Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 18, 1862 - The Confederate Fort at Ricco's Bluff

Ricco's Bluff area as it appears today
Coupled with the disasters in East Florida that resulted in the Union capture of Fernandina, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Confederate officers in the state faced even more trouble in March of 1862. The term of service of most of Florida's original 12-month volunteers was up and the state faced the very real prospect of being left undefended.

The magnitude of this disaster was increased when orders arrived from General Robert E. Lee for the Twenty-Fourth Mississippi Infantry, First Florida Cavalry, Third Florida Infantry, Fourt Florida Infantry, Fifth Florida Infantry, Martin's light battery (6 guns) and Gamble's battery (3 guns) all to leave the state immediately for Mississippi. They were to be incorporated into General Albert Sidney Johnston's Army, which was preparing for its advance to Shiloh.
Antebellum Raney House in Apalachicola
The orders were dispatched even as Major General John C. Pemberton was visiting the cities of Apalachicola and Tallahassee in Florida. The commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Middle and East Florida, Pemberton went down the Apalachicola River by steamboat and arrived in Apalachicola to find that it was being evacuated. He filed his report 150 years ago today:

...On my arrival at Apalachicola, I found the batteries dismantled and the guns, carriages, ammunition &c., already on board the steamboat Marianna and about leaving for Ricco's Bluff, a point on the river which would no doubt admit of a good defense, but which, after a personal examination of its advantages, seemed to me to be inferior in that respect to a position some miles lower, and known as Fort Gadsden. - Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA, March 18, 1862.

Earthworks of Fort Gadsden
The decision to move the heavy artillery from Apalachicola to Ricco's Bluff instead of Fort Gadsden had been made by Brigadier General Richard F. Floyd. He had considered Fort Gadsden, which was a noted earthwork fort from the early 19th century on the east bank of the river about 30 miles above Apalachicola, but believed the site to be unhealthy.

Ricco's Bluff, further upriver in the southwest corner of Liberty County, was higher and represented by locals to be healthier ground. Accepting this advice at face value, Floyd began moving his guns and supplies up the river:

...After many days and nights of constant labor I got the cannon, with all their appliances, ammunition for small arms also, on board steamers, and removed them to Ricco's Bluff, on the east side of the Apalachicola River. At this point the cannon (thirteen in number, being all that I had at Apalachicola) were being placed in position for immediate use, if necessary, and orders have been issued to Lieutenant Colonel James, in command there for the present, to erect batteries with all dispatch. - Gen. Richard L. Floyd, CSA, March 17, 1862.

Officers' Quarters, Chattahoochee Arsenal
The only guns not taken to Ricco's Bluff were the field pieces of the Milton Light Artillery, which went from Apalachicola straight up the river to the Chattahoochee Arsenal, where that company was ordered to report. A few of its men remained in Apalachicola as late as the 17th to provide protection and assistance to the citizens who decided to flee the city as it was evacuated by the Southern troops.
To provide infantry support for the guns at Ricco's Bluff, General Floyd ordered the companies of Captains Henry B. Grace and Lawrence Attaway to take up positions there. They were augmented by the still forming company of Captain William T. Gregory.
Little is known of the design of the defenses at Ricco's Bluff. It is believed that there was an upper battery on top of the bluff and a lower or water battery below it. The upper battery mounted ten guns, while the lower battery mounted three. Earthworks were erected to protect the guns and the installation also included a magazine (or magazines), storage buildings (described in one account as "corn cribs") and wooden buildings for use as barracks, offices and officers' quarters.

The defenses of the Apalachicola River would grow considerably and become much more complex over the next few years and Ricco's Bluff would be just the first of a series of installations built along the river.

Here are some links about places mentioned in this post that might be of interest:

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