Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fort San Carlos in Old Town Fernandina (Forts of Florida #7)

Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park, site of Fort San Carlos
A little known earthwork fort built by the Spanish played at least a passing role in the War Between the States.  Fort San Carlos, which stood on the Plaza de la Constitucion on Old Fernandina, is #7 in our ongoing series on the Forts of Florida

(Please visit and use the search function to read previous posts in the series).

The Spanish first fortified what is now Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park in around 1800. The city of Fernandina had not yet been established, but the site on the banks of the Amelia River looked across the mouth of the St. Mary's River to Georgia and the United States. Florida was then a colony of Spain.

Another view of the site of Fort San Carlos
Fernandina itself was founded as a Spanish city in 1811, but the next year was captured by a group of revolutionaries known as the Florida Patriots. They forced the surrender of the town's weak fort and raised their flag over Amelia Island. It flew for only one day, however,  before U.S. troops arrived and took possession of Fernandina. The "revolution" had secret but official U.S. backing.

The revolution was ill-conceived and U.S. forces withdrew quickly, turning Fernandina back over to the Spanish. When Spain returned, work began on a new, much stronger fort - Fort San Carlos. Built in a semi-circular design and armed with heavy guns, the fort was completed in 1816. One year later, however, it was captured by the American-backed Scottish adventurer, Gregor MacGregor.

Plan of Fort San Carlos
A soldier of fortune who had fought throughout South America, MacGregor proclaimed what he called the "Republic of Floridas" and raised his "Green Cross of Florida" flag over Fort San Carlos. When expected reinforcements and supplies from backers in the U.S. failed to arrive, however, he sailed away leaving behind around 100 men to hold the fort.

Spain tried to retake Fort San Carlos with a land and sea attack in September 1817, but failed. A short time later, however, the "privateer" (and well-known pirate) Luis Aury arrived with 300 men. A truce was worked out between Aury and MacIntosh's men and he was named commander in chief of Fernandina.  Because he sailed under a letter of marque from the Republic of Mexico, Aury declared that Amelia Island (and Florida itself) was now part of Mexico.

Earthworks of Fort San Carlos can be seen on the bluff.
The United States by now had decided to try again so with the authorization of President James Monroe, U.S. forces appeared off Fernandina in December 1817.  Realizing he could not hold them off, Aury surrendered.  Although the U.S. officially held Amelia Island in trust for Spain, it never returned the island and in 1821 - with the rest of Florida - it became part of the United States.

Fort San Carlos continued to defend the port of Fernandina until 1847 when construction began on nearby Fort Clinch, a massive Third System work. Confederate troops occupied the plaza and the old Spanish earthworks in 1861, building new earthwork batteries nearby.  The old fort was abandoned by 1862, however, when U.S. forces seized Fernandina and Amelia Island.

In a remarkable sketch, a newspaper artist showed the old semi-circular earthwork of Fort San Carlos on the bluff at what by then had become "Old Town" in a sketch of U.S. forces moving up the Amelia River to take possession of what is now Fernandina Beach.  The entire town had moved in 1853 to take advantage of the building of the Florida Railroad which ended one mile south of the old town.

To learn more about Fort San Carlos, please visit

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Fort McClellan, Union redoubt at Pensacola (Forts of Florida #6)

Lee Square, site of Fort McClellan
Lee Square is a beautiful oasis of peace surrounded by the busy traffic of Pensacola's famed Palafox Street. It is also the site of Fort McClellan, a little known fort of the War Between the States (or Civil War).

Fort McClellan was the "point" of the A-shaped fortifications that Union troops built around Pensacola in the fall of 1862 after they took possession of the historic old city without firing a shot. Confederate forces evacuated Pensacola Bay after it became clear they could achieve nothing significant from their presence there.

To defend the city itself against surprise raids by Confederate cavalry, Union engineers designed and supervised the construction of a line of fortifications that consisted of breastworks, abatis, artillery positions and a redoubt (Fort McClellan) to surround Pensacola. The works took the shape of a gigantic "A" with its base being Pensacola Bay and the tip of the "A" being atop the hill overlooking the city where Lee Square exists today.

