Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27, 1862 - A Spy is captured at Pensacola Bay

The Tower Bastion at Fort Pickens
It took a few days for word to get out, but Confederate forces at Pensacola captured a spy trying to cross the bay to Fort Pickens 150 years ago today.

The capture was detailed in a letter that an Alabama soldier dated from Pensacola on March 31, 1862. It was published in newspapers across the South and offered a rare insight into the dangerous role played by African Americans in Florida as they collected information for the Union army:

Fort Barrancas, as seen across the bay from Fort Pickens
...On Thursday we captured a negro man making his way to Fort Pickens, in a boat. He was carrying information to the enemy, and to-morrow he will start on a longer journey - even to eternity. On the same night, several men, who were fishing in the bay, were caught in a gale and thrown upon Santa Rosa Island, where they were taken prisoner by the Yankees. - Unidentified Soldier, CSA, March 27, 1862.

The account indicates the unfortunate prisoner was executed in Pensacola on April 1, 1862. His name was lost to history.

Walls of Fort Pickens
Military reports from Federal officers at Fort Pickens, however, reveal that he was not alone in carrying out missions behind enemy lines. The Union army made liberal use of area residents, both white and black, in its surveillance of Confederate forces on the mainland. Some of these individuals came to Santa Rosa Island on their own with information, some of which was valuable and some of which was not.

Others, like the individual captured 150 years ago today, undertook missions behind enemy lines for the Federals and more than one paid with his life.

To learn more about the historic city of Pensacola, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pensacola1.

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