Thursday, September 15, 2011

September 15, 1864 - The Crossing of Pensacola Bay Begins

Pensacola Bay from Fort Barrancas
From his notice to the headquarters of the Department of the Gulf on September 12th that he planned a raid on Marianna, it took General Alexander Asboth only three days to get organized for and begin his movement.
Using the quartermaster steamer Lizzie Davis as an improvised ferry, he began moving troops across the biggest natural barrier he would encounter during the entire raid: Pensacola Bay. The initial beachhead was established at Deer Point in today's city of Gulf Breeze, which is located on a peninsula that extends out into the bay. A detachment of 3 officers and 43 enlisted men from the 82nd U.S. Colored Troops went across first, landing with horses they had been loaned by the 2nd Maine Cavalry and establishing a secure perimeter for the troops that were to follow.

It was undoubtedly a difficult landing. The tropical storm that U.S. Navy ships had encounted in the lower Gulf of Mexico earlier in the week had reached the Florida Panhandle. While the weather was not severe, heavy rain began to fall across the entire region. It would continue for days to come.

Over the previous weeks, Asboth had launched several raids in the immediate Pensacola area, the most noteworthy of which was against Milton in late August. These had given his men the chance to gain experience in amphibious landings, experience that now paid off as they began to come ashore on the sandy beach at Deer Point.

Confederate Map of West Florida
It would take three days for the crossing to be completed, a fascinating indication of the complexity of moving 700 men, more than 700 horses, artillery and supplies across the wide expanse of open water from the wharf at Fort Barrancas to Deer Point.

As the men came over, they were moving into an area patrolled by Confederate cavalry companies based in Milton. Detached from the main headquarters of the 15th Confederate Cavalry just above the state line at Pollard, Alabama, these units were assigned to scout the coastline and watch for Union raids. The heavy rain, however, kept them close to camp and the Federals encountered no pickets as they began their landing.

I will continue to post on Asboth's 1864 West Florida Raid throughout September. To learn more or follow along, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida. It is available by clicking the ad at above right or as an instant download for your Amazon Kindle device or software. It is also available as an instant download on iBooks.

To read an overview of the raid and the Battle of Marianna, please visit www.battleofmarianna.com.

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