Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 5, 1861 - Governor Perry orders the Seizure of the Arsenal at Chattahoochee

Officer's Quarters of Arsenal
This is part of a continuing series on the military aspects of the secession of Florida from the Union, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 5, 1861

After meeting with key leaders who had assembled for the Florida Secession Convention, Governor Madison S. Perry summoned Colonel William Gunn of the 7th Regiment, Florida Militia, to Tallahassee from his home in Quincy.

Perry had learned the previous day that authorities in Washington had sent a telegram ordering Ordnance Sergeant Edwin Powell and his three man garrison at the Apalachicola Arsenal in Chattahoochee to destroy the more than 5,000 pounds of gunpowder stored there. He decided to launch an immediate move against the facility before such action could be taken.

When Gunn arrived, Perry hand-delivered written orders for what would become the first military encounter of the Civil War in Florida:

Surviving Wall Section
Sir: Reposing special confidence in your patriotism, discretion and integrity, I hereby authorize and empower you to raise a company of picked men and proceed to the Apalachicola River and seize and possess the arsenal, arms, ammunition, buildings and other property now in the possession of the General Government, and retain the same subject to my orders. You are requested to act with secrecy and discretion. You are further authorized to call out the Seventh Regiment Florida Militia for all aid in its power to render that you may deem necessary to retain occupation of said arsenal.

Gunn immediately returned to Quincy where, early in the evening of the 5th (150 years ago today), he ordered out the Quincy Young Guards, a local militia company:

...Whereupon the drum was beat soon after supper, & the Young Guard with Gunn, Lieut. Col. Porter Scott, Col. Stockton, Gillis (advocate), Robt. Booth (Surgeon), went off in hacks, carriages &c....

The Young Guards would soon become Company G, 1st Florida Infantry (C.S.), but their departure from Quincy on the night of the 5th was distinctly non-military. They were armed, but went off riding in a variety of horse-drawn conveyances.

Their objective, the Apalachicola Arsenal, had been built on high ground near the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers on the Florida-Georgia line in 1834-1839. It took its name from the Apalachicola River, which is formed by the convergence of the Chattahoochee and Flint, not the city of Apalachicola which is located downstream at the river's mouth.

External Magazine
The complex consisted of an armory, barracks, workshops, storage buildings, guard house and officer's quarters that surrounded a four-square acre parade ground. These were connected and surrounded by a 9-foot high and 30-inch thick brick wall that was pierced by gates at the centers of its east and west sides. In addition, two gunpowder magazines had been built a short distance away from the main quadrangle. For safety reasons, they were slightly away from the primary arsenal grounds.

The entire arsenal had been built using locally-manufactured bricks and was considered one of the finest pieces of construction in Florida. To protect the gunpowder, weapons and more than 173,000 prepared cartridges stored there, it was manned by an ordnance sergeant and three workmen.

Portions of the facility still survive today on the grounds of Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. To learn more about it, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/arsenal1. In tomorrow's post we will look closer at the actual seizure of the arsenal.

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