Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 11, 1862 - The Surrender of St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida
The citizens of St. Augustine surrendered to the Union navy 150 years ago today.

The oldest city in the continental United States, St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565, 42 years before Jamestown, Virginia, and 55 years before the first Pilgrim set foot on Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. In its entire 297 year history, the old city had never surrendered to an enemy force.

The last Confederate troops, however, had evacuated St. Augustine the night before and the citizens were left with no way to defend themselves. The USS Wabash was visible offshore and as a boat party set out from the warship, the city leaders raised a white flag over the stone ramparts of Fort Marion.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Called Fort Marion in 1862
Built by the Spanish beginning in 1672, the fort was called the Castillo de San Marcos by them and took 23 years to complete. Built of coquina stone mined on nearby Anastasia Island, it is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

Seeing the white flag go up over the fort, Commander C.R.P. Rogers of the USS Wabash ordered his men to pull for the city wharf:
...Landing at the wharf and inquiring for the chief authorities, I was soon joined by the Mayor and conducted to the City Hall, where the municipal authorities were assembled.

Old Government House
   I informed them that having come to restore the authority of the United States, you had deemed it right and kind to send an unarmed boat to inform the citizens of your determination to occupy the town at once with our forces; that you were desirous to calm all apprehensions of harsh treatment that might exist in their minds, and that you would carefully respect the persons and property of all citizens who submitted to the authority of the United States; that you had a single purpose to restore the state of affairs which existed before the rebellion.
C.R.P. Rodgers, U.S. Navy

Commander Rogers then subjected the citizens of St. Augustine to what to many of them was an ultimate indignity. Instead of having his own men raise the Stars and Stripes over the historic fort, had the citizens do it themselves. He may have done so to send a firm message, as the ladies of the city had chopped down the flag staff at St. Francis Barracks the night before to prevent it ever being used to again fly the U.S. Flag (see The Women of St. Augustine):

...I recommended them to hoist the American flag at once, and in prompt accordance with the advice, by the order of the Mayor, the national ensign was displayed from the flag-staff of the fort.
Civil War cannon in St. Augustine
Possibly one of those in the Water Battery in 1862
   The Mayor proposed to turn over to me the five cannon mounted in the fort, which are in good condition and not spiked, and also the few munitions of war left by the retreating enemy. I desired him to take charge of them for the present, to make careful inventories and establish a parole and guard, informing him that he would be held responsible for the place until our force should enter the harbor.

At the time of the surrender of St. Augustine, the five modern cannon still mounted in the fort consisted of three 32-pounders and two 8-inch Columbiads. These guns were located in the water battery, which had been added to the old Castillo during the antebellum era. Several other cannon from the installation had been removed by the Confederates to help defend other ports such as Fernandina and Jacksonville.
Plaza de la Constitucion, America's Oldest Park
Rodger's and the City Officials crossed the Plaza
on their way to the Government House.
Fort Marion also contained a large number of antique cannon, some of them hundreds of years old, but these were unmounted and outdated and no longer of value in defending the citadel.

The military side of the surrender completed, Commander Rodgers then took steps to reassure the citizens of St. Augustine, few of whom had fled upon learning their city would be occupied:

   I called upon the clergymen of the city, requesting them to re-assure the people and to confide in our kind intentions towards them.
   About 1500 persons remain in St. Augustine, about one-fifth of the inhabitants having fled. I believe that there are many citizens who are earnestly attached to the Union, a large number who are silently opposed to it, and a still larger number who care very little about the matter.

Rodgers and his men were delayed by weather in getting back to their ship, but when they finally did make their way out of the harbor, the Stars and Stripes flew over the nation's oldest city. It has continued to do so ever since.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of St. Augustine, here are some links you might enjoy:

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