Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Stupid white refugees" and a Union general at Fort Pickens, Florida

Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, Florida
On March 22, 1862, 150 years ago today, Union Brigadier General L.G. Arnold voiced his opinion of the Unionist men from Florida slipping through the lines into his camps at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island. He called them, "stupid white men."
According to a report from Arnold to Adjutant-General Lorenzo Thomas in Washington, the two "stupid white men" were among a group of refugees who came into his lines from the western Panhandle:

Brig. Gen. Lewis G. Arnold, USA
...I deem it proper to report for the information of the General-in-Chief that the rebels at Pensacola and along their line of defense have been stampeded by our glorious Union victories elsewhere. This information (indefinite, however) was derived from two stupid white men and two negroes, who came over a few days since from Milton and East Bay, some 40 miles from Pensacola, but it is apparent that the enemy hold firm possession of Forts McRee and Barrancas and at least five sand batteries lining the shore between the former fort and the navy-yard. - Gen. Lewis G. Arnold, USA, March 22, 1862.

General Arnold's disdain for the four pro-Union men who had come into his lines may have had something to do with the fact that they "could furnish no information but hear-say stories as to the force of the enemies in their forts, navy-yard, Pensacola, on Bayou Grande, Live Oak Plantation, &c."

Arnold also seems to have been disgruntled that he was forced to take a purely defensive position at Fort Pickens, due to the lack of transportation for large movements:

...As my position is a defensive one, on an island, I am perfectly helpless for any offensive movement requiring water transportation for 50 men without naval co-operation. I have not under my command a dispatch steamer or sail vessel, and have scarcely enough surf-boats to land stores for the command. - Gen. Lewis G. Arnold, USA, March 22, 1862.

USS Vincennes in the Arctic
The general went on to complain that the only U.S. warship then off Pensacola was the sloop of war USS Vincennes, which mounted two 9-inch and four 8-inch Dahlgren guns, a 20-pounder rifle and a 10-pounder rifle. Unfortunately, as he explained, "she cannot be made available here for any successful movement against the enemy." Arnold went on to note that he had provided the Quartermaster's Department with estimates for a steamboat and surf boats and that he hoped the would be furnished to him soon. Until then, he could remain only on the defensive in the sands of Santa Rosa Island at Fort Pickens.

To learn more about historic Fort Pickens, please visit http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortpickens1.

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