The Importance of Pensacola

Sketch map of Pensacola defenses

A sketch map from 1861 showing the location of the forts defending Pensacola. In the opening days of the campaign, the Union occupied Fort Pickens. The Confederacy took over Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee, which had been abandoned by the Union in favor of Pickens. The result was a 16 month stalemate.

In addition to being the "Home of Naval Aviation", Pensacola, Florida is known as the "City of Five Flags". For three centuries, France, Britain, Spain, the USA and the Confederate States of America fought for control of Pensacola. Why? Because it has one of the greatest protected natural harbors on the continent. Long and narrow, with several large bays and river estuaries, it was ideal for building, repairing and sheltering ships. It was protected from land attack by snake and alligator infested swamps and a massive brick stronghold called the Advanced Redoubt. An attack from the sea would have to run a gauntlet of overlapping fire from three more brick forts - Pickens, McRee and Barrancas - that protected the narrow opening of the bay. More importantly, its strategic position on the Florida panhandle gave ships easy access to the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the South Atlantic Ocean.

The Pensacola Campaign lasted from January 1861 to May 1862, when the Confederates abandoned the city. It was the earliest major campaign of the war and one of the few bright spots for the Union in the first two years. With the benefit of historical hindsight, it's safe to say the Confederacy lost the campaign on the very first day due to the decisive and aggressive actions of a Union Lieutenant. The South spent the next 16 months trying unsuccessfully to reverse their fortunes.

Florida Becomes an Early Battleground

Florida is not typically associated with the Civil War. Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina immediately conjure up images of the Bonnie Blue Flag but Florida? Yes, indeed. Florida was rabidly anti-union. They were the third state to secede and one of the first to take up arms against the U.S. military. Florida was still a wild frontier in 1861 with almost 9,000 miles of coastline and 11,000 miles of inland waterways. It was a fugitive and blockade runners haven, but that wasn't its main contribution.  Neither was manpower.  Florida provided 12,000 troops to the war effort.  That's a drop in the bucket, although not bad for a population of 140,000. Florida's biggest contributions to the war were beef and salt for the Confederates and Pensacola Harbor for the Union.

Civil War battles tended to focus on destroying armies as opposed to seizing territory.  The Pensacola Campaign was an exception to that. Control of the harbor was the objective.  It was a substantial victory for the Union when they really needed one and a major loss for the Confederacy. It would be a mistake to give the impression that it was a crucial battle that affected the outcome of the war, like Gettysburg. It wasn't, but it certainly affected how the war was fought. Union control of Pensacola was a festering wound for the Confederacy during the entire conflict.

As Civil War campaigns go, Pensacola was relatively tame and v-e-e-ry long. In almost a year and a half of intermittent fighting, there were less than 1,000 killed in combat on both sides combined. Most of the combat actions were artillery bombardments and amphibious raids. The bombardments were ferocious at times and the raids were sharply fought, but there just weren't that many of them. There was only one ground battle of any consequence - the Battle of Santa Rosa Island on October 9, 1861. Most of the time in between was taken up by digging, building and re-supplying. Boredom, sickness, bad water and scant rations took their toll as did heat, bugs, vermin and reptiles. The biggest killer of the campaign was Yellow Fever, which was rampant. It was a miserable place.

Miserable or not, the Civil War came early to Pensacola. James Buchanan was still President in late 1860 and early 1861 when secessionist fervor was in full bloom. South Carolina went first on December 20, 1860 and put Fort Sumter under siege. Mississippi broke on January 9 and Florida went on January 10. Alabama joined them the next day. Militia units from Florida and Alabama marched on Pensacola, which was a US Navy shipyard and supply depot. In addition, the area was protected by four massive brick forts built 30 years earlier and there were large quantities of arms, ammunition and powder. The inauguration of Abe Lincoln was still two months away and the shelling of Fort Sumter was three months off. Although that event is considered the start of the Civil War, the shooting started in Pensacola during the second week of January, 1861.[**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: The Governor of Florida, John Milton, may have been the most anti-union of all Floridians. On April 1, 1865, he committed suicide rather than live under the U.S. flag.**]

The First Shots of the Civil War

Drawbridge at Fort Barrancas

The drawbridge at Fort Barrancas where the first shots of the Civil War were fired on January 8, 1861.

After the secession of South Carolina in late December, tensions in the Pensacola region quickly escalated. In early January, the Florida state legislature began working on a declaration of secession. Once finished, the outbreak of hostilities could commence at any time. Now facing an imminent threat with absolutely no guidance on how to respond, the United States forces in Pensacola made ready to go to war.

The commander of the few army troops in the area was 1st Lieutenant Adam Slemmer, West Point class of 1850. Slemmer's men were outposted at Fort Barrancas, on the northern shore of the bay. In addition to being right in the middle of everything, they had mounted guns with a fair supply of ammo. A small ordnance team was at Fort McRee on the west side of the harbor entrance. It too had guns mounted and ammo stored. Fort Pickens, a mammoth stronghold on the east bank of the channel on Santa Rosa Island, had been abandoned since 1850 and was completely empty with few, if any, working heavy guns. Nevertheless, it was a much stronger defensive position that would control the entrance to the bay. Fort Barrancas had guns and ammo, but was easily cut off and rendered untenable. Lt. Slemmer and his men would make their stand at Fort Pickens, which he was determined to hold at all costs.

On January 8, Slemmer took action. He pulled all his troops into Fort Barrancas and informed the commander of the Navy Yard that he was transferring out to Fort Pickens. The first signs of trouble came calling that night. A group of 20 Florida militiamen gathered by the drawbridge that led into the main entrance of Fort Barrancas. When they refused to disperse or answer challenges, jumpy Union sentries fired in their direction. These were the first shots of the Civil War. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: Fort Barrancas is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the National Park Service system. Most frequently encountered is a Confederate soldier, who may be one of two executed at the fort.**]


January 8 to 12, 1861 - Slemmer Makes His Move

Fort Pickens viewed from the shoreline.

Taken from the shoreline, this would have been the view of Fort Pickens for the arriving Union troops. #1 is one of the walls that would have faced an attack from the bay. It was weaker than the seaside walls and housed two of the fort's three powder magazines. #2 is an old powder magazine and the current National Park visitors center. #3 is a large section of wall that blew up in 1899. It was caused by a fire in the powder magazine. By the summer of 1861, the sandy exterior would be built up with log and sand artillery batteries to strengthen the bayside defenses. There would be 2,000 Union troops here also

Lt. Slemmer planned his evacuation for January 10, but first they had work to do and some havoc to wreak. During the 8th and 9th, they spiked guns and blew up or flooded magazines at Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee. They loaded as much of everything as they could on several small sloops. What they couldn't carry they destroyed. On January 9, he received a dispatch from Washington D.C. instructing him to prevent the capture of facilities and stores to the best of his ability. While the Florida legislature was voting to create "...the sovereign and independent nation of Florida" on January 10, Union soldiers and sailors were making multiple boat trips a mile and a half across the bay to Fort Pickens.

