Thursday, March 8, 2012

March 8, 1862 - The Fortifications of Fernandina & Amelia Island

Fort Clinch, as drawn in 1862
Having taken possession of Fernandina and Amelia Island, the Federal forces began to review exactly what they had captured.

Officers, enlisted men and newspaper reporters roamed around the island, looking at Fort Clinch, the Confederate earthwork batteries, New and Old Fernandina and other parts of the island. The strength of the works surprised the Union officers and there was general surprise that the Southern forces had not attempted a defense of the island.

As they talked with local citizens, however, the Northerners learned that the defenders of Amelia Island had already been leaving when they arrived, having been ordered to do so by General Robert E. Lee.

Fort Clinch
Florida Memory Collection
The following was filed by a war correspondent from Fernandina on March 8, 1862, 150 years ago today:

An examination of this place, well adapted as it was by nature for defence, and fortified with works and strong guns, induces the belief that the rebels, thoroughly disheartened by their repeated defeats, despair of making a successful stand against our forces, and are pushed to the necessity of making ignominous retreats whenever we approach in force.
Fort Clinch in 1862

Fort Clinch, which is situated on the Northern point of the island, four miles from New-Fernandina, and commands Cumberland Sound, is a Government fort, strongly built of brick, with bastions and casemates. It is in an unfinished condition, but sufficiently advanced to render it a very formidable work to attack. Ten guns remain here. Five are barbette guns, in position. The remainder, with the exception of two casemates, are dismounted, and efforts were evidently made to move them. They are all of heavy calibre, and one is a 120-pounder. Besides this strong fort, there are several earthworks, one near the city mounting four heavy guns, a 64-pounder and three 32-pounders. These guns were found dismounted and spiked, and only recently left, as the carriages were still burning when we arrived. About twenty guns were found upon the Island. In compliance with Gen. WRIGHT's order, nearly 100 inhabitants have registered their names with the Provost-Marshal.

Fernandina as it appeared shortly after the war
Florida Memory Collection
One of the inhabitants with whom I conversed - a Northern man by birth, who professed himself a Union man - told me that the force on the island at one time was between 4,000 and 5,000 - of these there was one regiment from Mississippi and the rest were Florida troops - the greater part of this force had been withdrawn, and there was only about 1,500 troops on the island for several weeks before our coming. When news of our victories in Tennessee and at Roanoke Island was received, the troops were ordered to leave the island, as they despaired of being able to defend it, and only a small body of dragoons were left to protect it. This man assured me that both he and his son had been imprisioned under the suspicion of being Union men, but they had been so guarded in their language that they were obliged to release them again.

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