Friday, March 2, 2012

March 2, 1862 - The Federal fleet arrives off Amelia Island

Flag Officer S.F. Dupont, U.S. Navy
The fleet of Commodore S.F. Dupont arrived off Cumberland Island, Georgia, and Amelia Island, Florida, on the morning of March 2, 1862.

According to Dupont, who now moved his flag to the U.S.S. Mohican, the fleet from Port Royal anchored in Cumberland Sound at 10:30 a.m. on the morning of the 2nd:

...Here I learned from a contraband who had been picked up at sea by Commander Lanier, and from the neighboring residents on Cumberland Island, that the rebels had abandoned in haste the whole of the defenses of Fernandina and were even at that moment retreating from Amelia Island, carrying with them such of their munitions as their precipitate flight would allow. - Commodore S.F. Dupont, U.S. Navy, March 4, 1862.

The route of approach picked by Dupont was designed to flank the Confederate batteries protecting the mouth of the Amelia River and the harbor at Fernandina. By coming up the sound behind Cumberland Island, he would bypass Fort Clinch on Amelia Island and what he described as "heavy works on the south end of Cumberland and the north end of Amelia."

Fort Clinch (Florida DOT Photo)
These batteries, he reported, mounted thirteen heavy cannon, "32-pounders, VIII-inch guns, and one 80 and one 120 pounder rifled guns." They were mounted in Fort Clinch and in "earthworks on the sea face of the island." The number of batteries was impressive as was their construction:

...The batteries on the north and northeast shores are as complete as art can make them. Six are well concealed, are protected by ranges of sand hills in front, perfect shelter for the men, and are so small and thoroughly covered by the natural growth and by the varied contours of the land that to strike them from the water would be the mere result of chance. - Commodore S.F. Dupont, U.S. Navy, March 4, 1862.

The largest of the Confederate batteries on Amelia Island mounted six guns and was "well sheltered and masked." Adding to the firepower of these works was "another battery of 4 guns on the south end of Cumberland Island, the fire of which would cross the channel inside the bar."

USS Pawnee
Realizing that he needed to move quickly to secure the positions and towns being evacuated by the Confederates, Dupont ordered Commander P. Drayton of the U.S.S. Pawnee to get underway the next morning and occupy Fernandina and the northern end of Amelia Island:

...I ordered him to push through the sound with the utmost speed, to save public and private property from threatened destruction, to prevent the poisoning the wells, and to put to a stop all those outrages by the perpetration of which the leaders in this nefarious war hope to deceive and exasperate the Southern people. - Commodore S.F. Dupont, U.S. Navy, March 4, 1862.

The Mohican and larger warships of the fleet were then ordered around Cumberland Island to the main entrance of the harbor. This channel runs between the southern end of Cumberland and the northern end of Amelia. Dupont expected to force the channel the next day as well.

I will have more on the 150th anniversary of the Union occupation of Fernandina tomorrow, so be sure to check back!


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