Monday, April 9, 2012

The Affair at St. Andrew Bay (April 8, 1862)

Steamer Florida
The Union navy had slipped into St. Andrew Bay on the night of April 6, 1862, and seized the Confederate steamer Florida early the next morning.

While trying to get the ship out of the bay, however, the sailors had run her aground on an oyster bar in North Bay. This gave the Confederates time to launch an effort to recapture her and on the morning of April 7th, the following telegram went out from Col. W.S. Dilworth in Tallahassee to Capt. R.L. Smith at Marianna:

  CAPTAIN: You will immediately proceed in the direction of Saint Andrew's Bay with your troops, and, if possible, recapture the steamer Florida, precent all unnecessary communication with the enemy, and arrest any person which you may have found grounds to suspect of treason. Col. W.S. Dilworth, CSA, April 7, 1862.

Blue Springs
Robinson was then at what was called "Blue Spring Camp" at Blue Springs just east of Marianna. The facility later would be called Camp Governor Milton (not to be confused with Camp Milton near Jacksonville).

Dilworth's telegram arrived in Marianna and immediately was sent by courier to Blue Springs, where it arrived at 12 noon. Capt. Smith ordered his company, an independent cavalry unit called the Marianna Dragoons, to immediately prepare to move out:

...I started at 3 p.m. on the same day with my command, and arrived at 3:02 p.m. the next day at Saint Andrew's Bay, having been in the saddle twenty-four hours with only a rest of two hours to feed our horses. I found that the enemy had succeeded in getting the steamer Florida from her anchorage up North Bay, and was then opposite the town of Saint Andrew's. - Capt. R.L. Smith, CSA, April 16, 1862.

Vicinity of Smith's Attack
The movement by Smith was impressive. From Blue Springs to Old St. Andrews is over 65 miles using today's roads. On the winding trails of 1862, the speed with which Smith reached the scene of the action was remarkable.

As the Confederates approached the abandoned resort town of St. Andrews (within the limits of today's Panama City) they hear a gun sound from on-board the Florida:

...[R]iding then at half speed, I met one of my advance guard just before reaching the town, who informed me that the enemy were landing from a small sloop about a mile from us. I then dismounted my command and advanced rapidly through the woods, hoping to capture them. But the enemy saw us when 200 yards off, and took to their boats. I caused my command to open fire on them. They were out of shot-gun reach but a portion of my command, who were armed with Maynard rifles, killed or disabled four or five of the seven. Having only five cartridges to the rifle, our ammunition was soon exhausted. Capt. R.L. Smith, CSA, April 16, 1862.

Position of Florida during the attack
The shortage of ammunition caused the Confederates to break off the battle. Robinson later wrote that he was "sure that I could have taken the sloop, and probably have retaken the steamer, or at least burned her" if his men had been supplied with sufficient ammunition.

The Florida opened fire on Smith and his men with a piece of artillery (probably a boat howitzer) form roughly one-half mile away, but the firing went to high and the shot and shells passed over the heads of the Confederates. The captain and his helpless men watched as the captured steamer made its way out of the bay.

The Union account of the skirmish relates that the effort to refloat the Florida succeeded at 9 a.m. on the morning of April 8, 1862. The steamer moved around the point and arrived near St. Andrews but was held there because a gale was blowing from the southwest, causing shallow water over the bar at the entrance to the bay. The ship dropped anchor and James H. Barry was sent with five men and a pilot in the small sloop Lafayette to obtain supplies from two Unionist families still living in the town:

St. Andrew Bay from the Attack scene
...As they were going to the boat an alarm was given that a body of armed men to the number of 40 or 50 were running toward them from the woods. They jumped into the boat and made for the sloop, but had scarcely got 20 yards from the shore when they were fired at by the rebels. They succeeded in getting on board the sloop, and in getting on board another volley was fired, instantly killing Samuel Lawrence, badly wounding James Finney, also wounding James H. Barry and the pilot. They returned the fire and succeeded in driving them back, got sloop underway, and reached the steamer. - Acting Master Elnathen Lewis, U.S. Navy, April 10, 1862.

The wounded pilot was identified elsewhere in the report as William H. Harrison. Total Union losses in the raid to capture the Florida and subsequent "Affair" at St. Andrew Bay were 1 killed, 4 wounded (Jacob F.F. Wendt of the boat party accidentally shot himself in the groin the next morning).

 The encounter was the baptism of fire for the Marianna Dragoons, which later became Company B, 15th Confederate Cavalry. The performed well in the circumstances.

The steamer Florida was converted into a warship by the Union navy and returned to patrol the Florida coastline under the name USS Hendrick Hudson. She was one of the ships that took part in the naval component of the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865.


Joe said...

If known, what reprisals did the Unionist families suffer after this incident in which they provided supplies to the Union navy? Has there been any publication on Unionist activities in western Florida or elsewhere in Florida?

Dale Cox said...

Joe, Thank you for the comment! There were no immediate reprisals. Smith and his company returned to Marianna the day after the Florida made it out of the bay. As to books on Unionist activities, I have quite a bit of material on Unionist activity in West Florida in my book "The Battle of Marianna, Florida" which is available from Amazon in both book and Kindle format. It also can be found on iBooks. The other book I would recommend is "Blockaders, Refugees & Contrabands" which deals a lot with Unionist contacts with the Federal fleet off Florida's Gulf Coast. It focuses primarily on the Big Bend area, but does include some West Florida material.