Two days after secession, on January 12, 500 Confederate troops moved on Pensacola. There they confronted Commodore James Armstrong, the commander of the Navy Yard and the senior Union officer. They demanded the surrender of the Navy Yard and the four forts that protected it. The 67 year old Armstrong had been in the Navy since 1809 and was in failing health. With no hope of successful resistance and no personal reserves left to draw on, Armstrong capitulated.  He and the captured Union sailors were paroled back to New York aboard a Navy ship. The Confederates seized huge stores of weapons, ammo, medicine and other war stocks. They also got a first class ship repair facility, complete with drydock, and the infrastructure to support it.

When the new owners entered forts McRee and Barrancas, they found little of use and immediately got to work preparing the forts for action. Across the bay, the Union was doing the same thing at Fort Pickens.

Union troops rolling into Fort Pickens that day found an empty shell of a fort. It had been stripped, abandoned and unmaintained since 1850. There were 40 cannon, but many were dis-assembled or pointing the wrong way. Originally designed to defend against an attack from the sea, Fort Pickens had to reverse itself to defend against an attack from inside the bay. There were no stocks or stores of any kind. Designed to be manned by 1,200 troops, they had 81 men and one mule. The new garrison got to work in a two day torrential downpour. They worked all day and stood guard all night.

On the night of January 13, Union sentries spotted a Confederate patrol doing a recon of the fort. The sentries opened fire and the patrol returned fire as they withdrew.  Nobody was hit.  This was the first exchange of gunfire in the Civil War.

Within a month, they had 14 guns operational, but in the near term they had almost nothing.  The work continued non-stop. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: In 1861, the water was much closer to Fort Pickens. Images of the day show it practically lapping at the walls. The best guns available had a fairly short effective range, so they had to be as close to the water as possible. The western tip of Santa Rosa Island, which the two cannon are pointing towards, is almost 4,000 feet further out today than it was then. The sandy area in the picture would also have been much closer to the walls.**]


January 12 to 18 - Lt. Slemmer and Col. Chase Face Off

A wall at Fort Pickens overlooking the bay

A view of the Pensacola Bay area from one of the main batteries of Fort Pickens. The walls were 40 feet high and 12 feet thick. With this view, the Gulf of Mexico is behind you. Across the bay Fort Barrancas is 1 1/2 miles away. The Navy Yard is 2 miles.

The commander of the Confederate forces in those first days was Colonel William Chase. He was a retired Union Army officer called back into service by the South. Thirty years earlier, Captain Chase of the United States Army had supervised the construction of Fort Pickens. More than anyone else, he knew it was a very formidable strong point with powerful layered defenses against both sea and land attacks. So he must have had a heart attack when he found out the Union troops from Pensacola had occupied it. That fort was the key to Pensacola. Whoever controlled it controlled the bay. Without it, the capture of Pensacola was essentially nullified. This was an unexpected game-changing development which had to be reversed immediately if not sooner.

Late on January 12, Colonel Chase sent a representative to Fort Pickens with a surrender demand, which was rebuffed. Three days later, Chase himself and a small escort went to Fort Pickens. They met outside the gates with Lt Slemmer and Lt Gilman, his Second-in-Command. What happened next, recorded later by Gilman, is fascinating.

Chase starting reading a surrender document, then choked up halfway through it and couldn't finish.  He handed it to one of his escorts, who couldn't read. Lt Gilman read the surrender demand, which Slemmer again refused.

Chase returned on the 18th and asked Lt Slemmer to reconsider. Again, according to Lt. Gilman... (paraphrasing) Chase said, "I know this fort like the back of my hand.  I can be back here tomorrow with 1,000 troops. You may kill half of them but there's no way you can hold." Slemmer replied, " You do what you have to do.  I intend to fight."

An obviously conflicted Chase was probably wondering what to do next when a directive showed up that got him off the hook and slowed down everything for weeks - the "Pickens Truce". 

Mid-January, 1861 - Let's Make a Deal

 The Pensacola Navy Yard

A sketch of the Pensacola Navy Yard done by a Union soldier at Fort Pickens.

James Buchanan was a reluctant President. A compromise candidate when nominated in 1856, he said he would serve only one term. By the time that term ended it's doubtful he would have been re-elected anyway. The abolition and secession movements had energized during his time in office. They were tearing the country apart and he had done nothing to address them.  As a result, he was hated and vilified by both sides. Now, as the lamest of lame ducks with only two months left in office, he was hoping  things wouldn't blow up until Lincoln took over. But in late December, all Hell broke loose and by mid-January, seven states had seceded.

The situation in South Carolina was especially bad. The secessionist forces were seizing every Union asset in the state and brazenly demanding the surrender of Fort Sumter in the middle of Charleston Harbor. On January 9, a Confederate artillery battery manned by cadets from The Citadel fired on a Union ship attempting to reach the fort. That ship, an unarmed merchant vessel called the "Star of the West", sustained minor damage but got the message loud and clear. They turned around and left. There would be no more Union ships going to Fort Sumter. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: Many books and references call the "Star of the West" incident the first shots of the Civil War. That dubious honor goes to the guards at Fort Barrancas by eight hours.**] The garrison was now completely isolated and surrounded by rebel cannon. With the Sumter situation hopeless and on the front page everyday, the electorate was demanding that "something" be done. Now came word from Florida that the same fate was awaiting Fort Pickens.

For 35 years prior to becoming President, Buchanan was a Congressman, a Senator, the Ambassador to England and Russia and the Secretary of State. He was a deal maker. So when Fort Pickens threatened to spiral out of control like Fort Sumter, he made a deal.

President Buchanan contacted Stephen Russell Mallory, until very recently an influential U.S. Senator from Florida who lived in Pensacola. The gist of the deal was this: As long as the Union didn't attempt to reinforce Fort Pickens, the Confederate forces would not attack. This truce was to remain in effect at least until the end of the Buchanan presidency. It was very lawyerly and diplomatic in its wording and had holes that both sides could (and did) exploit. On the whole, it had something for everyone. Buchanan got Pickens off the skyline.  Lt. Slemmer got more time to work with what little he had. The rebels got time to reinforce for their anticipated attack with no Union interference. The truce directive reached both sides in late January. An attack on Fort Pickens seemed inevitable but that was on hold for now. The truce would lead to some interesting arrangements in the coming weeks. When the shooting finally started again, there would be dozens of heavy cannon and thousands of troops ready to do battle on both sides. But for the time being, things were going to be downright civil.

