Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31, 1861 - The Month of Secession comes to an End

Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee
This posting concludes a month-long series on the military aspects of Florida's Secession from the Union, which took place 150 years ago this month.

January 31, 1861

As the month of January 1861 came to an end, Floridians found themselves as members of a controversial but fledgling independent republic. In fact, the state had become one of the least populated independent republics in the world.

The free and slave population of Florida combined had totaled only 140,424 people of all ages in the 1860 census. Of all the states east of the Mississippi at that time, only Delaware had fewer people. Of this total, only 19,605 were white males aged 15-49, the primary demographic for military service in the coming war, and some of these were certain to take up the Union cause.

U.S.S. Wyandotte at Pensacola, 1861
Governor Madison S. Perry had anticipated the coming of secession and had moved aggressively to organize the state's militia and even to move against U.S. military installations. The Apalachicola Arsenal at Chattahoochee; Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marcos) and the St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine; and Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee, the Advanced Redoubt and the Navy Yard at Pensacola were in the hands of the state by the end of January. State forces had also begun construction of an earthwork battery called Fort Steele at Mayport at the mouth of the St. Johns River to defend Jacksonville.

Fort Clinch on Amelia Island, still in an unfinished state, remained nominally in Federal hands as no Florida troops had been sent to take it, while Fort Taylor and the East and West Martello Towers in Key West, Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas and Fort Pickens at Pensacola Bay remained firmly in possession of the United States.

Lt. Adam J. Slemmer, U.S. Army
As circumstances would soon prove, the most important military post in Florida was likely Fort Pickens. The state, with help from Alabama and Mississippi, had marshaled a sufficient force to storm it, but January came to an end with no such move having been taken. Colonel William H. Chase, assigned to command the secessionist troops at Pensacola Bay, had delivered three surrender ultimatums before finally hesitating to act for so long that Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer and his force of fewer than 100 U.S. soldiers and sailors had been able to mount sufficient artillery to defend the fort. January ended with Chase and former U.S. Senator Stephen R. Mallory promising President James Buchanan that they would not attack at all so long as U.S. troops did not reinforce Fort Pickens. The so-called Fort Pickens Truce all but guaranteed that the fort would remain in Union hands and that Pensacola Bay would be useless to either the State of Florida or the Confederacy.

Florida would spend only one month as an independent republic. The secession convention had authorized the state to send delegates to a meeting of the Southern states set for February in Montgomery, Alabama. That meeting would lead to the formation of the Confederate States of America. But for one month, from early January to early February of 1861, the flags (there were more than one) of an independent nation flew proudly over the public buildings and military positions of the state.

To learn more about the historic sites and points of interest in Florida, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/florida.

1 comment:

Terry Sirmans said...

Good series Dale! I recently re- read George Pearce's book about Pensacola during the war and your series made it even more interesting.