Lee Square in Pensacola, Florida
The protect this point, from which Confederate guns could have fired down into the city, the Federals built Fort McClellan. It was described in a report to Brig. Gen. Lewis G. Arnold on September 13, 1862:

The redoubt is built on the site of the old Spanish fort San Miguel, an eminence which commands the town and vicinity; is a half bastion, with flanks and wings running back to meet the abatis on each side; is furnished with two 30-pounder Parrott rifles, one 10-pounder Parrott rifle, two 12-pounder field howitzers, and two roomy magazines; is closed at the gorge and flanked by its on fire as well as that from positions occupied within the lines. - Capt. Henry W. Closson, US (September 13, 1862).

Colonial era cannon at Lee Square
The fort and attached defensive lines were designed by Major Zealous Tower, Engineer Corps, and Captain Henry Clossen, chief of artillery on General Arnold's staff.

Fort McClellan was never seriously challenged by Confederate forces and remained an important part of the land defenses of Pensacola until the end of the war. It subsequently eroded away and eventually was replaced by today's Lee Square.  No trace of the fortifications remain today.

Lee Square, ironically, is named for Gen. Robert E. Lee while the fort that once stood on its site was named for his onetime opponent, Gen. George B. McClellan.  Located on Palafox Street up the hill just north of downtown Pensacola, the park is home to Pensacola's Confederate monument.

Dedicated on June 17, 1891, the 50-foot high monument pays tribute to "Our Confederate Dead." It was originally planned for Tallahassee, but the location was moved to Pensacola after most of the donated funds for its erection were made by residents of that city.

Uniquely, the statue atop the monument is believed to be the best representation ever made of a Confederate soldier.

Learn more about historic Pensacola by visiting

Friday, July 12, 2013

1st, 3rd & 4th Florida Infantries in Action at Jackson, Mississippi (July 12, 1863)

Colors of the 4th Florida Infantry
During their return at Marianna, Florida on Sept. 27, 1864.
150 years ago today, the 1st & 3rd Florida Infantry (Consolidated) and the 4th Florida Infantry played a key role in a fierce fight on the lines at Jackson, Mississippi.

Part of Brig. Gen. Marcellus A. Stovall's Brigade of Breckenridge's Division, the Florida units were part of General Joseph E. Johnston's "Army of Relief" that had formed at Jackson as part of a plan to break the Union siege of Vicksburg. Johnston had advanced as far as the Big Black River between Jackson and Vicksburg when news came that the Mississippi River city had fallen to the Union army of Major General Ulysses S. Grant.

Having received this news, Johnston fell back to the fortifications of Jackson. Grant ordered Major General William Tecumseh Sherman to pursue him. Sherman closed in around Jackson on July 11, 1863. Then, on July 12 (150 years ago today), Union forces had a disastrous run in with a section of the Confederate lines:

Brig. Gen. Jacob G. Lauman (US)
General Lauman, in taking position to-day, got his line uncovered by skirmishers too close to the enemy's lines, and suffered considerably; loss not yet ascertained. Colonel Gresham is reported killed...The ground to the right is so wooded that General Ord has been unable to ascertain Lauman's loss. - Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, USA (July 12, 1863).

The fighting took place on Sherman's right, (the Confederate left) where the Corps of Major General E.O.C. Ord was positioned on the Union side and Breckenridge's Division - including the Florida units - on the Confederate side. The site of the battle was in section of Jackson stretching from what was then the Great Central Railroad and the Pearl River on the southwest side of the city.

As Sherman was moving into position around the fortifications of Jackson, which he deemed "too good to be assaulted," he ordered his forces to form lines about 1,500 yards from the Confederate lines and to push skirmishers up to within 500 yards. The corps commanders were instructed to have their men begin digging trenches and preparing earthworks for battery positions.  It was as this operation was underway that Brig. Gen. Jacob G. Lauman moved in too close:

Lt. Col. Edward Badger, 4th Florida
Florida Memory Collection: Florida State Archives
All the troops took up their positions with comparative ease and little loss, save the division commanded by General Lauman, of Ord's corps, which, by the obscure character of the ground, its trees and bushes, advanced too near the enemy's parapet, without proper skirmishers deployed, and received the cross-fire of his artillery and infantry, causing considerable loss of life. The exact extend of this lass has not been reported, but will not fall much short of 400. General Ord has relieved Geneeral Lauman of command of the division, and I deem it so important to support corps commanders in their authority that I must sustain General Ord for the time being. - Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, USA (July 14, 1863).

