Showing posts with label apalachicola bay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label apalachicola bay. Show all posts

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Great Hurricane of 1863 at Apalachicola & St. Marks

Gulf of Mexico from St. George Island
In previous posts I have mentioned the sinking of the gunboat CSS Chattahoochee at Blountstown during a severe storm on May 27, 1863.
What seems to have been an early hurricane struck the northern Gulf Coast that day, not only contributing to the sinking of the Chattahoochee but also driving two Union blockade vessels ashore near Apalachicola. I've been aware of this storm for some time, but recent research has revealed new details that show it was far worse than I had ever realized.

On June 8, 1863, for example, the Richmond Daily Dispatch carried a brief early report on the severity of the storm:

Fort St. Marks or San Marcos de Apalache
Where the water rose "five feet deep."
...There was a very heavy gale and rain in Florida during the week ending the 29th. At Newport the town was four feet deep. The salt works near there were drowned out. One white boy, seven negroes, thirty five mules and eight oxen were drowned. The water in Fort St. Marks was five feet deep, and the troops had to signal the steamer Spray for assistance. - The river rose to a very great height at St. Marks, and the entire town was flooded, doing much damage. One regiment of artillery and one of infantry, in camp between Tallahassee and St. Marks, lost all their tents and fixtures.

Cape St. George Lighthouse
Other newspapers across the South also carried coverage of the storm. The editor of the Tallahassee Floridian wrote to Macon's Weekly Telegraph on May 30, 1863, reporting even higher human losses:

...We have had a heavy blow here the past week - the heaviest I ever witnessed in Florida at this season of the year. From the coast there are various rumors of loss of life and property. I have just heard that from the Ocklockonnee to Peurifoy's Landing, twenty-one bodies of persons drowned were recovered on Friday, and eleven from Goose Creek, making thirty-two.

The surge from the storm apparently reached several miles inland in the St. Marks area. Additional detail appeared in the Columbus (GA) Times on June 3:

...We learn that on last Wednesday and Thursday, a most terrific gale swept along the south coast of Florida, destroying the entire Salt Works near St. Marks and Bay Port, large quantities of salt, and drowning some forty white men and negroes. So strong was the gale the water from the gulf was driven out of its banks along the line of the St. Marks railroad, completely inundating the track for several miles back into the country.

The newspaper writer went on to express hope that "some portion of the shipping of the United States was caught in the gale, and driven ashore." His hopes were realized. The following account datelined Key West on June 12, 1863, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer six days later:

Indian Pass and the Gulf of Mexico
...A very severe gale occurred at Apalachicola, Fla., a few days since, during which two of our vessels were wrecked at the entrance to that harbor and totally lost. The steamer Hendrick Hudson, Captain Cate, has just arrived from there, and from Captain Cate I learn these particulars: - That the gun-boat barque Amanda being at anchor at her usual station, broke loose from her moorings and drifted across the bay to the mainland in spite of all their efforts to save her. Being unable to get her off, she was stripped and blown up to keep her from the Rebels. No lives lost. The barquentine Andrew Manderson being there with a load of coal for supplying naval vessels, was also driven ashore and her masts, spars, sails and rigging were entirely swept clean from her deck by the violence of the gale. She is a total loss. The gun-boat Fort Henry was driven to sea and weathered the storm.

USS Port Royal (Center) as sketched during the war.
The USS Amanda was on station off East Pass near St. George Island when the storm hit. She was driven ashore on the mainland where parts of her wreck remain buried in the sand today.The USS Andrew Manderson was at the other end of St. George Island where damage was even greater. The New York Herald carried a letter from the USS Port Royal dated May 23 on June 20, 1863:

...At West pass the damage by the gale was also considerable. The barkentine Andrew Manderson, of Philadelphia, loaded with coal for the squadron, ran ashore on Sand Island. Her masts were cut away after she struck. Several small prize vessels lying at anchor inside the pass were driven to sea or sank at their moorings. The United States gunsloop Brockenborough broke from her moorings and was run on shore at St. Vincent's Island. She will be saved. The Port Royal and Somerset rode the gale out without damage.

A letter dated Thomasville, Georgia, on May 31, 1863, appeared in the Macon Weekly Telegraph four days later:

The gale of Thursday is said to have done much mischief among the salt boilers on the Florida coast - One report says 150 lives were lost - many animals, much stock and salt. Hope it is not so bad - some, though, have certainly perished.

