Monday, March 12, 2012

March 12, 1862 - The Surrender of Jacksonville, Florida

Riverfront at Jacksonville, Florida
Photo courtesy of Brian Mabelitini
The Federal expedition against the ports of Northeast Florida had resulted in the capture of Fernandina on March 4th and St. Augustine on March 11th. The third and last of its targets, Jacksonville, surrendered 150 years ago today.

The final move on Jacksonville came on March 12, 1862, when Lieutenant-Commanding S.H.Stevens turned the USS Ottawa up the St. Johns River from Mayport at the river's mouth. The Ottawa was still riddled with bullet holes from the fighting along the St. Mary's River five days earlier (please see Fighting on the St. Mary's River).

St. Johns Bluff
The Confederates had been preparing to defend Jacksonville and had moved some of the cannon they had saved from Amelia Island to the fortifications they had erected on St. Johns Bluff. When the Union navy appeared in force off the mouth of the river, however, the earthworks were evacuated and the artillery was left there to be captured by the Federals.

As she steamed up the river, the Ottawa lead a small flotilla made up of the Seneca, Isaac Smith, Pembina and Ellen. As the vessels passed St. Johns Bluff, the Ellen was detached with orders to take on board the arms and munitions abandoned there by the retreating Confederates.

St. Johns River from St. Johns Bluff
The other vessels continued up to Jacksonville, encountering no Confederate opposition as they advanced. The following report was filed by Lieutenant-Commanding S.H. Stevens on March 13, 1862:

We succeeded in reaching Jacksonville without difficulty, and at every house save one found evidence of peaceful demonstrations and returning reason.

On our arrival at this place, the corporate authorities there, S.L. Burnett, Esq., came off with a flag of truce and gave up the town.

USS Ottawa
From conversation with intelligent citizens I find that the inhabitants are seeking and waiting for the protection of our flag; that they do not fear us, but their own people; and from the occupation of this important poitn I am satisfied, if our opportunities are improved, great results will follow. Many of the citizens have fled and many remain, and there is reason to believe that most of them will return.

I have just heard that municipal government has been restored. - Lt. S.H. Stevens, U.S. Navy, March 13, 1862.

In just eight days, the U.S. Navy had captured all three of the principal Confederate ports on the east coast of Florida. Very little blood had been shed. The only real opposition, in fact, had come when Confederate infantry and cavalry attacked the Ottawa while it was navigating the narrow St. Mary's River.

To learn more about the historic city of Jacksonville, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/jacksonville.

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