Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Great Hurricane of 1863 at Apalachicola & St. Marks

Gulf of Mexico from St. George Island
In previous posts I have mentioned the sinking of the gunboat CSS Chattahoochee at Blountstown during a severe storm on May 27, 1863.
What seems to have been an early hurricane struck the northern Gulf Coast that day, not only contributing to the sinking of the Chattahoochee but also driving two Union blockade vessels ashore near Apalachicola. I've been aware of this storm for some time, but recent research has revealed new details that show it was far worse than I had ever realized.

On June 8, 1863, for example, the Richmond Daily Dispatch carried a brief early report on the severity of the storm:

Fort St. Marks or San Marcos de Apalache
Where the water rose "five feet deep."
...There was a very heavy gale and rain in Florida during the week ending the 29th. At Newport the town was four feet deep. The salt works near there were drowned out. One white boy, seven negroes, thirty five mules and eight oxen were drowned. The water in Fort St. Marks was five feet deep, and the troops had to signal the steamer Spray for assistance. - The river rose to a very great height at St. Marks, and the entire town was flooded, doing much damage. One regiment of artillery and one of infantry, in camp between Tallahassee and St. Marks, lost all their tents and fixtures.

Cape St. George Lighthouse
Other newspapers across the South also carried coverage of the storm. The editor of the Tallahassee Floridian wrote to Macon's Weekly Telegraph on May 30, 1863, reporting even higher human losses:

...We have had a heavy blow here the past week - the heaviest I ever witnessed in Florida at this season of the year. From the coast there are various rumors of loss of life and property. I have just heard that from the Ocklockonnee to Peurifoy's Landing, twenty-one bodies of persons drowned were recovered on Friday, and eleven from Goose Creek, making thirty-two.

The surge from the storm apparently reached several miles inland in the St. Marks area. Additional detail appeared in the Columbus (GA) Times on June 3:

...We learn that on last Wednesday and Thursday, a most terrific gale swept along the south coast of Florida, destroying the entire Salt Works near St. Marks and Bay Port, large quantities of salt, and drowning some forty white men and negroes. So strong was the gale the water from the gulf was driven out of its banks along the line of the St. Marks railroad, completely inundating the track for several miles back into the country.

The newspaper writer went on to express hope that "some portion of the shipping of the United States was caught in the gale, and driven ashore." His hopes were realized. The following account datelined Key West on June 12, 1863, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer six days later:

Indian Pass and the Gulf of Mexico
...A very severe gale occurred at Apalachicola, Fla., a few days since, during which two of our vessels were wrecked at the entrance to that harbor and totally lost. The steamer Hendrick Hudson, Captain Cate, has just arrived from there, and from Captain Cate I learn these particulars: - That the gun-boat barque Amanda being at anchor at her usual station, broke loose from her moorings and drifted across the bay to the mainland in spite of all their efforts to save her. Being unable to get her off, she was stripped and blown up to keep her from the Rebels. No lives lost. The barquentine Andrew Manderson being there with a load of coal for supplying naval vessels, was also driven ashore and her masts, spars, sails and rigging were entirely swept clean from her deck by the violence of the gale. She is a total loss. The gun-boat Fort Henry was driven to sea and weathered the storm.

USS Port Royal (Center) as sketched during the war.
The USS Amanda was on station off East Pass near St. George Island when the storm hit. She was driven ashore on the mainland where parts of her wreck remain buried in the sand today.The USS Andrew Manderson was at the other end of St. George Island where damage was even greater. The New York Herald carried a letter from the USS Port Royal dated May 23 on June 20, 1863:

...At West pass the damage by the gale was also considerable. The barkentine Andrew Manderson, of Philadelphia, loaded with coal for the squadron, ran ashore on Sand Island. Her masts were cut away after she struck. Several small prize vessels lying at anchor inside the pass were driven to sea or sank at their moorings. The United States gunsloop Brockenborough broke from her moorings and was run on shore at St. Vincent's Island. She will be saved. The Port Royal and Somerset rode the gale out without damage.

