Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29, 1861 - The Fort Pickens Truce

Inside Fort Pickens by an Officer, 1861
This is part of a month-long series on the secession of Florida, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 29, 1861

Less than 24 hours after he was notified of the telegram from former U.S. Senator Stephen R. Mallory of Florida pledging not to attack Fort Pickens if the United States did not reinforce it, President James Buchanan issued the following order:

Upon receiving satisfactory assurances from Mr. Mallory and Colonel Chase that Fort Pickens will not be attacked, you are instructed not to land the company on board the Brooklyn, unless said fort shall be attacked, or preparations made for its attack. The provisions necessary for the supply of the fort you will land. The Brooklyn and the other vessels of war on the station will remain, and you will exercise the utmost vigilance, and be prepared at a moment’s warning to land the company at Fort Pickens, and you and they will instantly repel any attack on the fort. - President James Buchanan, January 29, 1861.

The orders officially put what became known as the Fort Pickens Truce into place. The agreement between President Buchanan in Washington, D.C., and  Mallory and Chase in Pensacola all but ended any plans by state forces to take Fort Pickens. The fort would not be reinforced by Union troops until April, when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, and by then the fort had been so prepared defense that any attempt to storm it was unlikely to succeed.

While he negotiated the Fort Pickens Truce in hopes of avoiding bloodshed and preventing war, Stephen Mallory undoubtedly came to regret the agreement. He soon assumed new duties as Secretary of the Navy for the Confederate States of America only to find one of the South's finest deepwater ports blocked not by the Union navy, but by Fort Pickens. As long as the massive armament of the powerful fortress commanded the entrance to Pensacola Bay, Mallory could make but little use of the outstanding facilities at the Pensacola Navy Yard (where the U.S.S. Pensacola had been constructed before the war). With its ship-building facilities, the yard could have helped the Confederacy launch a real blue water navy. Instead, the Fort Pickens Truce assured that the new nation would never have the chance to do so.

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