Friday, January 6, 2012

January 1862 - The Second Battle of Pensacola Bay

Fort Barrancas and Pensacola Bay
Union and Confederate forces squared off one last time for control of Pensacola Bay on January 1, 1862. The 150th anniversary of the battle passed quietly just a few days ago.
The engagement began when Union forces at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island observed a steamer making its way to the Navy Yard wharf on the Confederate side of the bay. Colonel Harvey Brown of the Fifth U.S. Artillery, the commander at Fort Pickens, had opened fire on Confederate forces on the mainland once before in November.  He did not hesitate to do so again:

Cannon at Fort Pickens
...[T]his being the first instance of a boat of any kind coming to the navy-yard or within the range of my guns since the last bombardment, I could only view it as bravado, or as done with the intention of drawing my fire. I therefore ordered her to be fired into, which was done three times while she lay at the wharf and was leaving it. A gun was fired from a neighboring battery of ours, which was returned, it being directly in range of the department steamer, and here, as I supposed the affair would rest....Col. Harvey Brown, January 2, 1862.

The Confederates, commanded by General Richard H. "Fighting Dick" Anderson, however, were not inclined to let the affair rest and opened fire using their guns at Fort Barrancas and other positions:

Cannon at Fort Barrancas
...This fire was returned by order of Brigadier-General Anderson, in temporary command, and a brisk cannonade was kept up on both sides until dark, when the enemy ceased. Ours was continued irregularly and apparently without effect or an object until stopped by my order. No casualty is reported on our side, and we can see no damage to the enemy. A large and valuable store-house, with considerable property in the navy-yard, was burned by the enemy's shells....Gen. Braxton Bragg, January 3, 1862.

Ruins of Fort Pickens
Union casualties in the fight were reported as two men wounded. The Confederates, as noted by General Bragg, suffered no losses. Damage to Fort Pickens was light, consisting mainly of a few holes caused by exploding shells.

General Bragg reported that General Anderson had been intoxicated at the time of the engagement, while Colonel Brown noted that, "I am impressed with the belief that General Bragg was not present, and that a less experienced and more hot-headed officer commanded."

It would be the last major exchange of fire between Union and Confederate forces for control of Pensacola Bay. The soldiers, as Brown noted, "seemed to consider it a New Year's amusement.

To learn more about Fort Pickens, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortpickens1.

To learn more about Fort Barrancas, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortbarrancas1.

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