Friday, January 27, 2012

January 27, 1862 - A Tampa Bay Fort that Wasn't Really There

Tampa Bay, Florida
The morning of January 27, 1862 (150 years ago today) found the captain of the U.S.S. Kingfisher writing a report on an unsuccessful boat expedition into Tampa Bay.

The expedition was launched after sailors reported seeing the sails of small vessels moving back and forth across Tampa Bay. The commanders of the two blockade vessels stationed off the bay came to believe that these were the boats of a developing coast guard effort at Tampa and that a fort was under construction on the south side of the bay at the mouth of the Manatee River.

Civil War Drawing of USS Kingfisher
After a consultation with the captain of the Ethan Allen, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Joseph P. Couthouy assembled the crew of the Kingfisher on deck and announced plans for a boat party to investigate both the strange sales and the rumored fort. When he called for volunteers, every man on the ship threw up his hand:

...At 8 p.m. I dispatched the first, second, and third cutters in charge of Acting Master J.H. Hallet and Master's Mates J.E. Whiteside and C.E. Sloan, with 35 men, fully armed, the whole under charge of Mr. Hallet, with writen instructions to act in concert with an equal number of boats and men from the Ethan Allen, in charge of Acting Master Stephenson. - Acting Volunter Lieutenant Joseph P. Couthoy, U.S. Navy, January 27, 1862.

Modern Aerial of the Mouth the Manatee River
The results of the boat expedition, however, were not what the Federal officers had hoped. Not only did they find no armed vessels in the bay, they also landed at the mouth of the Manatee River to find there was not even a fort there. The presumed fort was actually an abandoned and temporary building built on top of an Indian mound:
...The boats returned last evening having found no armed vessel nor any enemy on shore, after capturing the sloop Mary Nevis, of Tampa, of about 12 tons burden, engaged in carrying the mails, freight, and passengers between Fort Brooke, Manatee River and the intermediate points, with a woman and child only on board, the one man forming her crew having run her ashore and taken to ths bush. They also burned the temporary barracks erected on a mound near the beach, lately occupied, according to parties on shore, by a troop of 115 or 120 cavalry, with one gun mounted on wheels. - Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Joseph P. Couthoy, U.S. Navy, January 27, 1862.
The expedition did not result in combat, but a similar operation in 1863 would lead to the Battle of Fort Brooke.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Eating Possum by the Pound in Pensacola!

Fort Barrancas at Pensacola Bay
On January 22, 1862 (150 years ago today), the Memphis, Tennessee, Daily Appeal printed a letter from an Alabama soldier stationed near Fort Barrancas on Pensacola Bay.
The account is fascinating because it includes a detailed listing of what the Confederate soldiers in the Army of Pensacola were eating and how much they were paying for it. My favorite item on the menu was 'possum (or opossum, to use the corrent spelling), which was selling for as much as or more than duck!

Possum Monument
Wausau, Florida
...We are living better now than ever before. There is a daily cart trade from Pensacola, which brings us a good supply of edibles. We get chickens, turkeys, ducks, fresh port, country-made sausages, “in the dab” and “in the link,” eggs, butter, oysters, potatoes, opposums, “and so forth. Do you know what the trite phrase contained in the last three words of the previous sentence means? I f you don’t, inquire of the man who, when asked what he had for dinner on a certain occasion, replied that he had “mutton and so forth. What had he besides the mutton? I bought to-day a saddle of venison, fresh from the country, at two bits a pound. Would you like to know our market prices current? Fresh pork 25 cents per pound; eggs, 50 cents per dozen; butter 75 cents; turkeys $2.25 for gobblers; ducks, $1.50 a pair; chickens, $5 a dozen; sausages, 35 to 40 cents per pound; sweet potatoes, 1.50 per bushel; Irish potatoes, $5 per bushel; opossums 75 cents to $1.25 each. - Anonymous Letter, dated January 17, 1862.

Possum Monument
Wausau, Florida
Even considering their taste for "possum and taters," the soldiers at Pensacola were eating very well compared to many of the men in the Confederate army. This would change, of course, as they left the routine of garrison life at Pensacola Bay for the hardships of the active fronts and it is certain that many would look back on their time (and food) in Florida with longing.

