Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27, 1862 - A Spy is captured at Pensacola Bay

The Tower Bastion at Fort Pickens
It took a few days for word to get out, but Confederate forces at Pensacola captured a spy trying to cross the bay to Fort Pickens 150 years ago today.

The capture was detailed in a letter that an Alabama soldier dated from Pensacola on March 31, 1862. It was published in newspapers across the South and offered a rare insight into the dangerous role played by African Americans in Florida as they collected information for the Union army:

Fort Barrancas, as seen across the bay from Fort Pickens
...On Thursday we captured a negro man making his way to Fort Pickens, in a boat. He was carrying information to the enemy, and to-morrow he will start on a longer journey - even to eternity. On the same night, several men, who were fishing in the bay, were caught in a gale and thrown upon Santa Rosa Island, where they were taken prisoner by the Yankees. - Unidentified Soldier, CSA, March 27, 1862.

The account indicates the unfortunate prisoner was executed in Pensacola on April 1, 1862. His name was lost to history.

Walls of Fort Pickens
Military reports from Federal officers at Fort Pickens, however, reveal that he was not alone in carrying out missions behind enemy lines. The Union army made liberal use of area residents, both white and black, in its surveillance of Confederate forces on the mainland. Some of these individuals came to Santa Rosa Island on their own with information, some of which was valuable and some of which was not.

Others, like the individual captured 150 years ago today, undertook missions behind enemy lines for the Federals and more than one paid with his life.

To learn more about the historic city of Pensacola, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pensacola1.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Tale of a Yankee Deserter from Fernandina

Union Soldiers in Fernandina, 1862
On March 25, 1862, 150 years ago today, the Savannah Republican published an account of an interview with Peter Jones, a Northern soldier who slipped away from his post at Fernandina and fled to the Confederate forces on the mainland:

...Peter Jones, a native of Bridgeton, Cumberland county, New Jersey, and a member of Co. H., Capt. C. McElvain, 97th New York Regiment, under the command of Colonel Henry Guy, is the name of the Federal deserter from Fernandina. He states the enemy were cruelly treated by their officers, and ill clad and fed - their rations consisting of very hard and black break, made of shorts or bran, he did not know which, and old pickled beef, unfit for any purpose, and a scanty supply at that. The officers, however, fared sumptuously, and were indifferent as to the condition of those under their command. - Savannah Republican, March 25, 1862.

The deserter followed the route of the Florida Railroad.
The story told by Peter Jones could have been that of almost any deserter from either side during the war. He complained of bad food, insufficient rations, difficult conditions and cruel officers. "For the most trivial offence," he wrote, soldiers could be "put under guard and made to carry a 32-pound shot ten hours." 

Jones reported that the main encampment of the Federal force on Amelia Island was east of the town of Fernandina. He had been sent for water outside a guard line, but found a boat near the railroad bridge leading to the mainland and slipped away into Florida. He said he followed the railroad itself away from Amelia Island and into the interior. To see a modern aerial view of the railroad bridge site, please click here: http://g.co/maps/qkrpj.

The newspaper noted that the deserter seemed to be well cared for by the Confederates who were holding him:

...It was with some difficulty we could glean the little we have given above, as the deserter seemed afraid to communicate anything. Though, apparently, a simple and ignorant subject, we think he needs looking after and deserves the good keeping he has met with. - Savannah Republican, March 25, 1862.

The fact that Jones, if that was his real name, was "afraid to communicate anything" is obvious from the newspaper report. He claimed to have served with the 97th New York Infantry, but that regiment was not at Fernandina at the time he deserted and its muster rolls reveal no soldier named Peter Jones.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Skirmish near Jacksonville, Florida (March 24, 1862)

Jacksonville during the Civil War
The successful attack on Union forces at New Smyrna Beach (Please see Skirmish at New Smyrna) was followed with a raid on a Federal picket guard at Jacksonville two days later on March 24, 1862 (150 years ago today).

When the main Union force had occupied Jacksonville, a series of picket posts were established around the perimeter of the city. The purpose of these outposts was to sound the alarm should Confederate troops appear in the area. One of the most significant picket posts was at a place called the "Brick Church."

A well-known landmark in 1862, the church no longer stands. The little cemetery associated with the structure can still be found between Duval and Monroe Streets, only a few hundred yards west of the rushing traffic of I-95 in Jacksonville.

Click here to view Jacksonville Skirmish, March 24, 1862 in a larger map.
Perhaps the best account of what can best be called the Skirmish at Jacksonville of March 24, 1862, appeared in Savannah newspapers a few days later and was reprinted in numerous other Southern publications, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune of April 10, 1862:

Jacksonville shortly after the war.
...It having been ascertained that a small picket guard of the enemy was located at a certain church in the suburbs of Jacksonville, Co. D. detailed Lieut. Strange, with thirty men, to attack them. The two sentinels were first shot down, when the remainder of the pickets, five in number, sought shelter in the church. The building was immediately attacked, the door burst open, and our men rushed in; after killing two, the remaining three surrendered. A negro, the property of a lady in the neighborhood, was also captured with the party, and has been placed in jail. - Report appearing in Savannah newspapers of April 3, 1862.

