Saturday, March 24, 2012

Skirmish near Jacksonville, Florida (March 24, 1862)

Jacksonville during the Civil War
The successful attack on Union forces at New Smyrna Beach (Please see Skirmish at New Smyrna) was followed with a raid on a Federal picket guard at Jacksonville two days later on March 24, 1862 (150 years ago today).

When the main Union force had occupied Jacksonville, a series of picket posts were established around the perimeter of the city. The purpose of these outposts was to sound the alarm should Confederate troops appear in the area. One of the most significant picket posts was at a place called the "Brick Church."

A well-known landmark in 1862, the church no longer stands. The little cemetery associated with the structure can still be found between Duval and Monroe Streets, only a few hundred yards west of the rushing traffic of I-95 in Jacksonville.

Click here to view Jacksonville Skirmish, March 24, 1862 in a larger map.
Perhaps the best account of what can best be called the Skirmish at Jacksonville of March 24, 1862, appeared in Savannah newspapers a few days later and was reprinted in numerous other Southern publications, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune of April 10, 1862:

Jacksonville shortly after the war.
...It having been ascertained that a small picket guard of the enemy was located at a certain church in the suburbs of Jacksonville, Co. D. detailed Lieut. Strange, with thirty men, to attack them. The two sentinels were first shot down, when the remainder of the pickets, five in number, sought shelter in the church. The building was immediately attacked, the door burst open, and our men rushed in; after killing two, the remaining three surrendered. A negro, the property of a lady in the neighborhood, was also captured with the party, and has been placed in jail. - Report appearing in Savannah newspapers of April 3, 1862.

The Family Friend, a newspaper in Monticello, gave a similar account, noting that four Federal soldiers were killed and three taken prisoner. Two other Union pickets had been captured a day or two before the skirmish and the paper noted that, "all five are now at Tallahassee."

The Lieutenant Strange mentioned as being severely wounded in the fight was Thomas E. Strange, the 1st lieutenant of Company K, Third Florida Infantry. At the time of the skirmish he was on temporary duty as regimental adjutant. He was taken back to Lake City for medical treatment, but died there two days later on March 26, 1862. A noted veteran of the Mexican War, he was mourned by his wife, Mary E. Strange.

Col. W.S. Dilworth
More than one writer has inflated the skirmish into a full scale battle, claiming that at least two regiments became engaged. This is incorrect. Only thirty Confederates and five Federals were engaged. The account appearing in Savannah noted that no reinforcements came up to help the overwhelmed picket guard. 

Colonel W.S. Dilworth, in fact, explained in his report of the affair why he did not make an attack in force on the Federal troops occupying Jacksonville:

...After making a thorough reconnaissance of the city, I became convinced that I could not attack the city without heavy loss and could be driven out by the enemy's gunboats. I then determined to commence a system of annoyances, by attacking their pickets, foraging parties, &c. I made a successful attack on the picket near the city of Jacksonville, killing 4 and taking three prisoners. - Col. W.S. Dilworth, 3rd Florida Infantry, CSA, April 15, 1862.

The strategy devised by Colonel Dilworth had a definite impact on the Union occupying force. The small hit and run raids and scouts, the most significant of which was the one of the 24th, led the Federal commander, Brigadier General H.G. Wright, to believe that he was facing imminent attack. 

Fear, more than anything else, soon would lead to the issuance of orders to General Wright to evacuate Jacksonville. And the skirmish that took place 150 years ago today played a key part in that rattling of nerves.

I will post more on the Union occupation of Jacksonville over coming days, so be sure to check back often. You can learn more about preserved historic sites around the city by visiting


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