Possum was a common food in the Panhandle of Florida on up into the 20th century. Some still enjoy it even today. This fact is commemorated in the annual Possum Festival and Fun Day in Wausau, Florida. Held on the first Saturday of August each year, which has been designated by the Florida Legislature as "Possum Day" in the Sunshine State.

Wausau is also home to the famed Possum Monument, which stands on a landscaped plot by State Highway 77.  To read more about the Possum Monument, please visit

Friday, January 20, 2012

January 20, 1862 - Capture of the Olive Branch off Egmont Key

Egmont Key, Florida
Notice the Egmont Key Lighthouse in the left center.
Before the U.S.S. Hatteras attacked Cedar Key on January 16, 1862 (please see The Union Attack on Cedar Key, Florida), the Jacksonville owned schooner Olive Branch slipped out of the harbor there and ran through the blockade.

The Olive Branch was bound for Nassau, New Providence, and while she successfully made it out past the blockade vessels at Cedar Key, she did not reach her destination. As the small schooner was running south down the Gulf of Mexico past the mouth of Tampa Bay, she was spotted by lookouts stationed atop the Egmont Key Lighthouse on January 20, 1862, 150 years ago today.

The news was signaled to two Union warships stationed off Tampa Bay, the USS Kingfisher and the USS Ethan Allen, both of which launched small boats to pursue the fast-moving schooner. The boats of the Ethan Allen caught up with the blockade runner first, but not before five of her crewmen escaped to shore:

Sketch of Egmont Key Lighthouse, 1862
...The prize was brought in this morning by Acting Master Stephenson of the Ethan Allen, and proved to be the Confederate schooner Olive Branch of Jacksonville, burden 42 4/9 2/5 tons, from Cedar Keys 9th instant for Nassau, New Providence, with cargo of 160 barrels (5,440 gallons) spirits turpentine, valued at about $8,700, and the vessel at $1,200 to $1,500 more. - Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Joseph P. Couthouy, USS Kingfisher, January 21, 1862.

The fact that the cargo of the Olive Branch was worth more than five times the value of the schooner itself tells something about the profits realized by the captains and ship owners that risked running their sloops, steamers and schooners through the blockade of Florida. And despite captures such as that made 150 years ago today by the men of the Ethan Allen, blockade runners would continue to slip in and out of the inlets and bays of the Florida coast until the end of the war.

The Egmont Key Lighthouse, from which the Union lookouts spotted the blockade runner, is now part of Egmont Key State Park. Accessible only by boat or passenger ferry, the park is located off Tampa Bay. To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January 18, 1862 - Union sailors examine Fort Mallory on St. Vincent Island

St. Vincent Island, Florida
On January 18, 1862 (150 years ago today,) a boat party from the U.S. Gunboat Sagamore chased a 40 ton sloop back into the city of Apalachicola.

The vessel, armed with a 6-pounder cannon, had been seen lying at anchor at the inner anchorage of Apalachicola Bay. There is no indication of firing between the two parties, but the sloop did withdraw to the waterfront of the city itself.

USS Sagamore
On the same afternoon, however, the Sagamore made a more significant discovery. Noticing a lack of activity on St. Vincent Island, where the Confederates had built Fort Mallory to protect Apalachicola Bay, Lieutenant A.J. Drake ordered a larger boat party to find out what was going on:

In the afternoon I sent boats to reconnoiter the island of St. Vincent and found that the platforms of the late battery had been destroyed, with evident marks of a hasty retreat. Found a few cattle, sheep, horses, and chickens about a house standing on the point at West Pass. Found the barracks and buildings mostly destroyed. - Lt. A.J. Drake, U.S. Navy, January 18, 1862.

View of St. Vincent Island across Indian Pass
The battery on St. Vincent Island bore the name Fort Mallory, after Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory. A former U.S. Senator from Florida, he was the state's most influential member of the Cabinet of President Jefferson Davis.

