Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27, 1862 - A Tampa Bay Fort that Wasn't Really There

Tampa Bay, Florida
The morning of January 27, 1862 (150 years ago today) found the captain of the U.S.S. Kingfisher writing a report on an unsuccessful boat expedition into Tampa Bay.

The expedition was launched after sailors reported seeing the sails of small vessels moving back and forth across Tampa Bay. The commanders of the two blockade vessels stationed off the bay came to believe that these were the boats of a developing coast guard effort at Tampa and that a fort was under construction on the south side of the bay at the mouth of the Manatee River.

Civil War Drawing of USS Kingfisher
After a consultation with the captain of the Ethan Allen, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Joseph P. Couthouy assembled the crew of the Kingfisher on deck and announced plans for a boat party to investigate both the strange sales and the rumored fort. When he called for volunteers, every man on the ship threw up his hand:

...At 8 p.m. I dispatched the first, second, and third cutters in charge of Acting Master J.H. Hallet and Master's Mates J.E. Whiteside and C.E. Sloan, with 35 men, fully armed, the whole under charge of Mr. Hallet, with writen instructions to act in concert with an equal number of boats and men from the Ethan Allen, in charge of Acting Master Stephenson. - Acting Volunter Lieutenant Joseph P. Couthoy, U.S. Navy, January 27, 1862.

Modern Aerial of the Mouth the Manatee River
The results of the boat expedition, however, were not what the Federal officers had hoped. Not only did they find no armed vessels in the bay, they also landed at the mouth of the Manatee River to find there was not even a fort there. The presumed fort was actually an abandoned and temporary building built on top of an Indian mound:
...The boats returned last evening having found no armed vessel nor any enemy on shore, after capturing the sloop Mary Nevis, of Tampa, of about 12 tons burden, engaged in carrying the mails, freight, and passengers between Fort Brooke, Manatee River and the intermediate points, with a woman and child only on board, the one man forming her crew having run her ashore and taken to ths bush. They also burned the temporary barracks erected on a mound near the beach, lately occupied, according to parties on shore, by a troop of 115 or 120 cavalry, with one gun mounted on wheels. - Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Joseph P. Couthoy, U.S. Navy, January 27, 1862.
The expedition did not result in combat, but a similar operation in 1863 would lead to the Battle of Fort Brooke.

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