The storm must have been a hurricane, even though hurricane researchers do not list a May storm in their data for 1863. The total number of lives lost will never be known. If the figure of 150 given by the Thomasville writer was accurate, then the storm should be ranked as the 22nd deadliest hurricane ever to hit the U.S. (or in this case, the C.S.) coast. Hurricane Andrew, by comparison, claimed 61 lives.
CSS Chattahoochee Monument
If the Tallahassee editor's estimate of 32 lives lost along just part of the affected coast is accurate, which it probably was, then the death toll from the storm must have been enormous. When the 17 men who lost their lives in the sinking of the CSS Chattahoochee are added to that tally, the total number rises to 49 exclusive of deaths elsewhere along the coast or on the prize vessels reported lost off the West Pass of Apalachicola Bay.

Read more about the sinking of the CSS Chattahoochee during the storm of May 27, 1863, at

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

January 18, 1862 - Union sailors examine Fort Mallory on St. Vincent Island

St. Vincent Island, Florida
On January 18, 1862 (150 years ago today,) a boat party from the U.S. Gunboat Sagamore chased a 40 ton sloop back into the city of Apalachicola.

The vessel, armed with a 6-pounder cannon, had been seen lying at anchor at the inner anchorage of Apalachicola Bay. There is no indication of firing between the two parties, but the sloop did withdraw to the waterfront of the city itself.

USS Sagamore
On the same afternoon, however, the Sagamore made a more significant discovery. Noticing a lack of activity on St. Vincent Island, where the Confederates had built Fort Mallory to protect Apalachicola Bay, Lieutenant A.J. Drake ordered a larger boat party to find out what was going on:

In the afternoon I sent boats to reconnoiter the island of St. Vincent and found that the platforms of the late battery had been destroyed, with evident marks of a hasty retreat. Found a few cattle, sheep, horses, and chickens about a house standing on the point at West Pass. Found the barracks and buildings mostly destroyed. - Lt. A.J. Drake, U.S. Navy, January 18, 1862.

View of St. Vincent Island across Indian Pass
The battery on St. Vincent Island bore the name Fort Mallory, after Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory. A former U.S. Senator from Florida, he was the state's most influential member of the Cabinet of President Jefferson Davis.

The problem, however, was that while the guns of the fort could control West Pass (the channel between St. George and St. Vincent), it was poorly positioned to provide much actual protection to Apalachicola itself. By using East Pass, the U.S. Navy could easily bypass it with shallow draft vessels.

The fort was an earthwork built of sand with timber backing and mounted six 32-pounder cannon. After general agreement was reached that the position was too isolated to be effective, the Confederate military removed the guns to Apalachicola itself and began building fortifications there. Fort Mallory was abandoned, as was discovered by the Union navy 150 years ago today.

To learn more about historic Apalachicola, please visit

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Last Major Battle of the Civil War

On April 16, 1865 (Easter Sunday), Union forces stormed the city of Columbus, Georgia, in what became the last major battle of the Civil War.
The battle resulted in the fall of the South's last significant industrial center and resulted in some of the last casualties of the war. It also had a direct impact on the outcome of the war in Florida.
At the time Union troops attacked Columbus, crews there were putting the finishing touches on a massive new ironclad, the C.S.S. Jackson. The vessel had been launched and was floating in the Chattahoochee River when the Federals attacked. Given a few more weeks, she would have been finished and ready to carry out her objective: the breaking of the Union blockade at Apalachicola Bay, Florida.
The Jackson was to operate as part of a small flotilla of warships being assembled at Columbus near the end of the war. The other vessels included the recently repaired C.S.S. Chattahoochee and a new steam-powered torpedo boat, the C.S.S. Viper, as well as a number of support vessels. Had the flotilla been turned loose in Apalachicola Bay, the blockade might well have been broken.
The capture of Columbus, however, also resulted in the destruction of the flotilla. The Jackson was captured and destroyed by Union troops. The Chattahoochee was burned to the waterline by her own crew and sank in the Chattahoochee River south of the city. The Viper survived and was taken downstream by her crew, but was soon turned over to Union forces due to the end of the war. She sank during a storm while being towed across the Gulf of Mexico to Key West.
If you would like to read more about the Battle of Columbus (also called the Battle of Girard), please visit