Winter/Spring 1861 - Putting the Civil Back in the Civil War

 Working on Fort Pickens

A sketch from Harper's Weekly showing work being done at Fort Pickens. The depiction of the fort's layout and construction is quite accurate. The truce didn't slow down the work or reduce the urgency to be ready.

The situation at Fort Pickens was precarious at best. If Colonel Chase had called their bluff in those early days, the fort may well have been taken. That was still a possibility, so Lt. Slemmer drove his men relentlessly. In addition to battling the elements and the natural hazards of Santa Rosa Island, they were constantly threatened by spies, traitors, saboteurs and sneak attacks. Gun crews had to be trained and sailors turned into soldiers, which they were not happy about. Defensive plans had to be developed and practiced.

There was nothing the fort didn't need. Everything that could rot was rotted.  Everything that could rust was rusted. Everything that could break or fall off had done so. Tools and materials were in short supply.  So were food and water.  They started shooting alligators to eat and straining seawater through sand to drink. This wreaked havoc on the digestive system.

The truce provided some relief.  Under mutually agreed terms, Slemmer's men could go into Pensacola to procure food and water. They used the Post Office and the telegraph service.  Many of the officers on both sides had served together before the war or knew each other from West Point.  During this truce period, there was little animosity between the two forces, even though they all knew that one day, duty might require them to kill each other - and they would do it.

By the end of January, Union supply ships started arriving offshore from Fort Pickens.  Under the terms of the truce, Pickens was allowed to offload "defensive" supplies along with food, water, clothing and other essentials.  Some of these ships were coal fired. The truce allowed them to enter Pensacola to buy coal, instead of going to Havana, Cuba.

Despite the influx of supplies, what Slemmer really needed was manpower - and that the truce would not permit.  Meanwhile, the Confederates had massed several thousand troops along with a new commander - General Braxton Bragg. He vowed to take Fort Pickens by mid-April.  The 81 Yankee defenders of Fort Pickens kept up their exhausting vigil, hoping something would break their way before they were attacked in force.

April 12, 1861 - Truce or No Truce, the War Begins

 Unloading reinforcements.

From Harper's Weekly, a sketch showing the unloading of troops and supplies to Fort Pickens. Once Lincoln got everyone moving, this was an ongoing operation. Getting the horses ashore was the toughest part. They were lowered into the water with slings and let loose to swim for it. Some horses were injured or killed but most made it. The whale boats, with a prow at each end, were the same kind used by the Marines in the Judah raid.

Abraham Lincoln became President on March 4, 1861.  Confederate General Braxton Bragg took command of Pensacola on March 11.  The "Pickens Truce" was about to take a back seat to winning the Pensacola Campaign.

On February 6, the USS Brooklyn arrived offshore at Fort Pickens. It was carrying troops and cannon to defend it, but the truce had taken effect while they were in transit. Since Buchanan was still President, they were ordered to remain offshore and not land any troops.  Their orders said they were to disembark the troops "only if Fort Pickens is attacked". They were still waiting on March 31 when the USS Mohawk arrived with more troops and guns, but the same rules of engagement - no offloads unless the fort is under attack.

One of Lincoln's first decisions as Commander-in-Chief was to vigorously defend Fort Pickens and take Pensacola.  He was not happy to find out a month later that shiploads of reinforcements were sitting offshore arguing whether the Army or the Navy was in charge of the operation.  He dispatched a personal emissary, Navy Lieutenant John Worden, to Pensacola with hand written orders to land the troops immediately. He was to deliver those orders personally. Worden traveled by rail from Washington to Pensacola.  The war hadn't started yet and the Pickens Truce was still in effect.  He arrived safely at Pensacola and was rowed across the bay to Fort Pickens, where he completed his mission on April 11.

The next day, 1,000 Union troops with heavy guns landed at Fort Pickens.  The Confederate window for capturing the fort was closed.  Lt. Slemmer and his men were relieved and sent back to New York, where they got a hero's welcome.

That same day, Fort Sumter came under sustained bombardment and surrendered two days later.  Total war enveloped the nation. Former President James Buchanan finally got what he wanted. Pensacola disappeared from the headlines.


Spring/Summer 1861 - More Than the Weather Heats Up

 James rifled cannon in firing positions.

A vintage Civil War photo of a battery of rifled cannon deployed in firing positions. Time and location unknown. Both sides at Pensacola would have had guns mounted this way. They are all firing over a rampart without any overhead cover. This is called firing "en barbette". You can also see two different mounts. Mounts in general are called carriages. The wheeled carriages are fast and flexible and can be moved out easily depending on the situation. However, they are hard to control and have to be manhandled and brought back on target after every round. The massive un-wheeled carriages were used in fixed fortifications or long sieges. They are easier to control, particularly the recoil. They can be traversed in a wide arc with relative ease and brought on to the target quicker. The wheels you see on those fixed carriages are for cranking the gun back into firing position after each shot.  These particular weapons are called "James rifles". They are a brass smooth bore re-bored and rifled after production. They fire a fused round designed just for it. James rifles filled the gap between smooth bores and the roll out of manufactured rifled cannon later in 1861. They were effective but had accuracy problems because their brass bores tended to wear out. However, they were lethal against their intended targets - brick forts. The Pensacola Campaign saw the first use of rifled cannon in the Civil War. The union used them with devastating effect. The Confederates probably didn't have any, since Fort Pickens survived with no major damage. The James rifles were phased out starting in 1862, replaced by Parrot guns and others.

Most observers believed this would be a short war. After Fort Sumter, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to sign up for 30 days, figuring that's how long it would last. Pensacola was already a battlefield.  Out west, the Confederacy was trying to establish a foothold on the California coast by fighting their way through New Mexico and Arizona.  This little known Desert Campaign gained traction rapidly after Fort Sumter.  For the next year, the Union, the Confederates and the Apache all fought each other for control of the desert Southwest.  In fact, the two most important campaigns strategically in that first year were the Desert and Pensacola Campaigns. The Southern efforts ultimately failed. If they had succeeded in one or both, it would have been a  different war.

The new Union commander was 66 year old Colonel Harvey Brown, a solid career artillery officer. He had been in the army for 43 years and fought in three wars. His orders were to hold Fort Pickens and capture Pensacola.  Weapons, troops and supplies were now arriving in large numbers often in full view of the enemy. As spring rolled into summer, Brown had over 2,000 troops and many heavy guns. In addition to arming the casements and ramparts of the fort, the Union built four external batteries pointing across the bay at McRee, Barrancas and the Navy Yard. Union warships and gunboats were stationed offshore, ready to provide defensive or offensive fires as needed. All together, the Union could bring almost 100 guns to bear. However, they were short on rations and fresh water.  It was October before the Union sea supply line could keep up with the demands of feeding 2,000 men.