The problem, however, was that while the guns of the fort could control West Pass (the channel between St. George and St. Vincent), it was poorly positioned to provide much actual protection to Apalachicola itself. By using East Pass, the U.S. Navy could easily bypass it with shallow draft vessels.

The fort was an earthwork built of sand with timber backing and mounted six 32-pounder cannon. After general agreement was reached that the position was too isolated to be effective, the Confederate military removed the guns to Apalachicola itself and began building fortifications there. Fort Mallory was abandoned, as was discovered by the Union navy 150 years ago today.

To learn more about historic Apalachicola, please visit

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January 17, 1862 - Capture of the blockade runner Emma off Jupiter Inlet

USS Connecticut during the Civil War
Under Commander M. Woodhull, the USS Connecticut was steaming 24 miles southeast of Jupiter Inlet and about 12 miles off the Florida coast on the afternoon of Friday, January 17, 1862, when a suspicious sail was spotted about five miles away. The warship began to pursue the mysterious vessel and came alongside her in just 20 minutes.
Built in 1861 in New York as a civilian vessel named Mississippi, the side-wheel steamer had been purchased by the Union Navy that summer and was commissioned on August 23, 1861, as the USS Connecticut. She mounted five guns and was capable of 10 knots.

The mystery vessel spotted off Jupiter inlet proved to be the schooner Emma. As the Connecticut came alongside the crew of the schooner raised an English flag. And when hailed the Emma’s captain said his vessel was English and that she was bound for St. John in New Brunswick, Canada.

1862 drawing of Jupiter Inlet and Lighthouse
Despite the fact that the Emma was flying English colors and had announced herself as the vessel of a neutral nation, Woodhull ordered her boarded. All of the men on board the schooner were found to be “Americans of Southern birth or proclivity.” As a result, the warship declared her a prize and placed on board a prize master and crew. The Emma was taken to Key West where she was turned over to U.S. officials there.

Papers found on board the Emma showed that she had run the blockade off Apalachicola in December of 1861 with a cargo of tar, turpentine and other naval stores that was sold at Havana, Cuba. This cargo was replaced with one of oranges, bananas, tourniquets, soap, spool cotton, shoe thread and other items that the Federals recognized would be of value to people in the Confederacy. The investigation also found that the store of provisions on board the Emma was insufficient for a long voyage and concluded that the vessel most likely had been planning another run through the blockade.

Apalachicola Bay as it appears today
Among the prisoners taken on board the Emma were a number of individuals from Florida. These included B. Ellison, a merchant from Apalachicola; an unnamed cook who said he was a servant to Ellison, and the schooner’s captain, who was identified only by his last name of Marks.

The capture of the Emma showed that despite the imposition of a blockade of Apalachicola Bay the previous summer, Southern vessels were still making successful runs in and out of that port. They would continue to do so throughout the year 1862.

You can read more about Apalachicola, the city from which the Emma had sailed, by visiting

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16, 1862 - The Union Attack on Cedar Key, Florida

Cedar Key, Florida
It was 150 years ago today (January 16, 1862), that the U.S.S. Hatteras descended on the Cedar Keys on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Fear that an attack was being planned against Fernandina, on Florida's Atlantic Coast, had already led to the withdrawal of most of the Confederate troops from Cedar Keys and only a handful of Southern soldiers were left there when the Hatteras made its attack:
The following is excerpted from the report of Commander George F. Emmons, captain of the Hatteras:
The Schooner Anna Smith was burned on the Waterfront
...I have been entirely successful with the expenditure of very little powder and no one killed that I am aware of, capturing or destroying all the public property here, including a battery of two long eighteens in position on the east end of Sea Horse Key, with their carriages and some ammunition and barracks, a 6-pounder field piece in Depot Key, with the railroad depot and wharf, several cars, telegraph office, and a turpentine storehouse, besides four schooners and three sloops, one ferry scow, sailboat, and launch. - Commander George F. Emmons, U.S.S. Hatteras, January 16, 1862.

