Thursday, April 19, 2012

"The rivers Apalachicola and Saint John's are of primary importance" (April 19, 1862)

Gen. Joseph Finegan, CSA
150 years ago today, just one day after Floridian Joseph Finegan learned he had been appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate army, authorities in Richmond issued vague orders to him for the defense of Florida.

The instructions went out from Major T.A. Washington, the Assistant Adjutant-General, on April 19, 1862, and made rather clear that Finegan was on his own:

...By direction of the general commanding I have the honor to say that it is not in his power, not knowing the strength of your command or the particular necessities of your department at this time, to give definite instructions for your government. The defense of the interior of the State and the lines of interior communication should be the subject of your particular attention. The rivers Apalachicola and Saint John's are of primary importance, and the most eligible points for their defense should be at once taken, if not already selected, and fortified. - Major T.W. Washington, CSA, April 19, 1862.

Federal troops occupy Fernandina, Florida
It is remarkable that one full year into the war, authorities in Richmond knew virtually nothing of the situation in Florida. While Major Washington told General Finegan there was no reason to think "that the enemy will occupy Florida in force," he did caution him not to expose his men anywhere on the state's long coast:

...Except to give protection to the arms, &c. [i.e. that might be brought in by blockade runners], it will not be prudent to expose a force on the sea-board. Having these objects in view, the general commanding desires you to inform him whether you will be able to spare any troops from your command for service in other parts of the Confederacy. - Major T.W. Washington, CSA, April 19, 1862.

Finegan's Home in Fernandina
The question as to whether Finegan had any troops he could send elsewhere would have been laughable in Tallahassee were the situation in Florida not so critical. The Confederacy had just stripped the state of troops, leaving Governor Milton and General Finegan to try to patch together troops to defend Florida. A recent Federal expedition had seized Fernandina, Jacksonville and St. Augustine, while Apalachicola had been evacuated by the Confederates before it could be attacked. Finegan's own home in Fernandina, in fact, was now in the hands of the Union Army.

The instructions from Richmond, however, were a sign of how Florida would be treated by officials there for the duration of the war.

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