The Family Friend, a newspaper in Monticello, gave a similar account, noting that four Federal soldiers were killed and three taken prisoner. Two other Union pickets had been captured a day or two before the skirmish and the paper noted that, "all five are now at Tallahassee."

The Lieutenant Strange mentioned as being severely wounded in the fight was Thomas E. Strange, the 1st lieutenant of Company K, Third Florida Infantry. At the time of the skirmish he was on temporary duty as regimental adjutant. He was taken back to Lake City for medical treatment, but died there two days later on March 26, 1862. A noted veteran of the Mexican War, he was mourned by his wife, Mary E. Strange.

Col. W.S. Dilworth
More than one writer has inflated the skirmish into a full scale battle, claiming that at least two regiments became engaged. This is incorrect. Only thirty Confederates and five Federals were engaged. The account appearing in Savannah noted that no reinforcements came up to help the overwhelmed picket guard. 

Colonel W.S. Dilworth, in fact, explained in his report of the affair why he did not make an attack in force on the Federal troops occupying Jacksonville:

...After making a thorough reconnaissance of the city, I became convinced that I could not attack the city without heavy loss and could be driven out by the enemy's gunboats. I then determined to commence a system of annoyances, by attacking their pickets, foraging parties, &c. I made a successful attack on the picket near the city of Jacksonville, killing 4 and taking three prisoners. - Col. W.S. Dilworth, 3rd Florida Infantry, CSA, April 15, 1862.

The strategy devised by Colonel Dilworth had a definite impact on the Union occupying force. The small hit and run raids and scouts, the most significant of which was the one of the 24th, led the Federal commander, Brigadier General H.G. Wright, to believe that he was facing imminent attack. 

Fear, more than anything else, soon would lead to the issuance of orders to General Wright to evacuate Jacksonville. And the skirmish that took place 150 years ago today played a key part in that rattling of nerves.

I will post more on the Union occupation of Jacksonville over coming days, so be sure to check back often. You can learn more about preserved historic sites around the city by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/jacksonville.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Skirmish at New Smyrna, Florida - March 22, 1862

Ponce de Leon Inlet from the air
Florida Memory Collection
After suffering humiliating withdrawals from Fernandina, Jacksonville and St. Augustine, the Confederate forces on the Atlantic Coast of Florida struck back 150 years ago this week.

On March 22, 1862, boat crews from the USS Penguin and USS Henry Andrew pulled into what was called Mosquito Inlet in the 19th century. The passage is known today as Ponce de Leon Inlet.

The captains of the vessels, Acting Lieutenant

T.A. Budd and Acting Master S.W. Mather, had been warned there might be Confederate troops in the area. Blockade runners had been reported to be using the inlet and the Union navy was aware that an earthwork fort, pierced for three guns, had been built inside the inlet at New Smyrna.

It was believed that the fort had been evacuated at about the time of the fall of St. Augustine, but no one knew for sure:

...It appears that after going some 15 or 18 miles without any incident, and while on their return and in sight of the Henry Andrew, the order of the line being no longer observed, the two commanding officers quite in advance, landed under certain earthworks which had been abandoned or never armed, near a dense grove of live oaks, with underbrush. A heavy and continuous fire was unexpectedly opened upon them from both these covers. Lieutenant Commanding Budd and Acting Master Mather, with 3 of the 5 men composing the boat's crew, were killed, the remaining 2 were wounded and made prisoners. - Flag Officer S.F. DuPont, U.S. Navy, March 24, 1862.

View Larger Map

Site of Skirmish at New Smyrna (Notice monument behind twin palms at left center).

The total Federal party consisted of four or five boats and 41 men. As each of the boats came up, they also took heavy fire from the Confederates, who turned out to be trained soldiers from the Third Florida Infantry. The sailors had carried along a boat howitzer to give themselves greater firepower, but strangely had mounted the cannon on a boat from which it could not be fired:

...The rear boat of all had a howitzer, which, however, could not be properly secured or worked, the boat not being fitted for the purpose, and could therefore be of little use. The men had to seek cover on shore, but as soon as it was dark, Acting Master's Mate McIntosh returned to the boats, brought away the body of one of the crew who had been killed, all the arms, ammunition, and flags, threw the howitzer into the river, passed close to the rebel pickets, who hailed, but elicited no reply, and arrived safely on board the Henry Andrew. - Flag Officer S.F. DuPont, U.S. Navy, March 24, 1862.

USS Penguin in 1862.
The successful attack on the Federal boats at New Smyrna gave the Confederates in East Florida a badly needed boost in morale. Colonel W.S. Dilworth, commander of the Third Florida Infantry, hailed the success of his men in a report dated April 4, 1862:

...I have to report a most successful skirmish, which took place at [New] Smyrna.... Captain D.B. Bird, Third Regiment, Florida Colunteers, C.S. [Army], commanding post, the skirmishers commanded by Captain Strain, Third Regiment, and Lieutenant Chambers, of Captain Owens' independent troop of cavalry. - Col. W.S. Dilworth, C.S.A., April 4, 1862.