The Confederates were busy too, eventually massing 9,000 troops in the area with heavy guns at Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee. They also built external batteries of sand and wood outside the forts. By the time the fighting got serious in the fall, the entire four mile stretch of shoreline from McRee to the Navy Yard was bristling with cannon. All three forts and the exterior batteries were within range of each other. Pickens was the strongest by far and also had the Navy Yard and surrounding towns within range. Bragg had to capture Fort Pickens to complete their quest but the chances of that happening were almost zero now.  Likewise, a direct Union assault on Pensacola would have been costly and weakened Fort Pickens to dangerous levels. It was also unnecessary. The fort was practically unassailable at this point and the entire bay was bottled up.  The campaign turned into an eyeball to eyeball standoff. Both sides refrained from lighting the war fuze while waiting for an opportunity or an excuse to strike.

So that's the way it was through that long, hot summer of 1861 - until July 21.  On that day, the first major ground battle of the war occurred in the tranquil Virginia countryside 25 miles southwest of Washington, DC. It was fought at a railroad junction called Manassas (aka Bull Run).  In addition to the tens of thousands of troops in the battle, the genteel ladies and gentlemen from Washington followed their army to the battlefield by horse and buggy.  There, they spread out picnic lunches to watch their boys send this southern rabble scurrying home with their tails between their legs and end this war.

It didn't go as planned. The fighting went back and forth all day. By 4:00 PM, the broken and demoralized Union soldiers were running for their lives back to Washington. The genteel ladies and gentlemen were running with them.  Afterwards, both sides were in a state of shock. The size and ferocity of the battle and the casualties incurred far exceeded what anyone expected. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: It was in this Battle of First Manassas that an obscure Confederate General from Virginia named Thomas Jackson showed extreme steadiness under fire and earned the nickname "Stonewall". He became General Robert E. Lee's right hand man. Two years later, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, he was mistakenly shot and killed by his own troops.**]

On August 10, it happened again. Union forces were defeated at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri, with several thousand more casualties on both sides.  It was now apparent to all that this was going to be a long and bloody war.

Late Summer/Fall, 1861 - Payback Time

 The burning of the Judah.

A lithograph depicting the action during the Marine raid on the Judah. The Pensacola campaign was one of the few arenas during the Civil War where the Marines got in on the action. This audacious night raid struck the Navy Yard itself and put the defenders on notice that nothing was safe.  It was a major morale booster for the Union when they needed it most.

The shock from these losses was felt all the way to Pensacola.  Bragg's forces celebrated wildly while the Union troops wondered what the hell happened. Colonel Brown probably figured this was no time to sit around and do nothing.  He started firing up the Confederates - literally.

On August 25, a Confederate ship tried to break out of the harbor.  A shot across the bow from Fort Pickens turned it around.

On September 2, a floating drydock broken loose from its moorings floated in front of Fort Pickens and grounded on a shoal. Worried that it might be some sort of seaborne Trojan Horse, Colonel Brown had troops row out and burn it, lighting up the entire bay.

The next target was the Judah, a captured ship being re-fitted at the Navy Yard. On the night of September 13-14, one hundred Marines and sailors in four whale boats approached the Judah, which was moored dockside.  Despite being discovered by an alert sentry, the Marines boarded her. A short but furious fight ensued on board and spilled over on to the wharf.  The Marines took the ship just long enough to set it ablaze while another element spiked a nearby shore battery, bringing back the muzzle covers as souvenirs. By now, the alarm had sounded and illumination rockets were being fired up in the air by the Confederates. The whale boats each had a small boat howitzer mounted in the bow.  The Marines opened up with canister rounds to dissuade the soldiers now massing on the wharf and safely made their escape.  Three of their comrades were killed and 13 wounded. The entire raid took 15 minutes. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: Spiking a gun meant just that - pounding an iron spike down into the touch hole of a cannon so it couldn't be fired. It was a common and very effective tactic to deny anyone immediate use of the gun.  Removing the spike and restoring the touch hole vent required rear echelon maintenance. It couldn't be done as a field repair.**]

Throughout all these actions, there had been no response from the Confederates. General Bragg finally decided enough was enough. His response to these Yankee "annoyances" would be a full blown ground assault on Fort Pickens.

October 9, 1861 - The Battle of Santa Rosa Island

Around midnight on October 9, one thousand Confederate troops landed on Santa Rosa Island four miles east of Fort Pickens. They had been transported by steamers and barges across the bay undetected.  It was a pitch black night, with no moon and a heavy overcast. Night fighting was rare in the Civil War but in this case they had no choice. Santa Rosa Island was narrow and devoid of cover. Its interior consisted of soft, knee deep sand that was like talcum powder. Dense low scrub, salt water swamps and thorny tanglefoot vines made it an infantryman's nightmare. A daylight attack would never get to the fort, especially with warships just off the coast watching for it.

With white clothes around their upper left arms to distinguish them from the Yankees, the attackers headed west in three columns.  Two moved along the bayside northern beach. The third moved on the seaside southern beach. Following along behind was a demolition team to spike guns and a medical team. The first streaks of dawn were only four hours away.

 Col. Billy Wilson and some of his zouaves.

From the Library of Congress, a vintage Civil War photo. Time and location unknown. A photo of Col. Billy Wilson and some of his Zouaves. That's Billy seated in the center. Mostly Irishmen from the rougher parts of New York City, they were boisterous and physical. They were also undisciplined and poorly trained. Nevertheless, there were all kinds of urban legends circulated about their fighting prowess. These reached all the way to Pensacola. Every unit in the Confederacy wanted a crack at Wilson's men. That was no doubt one of the objectives of the Santa Rosa Island raid - to put these loud mouth Yankees in their place. The Zouaves didn't fare well in the battle. Despite firing by the sentries, most of them were still in their tents when the Confederates came storming through. Wilson tried to cover up the debacle by writing glowing after action reports, but the damage was done. Colonel Brown, who was openly contemptuous of them on the best of days, soon broke them up and mixed them among other units.

