Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 18, 1861 - U.S. Troops show confidence in Florida

Fort Jefferson (NPS Photo)
January 18, 1861

On this date 150 years ago, U.S. forces showed growing confidence in their ability to hold three key forts on islands along the Florida coast.

At Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry fort in the western hemisphere, 64 soldiers and four officers came ashore from the chartered steamship Joseph Whitney. Commanded by Brevet Major Lewis G. Arnold, they had left Fort Independence at Boston Harbor eight days earlier in a secret mission to land combat troops at Fort Jefferson before state troops from Florida could move to seize the massive fort.

Sometimes called the "Gibraltar of the Gulf," the fort was still unfinished and covered more than 13 acres, but was in a sufficient state of completion and was so remote that it would be all but impossible for secessionist forces to attack it. The fort is now part of Dry Tortugas National Park and is located 70 miles off Key West.

Fort Taylor (Florida State Archives)
At Fort Taylor in Key West, meanwhile, U.S. troops commanded by Captain John M. Brannan felt their position was one of growing strength. They had been mounting heavy guns and had plenty of water, food and ordnance supplies. The fort had such an abundance of artillery, in fact, that arrangements were immediately made to ship some of the 10-inch Columbiads there out to Fort Jefferson to assist in defending that work.

Fort Pickens
At Pensacola Bay on the same day, Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer of the First U.S. Artillery received a third demand that he surrender the fort to forces of the State of Florida. The lieutenant was growing more confident in his ability to hold the fort, however, as work to mount artillery to defend it against any attack by Southern militia had been going forward with great speed. Slemmer now knew that it would be a bloody proposition for the troops of Colonel William H. Chase to attack Fort Pickens, but as he had done before, he requested time to consider the surrender demand. He would soon decline for a third time to give up the fort.

If you are interested in following a day by day accounting of the military events surrounding the Secession of Florida, please visit our sister blog: http://civilwarflorida.blogspot.com.

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