Dilworth went on to report that a blockade runner recently had landed a large shipment of arms at New Smyrna and that he believed the Federals were trying to seize the weapons. In reality, the Union navy had learned that a large stockpile of oak lumber was stored near Mosquito (Ponce de Leon) Inlet and was trying to find it.

The victory by Captain Bird's men was complete. The final casualty report for the Federal boat party listed 7 killed and 7 wounded. Two of the wounded were reported to have been taken prisoner. The Confederates reported no losses in the fight.

There was one curious discrepancy in the reports of the two sides. The Federal reports listed two men as wounded and captured, while the Confederates reported that there were three. "A runaway negro also was captured," Colonel Dilworth reported, "who had piloted the enemy into the inlet to [New] Smyrna and who was to be hanged." The Union reports noted that a pilot had been shot in the foot but otherwise were silent as to his fate.

Southern newspapers published wildly exaggerated accounts of the Skirmish at New Smyrna over coming weeks, some of them claiming that as many as 45 Union sailors had been killed. The actual casualty list was as follows:

USS Penguin
Acting Lieutenant T.A. Budd, Killed
James Marlow, ordinary seaman, Killed
Walter Burch, ordinary seaman, Killed
John Dennis, master's mate, wounded in shoulder.
William Twaites, ordinary seaman, wounded in hand.
USS Henry Andrew

Acting Master S.W. Mather, commanding, Killed
Lewis Deloris, ordinary seaman, Killed
John Bates, seaman, Killed
Samuel Arnold, seaman, Killed
William Brown, ordinary seaman, Killed
A.W. Kelsey, acting assistant paymaster, Wounded in hand.
Walter Bradley, acting third asssistant engineer, Wounded in forehead.
Thomas Welch, ordinary seaman, Wounded and a prisoner.
Henry C. Rich, ordinary seaman, Wounded and a prisoner.
James T. Allen, ordinary seaman, Wounded in thigh.

The site of the Skirmish at New Smyrna is located on South Riverside Drive near its intersection with Clinch Street in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. A stone monument marks the site.

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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Did a Union General recognize the Independence of Florida?

Mouth of the St. Johns River
With the Union Navy now firmly in command of the mouth of the St. Johns River and many of Jacksonville's pro-secession citizens having fled inland, the Unionist residents of the city took a bold step on the evening of March 20, 1862, 150 years ago today.
Hon. William Marvin
U.S. District Judge
The following note was included in a private letter from Flag Officer S.F. DuPont of the U.S. Navy to U.S. District Judge William Marvin, who had been appointed as part of the Federal effort to reinstate U.S. law in northeastern Florida. Marvin later would serve as the appointed governor of Florida during the early days of the Reconstruction era.

...A meeting was called there last night by the citizens and the strongest Union resolutions passed, expressing the determination of the people of Florida to be a part of the Union and condemning the Confederate States Government as never having been approved by the people of Florida. - Flag Officer S.F. Du Pont, U.S. Navy, March 21, 1862.

Jacksonville, Florida
Photo courtesy of Brian Mabelitini
On the same day as the meeting (March 20), the Union army issued a circular "To the people of East Florida" from the headquarters of the Expeditionary Corps in Jacksonville:

...There is great satisfaction in the fact, now become patent to all, that a large portion of you still cling, in your hearts, to that mother who first liberated you from the thraldom of a despotic government; who next rescued you from the deadly grasp of the wiley savage, at a frightful cost of life and treasure; and who afterwards elevated you from the condition of territorial dependence to that of a proud and independent State. - Gen. T.W. Sherman, U.S. Army, March 20, 1862.

Gen. T.W. Sherman, U.S.A.
Library of Congress
The "despotic government" referred to in the circular was Spain, which had ruled Florida in a fairly benevolent fashion. The "wiley savage," of course, was a reference to the Seminole Indians, who had fought the U.S. Army to a standstill in the swamps of South Florida.

The author of the circular was Brigader General T.W. Sherman, who should not be confused for the better known General William Tecumseh Sherman. He went on to recommend that the citizens "assemble in your primary and sovereign capacity; that you throw off that sham government which has been forced upon you; swear true fidelity and allegience to the Constitution of the United States."

Sherman's circular is a fascinating document in that it recognizes in an official way that Florida was a "proud and independent State." If, as General Sherman proclaimed in an official document, Florida was an "independent State" and its citizens capable of acting in a "primary and sovereign capacity," the was he recognizing that the Sunshine State was indeed an independent entity?  And if it was an independent entity, could it not legally secede from the Union?

The circular issued from Jacksonville raises serious questions about whether the U.S. Army, through General T.W. Sherman, officially recognized the legal sovereignty of Florida on March 20, 1862.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 18, 1862 - The Confederate Fort at Ricco's Bluff

Ricco's Bluff area as it appears today
Coupled with the disasters in East Florida that resulted in the Union capture of Fernandina, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Confederate officers in the state faced even more trouble in March of 1862. The term of service of most of Florida's original 12-month volunteers was up and the state faced the very real prospect of being left undefended.