Two hours later, they ran into a picket from the 6th New York Regiment. This regiment, called "Billy Wilson's Zouaves", consisted of hard drinking Irishmen from the slums of New York City. They were undisciplined and poorly trained. Encamped almost a mile east of Fort Pickens, their mission was to guard the land approaches and sound the alarm at the enemy's approach. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: The original Zouaves (zwahves) were Arab mercenaries in North Africa who fought for the French between 1830 and 1860. They were recruited from the Zouaoua (zwa'-wa) tribe in the mountains of Algeria. Much like the Ghurkas who fought for the British, they became renowned for their courage in battle as well as their distinctive uniforms. In the mid-19th century, the world caught "Zouave fever". Soon everyone had units calling themselves "Zouaves" including both sides of the Civil War. Some of them were quite good but it had little to do with what they called themselves. The name got overplayed and eventually meant almost nothing, as Billy Wilson's men capably demonstrated.**]

The picket got off a shot before being killed, but it didn't alert the regiment. Most of the Zouaves were still in their tents when the Confederate raiders stormed into the encampment.  After a brief attempt at resistance, the New Yorkers broke and ran. Fortunately for the Union, the Confederates didn't  pursue. They were busy looting the camp and their momentum came to a halt.

Union reaction was swift.  Colonel Brown sent out three reaction forces to check the rebel advance and counterattack. The Confederates formed a temporary defense on the now destroyed regimental camp. After a brief stand, the order was given to withdraw back to their landing site. The battle became a wild running fight as forces from both sides got disoriented and intermingled in the dark. 

At 4:00 AM, the first streaks of daylight brightened the horizon and the Confederate's worst nightmare appeared to be coming true. They were caught out in the open on the beaches with half a dozen Union companies in pursuit. However, the Union pursuers were unorganized and heavily outnumbered. They had to be careful in their approach, so much of their movement was through the hellish interior. Several times, the rebels made spoiling attacks against Union soldiers that got too close. The Union found it difficult to bring large amounts of effective fire to bear. This went on until the attackers reached their extract point at daybreak and then things started to go bad. They had landed on towed barges which they rowed into the beach.  Now they had to reverse it and get 500 yards out to the waiting transports.  Here the Union was able to approach and mass their fires. Taking cover behind the snow white sand dunes, they fired volley after volley into the hapless raiders as they made their escape. 

Total Union casualties numbered around 100 while the Confederates reported up to 300.  The island was littered with dead and wounded.  Soldiers on both sides had been captured, including the entire Confederate medical team. The next day, both sides collected their casualties under a white flag. The captured medical team was released. The dead from both sides were buried in a communal mass grave after they had been identified and recorded.  The chaplain of the 6th New York did a graveside service and the 6th's engineer marked the grave site on a map. The grave has never been found.

 Billy Wilson's Zouaves at Santa Rosa Island.

A Civil War sketch pulled from the Library of Congress. Time and location unknown. Most sketches of the battle showed the Zouaves locked in mortal combat with their attackers. This one doesn't and it's probably the most realistic portrayal out there - dead Zouaves in the foreground and attackers all over the place. The guy peeking out of the tent is priceless. Wilson's men broke and ran. In a way though they did slow down the Confederates. The attackers stopped to loot and burn Wilson's camp, giving Colonel Brown time to launch counter-attacks.

The Battle of Santa Rosa Island is usually referred to as an attempt by the Confederates to capture Fort Pickens. That's debatable. They didn't have the manpower or firepower to do it.  A more credible scenario is that it was a retaliatory raid, designed to cause casualties outside the fort and test its defenses.

The battle is considered a Union victory, sometimes with "decisive" or some other adjective attached.  From a tactical standpoint, that's debatable too. Consider what the Confederates accomplished. They moved 1,000 men at night undetected to within a half mile of the fort, catching the Union garrison flat-footed. If they had followed the Zouave bug-out, they would have been at the gates of Fort Pickens before anyone could react. They completely disrupted and destroyed a regimental encampment. They spiked several guns deployed in exterior batteries near the camp. Then they did a fighting withdrawal and an amphibious extraction under fire. Not bad for a night's work and hardly a smashing Union victory.

Strategically though, the Union came out on top. Given the difficulties encountered by the Santa Rosa raiders, General Bragg ended his quest for an epic ground attack to capture Fort Pickens. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: The attack on Santa Rosa Island was the second largest land battle in Florida during the entire war, exceeded only by the Battle of Olustee in February 1864.**]

The status quo returned to  Pensacola Bay and for the first time, the Confederates began to think about abandoning the area. Colonel Brown would soon give them another push in that direction.



November 22 and 23, 1861 - Colonel Brown Releases the Hounds

On November 22, 1861, the moment everybody had been dreading all these months arrived.  At 10:00 AM, every gun the Union had at Fort Pickens plus the guns of three warships opened fire across the bay. These weren't just any guns at Pickens.  The ubiquitous  12 pound Napoleons seen on every Civil War battlefield were useless here except for close in defense.  They didn't have the range. This arsenal included large siege mortars, giant Columbiad smoothbores and a new innovation - rifled cannon called "James rifles". Most artillery pieces simply pushed a round cannonball down the barrel, greatly reducing the accuracy and energy of the round. Rifled cannon fired a bullet shaped round out of a grooved barrel causing a tight spin. That spinning action and the pointed nose of the round greatly increased the accuracy and destructive power- at least in theory. Today would be their first real test. The other smooth bore cannon fired "hotshot"- cannon balls heated red hot to start fires.

 The artillery duel of Nov 22-23.

A sketch from Harper's Weekly gives an accurate overview of the deadly artillery duel on Nov 22-23. The Union built four exterior artillery batteries to bring more guns to bear and spread them out. Here's the legend for the numbers: #1-Fort McRee, #2-Fort Barrancas, #3-Navy Yard, #4-Battery Scott, #5-Fort Pickens, #6-Battery Totten, #7-Battery Cameron, #8-Battery Lincoln. Battery Scott and the warships took on McRee. Battery Lincoln fired on the Navy Yard 1,200 yards away. Fort Pickens, Battery Totten and Battery Cameron fired on Fort Barrancas and the exterior positions the Confederates had built.

The warships targeted Fort McRee. Moving in from the south, they were able to attack the fort from the rear. They moved in close and fired broadsides with their 24 and 32 pounder naval guns. When the tide went out they had to move with it. To keep the fort in range, they used a tactic called "careening" to keep up the fire. They weighed down one side of the ship with sand ballast so the other side would rise up in response.  This gave the weapons on the high side an increased angle of fire and increased range.

Also targeting Fort McRee was Battery Scott, one of the four external artillery batteries built outside of Fort Pickens. Positioned at the very western tip of the island and directly across the harbor channel from Fort McRee, it had three James rifles. It had been built and equipped to take on Fort McRee when the time came. Today was the day.

The Confederates responded all across the bay but didn't have the proficiency or accuracy of the Union gunners. Nevertheless, they put effective fire on Fort Pickens and damaged one of the ships. Fort Pickens was saved from significant damage because the bayside walls had been reinforced with a protective barrier of sand and logs. They absorbed the energy from direct hits. Inside the fort, there was damage to iron railings, steps and casement doors. 