The schooners captured, most of them fully or partially loaded with turpentine, included the Anna Smith (198 tons), Stag (200 tons), Aucilla (81 tons) and the Wife (also called the Nye, tonnage not given). A fifth schooner, Fanny, also was in port but slipped away during the night with a partial cargo of turpentine.
Cannon that may have been mounted on Seahorse Key

In addition, the Federals captures 1 lieutenant and 13 or 14 men from the 4th Florida Infantry. The two 18-pounders on Seahorse Key had only one barrel of powder and there is no indication that fired a single shot or even were manned during the attack.

Four of the Confederate soldiers taken prisoner had the measles and Commander Emmons was so concerned they might not survive if they were sent to prison that he paroled them. They were identified in his reports as Benjamin Gatlin, B.J. Simmons, J.S. Poer and John Carlton.

In a rarity, the Confederate report of the attack almost mirrored the Union account. Brigadier General John H. Trapier filed the following from Fernandina on January 20, 1862:
USS Hatteras (right) was later destroyed by CSS Alabama

...On the 16th instant the enemy, in a steamer armed with five guns, made a descent upon the harbor and village of Cedar Keys. Having burnt seven small vessels in the harbor, which were loading with cotton and turpentine with the intnetion (information of which had doubtless been conveyed to the enemy) of running the blockade, and also the wharf of the Florida Railroad, which has its Gulf terminus at that point, and seven flat cars belonging to the same road, he withdrew and went to see. There was posted at this place a small force, consisting of a lieutenant and 22 men, belonging to the Fourth Regiment Florida Volunteers, placed there as a sort of police force, to protect the inhabitants of the key (some 80 or 100 persons) against any disturbance from bands of marauders. The lieutenant and 14 privates were taken prisoners, but 4 of the latter were subsequently released.... Brig. Gen. J.H. Trapier, January 20, 1862.

Trapier went on to note that the cannon captured by the Union sailors were worthless, reporting that they "had been condemned after inspection" as unserviceable, but had never been removed "as not being worth the removal, neither the guns nor their carriages." The officers of the Hatteras must have agreed as they left the cannon behind after spiking them. It is thought that these guns may be included in the ones now on display at the Cedar Key Museum Historic State Park.

To read more about the Union attack on Cedar Key, please visit

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cedar Key's Last Day as a Confederate Port

Waterfront at Cedar Key, Florida
January 15, 1862 (150 years ago today) was Cedar Key's last full day as an active port of the fledgling Southern nation.
Actually a collection of small keys or islands nestled in the curve of Florida's Gulf Coast, the Cedar Keys gained their name from the large numbers of cedar trees that grew in the area. An important military depot of the Second Seminole War, the islands became an important export point for shipments of cedar slats, lumber and naval stores during the antebellum era. The Cedar Key Light, on Seahorse Key, began operating in 1854, helping schooners, sloops and steamboats navigate the the banks and shallow waters surrounding the port.

Island Hotel, built in 1859
By 1859 there were even visions of competing towns on the islands. One group of investors secured a charter for a town on Atsena Otie Key, which had been the primary U.S. Army installation during the Seminole War. A second group, headed by U.S. Senator David Levy Yulee acquired most of Way Key and planned a town there that soon would become the western or Gulf terminus of the Florida Railroad. It was the railroad town that would survive to become today's Cedar Key.

The first trains reached Way Key in March of 1861, after the secession of Florida but before Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. By that time a significant population had settled on the islands and a number of prominent buildings, including what is now the Island Hotel had been built there.

Cannon thought to have been used on Seahorse Key
Located at Cedar Key Museum Historic State Park
With the outbreak of war between the North and South, the Confederates had stationed men on Seahorse Key and Atsena Otie Key. The primary fortifications were well out into the Gulf on Seahorse Key and consisted of a battery mounting two outdated 18-pounder cannon, barracks and other facilities. The lighthouse there was used as an observation point.

Despite the establishment of the Union blockade of the Florida coastline during the summer of 1861, Cedar Key had remained an important shipping point for Confederate blockade runners and January 15, 1862, found five schooners in port there. These were the Aucilla, Stag, Anna Smith, Wyfe and Fanny, all either loaded or in the process of being loaded with cotton, turpentine products and lumber for planned efforts to run the blockade. Three fishing smacks were also in port. An eyewitness described the place as "a small town with about thirty houses, and probably one hundred inhabitants."