The magnitude of this disaster was increased when orders arrived from General Robert E. Lee for the Twenty-Fourth Mississippi Infantry, First Florida Cavalry, Third Florida Infantry, Fourt Florida Infantry, Fifth Florida Infantry, Martin's light battery (6 guns) and Gamble's battery (3 guns) all to leave the state immediately for Mississippi. They were to be incorporated into General Albert Sidney Johnston's Army, which was preparing for its advance to Shiloh.
Antebellum Raney House in Apalachicola
The orders were dispatched even as Major General John C. Pemberton was visiting the cities of Apalachicola and Tallahassee in Florida. The commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Middle and East Florida, Pemberton went down the Apalachicola River by steamboat and arrived in Apalachicola to find that it was being evacuated. He filed his report 150 years ago today:

...On my arrival at Apalachicola, I found the batteries dismantled and the guns, carriages, ammunition &c., already on board the steamboat Marianna and about leaving for Ricco's Bluff, a point on the river which would no doubt admit of a good defense, but which, after a personal examination of its advantages, seemed to me to be inferior in that respect to a position some miles lower, and known as Fort Gadsden. - Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA, March 18, 1862.

Earthworks of Fort Gadsden
The decision to move the heavy artillery from Apalachicola to Ricco's Bluff instead of Fort Gadsden had been made by Brigadier General Richard F. Floyd. He had considered Fort Gadsden, which was a noted earthwork fort from the early 19th century on the east bank of the river about 30 miles above Apalachicola, but believed the site to be unhealthy.

Ricco's Bluff, further upriver in the southwest corner of Liberty County, was higher and represented by locals to be healthier ground. Accepting this advice at face value, Floyd began moving his guns and supplies up the river:

...After many days and nights of constant labor I got the cannon, with all their appliances, ammunition for small arms also, on board steamers, and removed them to Ricco's Bluff, on the east side of the Apalachicola River. At this point the cannon (thirteen in number, being all that I had at Apalachicola) were being placed in position for immediate use, if necessary, and orders have been issued to Lieutenant Colonel James, in command there for the present, to erect batteries with all dispatch. - Gen. Richard L. Floyd, CSA, March 17, 1862.

Officers' Quarters, Chattahoochee Arsenal
The only guns not taken to Ricco's Bluff were the field pieces of the Milton Light Artillery, which went from Apalachicola straight up the river to the Chattahoochee Arsenal, where that company was ordered to report. A few of its men remained in Apalachicola as late as the 17th to provide protection and assistance to the citizens who decided to flee the city as it was evacuated by the Southern troops.
To provide infantry support for the guns at Ricco's Bluff, General Floyd ordered the companies of Captains Henry B. Grace and Lawrence Attaway to take up positions there. They were augmented by the still forming company of Captain William T. Gregory.
Little is known of the design of the defenses at Ricco's Bluff. It is believed that there was an upper battery on top of the bluff and a lower or water battery below it. The upper battery mounted ten guns, while the lower battery mounted three. Earthworks were erected to protect the guns and the installation also included a magazine (or magazines), storage buildings (described in one account as "corn cribs") and wooden buildings for use as barracks, offices and officers' quarters.

The defenses of the Apalachicola River would grow considerably and become much more complex over the next few years and Ricco's Bluff would be just the first of a series of installations built along the river.

Here are some links about places mentioned in this post that might be of interest:

Monday, March 12, 2012

March 12, 1862 - The Surrender of Jacksonville, Florida

Riverfront at Jacksonville, Florida
Photo courtesy of Brian Mabelitini
The Federal expedition against the ports of Northeast Florida had resulted in the capture of Fernandina on March 4th and St. Augustine on March 11th. The third and last of its targets, Jacksonville, surrendered 150 years ago today.

The final move on Jacksonville came on March 12, 1862, when Lieutenant-Commanding S.H.Stevens turned the USS Ottawa up the St. Johns River from Mayport at the river's mouth. The Ottawa was still riddled with bullet holes from the fighting along the St. Mary's River five days earlier (please see Fighting on the St. Mary's River).

St. Johns Bluff
The Confederates had been preparing to defend Jacksonville and had moved some of the cannon they had saved from Amelia Island to the fortifications they had erected on St. Johns Bluff. When the Union navy appeared in force off the mouth of the river, however, the earthworks were evacuated and the artillery was left there to be captured by the Federals.

As she steamed up the river, the Ottawa lead a small flotilla made up of the Seneca, Isaac Smith, Pembina and Ellen. As the vessels passed St. Johns Bluff, the Ellen was detached with orders to take on board the arms and munitions abandoned there by the retreating Confederates.

St. Johns River from St. Johns Bluff
The other vessels continued up to Jacksonville, encountering no Confederate opposition as they advanced. The following report was filed by Lieutenant-Commanding S.H. Stevens on March 13, 1862:

We succeeded in reaching Jacksonville without difficulty, and at every house save one found evidence of peaceful demonstrations and returning reason.

On our arrival at this place, the corporate authorities there, S.L. Burnett, Esq., came off with a flag of truce and gave up the town.

USS Ottawa
From conversation with intelligent citizens I find that the inhabitants are seeking and waiting for the protection of our flag; that they do not fear us, but their own people; and from the occupation of this important poitn I am satisfied, if our opportunities are improved, great results will follow. Many of the citizens have fled and many remain, and there is reason to believe that most of them will return.