The firing continued until nightfall, then picked up the next day, lasting until 2:00 AM on the 24th.  When it was over, Fort McRee was in ruins and the Navy Yard was in flames, along with the village of Warrington next to it. Fort Barrancas and its external batteries were damaged to various degrees. Fort Pickens was essentially unscathed. Personnel casualties on both sides were light, but the Confederates lost a lot of equipment, weapons and ammo stores.

The commander of Fort McRee wanted to abandon it, but General Bragg said no. The garrison there worked feverishly and got several guns back in operation, but Fort McRee would never fight again.

It was one of the largest artillery bombardments in military history up to that point.  The Union fired 5,000 rounds.  The Confederates only 1,000.  Observers reported that the ground shook the entire time.  Pensacola Bay was covered with thousands of dead fish killed by the concussion.

As the year 1861 ended, things were looking grim for the Union. They didn't win a battle the whole year. In fact, Union Generals went to great lengths to avoid battles, citing supplies, training or some other excuse. This led to President Lincoln issuing General War Order #1 in late January 1862.  It basically said "Get off your butts and start fighting or I'll find someone who will".

The one bright spot for the Union was Pensacola.

January 2 and 3, 1862 - Happy New Year, General Bragg

 Solid shot round for a James rifle.

A solid shot round for the James rifle. The vented base contained the propellant and was covered with sheet metal. When the round was fired, the heat and energy would force the sheet metal into the rifling of the bore. This gave the round its spin. These are the rounds that destroyed Fort McRee.

Colonel Brown's men rang in the new year the way they ended the old - with a punishing artillery bombardment.  Although not quite as intense as the first, it was more accurate and more destructive.  The Union gunners picked their targets carefully. Most remaining structures at the Navy Yard were destroyed. A round made a direct hit on a powder magazine at Fort McRee and blew everything to bits.  It was abandoned, never to be used again.  Eventually, it was consumed by sand and sea.  No visible trace of it remains today.

The rebel defenders were barely able to muster a response. There was nothing left. The Navy Yard was in ruins. Fort McRee was gone. Disease was becoming epidemic, especially measles. Meanwhile, the war was heating up rapidly to the west and north.  Troops and supplies were urgently needed elsewhere. The handwriting was on the wall. With no chance of pushing out the Union forces, Pensacola was expendable.

Spring 1862 - The End of the Line

The New Year's bombardment was the last military action of the Pensacola Campaign but the stalemate would drag out for four more months. General Bragg wouldn't be there to see it.  On March 19, he and 8,000 troops began moving towards Tennessee.  Three weeks later, they would fight at Shiloh.  Left behind were 1,000 defenders commanded by Colonel Thomas Jones, who was handed a lose-lose situation. He went through the motions of defense until May 7, when the entire Union Western Blockade Squadron showed up at the entrance to the bay.  Admiral David Farragut, the Union commander, wanted to get his hands on Pensacola, which was a vast improvement over their current base at Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi.

Colonel Jones spent two days saving what material he could, then torched the rest when they evacuated on May 9.  The next day, the mayor of Pensacola surrendered the city to Union forces. Pensacola remained solidly in Union hands for the rest of the war.

The Aftermath...

The loss of Pensacola left the South with only one gulf port - Mobile, AL. Although blockaded and bracketed by Union bases at New Orleans and Pensacola, Mobile would stay active and relatively untouched until the the summer of 1864. Pensacola became an important base of operations for the Union.  In addition to being a base for the Blockade Squadron, it was a vital bastion deep in the Confederacy from which ground operations could be launched.  Fort Barrancas and the Advanced Redoubt were fully manned and became the jump off point for many incursions into surrounding areas. Scouting and raiding parties ranged through Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi for the whole war. Navy ships launched amphibious raids along the coast with soldiers and Marines. It was a constant threat to the Confederacy, requiring scarce resources to counter it. Towards the end of the war, as the Confederacy contracted, the actions in Florida became bigger and closer. The strategic value of Pensacola was a war changer for both sides. However, it must be said that if Pensacola had remained in southern hands, the outcome of the war would not have changed but its conduct certainly would have.

The town itself was relatively undamaged because it was out of range of Union guns.  However, the booming economy was gone and freed slaves wandered throughout the area, happy to be free but not sure how to deal with it. Citizens who refused to swear loyalty to the United States were expelled. The city administration established a formal government-in-exile in Greenville, AL for the duration of the war.  They were the only governing body in the Confederacy to do so.  Florida was re-admitted to the Union in June 1868.

 Fort Pulaski after Union bombardment.

This Civil War photo shows the damage done to Fort Pulaski in Savannah, GA. a month before the surrender of Pensacola. The wall was pulverized by rifled cannon, forcing the garrison to surrender in one day or face annihilation. No brick fort was ever taken by troops attacking on the ground. Bombardment alone was enough. Visitors to Fort Pulaski today can see deep gouges in the brick walls from the shelling in April 1862.

Fort Pickens was one of the few coastal forts to do what it was designed to do and see fighting.  After the surrender of Pensacola, it was used as a POW camp and a disciplinary barracks until the end of the war, when it was put in mothballs again for 25 years. Its role as a defensive bastion was over.

Fort Pickens was the last "hurrah" of the brick forts thanks to the advent of rifled cannon. After their success tearing apart Fort McRee, they became the weapon of choice against masonry fortifications.  Never again would a fort stop an invader or anchor a defense.  On April 10-11, 1862 Union rifled cannon at Savannah, GA turned the southeast wall of the formidable Fort Pulaski into rubble.  The commander of the fort had stored food, supplies and ammunition for a six month siege.  They were compelled to surrender after a 30 hour bombardment when rounds started coming through the walls and landing near the powder magazines. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: One of the officers in charge of building Fort Pulaski was 2nd Lt. Robert E. Lee, West Point class of 1829.**]

In August of 1864, Admiral David Farragut showed everyone how it was done.  At the Battle of Mobile Bay, he charged the fleet right past massive Fort Morgan. Built by Colonel William Chase, the builder of Fort Pickens, it was thought to be invincible.  Leading the way were shallow draft ironclad gunboats firing canister rounds at the fort's gun embrasures at point blank range.  After winning the battle of the bay in three hours, a combined land-sea bombardment two weeks later demolished Fort Morgan and forced its surrender in 24 hours. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: It was in this battle that Admiral Farragut uttered the famous line "Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead." The torpedoes he referred to are now called mines.  He gave the order to his own ship, the USS Hartford, to lead his fleet out from under the guns of Fort Morgan after they became bogged down in a Confederate minefield.**]

The same thing could well have happened to Fort Pickens. If the South had managed to take it, Pensacola would have become another Mobile. The Union would have blockaded the bay, rendering it useless. Eventually, they would have taken Pensacola, destroying its forts in the process - just like Mobile. Rapidly evolving weapons and tactics ended the era of the mighty brick forts. 