Marker for Yulee's Florida Railroad on Cedar Key Waterfront
What Cedar Key did not have by mid-January of 1861, however, was an effective defense force. Intelligence had been received in Florida of a planned Union attack on Fernandina, which served as the eastern or Atlantic terminus of the Florida Railroad, and troops had been rushed to that point. These reinforcements included the men from the Fourth Florida Infantry originally positioned for the defense of Cedar Key.

The cannon on Seahorse Key were considered so obsolete that they were simply abandoned where they sat, although a detachment of fewer than two dozen soldiers did remain on Atsena Otie Key with a single 6-pounder field piece. They were not really there to defend against Union attack, but rather to serve as something of a police force for the protection of the civilian residents of the islands.

They were not aware that two Federal warships, the U.S.S. Hatteras and the U.S.S. Florida, were closing in from Apalachicola and Key West, respectively. They would attack the following day.

I will have more on the Union attack on Cedar Key tomorrow, but until then you can learn more about the beautiful island town by visiting

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11, 1862 - The U.S.S. Florida reaches Key West

Commander J.R. Goldsborough, U.S.N.
It is unique to note that there were actually three ships (at least) bearing the name Florida active in the Gulf of Mexico during the month of January 1862. The famed Confederate warship, C.S.S. Florida, was in the Mobile area.  The Southern blockade runner, Florida, was in New Orleans, but would soon slip out to sea. And the Union warship, U.S.S. Florida, reached Key West on January 11, 1862 (150 years ago today).
 The Union vesssel had been sent to the Gulf of Mexico on an urgent mission to capture the blockade runner Gladiator, a vessel that was expected to slip a cargo of arms and munitions into port somewhere along the Gulf Coast.  Commander J.R. Goldsborough was ordered to call at Key West to confer with officers there about his mission. He took advantage of the opportunity to dispatch a report to his commanding officer:

     ...I obtained some valuable and useful information that leads me to think the Gladiator may attempt to land or transship her cargo to the Cedar Keys.
     The Florida's draft will not permit me to approach the keys as near as I could desire, and would be pleased if you can spare a vessel of light draft to assist in this important duty.
     The battery on Sea Horse Key, one of the group, has been nearly if not entirely abandoned, and the railroad bridge could, with a small force, be easily destroyed, which would prevent the further trans-shipment of articles on this end of the line.  - Commander J.R. Goldsborough, U.S.S. Florida, January 11, 1862.

Goldsboroguh did not know it, but the U.S.S. Hatteras of the Gulf Blockading Squadron already had received orders to carry out the mission of destroying the battery and other facilities at Cedar Key. Both ships steamed for the Florida port over the next few days, with the Hatteras arriving first.

I'll have more on that attack by the Hatteras on Cedar Key in coming days.

January 11, 1862 - The Department of Key West is organized

Brig. Gen. John M. Brannan, U.S.V.
On this date 150 years ago (January 11, 1862), the U.S. military organized a new department headquartered in Key West that was given control over much of Florida.
The following is from General Orders No. 3. issued from the Headquarters of the Army in Washington, D.C., on January 11, 1862:

     I. A new military department, to be known as the Department of Key West, is hereby constituted, with the following bounds: Key West, the Tortugas, and the main-land on the west coast as far as Apalachicola and to Cape Canaveral on the east coast.
     Brig. Gen. J.M. Brannan, U.S. volunteers, is assigned to the command. - I. Thomas, Adjutant-General, January 11, 1862.

The orders were issued by command of Major General George B. McClellan, who then served as general-in-chief of the Union army.

An 1841 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, General Brannan had served during the Mexican War (now generally called the Mexican-American War) where he fought in the Battles of Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Churubusco and Mexico City, among others. He was badly wounded at Mexico City, but recovered and went on to serve in Florida during the years between the end of that war and the beginning of the War Between the States.

Brannan's name would figure prominently in Florida over the next several years.