A letter dated Thomasville, Georgia, on May 31, 1863, appeared in the Macon Weekly Telegraph four days later:

The gale of Thursday is said to have done much mischief among the salt boilers on the Florida coast - One report says 150 lives were lost - many animals, much stock and salt. Hope it is not so bad - some, though, have certainly perished.

The storm must have been a hurricane, even though hurricane researchers do not list a May storm in their data for 1863. The total number of lives lost will never be known. If the figure of 150 given by the Thomasville writer was accurate, then the storm should be ranked as the 22nd deadliest hurricane ever to hit the U.S. (or in this case, the C.S.) coast. Hurricane Andrew, by comparison, claimed 61 lives.
CSS Chattahoochee Monument
If the Tallahassee editor's estimate of 32 lives lost along just part of the affected coast is accurate, which it probably was, then the death toll from the storm must have been enormous. When the 17 men who lost their lives in the sinking of the CSS Chattahoochee are added to that tally, the total number rises to 49 exclusive of deaths elsewhere along the coast or on the prize vessels reported lost off the West Pass of Apalachicola Bay.

Read more about the sinking of the CSS Chattahoochee during the storm of May 27, 1863, at

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Marianna Reeactment Cancelled for This Year

Marianna Reenactment
Courtesy Ashley Pollette
The Marianna Day Committee informs me there will be no reenactment of the Battle of Marianna this year.
The reenactment had been a feature of the community's Marianna Day observance over the last few years, but was expensive to produce and difficult to coordinate. The Committee has decided for this year to focus on other ways of commemorating the battle, including memorial services, etc.

Fought on September 27, 1864, the Battle of Marianna was a small but bloody and significant encounter.

Marianna Day, 2011
Courtesy Ashley Pollette
It was the culmination of the deepest penetration of Confederate Florida by Union troops during the entire War Between the States. Leaving Pensacola Bay on September 18, 1864, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth led a column to and from Marianna in Jackson County, covering more land miles than did Sherman during his "March to the Sea" through Georgia.

The battle was a fierce encounter in which men, women and even children took up arms to defend their town against the Union raiders.

To learn more, please visit or consider my book, The Battle of Marianna, Florida (Expanded Edition). It is available in both book and Kindle formats by following the links below and can also be found at iBooks.

Book - The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition, $17.95
Kindle - The Battle of Marianna, Florida, $9.95

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bateria de San Antonio - Florida's Third Oldest Standing Fort

Bateria de San Antonio and Pensacola Bay
Unless they make their way down the dark tunnel that provides its only entrance, visitors to Fort Barrancas in Penscaola often overlook a fascinating old Spanish fortification that is Florida's third oldest standing fort.

The Bateria de San Antonio, built by the Spanish in 1793-1797, is a semi-circular masonry fortification built to serve as a water battery for the original Spanish fort of San Carlos de Barrancas. The Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas, both in St. Augustine, are the only still-standing Florida forts older than the Bateria, which is one of the oldest standing fortifications in the United States.

Inside the Bateria de San Antonio
The most expensive fortification built by the Spanish at Pensacola, the idea for a water battery originated during the American Revolution. Spain was then allied with the fledgling United States, but Florida was possessed by Great Britain. In 1781, General Bernardo de Galvez led an allied fleet into Pensacola Bay past the guns of the Royal Navy Redoubt which stood on the bluff where Fort Barrancas can be seen today.

The redoubt had numerous cannon aimed out at the bay, but they proved completely ineffective in stopping the allied fleet. Pensacola fell after one of the most significant yet often overlooked battles of the American Revolution. Please click here to learn more.

Model showing the Bateria de San Antonio from Above
When Florida once again became a Spanish possession after the war, that country's engineers used the lessons they had learned during Galvez's attack on Pensacola. Fort San Carlos de Barrancas, of earth and wood, was built on the ruins of the Royal Navy Redoubt, but far more expense went into building a new masonry water battery - the Bateria de San Antonio - lower on the bluff.