I have just heard that municipal government has been restored. - Lt. S.H. Stevens, U.S. Navy, March 13, 1862.

In just eight days, the U.S. Navy had captured all three of the principal Confederate ports on the east coast of Florida. Very little blood had been shed. The only real opposition, in fact, had come when Confederate infantry and cavalry attacked the Ottawa while it was navigating the narrow St. Mary's River.

To learn more about the historic city of Jacksonville, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/jacksonville.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 11, 1862 - The Surrender of St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida
The citizens of St. Augustine surrendered to the Union navy 150 years ago today.

The oldest city in the continental United States, St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565, 42 years before Jamestown, Virginia, and 55 years before the first Pilgrim set foot on Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. In its entire 297 year history, the old city had never surrendered to an enemy force.

The last Confederate troops, however, had evacuated St. Augustine the night before and the citizens were left with no way to defend themselves. The USS Wabash was visible offshore and as a boat party set out from the warship, the city leaders raised a white flag over the stone ramparts of Fort Marion.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Called Fort Marion in 1862
Built by the Spanish beginning in 1672, the fort was called the Castillo de San Marcos by them and took 23 years to complete. Built of coquina stone mined on nearby Anastasia Island, it is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

Seeing the white flag go up over the fort, Commander C.R.P. Rogers of the USS Wabash ordered his men to pull for the city wharf:
...Landing at the wharf and inquiring for the chief authorities, I was soon joined by the Mayor and conducted to the City Hall, where the municipal authorities were assembled.

Old Government House
   I informed them that having come to restore the authority of the United States, you had deemed it right and kind to send an unarmed boat to inform the citizens of your determination to occupy the town at once with our forces; that you were desirous to calm all apprehensions of harsh treatment that might exist in their minds, and that you would carefully respect the persons and property of all citizens who submitted to the authority of the United States; that you had a single purpose to restore the state of affairs which existed before the rebellion.
C.R.P. Rodgers, U.S. Navy

Commander Rogers then subjected the citizens of St. Augustine to what to many of them was an ultimate indignity. Instead of having his own men raise the Stars and Stripes over the historic fort, had the citizens do it themselves. He may have done so to send a firm message, as the ladies of the city had chopped down the flag staff at St. Francis Barracks the night before to prevent it ever being used to again fly the U.S. Flag (see The Women of St. Augustine):

...I recommended them to hoist the American flag at once, and in prompt accordance with the advice, by the order of the Mayor, the national ensign was displayed from the flag-staff of the fort.
Civil War cannon in St. Augustine
Possibly one of those in the Water Battery in 1862
   The Mayor proposed to turn over to me the five cannon mounted in the fort, which are in good condition and not spiked, and also the few munitions of war left by the retreating enemy. I desired him to take charge of them for the present, to make careful inventories and establish a parole and guard, informing him that he would be held responsible for the place until our force should enter the harbor.

At the time of the surrender of St. Augustine, the five modern cannon still mounted in the fort consisted of three 32-pounders and two 8-inch Columbiads. These guns were located in the water battery, which had been added to the old Castillo during the antebellum era. Several other cannon from the installation had been removed by the Confederates to help defend other ports such as Fernandina and Jacksonville.
Plaza de la Constitucion, America's Oldest Park
Rodger's and the City Officials crossed the Plaza
on their way to the Government House.
Fort Marion also contained a large number of antique cannon, some of them hundreds of years old, but these were unmounted and outdated and no longer of value in defending the citadel.

The military side of the surrender completed, Commander Rodgers then took steps to reassure the citizens of St. Augustine, few of whom had fled upon learning their city would be occupied:

   I called upon the clergymen of the city, requesting them to re-assure the people and to confide in our kind intentions towards them.
   About 1500 persons remain in St. Augustine, about one-fifth of the inhabitants having fled. I believe that there are many citizens who are earnestly attached to the Union, a large number who are silently opposed to it, and a still larger number who care very little about the matter.

Rodgers and his men were delayed by weather in getting back to their ship, but when they finally did make their way out of the harbor, the Stars and Stripes flew over the nation's oldest city. It has continued to do so ever since.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of St. Augustine, here are some links you might enjoy:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

March 10, 1862 - The Women of St. Augustine chop down the flag staff

Castillo de San Marcos (Fort Marion)
St. Augustine, Florida
Having captured Fernandina and Amelia Island on March 4, 1862, the Union fleet next directed its attention to Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

The Confederacy already had decided to evacuate positions all along its southeastern coast in favor of strengthening key points and developing an interior system of defense. The concept was developed by General Robert E. Lee of Virginia. He had not yet ascended to the command of the Army of Northern Virginia and was then commanding in East Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Unfortunately for Florida, Lee considered the nation's oldest city of St. Augustine as not important enough expending resources for its defense. The troops there were ordered to load up their supplies and withdraw. And as had been the case at Fernandina, they did so just as the masts of the Union warships appeared on the horizon.