Whatever Happened to...

 Grave of Commodore Armstrong

Commodore James Armstrong, who surrendered the Navy Yard, became a fall guy. Born in 1794, Armstrong was an old man in failing health who had been in the Navy since 1809. He was ready to retire in 1860 when the Navy offered him a nice easy job to finish out his career - command of the Pensacola Navy Yard.  Never in his wildest imagination could he ever have envisioned what was coming down the pike. On January 12, 1861, he was isolated and alone facing hundreds of uniformed militia with less than 50 Marines and no artillery. He had no orders from Washington and some of his officers, including his Second-in-Command, were openly colluding with the secessionists. After destroying his code books, he met with the militia delegation and surrendered.  Armstrong was paroled along with the rest of his contingent and sailed back to New York on board the USS Supply. When he arrived, there was Hell to pay. The Navy was on a witch hunt for disloyal officers sympathetic to the South. Armstrong's Second-in-Command had resigned and joined the Confederate Navy. Armstrong was considered guilty by association on that one. A formal board of inquiry led to a court-martial. The Navy maintained that Armstrong should have resisted and fought to the last man. They really wanted to charge him with cowardice and treason, but couldn't make the case. So they settled for failure to follow orders (he had none), dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer. Armstrong's lawyer presented clear exculpatory evidence and pleaded with the court to let the Commodore finish honorably after over 50 years of service. It was a fait accompli. He was found guilty of all charges and dismissed from the Navy. He returned to his deceased wife's hometown of Salem, Massachusetts.  He died of natural causes on August 28, 1868 at age 74 and is buried in Salem next to his wife. No pictures of the Commodore are currently available.


 General Braxton Bragg

You would be hard pressed to find a Civil War historian with a positive slant on the career of North Carolina's General Braxton Bragg. Never loved and always controversial back then, it still describes him today. An 1837 graduate of West Point, Bragg was an artillery officer who served with distinction in the Mexican War.  He left the army in 1856 and became a plantation owner in Louisiana. When the war broke out, his old Mexican War friend Jefferson Davis made him a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army.  Bragg's career as a General was marked by blunders heaped on calamities. He also had a personality only a mother could love.  He was harsh, humorless, insubordinate and suffered from severe migraine headaches. Despite that, he was one of eight Confederate officers to make full General during the war.  Shortly after leaving Pensacola, he was placed in command of the 40,000 man Army of Tennessee.  He proved capable as a planner, organizer and trainer but was lacking in tactics and execution. If he wasn't being defeated outright, he was letting the enemy off the hook. Only his personal support from Davis kept him in command, but after yet another defeat at Chattanooga in November 1863, he was recalled to Richmond.  He spent the rest of the war on the military staff of Jefferson Davis. After the war, his plantation gone, he worked as a civil engineer in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas.  Work was hard to find at times.  At one point, he and his wife Elise lived in former slave quarters on his brother's farm. Braxton Bragg dropped dead while walking down the street with a friend in Galveston, TX on September 20, 1876 at the age of 59. He is buried in Mobile, AL. He is the namesake of Fort Bragg, N.C., the home of U.S. Army Airborne and the Green Berets.


 Colonel Harvey Brown

Colonel Harvey Brown was a prototype career Army officer and about as non-controversial as one could get. Born in 1795 in Rahway, N.J., he graduated from West Point in 1818 as an artillery officer. He served capably and honorably until 1867.  By the time the Civil War started, Brown had already fought in three wars - the Blackhawk War, the Seminole Wars and the Mexican War.  He was brevetted several times for bravery. Between wars, he served in a progression of assignments typical for a career officer, even today. He served on staffs, in garrison posts, as an aide-de-camp and an instructor. At the start of the Civil War, he was 66 years old and had been in the army for 43 years. The beginning of 1861 found him as the Military Commander of Washington, D.C. when he was placed in command of the expedition to relieve Fort Pickens. His decision to bottle up Pensacola and gradually ratchet up the pressure worked well and led to a near bloodless victory. His only Civil War battles were the fight on Santa Rosa Island and the two bombardments in November and January. In April 1862, he was re-assigned as the Military Commander of New York City.  He was instrumental in putting down the Draft Riots of July 1863. With the exception of the Civil War itself, these riots were (and still are) the largest acts of violent civil disorder in U.S. history. Brown's last assignment was superintendent of the army recruiting service. He retired to a quiet life in 1867 and died in Clifton, N.Y. on March 31, 1874 at the age of 78.  He is buried in Rahway, N.J.


 President James Buchanan

A lifelong bachelor and the only President from Pennsylvania, President James Buchanan is consistently rated by historians as one of the worst Presidents in American history. Along with that, his failure to confront the twin forces of abolition and secession is almost universally called the biggest mistake ever made by a President. He also influenced the Supreme Court to rule against the plaintiff in the 1857 Dred Scott case, which they did. In doing so, they held that blacks were private property who were not and could not be American citizens, therefore slavery could not be regulated by the federal government. Rather than resolve the slavery issue, as Buchanan hoped, it only made things worse.  Adding to his list of worsts, the Dred Scott case is considered the worst decision ever handed down by the Supreme Court.  Buchanan also vetoed two legislative acts which proved vital to economic progress after the war. One was the Morrill Act, also called the Land Grant College Act. It enabled the states to set up endowments through the sale of federal land to establish colleges for agricultural, mechanical and teaching disciplines. Today, most major state universities are land grant colleges. The other veto was the Homestead Act, which granted people, including blacks and women, 160 acres of unappropriated federal land provided they lived on it.  It was the primary driver of the great western migration. Lincoln signed both in 1862.  Despite his long career of public service, Buchanan was relegated to obscurity after leaving office, with few friends or defenders. He spent the rest of his life defending himself against hate mail, public disgust and accusations of treason. He died of pneumonia at his Wheatland estate in Lancaster, PA on June 1, 1868 at the age of 77.  He is buried in Lancaster. The day before he died, Buchanan said, "History will vindicate me". So far, that hasn't happened.


