A good account of the mood in the camps appeared in late January in the Mobile News:

Camp at at Pensacola Bay, 1861
There is a vast deal of impatience and discontent among the troops, especially in our regiment. The men are "eager for the fray," and are very free and outspoken in their criticism upon the loss of time by delay and inactivity. If something is not done here by next Tuesday, there will be a revolt against the commanders. I and my friends propose to leave on that day. I have no time to waste in garrison duty. I submit to military prudence by withholding at present any discussion of the means proper to be used to take the fort. I will say, however, that it can be taken by our present force in twenty-four hours. I have prepared the plan, and it has been discussed day and night in my room, by numbers of officers. I have submitted it to two resigned officers of the navy, and they heartily approve it. At a proper time I shall make it public. - Unidentified Soldier from Alabama, January 1861.

The Alabama soldier who wrote of his dissatisfaction was encamped near Fort Barrancas on the mainland and wrote that his regiment was quartered in the former Marine Hospital at the Pensacola Navy Yard. It was possible, he said, to see the looming cannon of Fort Pickens from the building's piazza:

Navy Yard by an Officer at Fort Pickens, 1861
...Nearly all the guns have been shifted to the land side, and the most active preparations have been made for defence. Our preparations consist in four Dahlgren long thirty-two guns mounted at the Navy-Yard, to rake the Bay, and prevent any vessels from coming inside Fort Pickens. -- At Fort Barrancas we have mounted about twenty-five 32-pounders. At Fort McCree there are four Columbiads and a large number of heavy guns, none mounted, unless it has been done to-day. Fort Pickens mounts 215 guns, and requires a garrison of 2,000 men. -- Its present garrison consists, as far as we can ascertain with certainty, of 83 soldiers. Some sailors have been sent to it from the ship steamer Wyandotte and the storeship Supply. It is supposed that they could not spare more than fifty men. If this supposition is correct, the garrison does not exceed 133 men. A majority of this number of this number are believed to be disaffected and averse to fighting us, but are compelled by military discipline.

Despite the desire of such men as the letter writer for action, however, Colonel William H. Chase continued to hold off on moving against Fort Pickens. January 27, 1861, passed without action at Pensacola Bay, giving Lieutenant Slemmer and his men another day to improve their defenses and prepare for action.

To learn more about Fort Pickens, please visit

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