Thursday, January 6, 2011

January 6, 1861 - Seizure of the Apalachicola Arsenal at Chattahoochee


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

January 6, 1861

 The morning of January 6, 1861, marked the first military encounter of the War Between the States in Florida.

Having come over from Quincy during the night in buggies and hacks (a hack was a type of covered buggy), the men of the Quincy Young Guards appeared outside the gates of the Apalachicola Arsenal in Chattahoochee at 7 a.m. They were commanded by Colonel William Gunn of the 7th Regiment, Florida Militia. His name is sometimes incorrectly given as Dunn or Duryea by modern historians, but eyewitness accounts written by Gadsden County residents indicate it was Gunn. Documentation also confirms that William Gunn of Quincy was elected as colonel of the 7th Regiment, which included men from Gadsden and Liberty Counties, in early 1860.

The arsenal was held by a small garrison of four men, the leader of which was Ordnance Sergeant Edwin Powell of the U.S. Army. Powell was unable to prevent the militiamen from entering the brick compound, but confronted them and refused to turn over the keys to the armory and magazines. He requested permission to telegraph superior officers in Washington, D.C., and Colonel Gunn consented:

Armory Building (No Longer Standing) 
The arsenal has been taken possession of by the State this morning, 7 o'clock. My forces too weak to defend it. I have refused keys of magazine and armory. Answer, with instructions.
Ordnance Sergeant Edwin Powell
January 6, 1861

The confrontation continued for hours. Powell received no reply to his telegram and then tried to send a request for instructions by mail, with a copy of Governor Perry's orders to seize the arsenal, but was told that the letter would not be delivered.

Unsure of what to do next, Colonel Gunn telegraphed Tallahassee to ask for further instructions. Governor Perry responded with orders for the colonel to compel the delivery of the armory and magazine keys. When told of these orders, Powell addressed the militia troops that were assembled in the compound:

Officer's Quarters & Guard Room
Officers and soldiers: Five minutes ago I was the commander of this arsenal, but in consequence of the weakness of my command, I am obliged to surrender - an act which I have hitherto never had to do in my whole military career. If I had a force equal to or even half the strength of your own, you would never have entered that gate until you walked over my dead body. You see that I have but three men. These are laborers, and cannot contend against you. I know consider myself a prisoner of war. Take my sword.

Powell surrendered his sword to Captain Jones of the Young Guards, who returned it to him with the remark, "Dear sir, take your sword; you are too brave a man to disarm."  Eyewitness accounts relate that the Young Guards then gave "three cheers for the gallant Powell."

The ordnance sergeant and his men were not held as prisoners, but were allowed to leave. They stopped in Quincy later in the day and then continued on to St. Augustine. The Gadsden County militiamen settled into the arsenal to hold it until reinforced and local residents reported hearing the celebratory booming of the arsenal cannon later in the day. This 6-pounder iron cannon may have been the field piece later used by the home guards from Gadsden County at the Battle of Natural Bridge in 1865.

The State of Florida had taken its first military step on the road to independence. The taking of the Apalachicola Arsenal took place while Florida was still part of the United States. To learn more about the arsenal, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/arsenal1.

2 comments:

Savez said...

I just now happened upon your site. I am a Civil War "buff" as most people call it. I, however, prefer the term "dedicated student of the conflict". The past year or so I have become very interested in Civil War Florida. Can't wait to read more of your site. I want to visit Apalachicola, FL this Spring. Do you have any suggestions of places to visit or websites that will point me to some of the Civil War history sites there? Thanks.

Clint

Dale Cox said...

Clint, Take a look at my site on Apalachicola at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/apalachicola.

It will give you information on some of the key historic sites around Apalachicola and on the adjoining islands. Apalachicola is rich in Civil War related historic sites and is a great city.

Best,
Dale