Semi-circular in form, the Bateria was designed so that its cannon could sweep across as much of the channel as possible. Because it was lower on the bluff than the old British fort, its cannon could actually "skip" their cannonballs across the surface of the bay and into the sides of attacking warships.

Bombproof of the Bateria de San Antonio
Due to the strength of its construction, the Bateria survived the demolition of Fort San Carlos de Barrancas by the British during the War of 1812. Spain rebuilt the fort and both it and the Bateria came under fire in 1818 when Andrew Jackson attacked and captured the works during the First Seminole War.

U.S. engineers renovated and strengthened the Bateria in 1839-1840 as they built today's Fort Barrancas on the old San Carlos de Barrancas. Thereafter called the Water Battery, it was occupied by state troops in January 1861 when the U.S. garrison of Fort Barrancas withdrew to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island.

Manned by Confederate gunners, the cannon of the Water Battery took part in the massive bombardments that shook Pensacola Bay in November 1861 and January 1862. It was not significantly damaged in the fighting.

Restored by the National Park Service, the historic fortification is now accessed via the Fort Barrancas area of Gulf Islands National Seashore at Pensacola Naval Air Station. To learn more about the history of this fascinating old Spanish work, please visit

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.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Grave of Capt. Charles G. Campbell - Bainbridge, Georgia

Grave of Captain Charles G. Campbell
While walking through historic Oak City Cemetery in Bainbridge, Georgia, recently, I came across the grave of one of Florida's most important Confederate defenders: Captain Charles G. Campbell.

It is an often overlooked fact of Florida and Southern history that the last Confederate coastal fort east of the Mississippi to surrender was Fort Ward at St. Marks, Florida. Captain Campbell was the commander of the fort and did not lower his flag until after General Samuel Jones had brought down the one over the state capitol in Tallahassee on May 10, 1865.

Magazine of Fort Ward at St. Marks, Florida
May 10th, the date that Campbell gave up Fort Ward, was also the date that Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured at Irwinville, Georgia. The Battle of Palmitto Ranch, Texas, considered by many to be the last "real" battle of the War Between the States, was fought just two days later.

Captain Campbell entered the service of the Confederacy as an officer in the Decatur Guards, a volunteer unit that formed in Bainbridge during the summer of 1861. The unit arrived at Atlanta, Georgia, on August 15, 1861, where it became Company D, 17th Georgia Infantry. This was the famed regiment of hard-fighting Colonel Henry "The Rock" Benning, for whom Fort Benning at Columbus is named today.

As captain of Company D, Campbell led his men through the fighting on the Peninsula in 1862 when General "Prince" John Magruder confused and hoodwinked Union General George McClellan at Yorktown. The Bainbridge men went on to fight at Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Antietam (Sharpsburg) and Fredericksburg.

Disabled after the last battle, Captain Campbell resigned his commission on January 12, 1863, and returned home to Bainbridge. Not long after, however, he began the organization of a new unit: Campbell's Independent Company, Georgia Siege Artillery.

Earthworks of Fort Ward
This unit was assigned to man the heavy guns at Fort Ward, the earthwork fort built on top of the ruins of the old Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache. Also called Fort St. Marks, this fort played a vital if bloodless role in keeping the port of St. Marks open throughout the war. One attempt by the U.S. Navy to storm the batteries was driven off without bloodshed on the Confederate side when pickets below the fort spotted the Federal boat parties in the darkness. Otherwise, the fort did not fire its guns in anger during the war.

A large detachment of Campbell's men, however, did serve as volunteer infantry at the nearby Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865. A second attempt by the U.S. Navy to take Fort Ward at that time turned back after the large warships of the Federal flotilla were too slow in navigating the shallow and twisting river below the fort.

Campbell surrendered Fort Ward on May 10, 1865, and was paroled by Federal forces two days later. He had the unique distinction of being the last commander of a Confederate coastal fort east of the Mississippi to lower his colors.

He is buried at Oak City Cemetery in Bainbridge.

To learn more about Fort Ward, please visit