The departure of the Confederate troops from St. Augustine took place 150 years ago today (March 10, 1862). Behind they left a city filled with civilians, many of whom were highly displeased that their community was being abandoned to the Union Navy. This sentiment was particularly prominent among the women of St. Augustine:

St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine, Florida
...There is much violent and pestilent feeling among the women. They seem to mistake treason for courage, and have a theatrical desire to figure as heroines. Their minds have doubtless been filled with falsehoods so industriously circulated in regard to the lust and hatred of our troops. - C.R.P. Rogers, U.S. Navy, March 13, 1862.

So angry were the women of St. Augustine that their city and the ancient ramparts of the Castillo de San Marcos (then called Fort Marion) were being left undefended that they gathered in front of the city's St. Francis Barracks on the night of March 10th:

...On the night before our arrival a party of women assembled in front of the barracks and cut down the flagstaff in order that it might not be used to support the old flag. The men seemed anxious to conciliate in every way. - C.R.P. Rogers, U.S. Navy, March 13, 1862.

The Union Navy would arrive in St. Augustine the next day. I will post on the 150th anniversary of that event tomorrow, so be sure to check back then. You can read more about the historic city of St. Augustine anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/staugustine1.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March 8, 1862 - The Fortifications of Fernandina & Amelia Island

Fort Clinch, as drawn in 1862
Having taken possession of Fernandina and Amelia Island, the Federal forces began to review exactly what they had captured.

Officers, enlisted men and newspaper reporters roamed around the island, looking at Fort Clinch, the Confederate earthwork batteries, New and Old Fernandina and other parts of the island. The strength of the works surprised the Union officers and there was general surprise that the Southern forces had not attempted a defense of the island.

As they talked with local citizens, however, the Northerners learned that the defenders of Amelia Island had already been leaving when they arrived, having been ordered to do so by General Robert E. Lee.

Fort Clinch
Florida Memory Collection
The following was filed by a war correspondent from Fernandina on March 8, 1862, 150 years ago today:

An examination of this place, well adapted as it was by nature for defence, and fortified with works and strong guns, induces the belief that the rebels, thoroughly disheartened by their repeated defeats, despair of making a successful stand against our forces, and are pushed to the necessity of making ignominous retreats whenever we approach in force.
Fort Clinch in 1862

Fort Clinch, which is situated on the Northern point of the island, four miles from New-Fernandina, and commands Cumberland Sound, is a Government fort, strongly built of brick, with bastions and casemates. It is in an unfinished condition, but sufficiently advanced to render it a very formidable work to attack. Ten guns remain here. Five are barbette guns, in position. The remainder, with the exception of two casemates, are dismounted, and efforts were evidently made to move them. They are all of heavy calibre, and one is a 120-pounder. Besides this strong fort, there are several earthworks, one near the city mounting four heavy guns, a 64-pounder and three 32-pounders. These guns were found dismounted and spiked, and only recently left, as the carriages were still burning when we arrived. About twenty guns were found upon the Island. In compliance with Gen. WRIGHT's order, nearly 100 inhabitants have registered their names with the Provost-Marshal.

Fernandina as it appeared shortly after the war
Florida Memory Collection
One of the inhabitants with whom I conversed - a Northern man by birth, who professed himself a Union man - told me that the force on the island at one time was between 4,000 and 5,000 - of these there was one regiment from Mississippi and the rest were Florida troops - the greater part of this force had been withdrawn, and there was only about 1,500 troops on the island for several weeks before our coming. When news of our victories in Tennessee and at Roanoke Island was received, the troops were ordered to leave the island, as they despaired of being able to defend it, and only a small body of dragoons were left to protect it. This man assured me that both he and his son had been imprisioned under the suspicion of being Union men, but they had been so guarded in their language that they were obliged to release them again.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March 7, 1862 - Fighting on the St. Mary's River

USS Ottawa
Having taken possession of Fernandina and Amelia Island (see The Occupation of Fernandina), the Union army and navy began efforts to consolidate control of the surrounding area.
Part of this effort involved the launching of a naval raid up the St. Mary's River, which in Northeast Florida forms the dividing line between Florida and Georgia. Such raids served to show the flag to civilians and drive away lingering Confederate forces, but also could be quite profitable. When the crews of Union warships seized cotton, lumber, rosin and other valuable cargoes, they shared in the profits.

Commanded by Lieutenant T.H. Stevens, the USS Ottawa was ordered up the St. Mary's to "assure the peaceable citizens" that they would be "protected in their persons and property" and that they should "return to their homes, where nobody will come near to harm them." Despite the twisting, narrow nature of the channel of the St. Mary's, Stevens was ordered to steam nearly fifty miles upstream to Woodstock Mills, the Brick Yard and the Campbell and Downes Plantations.

The trip up to Woodstock Mills was peaceful enough, but as the gunboat prepared to return downstream, that quickly changed:

USS Ottawa in 1862
...Before leaving Woodstock Mills I learned through a negro that it was the intention of the rebels to cut us off with their light batteries and infantry of the Mississippi regiment who had been stationed here. When near the Brick Yard the enemy's riflemen attacked us in force from both sides of the river. I opened upon them with our battery, using grape and canister and small arms, killing and wounding a large number. The fire was kept up from both sides of the river (here about 100 yards wide) for about a mile.... - Lt. T.H. Stevens, U.S. Navy.

