|USS Ottawa in 1861.|
A change in the weather that day kept the main Union warships off the main entrance to the channel between Amelia Island and Cumberland Island, but the Ottawa made its way up the channel between Cumberland and the mainland and emerged inside the harbor. Fort Clinch and earthwork batteries were positioned to control the approaches to Fernandina, but these had already been evacuated by their garrison of soldiers from the 4th Florida Infantry:
|Union small boats row past Old Fernandina|
|USS Ottawa, sketched in 1861|
Ottawa had a draft of only 9'6" which allowed her to move through much shallower water than most of the ships then in the Union fleet. She was armed with one 11" Dahlgren gun, one 20-pounder Parrott rifle and two 24-pounder howitzers.
The scattered fire at the vessel from the small arms of the rear guard of the 4th Florida Infantry caused the Federals, they would claim, to believe a train they could see pulling away over the trestle leading from Amelia Island to the mainland was carrying troops:
|USS Ottawa in Action, 1862|
Confederate reports indicate, however, that the train was carrying civilians. The Southern commander of Amelia Island, Colonel Edward Hopkins, had been ordered in late February to remove the cannon from the batteries there and evacuate the island. These orders had been issued by General Robert E. Lee on February 19, 1862. Then in command of the department that included East Florida, he believed that the island positions could not be properly defended against the power of the Union Navy and that attempting to do so would result only in a loss of men and artillery.
|Fort Clinch in 1862|
|Fernandina shortly after the War|
Having evacuated most of his men from the island, he ordered out a rear guard to protect the last train to the mainland, a train he noted "should have" already been "removed to a place of safety."
|The Darlington in 1862|
The gunboat then detected a "little rebel steamboat called the Darlington, which was making haste down the river to Jacksonville." Pursuit as immediately given and she was brought to, but was found to be "loaded with families."
The main occupation of Fernandina by Union forces would take place the next day. I will post on that tomorrow, so be sure to check back then!