Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Attack on Camp Walton - March 31, 1862

Marker at Fort Walton Beach
One of the least known encounters of the War Between the States in Florida took place 149 years ago this month at what is now Fort Walton Beach.

The Walton Guards, a Confederate unit formed by the men of Walton County in 1861, had established a camp at the Narrows of Santa Rosa Sound in 1861. The sound, shielded from the Gulf of Mexico by the dunes of Santa Rosa Island, is a waterway that leads from Choctawhatchee Bay west to Pensacola Bay. At the time of the war, it was the most common outlet for commerce leaving Walton County. Schooners and steamboats would leave Choctawhatchee Bay by passing through the Narrows and then moving down the sound to Pensacola Bay.

The Walton Guards had excited the ire of Federal forces by firing on boat parties sent into the bay area by the Union Navy, so in March of 1862 a force was sent up Santa Rosa Island from Fort Pickens to retaliate.

Bringing a rifled cannon through the dunes and natural growth of the island, Captain Henry W. Closson of the 1st U.S. Artillery took up a position opposite the sound from Camp Walton on the night of March 31, 1862:

...I remained here until there huts could be seen in the dawn, and then directed Lieutenant Jackson to open fire. The shells burst right in their midst. Loud cries and yells were heard; and the rebels could barely be seen through the brush in their shirt-tails making rapidly for the back country. A scattering volley was fired from what I supposed to be their guard, who then disappeared also.


Carronade at Fort Walton Beach
The Confederates could respond only with musket fire, having no artillery of their own, and quickly withdrew beyond the range of the Union shells. The Federals continued to fire on the camp, but the damage inflicted was of no real significance. As soon as they began their return march back up the island to Fort Pickens, the Confederates reappeared from the woods and set to repairing their camp.

The attack was one of the many minor episodes of the war in Florida and, so far as is known, resulted in no casualties. It did lead Confederate commanders in Pensacola to send over an 18-pound carronade (a short naval cannon) to be mounted at the camp for its defense.

To learn more about Camp Walton, the original "fort" from which Fort Walton Beach takes its name, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortwalton.

1 comment:

Shaping Florida - Brenda Rees said...

Thank you for your post. Camp Walton was named for George Walton, Jr., the namesake of Walton County, Florida. He died in 1863 in Petersburg, Virginia. While he and his family supported the united and independent states of America as the senior George Walton was a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Georgia,once their home Southern states joined the Confederate States, they supported. Florida, Alabama and Georgia all claim the George Walton, Jr., family. George Walton, Jr.'s daughter, Madame Octavia Walton Le Vert, lived in Mobile during the Civil War and was a personal friend of General P.G.T. Beauregard. A number of their letters survive.