The artillery fire from the Wabash was not as bloody as Lieutenant Stevens thought, but did succeed in driving off the Confederate infantry. The battle, however, was not yet over:

...[We neither] saw nor heard anything more of them until just above the plantation of Mrs. Campbell, when, discovering a large body of cavalry about 1,200 yards ahead of us, I threw a few 10-second XI-inch shell among them, when they fled in great haste and confusion. - Lt. T.H. Stevens, U.S. Navy.

The Confederates were not yet done. A third ambush for the gunboat was prepared downstream at the point the St. Mary's widened into the coastal marshes:

USS Ottawa in 1862
...[B]efore they had time to fire, gave them a round from the XI-inch loaded with canister, the two 24-pound howitzers, and the 12-pound howitzer of the Wabash (which I had taken on board before leaving), which was worked admirably, as indeed all of the guns were. Very few of the enemy escaped this destructive fire. - Lt. T.H. Stevens, U.S. Navy.

While Stevens again far over-estimated the effects of his cannon on the Confederates, he did admit that their fire had been "very accurate, as the numerous escapes of both officers and men and the numerous bullet holes in the sides of the vessel will testify."

A second account of the battle on the St. Mary's appeared in a report filed the following day by a war correspondent in Fernandina:

...The Ottawa returned - having navigated the St. Mary's River, thirty miles above St. Mary's. They report that the river in many places was so narrow that they could almost touch the trees which grew near the water. They met with no obstacle in going, but upon returning got aground, and the riflemen collected in the thick woods, through which the narrow channel ran, and harassed them with a continual and brisk fire. The gunboat replied with grape and canister, mowing through the trees and bushes with terrible effect. Four men were wounded on the gunboat, but none dangerously. The officers of the vessel went ashore at several points, and were always well received by the inhabitants. They all have the idea that we come to kill them. Their ignorance has been wonderfully worked upon, and they have a great fear of the Yankees - having a prevailing impression that our mission is to kill and destroy. - Unidentified War Correspondent writing from Fernandina, March 8, 1862.

Despite all the effort and expense the Confederacy had put into the fortification and defense of Amelia Island, the only real fighting associated with the Union occupation of the island took place along the St. Mary's River, 150 years ago today.

Monday, March 5, 2012

March 5, 1862 - Comply or be Arrested at Fernandina, Florida

General Wright's Headquarters in Fernandina, 1864
If the remaining citizens of Fernandina and Amelia Island had any doubts remaining as to their status, they were erased 150 years ago today.

Federal troops had occupied their community on the previous day and although many residents had fled under the protection of the withdrawing soldiers of the 4th Florida Infantry, perhaps 100 or so had remained behind in their homes. They learned on March 5, 1862, that, for the time being at least, they would be living under martial law:

Fernandina, Fla., March 5, 1862.
Wright's Headquarters, Sketched in 1862

GENERAL ORDERS, No. 10. - 1. All persons, whether white or colored, now on Amelia Island, and not connected with the army or navy, will immediately present themselves at the office of the Provost-Marshal, in order that their names and residences may be registered and their persons and property protected. Any person failing to comply with this order will be arrested and dealt with as an enemy of the Government of the United States.

2. No person will be allowed in the streets between the hour of tattoo and reveille, nor will any one be permitted to pass the pickets without written permission from these Headquarters. By command of

Brig.-Gen. H.C. WRIGHT.
C.W.Foster, Ass. Adj.-Gen.

The news that they would be living under the constant watch of Northern soldiers likely came as a surprise for many of the citizens remaining in Fernandina, as the majority of then were either Unionists or had taken no active part in the war. They would continue to live under the guns of the Union army not just for the duration of the war, however, but for years afterwards. Fernandina would be a focal point of military rule in Florida during the Reconstruction era.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 4, 1862 - The Occupation of Fernandina

Union Troops Occupy Fernandina, 1862
On March 4, 1862, 150 years ago today, the Union army and navy occupied the city of Fernandina on Amelia Island, Florida.

The following account was written by a war correspondent who accompanied the troops. It was filed from Fernandina on March 5, 1862. For details on the Confederate evacuation of Fernandina and the deaths of the Savage brothers, please see: The Shelling of Refugees at Fernandina.

Old Town Fernandina, 1862
...Passing Fort Clinch, we approached the old town Fernandina, an old Spanish settlement, consisting of a few ancient and picturesque houses, situated on a beautiful green slope; and about a mile further on is the new town of Fernandina. It is a town of about 2,500 inhabitants, prettily situated on the Amelia River, possessing a beautiful harbor, which is almost landlocked. The population is composed chiefly of foreigners - French, Spanish, German Jews and Irishmen.

Upon reaching the town we found it nearly deserted, not more than a hundred white people remaining in the place. A small portion of this number express themselves Union men, while others are either silent or openly avow themselves disloyal.

Fernandina and the Harbor, Taken in 1870s
Upon repairing to the railroad depot, I found the two brothers of the young man SAVAGE seeking some means of conveyance to bury the two bodies. They were both Irishmen, and of strong secession proclivities. One of them acknowledged the only reason why he remained on the island was because he could not effect his escape. Our excellent Brigade Surgeon, Dr. CRAVEN, took the matter in charge, and not only procured a conveyance, but also accompanied the bodies to the cemetery, going, on this errand of mercy, a distance of two miles, and armed only with the consciousness of his good intentions.

