Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Plan to Destroy Fort Pickens, Details Emerge in the North

Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, U.S.A.
Before the implementation of the Fort Pickens Truce between state forces at Pensacola and President James Buchanan in late January of 1861, the prospect of violence that could spark war loomed at Pensacola Bay.

Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer and a garrison of fewer than 100 U.S. sailors and soldiers held Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, while state militia troops from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi took up positions on the mainland and besieged the fort. The commander of state forces at the bay, Colonel William H. Chase, demanded three times that Slemmer surrender Fort Pickens but each time he refused.

While Slemmer believed he could use his artillery to hold the masonry fort against an attacking force of as many as 5,000 men, he also knew there was a strong possibility that he and his men would be overwhelmed if Chase launched a sudden assault. As result, he he took steps to prepare Fort Pickens not only for defense, but for an emergency evacuation. Part of this plan, according to his wife and the wife of Lieutenant J.H. Gilman, involved reducing the fort to rubble if he was forced to evacuate:

Fort Pickens
The United States steamer Wyandotte is kept constantly under steam, at a safe distance from the reach of enemies, and in readiness to co-operate in the defense of the fort. In case of an emergency she will be at hand ready to receive on board the garrison, should they be overpowered and obliged to abandon the fort to the enemy. There are arrangements by which the entire forces will be able to escape through a covered way to the beach, where they can take the boats and go on board any vessel that may be in waiting to receive them. In such event it will probably be blown up. - Statement of Mrs. Lieutenant Slemmer and Mrs. Lieutenant Gilman, February 5, 1861.

The negotiation of the Fort Pickens Truce prevented Slemmer from having to resort to such measures, by guaranteeing that Southern forces would not assault the fort so long as Union forces did not try to reinforce it. 

To read more about Fort Pickens, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortpickens1.  

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