Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Battle of Santa Rosa Island - Pensacola, Florida


On October 9, 1861, a brutal night fight took place in the sand dunes of Santa Rosa Island. It was the first significant battle of the War Between the States in Florida.

The Battle of Santa Rosa Island was the result of a retaliatory strike on Union forces at Fort Pickens ordered by General Braxton Bragg after a Federal boat party attacked and destroyed the Confederate privateer Judah at the Pensacola Navy Yard in September of 1861.

The general's intent was never to capture Fort Pickens, unless an opportunity somehow presented itself. Instead, he hoped to destroy the camp of the 6th New York Volunteers and spike the guns of outlying batteries in the vicinity. Also known as Wilson's Zouaves, the 6th New York was commanded by the infamous William "Billy" Wilson, a former New York politician who had recruited a regiment largely filled with rough and tumble toughs from the docks and streets of New York. Confederate troops at Pensacola were anxious to attack them.

Deciding on a night attack, Bragg sent Brigadier General Richard H. "Dick" Anderson across Pensacola Bay with 1,100 men shortly after midnight on Ocotber 9 1861. Landing under cover of darkness, the men formed into three columns and advanced west down Santa Rosa Island. They overran Wilson's camp with a bayonet charge, sending the New Yorkers fleeing for their lives.

Union troops in Fort Pickens moved out to engage the Confederates and, as planned, Anderson began a withdrawal back down Santa Rosa Island to his boats. Heavy fighting took place in pitch darkness and on the shifting sand dunes of the island, but despite heavy rifle fire, the Confederates were able to return to their boats and head back across the bay to Pensacola.

Both sides reported significant losses. Southern losses were 18 killed, 39 wounded and 30 captured (General Bragg reported that 11 of the dead had been executed with shots to the head after they were first wounded). Union losses were 14 killed, 29 wounded and 24 captured.

To read more about the battle, please visit our new Battle of Santa Rosa Island page at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/santarosa.

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