Subsequent reports placed the losses in the First Brigade of Lauman's Fourth Division, the unit most heavily engaged in the fight, at 61 killed, 241 wounded and 129 missing in action for a total loss of 441. Adjacent units also experienced losses.

The best account of the fight was written by General Ord:

War-time map of the scene of the July 12th fight.
...The point of attack was not selected by any reconnaissance or previous examination. The attack itself was unsupported and unknown by other division commanders. The ground to be passed was defended (I was satisfied at the time) by several thousand of the enemy, and was open to an artillery front and flank fire for 600 yards in front of their works. Of the 880 men in Pugh's brigade, the loss by this attack was 465 in killed, wounded and missing, besides nearly all the men and horses of a section of artillery, which the Fifty-third Indiana Infantry brought off by hand, and three stand of colors; after which he had to retreat in haste, leaving all his dead and most of the wounded under the enemy's guns. - Maj. Gen. E.O.C. Ord, USA (July 27, 1863).

War-time sketch of the Siege of Jacskon
It was the bloodiest day of the Siege of Jackson. The Confederate line that Lauman had stumbled into was held by the 1st and 3rd Florida (Consolidated), the 4th Florida and the 47th Georgia. General Johnston specifically mentioned the regiments in a congratulatory dispatch to Major General Breckridge on the day of the fight:

Some of these men fought at Jackson.
I have learned with high satisfaction the success of your troops this morning; it increases my confidence in your gallant division. I beg you to say so to it for me. Do me the kindness, also, to express to the First and Third Florida, Forty-seventh Georgia, and Fourth Florida Regiments the pride and pleasure with which I have accepted the splendid trophies they have presented me. Assure them that I equally appreciate the soldierly courage and kindly feelings to myself which have gained me these noble compliments. - Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, CSA (July 12, 1863).

Two days later, the bodies of the Union dead still lay on the battlefield and Confederate litter bearers were fired on by Federal soldiers each time they tried to go out and bury the dead or help the wounded.

The stench of the decomposing bodies in front of the position of the Florida troops became so bad that General Breckinridge reported that his men were becoming ill. He appealed to General Johnston to send out a flag of truce to General Sherman asking that burial parties not be fired on. Johnston did so and Sherman agreed to a brief truce so that his own men could be buried, after two days beneath the hot Mississippi sun on the battlefield at Jackson, Mississippi.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Gen. Franklin Gardner and the Siege of Port Hudson

Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner, CSA
In a post yesterday I discussed the role of Florida troops and generals in the Battle of Vicksburg (see Florida Troops at the Fall of Vicksburg). Even after that stronghold fell 150 years ago yesterday, however, another general with a Florida connection continued to hold out on the Mississippi River.

Major General Franklin Gardner was a New York born graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. He was 17th in the Class of 1843, five places ahead of his classmate Ulysses S. Grant.

Commissioned as a lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Infantry, he was ordered to Pensacola where he served until the outbreak of the Mexican-American War.  The Second Seminole War was
Fort Barrancas at Pensacola Bay
"officially" over by the time that Gardner arrived in Pensacola, but an attack by refugee Creek Indians near what is now Panama City, Florida, led to an expedition against them by the 7th Infantry in 1844. Troops from Pensacola were part of the raid, but it is unknown whether Gardner participated.

The 7th Infantry was part of the U.S. Army that battled Santa Anna in Mexico in 1846-1848. Gardner served under both General Zachary Taylor and General Winfield T. Scott and was noted for courage under fire at the Battles of Monterey, Churubusco, Molino del Rey and Vera Cruz.  He remained in the army until the Southern states began to secede from the Union in 1860-1861, serving as a captain in the so-called "Utah War."

Married to a girl from Louisiana, Gardner cast his lot with the South and resigned his commission. He led a brigade of cavalry with such distinction at the Battle of Shiloh that he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general effective April 11, 1862. Identified as an officer of great potential by General Braxton Bragg, he went on to fight at Perryville, Kentucky, in October 1862 and was promoted to major general.