The town presents a peculiarly desolate and deserted appearance as we land. The few white people who are left touch their hats or bow as they pass, but they all have a half-frightened half hang-dog look, as if they feared some injury. The Jack-tars are overrunning the place, and indulging in the absurd antics characteristic of a Jack-tar on shore. A party of twenty have brought in a locomotive, pulling it all the way from the bridge with ropes. This, together with two locomotives found at the depot, and two or three platform cars, compose all of the rolling stock of the road which we have secured....

...The gunboat Senica is at the bridge which the rebels have attempted and partially succeeded in destroying by fire. Guns are heard at intervals in that direction, and it is supposed that there is still a small part of rebels near the bridge on the main land.

(Account by unidentified war correspondent and dated Fernandina, March 5, 1865.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

March 3, 1862 - The Shelling of Refugees at Fernandina

USS Ottawa in 1861.
On March 3, 1862, 150 years ago today, the Federal warship USS Ottawa intentionally fired on civilian refugees at Fernandina, Florida.

 A change in the weather that day kept the main Union warships off the main entrance to the channel between Amelia Island and Cumberland Island, but the Ottawa made its way up the channel between Cumberland and the mainland and emerged inside the harbor. Fort Clinch and earthwork batteries were positioned to control the approaches to Fernandina, but these had already been evacuated by their garrison of soldiers from the 4th Florida Infantry:

Union small boats row past Old Fernandina
...The remainder of the gunboats were prevented from following her by the McClellan, which had got aground and could not be moved. The Ottawa found the forts deserted, as it was reported to us, and arrived at Fernandina just as a train of cars was about leaving, loaded with inhabitants and their household goods. Upon the gunboat approaching the railroad bridge which connects the island with the mainland, several rifles were discharged from the windows of the cars which were nearing the bridge at the time, while a small body of the Fourth Florida Regiment of Dragoons, who were mounted, discharged their revolvers, at the same time riding furiously through the bushes. - Unidentified Correspondent, The New York Times, March 4, 1862.

USS Ottawa, sketched in 1861
A Unadilla Class gunboat, the Ottawa was what the navy called a "90 day gunboat" because the contract for her construction required that she be built and delivered in 90 days. The Union Navy contracted for a number of these vessels when war broke out between the North and the South.

Ottawa had a draft of only 9'6" which allowed her to move through much shallower water than most of the ships then in the Union fleet. She was armed with one 11" Dahlgren gun, one 20-pounder Parrott rifle and two 24-pounder howitzers.

The scattered fire at the vessel from the small arms of the rear guard of the 4th Florida Infantry caused the Federals, they would claim, to believe a train they could see pulling away over the trestle leading from Amelia Island to the mainland was carrying troops:

USS Ottawa in Action, 1862
...Capt. STEVENS, of the Ottawa, thinking the train was freighted with soldiers, discharged a shell which struck the rear car - a platform car, loaded with furniture - and burst, scattering the furniture on all sides, and instantly killed two young men named SAVAGE and THOMPSON, who were sitting on a sofa. Another shell went over the locomotive very near the smoke-pipe. The rebels loosened the rear car, and the train immediately proceeded on its and succeeded in getting over the bridge. - Unidentified Correspondent, The New York Times, March 4, 1862.

Confederate reports indicate, however, that the train was carrying civilians. The Southern commander of Amelia Island, Colonel Edward Hopkins, had been ordered in late February to remove the cannon from the batteries there and evacuate the island. These orders had been issued by General Robert E. Lee on February 19, 1862. Then in command of the department that included East Florida, he believed that the island positions could not be properly defended against the power of the Union Navy and that attempting to do so would result only in a loss of men and artillery.

Fort Clinch in 1862
Lee's orders had reached Amelia Island only four days before the Union warships appeared, however, and Colonel Hopkins and his men had just completed the dismounting of their best artillery and had already removed 18 of their best guns from the island. Realizing they had no chance of defending the island, they concentrated on removing as many supplies and cannon as possible.

Fernandina shortly after the War
Colonel Hopkins twice offered to help civilians leave the island, but they seemed unwilling to believe that the war had come to their doorsteps. By March 3rd, however, it was apparent that Fernandina would fall to the North and, as Hopkins put it, he found himself caught in a difficult position, "Duty on one side and commiseration for the sufferers rendered my position very distressing."

Having evacuated most of his men from the island, he ordered out a rear guard to protect the last train to the mainland, a train he noted "should have" already been "removed to a place of safety."

The Darlington in 1862
The shell from the Ottawa, as noted, struck a flat car at the rear of the train, causing it to be abandoned. The rest of the train made it over and then the rear guard, from Company C of the 4th Florida Infantry, set fire to the trestle.

The gunboat then detected a "little rebel steamboat called the Darlington, which was making haste down the river to Jacksonville." Pursuit as immediately given and she was brought to, but was found to be "loaded with families." 

The main occupation of Fernandina by Union forces would take place the next day. I will post on that tomorrow, so be sure to check back then!