Friday, January 6, 2012

January 1862 - The Second Battle of Pensacola Bay

Fort Barrancas and Pensacola Bay
Union and Confederate forces squared off one last time for control of Pensacola Bay on January 1, 1862. The 150th anniversary of the battle passed quietly just a few days ago.
The engagement began when Union forces at Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island observed a steamer making its way to the Navy Yard wharf on the Confederate side of the bay. Colonel Harvey Brown of the Fifth U.S. Artillery, the commander at Fort Pickens, had opened fire on Confederate forces on the mainland once before in November.  He did not hesitate to do so again:

Cannon at Fort Pickens
...[T]his being the first instance of a boat of any kind coming to the navy-yard or within the range of my guns since the last bombardment, I could only view it as bravado, or as done with the intention of drawing my fire. I therefore ordered her to be fired into, which was done three times while she lay at the wharf and was leaving it. A gun was fired from a neighboring battery of ours, which was returned, it being directly in range of the department steamer, and here, as I supposed the affair would rest....Col. Harvey Brown, January 2, 1862.

The Confederates, commanded by General Richard H. "Fighting Dick" Anderson, however, were not inclined to let the affair rest and opened fire using their guns at Fort Barrancas and other positions:

Cannon at Fort Barrancas
...This fire was returned by order of Brigadier-General Anderson, in temporary command, and a brisk cannonade was kept up on both sides until dark, when the enemy ceased. Ours was continued irregularly and apparently without effect or an object until stopped by my order. No casualty is reported on our side, and we can see no damage to the enemy. A large and valuable store-house, with considerable property in the navy-yard, was burned by the enemy's shells....Gen. Braxton Bragg, January 3, 1862.

Ruins of Fort Pickens
Union casualties in the fight were reported as two men wounded. The Confederates, as noted by General Bragg, suffered no losses. Damage to Fort Pickens was light, consisting mainly of a few holes caused by exploding shells.

General Bragg reported that General Anderson had been intoxicated at the time of the engagement, while Colonel Brown noted that, "I am impressed with the belief that General Bragg was not present, and that a less experienced and more hot-headed officer commanded."

It would be the last major exchange of fire between Union and Confederate forces for control of Pensacola Bay. The soldiers, as Brown noted, "seemed to consider it a New Year's amusement.

To learn more about Fort Pickens, please visit

To learn more about Fort Barrancas, please visit

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Battle of Natural Bridge available Free on Kindle - Tonight Only

If you have an Amazon Kindle or use their free Kindle software on your computer, iPad, etc., the expanded edition of my book on the Battle of Natural Bridge is available FREE tonight only as part of a special promotion.

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida - available in both Kindle and print formats - tells the story of the March 6, 1865 battle that determined the fate of Tallahassee and the Big Bend of Florida.

Fought along the banks of the St. Marks River, the battle was a major Confederate victory and based on its results was the last significant Southern victory of the entire war.  Not only did it prevent Union forces from taking Tallahassee and inflicting heavy damage to the city, infrastructure and surrounding farms and plantations, it also halted a planned Federal advance to the city of Thomasville in southern Georgia.

The Battle of Natural Bridge is unique for a number of reasons. It was the last significant engagement in Florida. The Union force consisted of the 2nd USCT, 99th USCT, 2nd Florida Cavalry (U.S.) and a large flotilla of U.S. Navy warships. The Confederate force consisted of the 5th Florida Cavalry, 2nd Florida Cavalry, 1st Florida Infantry Reserves, 1st Florida Militia, crew of the gunboat C.S.S. Spray, and three sections of artillery (two of field artillery and one of siege artillery).

In the main fight at the Natural Bridge of the St. Marks, hundreds of black Union soldiers, many of them former slaves while others were educated free Northerners, carried out seven distinct charges against entrenched Confederate forces and repelled a Southern counter-attack before withdrawing from the field. The fighting was intense and often at close range.

Please click here to download the book for your Kindle device or software:  The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida.

The download is free until midnight tonight, then will return to its normal price.

If you would like the full book, which includes references and index, please follow this link:  The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida: The Confederate Defense of Tallahassee.

You can also learn more about the battle at