Port Hudson Battlefield
Gardner was ordered to take command of Port Hudson, a developing Confederate stronghold atop high bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge, in December 1862. Over the next four month, he supervised the conversion of the handful of artillery batteries into one of most powerful fortifications in the Confederacy.

As General Grant closed in on Vicksburg in May 1862, the Union Army of the Gulf closed in on Port Hudson under the command of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks. Under orders from higher authorities, General Gardner had already sent many of his men upriver to help fight Grant. When Banks and his more than 30,000 men surrounded Port Hudson, Gardner had only around 4,000 men with which to oppose them.

Museum Display at Port Hudson
Many generals would have surrendered under such circumstances, but Franklin Gardner was cut from a different cloth. He had demonstrated during the Mexican-American War that he was a fighter, but the battle he waged at Port Hudson was so remarkable that it should have shed light on Gardner as one of the hardest fighting generals in the Confederate army.

Over the next two months, Gardner and his tiny garrison held off and badly bloodied a Union army seven times the size of their own command while also keeping some of the most powerful warships of the U.S. Navy at bay. From the muddy trenches of Port Hudson, Louisiana, they fought the longest siege of the Civil War.

Read more about Gardner's remarkable fight at Port Hudson by visiting

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Florida troops at the Fall of Vicksburg (July 4, 1863)

Florida Monument at Vicksburg, Mississippi
Troops from Florida were among the Confederates who marched to Jackson, Mississippi, as part of a desperate effort to form an "Army of Relief" that could break through the Union army surrounding Vicksburg and rescue the city and its garrison.

Among the troops from the Sunshine State in the Army of Relief were the 1st and 3rd Florida Infantry Regiments (Consolidated) and the 4th Florida Infantry.
Brig. Gen. M.A. Stovall
The 1st & 3rd Florida Infantry (Consolidated) was part of Brig. Gen. Marcellus A. Stovall's Brigade in the Division of the former U.S. Vice President turned Confederate general, Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge. The men were not part of the army trapped in Vicksburg, but arrived at Jackson, Mississippi, on June 1, 1863, to join the "Army of Relief" being formed by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. They were to join with other Confederate troops under Johnston in a desperate effort to break through Grant's Union army surrounding Vicksburg, but the attack never took place. Commanded by Col. W.S. Dilworth, the regiment was at Bolton, Mississippi, when Vicksburg fell.

Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge
Like the 1st & 3rd (Consolidated), the 4th Florida infantry was part of Stovall's Brigade, Breckinridge's Divison. Commanded by Col. L.L. Bowen and Lt. Col. Edward Badger, the regiment arrived in Jackson on June 1, 1863.  It then waited, with the other gathering troops, as overall commander Gen. Joseph E. Johnston tried to decide what he could do to lift the siege.  On July 4, 1863 - 150 years ago - the regiment was near Bolton, Mississippi, between Jackson and Vicksburg when the city fell.

The two regiments were seasoned, having been formed in Florida in 1861-1862. Both were part of the Army of Tennessee and had after initially serving in Florida, had both taken part in the desperate winter fighting at the Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro). The 1st and 3rd also had fought as individual regiments at Perryville before they were consolidated into a single command in December 1862. Prior to Perryville, the old 1st Florida Infantry (a 12-months unit) had fought at Santa Rosa Island and many of its original members were at Shiloh and still part of the regiment when it participated in the Kentucky Campaign.

The Florida regiments and the rest of the "Army of Relief" had slowly moved west from Jackson, Mississippi, in late June 1863, intending to find a weak point where it could attack Union general Ulysses S. Grant's army from behind. Comprising a total force of around 30,000 men, the army was in position at the bridges of the Big Black River by July 1, 1863. What Johnston found there, however, was not an opportunity, but the waiting IX Corps of the Union Army of the Tennessee. 
1863 Photograph of Big Black River
Courtesy Library of Congress

Realizing he could not hope to break through at the Big Black River bridges, Johnston was searching for another vulnerable point when suddenly the cannon fire to the west at Vicksburg fell silent. The silence told the entire army that Vicksburg had fallen.

