Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28, 1861 - An Overture from Florida to the U.S government

Stephen R. Mallory
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 28, 1861

As more than 1,000 volunteer soldiers from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi sat and stewed over their inactivity in camps lining Pensacola Bay, recently resigned U.S. Senator Stephen R. Mallory made an overture that would guarantee that the men's efforts had been in vain.

Mallory had just arrived back at his Pensacola home from Washington, D.C., to find how close to war his home city had come. With militia forces drilling and U.S. soldiers frantically mounting artillery in Fort Pickens, the future Confederate Secretary of the Navy realized that the spark that would ignite war going be struck at Pensacola at any minute.

After conferring with Colonel William H. Chase, who commanded the state forces gathered at Pensacola, Mallory sent a telegram to Senators John Slidell of Louisiana, Robert Hunter of Virginia and William Bigler of Pennsylvania, all of whom were still serving in the U.S. Senate on January 28, 1861. Slidell and Hunter would soon resign, while Bigler's term ended soon in March of 1861. All three were Democrats and had been close friends of Mallory during his years in Congress.

The purpose of the telegram was to offer a deal to President James Buchanan, who was in the final months of his Presidency. If Buchanan would not reinforce Fort Pickens, Mallory offered, the state forces at Pensacola would not attack the fort.

The overture would lead one day later to what became known as the Buchanan or Fort Pickens Truce. While Mallory's intent was to avoid bloodshed or an outbreak of war at Pensacola Bay, the truce would guarantee that Fort Pickens would remain in Union hands throughout the war. This would have dire consequences on the hopes of independence for the Southern states. I'll post more on that tomorrow.

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