Monday, November 30, 2009

A Crew Member from the C.S.S. Chattahoochee


This is Lorenzo Coonrod, who served aboard the ill-fated warship C.S.S. Chattahoochee.

Commissioned on January 1, 1863, at the C.S. Navy Yard at Saffold, Early County, Georgia, the Chattahoochee was the most powerful Confederate warship ever to sail on Florida waters. She took nearly 18 months to construct and was captained by Lieutenant Catesby ap R. Jones, who had assumed command of the famed ironclad C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimac) during her epic battle with the U.S.S. Monitor. A number of her other officers and crewmen had also served aboard the Virginia during that engagement.

To come up with the more than 100 men needed to crew the ship, Confederate authorities assembled both individuals with prior sailing experience as well as green recruits who had been conscripted into the Confederate army. According to his service and pension records, Coonrod was one of the latter.

Assigned to the crew of the Chattahoochee on October 28, 1862, as the warship was being completed at Saffold, he was part of its crew when it becan its maiden voyage down the Chattahoochee River to Florida in January of 1863. He was also aboard the ship when her boiler exploded at Blountstown on the Apalachicola River during a hurricane in May of 1863, but was extremely fortunate to have been neither killed nor injured.

Later assigned to the C.S. Navy at Savannah, Coonrod became seriously ill and spent much of the last year of the war suffering from sickness. He lived in Jackson County after the war and is one of three former crew members of the Chattahoochee known to be buried there.

To see a photo of the wreck of the Chattahoochee as it appears today, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/navymuseum.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pensacola's Battle-scarred Lighthouse


The historic Pensacola Lighthouse holds a unique place in the Civil War history of Florida.

Built during the final years leading up to the war, the lighthouse was first lit in 1859. The supervising U.S. Army engineer for the project was John Newton, who eventually rose to the rank of brevet major general during the war. Long associated with the Army of the Potamac, he fought on most of the key battlefields of the Civil War. At Gettysburg, it was Newton who assumed command of the famed "Iron Brigade" after General John Reynolds was killed at a critical moment of the battle. He later served with Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign and eventually commanded Union troops at the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida.

In 1861, the lighthouse was seized by Confederate troops who removed its lense to prevent the beacon from being used by the Union Navy as it began to assemble warships offshore. They also built a strong artillery battery near the base of the lighthouse, fortifying it with banked sand reinforced by heavy timbers.

In November of 1861, a massive bombardment erupted between the Union gunners at Fort Pickens and aboard U.S. warships offshore and Confederate gunners at Forts Barrancas and McRee and in the various "sand batteries" ringing Pensacola Bay. The Lighthouse Battery played a key role in this battle and was specifically targeted by Union cannon at Fort Pickens.

The Pensacola Lighthouse itself was struck at least six times by Union cannonballs and shells during the engagement, but was sufficiently strong to weather the attack. U.S. forces reoccupied the lighthouse when the Confederates withdrew in 1862 and returned it to serve. It remains in operation today.