Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16, 1862 - The Union Attack on Cedar Key, Florida

Cedar Key, Florida
It was 150 years ago today (January 16, 1862), that the U.S.S. Hatteras descended on the Cedar Keys on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Fear that an attack was being planned against Fernandina, on Florida's Atlantic Coast, had already led to the withdrawal of most of the Confederate troops from Cedar Keys and only a handful of Southern soldiers were left there when the Hatteras made its attack:
The following is excerpted from the report of Commander George F. Emmons, captain of the Hatteras:
The Schooner Anna Smith was burned on the Waterfront
...I have been entirely successful with the expenditure of very little powder and no one killed that I am aware of, capturing or destroying all the public property here, including a battery of two long eighteens in position on the east end of Sea Horse Key, with their carriages and some ammunition and barracks, a 6-pounder field piece in Depot Key, with the railroad depot and wharf, several cars, telegraph office, and a turpentine storehouse, besides four schooners and three sloops, one ferry scow, sailboat, and launch. - Commander George F. Emmons, U.S.S. Hatteras, January 16, 1862.

The schooners captured, most of them fully or partially loaded with turpentine, included the Anna Smith (198 tons), Stag (200 tons), Aucilla (81 tons) and the Wife (also called the Nye, tonnage not given). A fifth schooner, Fanny, also was in port but slipped away during the night with a partial cargo of turpentine.
Cannon that may have been mounted on Seahorse Key

In addition, the Federals captures 1 lieutenant and 13 or 14 men from the 4th Florida Infantry. The two 18-pounders on Seahorse Key had only one barrel of powder and there is no indication that fired a single shot or even were manned during the attack.

Four of the Confederate soldiers taken prisoner had the measles and Commander Emmons was so concerned they might not survive if they were sent to prison that he paroled them. They were identified in his reports as Benjamin Gatlin, B.J. Simmons, J.S. Poer and John Carlton.

In a rarity, the Confederate report of the attack almost mirrored the Union account. Brigadier General John H. Trapier filed the following from Fernandina on January 20, 1862:
USS Hatteras (right) was later destroyed by CSS Alabama

...On the 16th instant the enemy, in a steamer armed with five guns, made a descent upon the harbor and village of Cedar Keys. Having burnt seven small vessels in the harbor, which were loading with cotton and turpentine with the intnetion (information of which had doubtless been conveyed to the enemy) of running the blockade, and also the wharf of the Florida Railroad, which has its Gulf terminus at that point, and seven flat cars belonging to the same road, he withdrew and went to see. There was posted at this place a small force, consisting of a lieutenant and 22 men, belonging to the Fourth Regiment Florida Volunteers, placed there as a sort of police force, to protect the inhabitants of the key (some 80 or 100 persons) against any disturbance from bands of marauders. The lieutenant and 14 privates were taken prisoners, but 4 of the latter were subsequently released.... Brig. Gen. J.H. Trapier, January 20, 1862.

Trapier went on to note that the cannon captured by the Union sailors were worthless, reporting that they "had been condemned after inspection" as unserviceable, but had never been removed "as not being worth the removal, neither the guns nor their carriages." The officers of the Hatteras must have agreed as they left the cannon behind after spiking them. It is thought that these guns may be included in the ones now on display at the Cedar Key Museum Historic State Park.

To read more about the Union attack on Cedar Key, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/cedarkeyattack.

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