Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1, 1865 - In the Fog of Apalachee Bay...

Looking down the St. Marks River to Apalachee Bay
Heavy fog continued to hide the gathering flotilla from Confederate pickets on shore and March 1, 1865 - 146 years ago today - was spent making preparations for the assault on the "Big Bend" coast of Florida.

The flotilla was the most powerful sent against any Florida port during the entire war and it included warships, transports, tenders and General Newton's command ship. Most of the vessels were powered by steam, but a few of the smaller ones were schooners. The firepower of their combined armament far exceeded that of Fort Ward and the C.S.S. Spray which were positioned to defend the port of St. Marks against attack.

The U.S. Navy, in fact, contributed heavily to the firepower of the army troops making up Newton's expeditionary force. The general had brought no field artillery up the Gulf with him, but the navy officers agreed to supply him with two 12-pounder boat howitzers as well as sailors to man them. Although it is unclear if these were "light" boat howitzers or "heavy" boat howitzers, they did provide the Union troops with the ability to shell Confederate positions to soften up any opposition ahead of an infantry assault.

March 1st was spent arranging such aspects of the expedition and making sure the officers and men understood their orders. The fog, fortunately for the Federals, obscured the Union ships from view throughout the day and the small detachments of Confederates around the mouth of the St. Marks did not detect the presence of the vessels. As darkness fell, General Newton's complicated plan remained intact.

I will continue to post on the events of the Natural Bridge Expedition tomorrow as we approach Sunday's 146th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge. If you would like to read more before the next post, be sure to visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/nbindex or consider the expanded edition of my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida (also available as a Kindle download).

The anniversary commemoration of the battle takes place this weekend at Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park near Woodville south of Tallahassee. The memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. (Eastern) on Sunday at the battlefield, followed by the main battle reenactment.

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