Monday, July 16, 2012

The Attack on Tampa, Florida - An Eyewitness Account

Entrance to Tampa Bay
The following account of the 1862 Union attack on Tampa was written at Key West on July 16, 1862 (150 years ago today):

Forty men and five officers from the United States barque Ethan Allen went on board the United States gunboat Sagamore, for the purpose of making an attack upon the town of Tampa, at the head of Tampa Bay, Florida, on the morning of June 30, 1862. The barque Ethan Allan could not get up to the town on account of drawing too much water, and was therefore left behind at Egmont Key, where she command the entrance to the harbor. The gunboat Sagamore was safely piloted up the crooked channel of Tampa Bay for a distance of twenty five miles. The steamer came to anchor about two miles off the town, and at about the same distance from the three small rebel batteries erected in defence of the town, and supposed to contain about two guns each.

USS Sagamore was a Unadilla Class Vessel
Several officers went ashore under a flag of truce, and an officer of the Sagamore demanded the surrender of the town. To the demand the reply was given: "We have no such word in our books as surrender. Tell your commander that Capt. Pierson says so." With this reply the rebels retired, and gave three or four terrific yells, while the officers returned to their ship.

Some little delay was occasioned, and time was also given the inhabitants to get out of town. The Sagamore commenced throwing shells at 6 P.M. at the batteries on shore. The distance was so great that only a few of the twenty or thirty shells fired during the altercation reached the battery. Two shells exploded in the town, which almost surrounded the battery except on its front. The rebels fired about twenty times at the gunboat with solid shot from long thirty-twos, but all of their shot fell short. The firing on both sides ceased at sundown.
Tampa Bay (City in Distance)

On the morning of the next day, July 1, the Sagamore approached some two or three hundred yards  [from] the town by steaming through mud two feet deep. She again opened upon the battery. The second shot from fired was a direct line shot, and struck directly in the battery and silenced it, the rebels taking refuge behind the large white oaks that stood near, and soon after most of them fled to the woods for a more secure place of refuge. There were some thirty shells fired during the day, a few of them exploding in the middle of the town.

Finding it was impossible to get near enough to the town to protect the boats that were intended to land and seize the ammunition, the Sagamore was obliged to retire without effecting the object for which she came. There was a company of about one hundred rebels at Tampa during the bombardment.

(End of Quote)

The Confederate force at Tampa was Captain J.W. Pearson's Osceola Rangers. Neither side suffered casualties and the Battle of Tampa ended in Confederate victory as the Sagamore was unable to carry out its planned mission of seizing the ammunition at Tampa and destroying the Southern batteries there.

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