 Colonel William Chase

The most interesting player in the Pensacola campaign was Colonel William Henry Chase. Born in Buckfield, Massachusetts in 1794, he was raised as part of an established and influential family.  His mother was the niece of John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. You can't get any more Yankee than that. Chase graduated from West Point in 1815 and spent the next 41 years in the Army Corps of Engineers.  All but two of those years were in the Gulf Coast region, so it's no surprise that he crossed over to the Dark Side. He married into a wealthy southern family and established a home in Pensacola - Chasefield Plantation near Fort Barrancas.  While still in the Army, he went into business - banking, railroads, brickyards, cotton and land speculation among them. He supervised the construction of all the major forts in the Gulf. There were the four forts in Pensacola. In Mobile, AL, he built Forts Morgan and Gaines. He also built Fort Zachary Taylor on Key West and Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas. The local Pensacola economy boomed because of all the military contracts brought in by Chase.  All of these forts were built, at least in part, with slave labor.  The slaves were rented from their local owners through Chase. They were built with bricks from Pensacola brickyards. Fort Pickens alone used 22 million of them. When they ended up with surpluses, Chase would recommend a new "vital" fortification. Along the way, he became a wealthy and influential man.  Chase left the Army in 1856 after turning down a posting as the Superintendent of West Point. He continued to expand his businesses and became involved in local politics. He supported slavery and secession but would have probably preferred that the war not start in Pensacola.  After secession, he accepted a temporary appointment as a Colonel in the Florida militia and assumed command of the Pensacola operation. It was an obviously conflicted Chase who demanded the surrender of Fort Pickens. There's little doubt that in those first days, a large ground assault had a good chance of succeeding but it would have been costly. His orders authorized him to use force if necessary but that would have started the Civil War right then and there. Maybe Chase didn't want that blood on his hands.  Maybe he saw his businesses being wiped out. Maybe he didn't want to see his fort destroyed. Maybe family loyalties or his 40 years in the Army gave him pause. Maybe at 67, he figured he was just too old for this crap. Whatever the reason, Chase didn't pursue the attack option. The Pickens Truce resolved the matter for him. After being relieved by General Bragg in March 1861, William Chase returned to private life running his businesses and had no further involvement in the Civil War. He died in Pensacola on February 8, 1870 and was buried at Chasefield Family Cemetery. In 1957, due to expansion of the Naval Air Station, the entire cemetery was re-interred to a new location 1/4 mile from Fort Pickens. It is maintained by the National Park Service.


 Senator Stephen Russell Mallory

Senator Stephen Russell Mallory, the broker of the "Pickens Truce", was an influential person on both sides before, during and after the war.  Born in Trinidad in 1812 to American parents, they moved to Key West in 1820.  After his dad died, his mother opened a boarding house for merchant sailors. There he began a lifelong love of ships and all things nautical. Mallory was mostly self-taught and never went to law school, but he was admitted to the bar in 1840. He became a recognized expert in maritime and admiralty law with a practice in Key West. Climbing the Florida political ladder, he was appointed a U.S. Senator from Florida in 1850 and re-elected in 1856. His earned a reputation as a congenial moderate and was chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee.  Although not a war hawk, he resigned and followed his state when Florida seceded.  He helped organize the Confederate government and was their Secretary of the Navy for the entire war. Nobody cared much about the Confederate Navy, so he had a free hand. He pushed the development of ironclads and deployed commerce raiders to the high seas. During the war, the Confederate Navy developed submarines and devastating underwater mines, which sunk more Union ships than gunfire. After the war, he was convicted of treason, spent a year in prison and was paroled by President Andrew Johnson. He returned home to Pensacola and started his life over with his wife Angela, their nine children and his law practice. He died there on November 9, 1873 of heart failure. He is buried in Pensacola.  Mallory Square in Key West, the site of the nightly (and not to be missed) Sunset Festival, is named for him.


 Lt. Adam Slemmer


Lt. Adam Slemmer graduated from West Point in 1850. In the decade before the Civil War, he fought in the Seminole War and taught at West Point. His decisive actions and subsequent bluff saved Fort Pickens and Pensacola for the Union. After his return to New York, he was promoted to Major and fought in the Corinth Campaign and at Nashville. At the Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro) on December 31, 1862, he was severely wounded and never returned to the fighting. He finished the war in a variety of administrative posts.  After the war, he was brevetted a Brigadier General and assigned the command of Fort Laramie, WY. There, in 1868, he contracted typhoid fever and died at the age of 40.  He is buried in Norristown, PA.




 Lt. John Worden

New York native Lt. John Worden, Lincoln's personal emissary to Fort Pickens, was taken prisoner by the Confederates on his way back to Washington. He spent seven months in a POW camp before being exchanged. Four months after that, on March 9, 1862, he commanded the USS Monitor against the CSS Merrimack (Virginia) in their classic ironclad duel at Hampton Roads, VA. Wounded in that battle, he relinquished command to recover, then became the Captain of the USS Montauk, another ironclad gunboat. For the next year, he commanded the Montauk in blockades, bombardments and river battles in South Carolina. In the spring of 1863, he became head of the ironclad building program for the United States.  In addition to being highly competent, Worden was a beltway favorite.  He went on to a distinguished career, including five years as the Commandant of the Naval Academy.  He retired in 1886 as a two-star Admiral with 52 years of service. Congress voted to give him his full pay for life. He resided in Washington until his death from pneumonia on October 19, 1897 at the age of 79.  He is buried in Pawling, N.Y. [**HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: The Montauk was pierside at the Washington Navy Yard when Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Lincoln was assassinated five days later.  On April 26, his alleged assassin John Wilkes Booth was shot and killed at Garrett's Farm in Maryland.  His autopsy was done the next day aboard the Montauk.  If you're into conspiracy theories, Google John Wilkes Booth autopsy.**]


Exploring the Area

If you like parks, trails, beaches, back roads, waterfronts, history, forts, battles, tactics, heroes, last stands, burgers and geocaches, you've come to the right place. The Pensacola area has it all. We were snowbirds there for several winters and loved it.

A great place to start is the Gulf Shores National Seashore. They supervise all the forts and batteries.  Ranger-led and self-guided tours are available or you can just climb all over them.  If you are a fort fanatic like us, you can spend days wandering around them.

Not to be missed is the Naval Aviation Museum on the Pensacola Naval Base.

Cell phone coverage is great, so you can do everything on the fly. Download the geocaching app and the munzee app.  You'll be in business.

For a great quest, go find the remains of Fort McRee.  Officially, there are none but there are - quite a few as a matter of fact. All you have to do is get to the east end of Perdido Key at low tide. Here's a link to the blog of another intrepid explorer who set out to  hunt down the lost Civil War fort.

All this will probably work up an appetite. For a great burger, check out the SurfBurger in Pensacola Beach.  One of our favorite places.

If you are interested in reading more about forts, we have a separate forts section. It has topics like fort engineering, attacking and defending and more.

You won't find Pensacola on anybody's short list of important Civil War battles.  In fact, most Civil War books and timelines don't even mention it.  Before we started snowbirding down there, we had never heard of it. That makes it a perfect candidate for Exploring Off The Beaten Path.  Hope you enjoyed the page.

Out here ... Semper Fi ... Alpha6