|St. Johns River at Jacksonville, Florida|
Photo by Brian Mabelitini
Events were set in motion between 7:30 and 8 a.m. when three army transports loaded with troops arrived off the mouth of the St. Johns River. They were joined at 8:50 by the steamer Mable Leaf with Brigadier General Truman A. Seymour on board. Acting Master Frank B. Meriam went on board to confer with the general, an agreement being reached for the USS Norwich to lead the transports up the river to Jacksonville.
This decision being reached, Meriam was ordered by Lt. Commander S. Livingston Breese of the USS Ottawa to move up the river and obtain information on Confederate defenses ahead of the landing:
Furnish the Maple Leaf with a pilot, then get underway, proceed up the river to Mr. Palmer's place, communicate with Mr. Palmer, and learn from him what force is in Jacksonville. If a force has been thrown into town to oppose the landing, inform the general. After a landing should be effected by our troops, proceed up the river and anchor off the mouth of McGirt's Creek to prevent the St. Mary's from escaping up the river. - Verbal instructions given by Lt. Commander S. Livingston Breese, U.S. Navy, February 7, 1864.
The Mr. Palmer mentioned in the orders was a Unionist who lived on the St. Johns River between Jacksonville and the Atlantic Ocean.
Courtesy U.S. Navy
Passing by the city to inspect the waterfront, the Norwich turned about and started back down past the city. As it was completing this maneuver, the Maple Leaf reached town and tied up to a wharf. The Union transports were right behind her. As they came up, musket fire erupted from shore:
|Jacksonville shortly after the war|
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Collection
Despite the brief resistance by the Confederate pickets, Jacksonville was quickly occupied by the Federal troops with a reported loss of only one man. At 5:25 p.m., the Norwich moved up the St. Johns to the mouth of McGirt's Creek where it could block the escape of the St. Mary's which was anchored up that stream.
|Wrecks of the Maple Leaf and General Hunter|
Alfred Waud sketch courtesy of the Library of Congress
The wreck of the Maple Leaf was the focus of a major archaeological research effort and the artifacts recovered have been divided between the U.S. Army and the State of Florida. All are preserved by Florida's Division of Historical Resources.
Tomorrow's post will focus on the first significant fighting of the Olustee Campaign, which took place at Camp Finegan on February 7, 1864.
To learn more about Olustee and to watch the new mini-documentary on the battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.