With the Union army now free to turn against him, Johnston began withdrawing the "Army of Relief" back into the fortifications of Jackson. There the soldiers prepared for a coming siege as the Union IX, XV, XIII and part of the XVI Corps followed them under the command of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.

I will discuss more about the Siege of Jackson in coming posts, so be sure to check back here over the coming week:

Brig. Gen. Francis L. Shoup
In addition to the role of the two Florida regiments in the "Army of Relief," several key officers with Florida connections took part in the Siege and Battle of Vicksburg.

Brig. Gen. Francis L. Shoup commanded a section of the Confederate lines at Vicksburg. Raised in Indiana, he had relocated to St. Augustine before the war. He had fought with distinction as commander of artillery at Shiloh and was promoted to brigadier general in recognition of his service there. He went on to fight as commander of artillery at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas.  

Maj. Gen. Martin L. Smith
Maj. Gen. Martin L. Smith designed most of the massive fortifications that surrounded Vicksburg. He commanded a division during the siege.  A Graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the Class of 1842, he served in Florida during the later part of the Second Seminole War. Some of the best maps of antebellum Florida were prepared by Shoup. He served in the Mexican-American War and distinguished himself in the mapping of the valley of Mexico City prior to Gen. Winfield T. Scott's assaults. Promoted to 1st lieutenant and then captain after the war, he left the service and from 1856 to 1861 lived in Florida and served as chief engineer of the Cedar Keys & Fernandina Railroad. After helping plan the defenses of New Orleans, he was ordered to Vicksburg where his outstanding work as a military engineer in placing batteries and defenses helped defeat the first Union attempts to take the city.  He was taken prisoner at the Fall of Vicksburg.

Maj. Gen. William W. Loring
Maj. Gen. W.W. Loring (called "Old Blizzards" by his men) had commanded the fortifications north of Vicksburg prior tot he main siege. Cut off from the city after the Battle of Champion's Hill, he crept around Grant's army and withdrew his men with remarkable skill. He then joined Johnston's "Army of Relief." Loring's family moved to St. Augustine, Florida, when he was four years old and he grew up in that city.  His first military service was in the Florida Militia at the age of 14. He served in action against the Seminoles during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Educated at Alexandria Boarding School and Georgetown University from 1837-1840, Lorind was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1842. The next year he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives where he served until 1845. In 1846 Loring joined the Regiment of Mounted Rifles and saw service in the Mexican-American War. His arm was shattered in the charge into Mexico City. He later fought against the Comanche, Kiowa and Apache and then traveled extensively in Europe and Egypt on the eve of the War Between the States.

Loring was in New Mexico when the South fired on Fort Sumter. He resigned his commission in the U.S. Army on May 13, 1861, and cast his lot with the Confederacy. He served under Stonewall Jackson as a brigadier general early in the war. His men began calling him "Old Blizzards" because in the heat of battle he could be heard calling out for his troops to "Give them blizzards!"  He was with the Army of Relief when Vicksburg fell.

There is a Florida Monument at Vicksburg. Erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy at a cost of $5,000, it stands on South Confederate Avenue. To reach it from I-20, take Exit 1A and turn north on Washington Street. Take the first right onto Frontage Road and follow it to South Confederate Avenue. Turn left on South Confederate and the monument will be on your left near the intersection with Mulva Hill Street.

To learn more about the Battle of Vicksburg, please visit

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

4th of July Fireworks in Florida for 2013

The 4th of July has been a major holiday in the South since 1776 and in Florida since 1821. 

During the War Between the States, Floridians - both Union and Confederate - continued to honor the Founding Fathers. Each side believed that it represented the true legacy of the Founders and during Reconstruction even came close to blows over which political party - Southern Democrats or the Party of Lincoln - had the right to celebrate the holiday.

In Jackson County, the men and boys who enlisted to fight for the South included direct descendants of Paul Revere (of Midnight Ride fame) himself.  Thousands of other Floridians descended from men who had fought against the British during the American Revolution.

The celebration of the 4th of July continues in fine fashion today, with events set across the state for July 3rd and July 4th.