Monday, June 30, 2008
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
On February 20, 1864, a Union army of 5,500 men achieved the dubious distinction of suffering the greatest defeat of the Civil War.
Based on the percentage of force killed, wounded or captured, the 40% casualties suffered by the Union command of Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour at the Battle of Olustee, Florida was the greatest loss sustained by any Union army in a major battle.
Making the severe loss even worse was the fact that the Battle of Olustee was fought against orders in a campaign launched to achieve a political, not military, objective. That objective was the he reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.
By the winter of 1863-1864, the war had been underway for nearly three brutal years. There was considerable opposition to the war effort in the North and concern was growing that Lincoln might be defeated in the 1864 Presidential elections by a candidate that would seek a negotiated peace with the Confederacy.
In a series of little known meetings at the White House, a plan grew to help Lincoln's reelection chances. If a Union army could conquer lightly defended Florida quickly, that state might be readmitted to the Union in time for Lincoln to claim its electoral votes.
With this in mind, Lincoln set Union forces off on an invasion that would lead to their greatest defeat (statistically) of the war. Commissioning his aide John Hay as a major, he sent him to join the staff of Major General Quincy A. Gillmore. Hay was supplied with the legal blanks he needed to organize a loyal government in Florida and prepare for the readmission of the state to the Union. The President outlined his plan in a letter to General Gillmore dated January 13, 1864:
I understand an effort is being made by some worthy gentlemen to reconstruct a loyal State government in Florida. Florida is in your department, and it is not unlikely that you may be there in person. I have given Mr. Hay a commission of major and sent him to you with some blank books and other blanks to aid in the reconstruction. He will explain as to the manner of using the blanks, and also my general views on the subject. It is desirable for all to co-operate; but if irreconcilable differences of opinion shall arise, you are master. I wish the thing done in the most speedy way possible, so that when done it will be within the range of the late proclamation on the subject. The detail labor, of course, will have to be done by others, but I shall be greatly obliged if you will give it such general supervision as you can find convenient with your more strictly military duties. (OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part One).
Such strong suggestions from the President of the United States were hard to ignore and on January 31, 1864, General Gillmore announced his plans for an invasion of East Florida. In a report to Major General H.W. Halleck, the commander in chief of the Union Army, he explained that he hoped the invasion would achieve four primary goals:
- The opening of an outlet for the export of Florida's cotton, turpentine, sugar, timber and other products.
- The elimination of Florida as a source of foodstuffs and other supplies for the Confederate armies.
- The recruitment of soldiers from the state's African American population.
- "To inaugurate measures for the speedy restoration of Florida to her allegiance, in accordance with instructions which I have received from the President by the hands of Maj. John Hay, assistant adjutant-general."
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. To learn more about the battle before our next post, please visit our new Battle of Olustee site at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
The northern wall of the historic city, the palmetto backed earthwork stretched from the Castillo de San Marcos (visible here in the background) across the peninsula on which the city is located to the San Sebastian River.
Originally constructed during the 1700s, the earthwork was constantly modified and repaired. It was thoroughly rebuilt in 1808 and repaired again during the late 1830s. The Cubo line was still intact at the time of the Civil War, but never came under attack.
This reconstructed section can be seen on the grounds of the Castillo. The Old City Gate is located just west of this point.
Our series will continue. To read more about St. Augustine until the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com and look for the St. Augustine heading.
Friday, June 20, 2008
After suffering repeated attacks from the English and pirates, the Spanish built walls completely around the old city. After the walls were completed, St. Augustine never fell in battle.
Because they were constructed of earthworks and palmetto logs, for the most part, the city walls had to be constantly repaired and even rebuilt from time to time.
This gate was constructed on the northern edge of town during a major rebuilding of the walls in 1808. It was part of what was called the "Cubo Line," a palmetto-backed earthwork stretching from the Castillo de San Marcos to the San Sebastian River and extending completely across the northern end of St. Augustine.
The walls were repaired during the late 1830s when Seminole warriors raided farms and homes in the St. Augustine area during the Second Seminole War. Although they came close to the walls, they did not try to attack the fortifications.
The Cubo Line was still intact at the time of the Civil War, although the last major repair of the line had taken place about 20 years earlier. It was never attacked during the war.
The old gate still stands today, at the north end of St. George Street in the historic district. Sections of the wall have also been reconstructed. A large section can be seen on the grounds of the Castillo de San Marcos and a second section has been rebuilt just east of the city gate.
Our series on St. Augustine will continue. To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com and look for the St. Augustine heading.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
A rifled 32-pounder, the cannon stands on the Plaza de la Constitucion in downtown St. Augustine.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, there were only two major fortifications on the entire Atlantic Coast south of Savannah, Georgia. The first of these was Fort Clinch at Fernandina, Florida, and the other was the Castillo in St. Augustine.
Like the Columbiad I mentioned yesterday, this gun was part of the armament of the Castillo before, during and after the Civil War. It was donated to the city in 1900 when the old fort was finally closed by the U.S. Army.
This series on Civil War sites in and around St. Augustine, Florida will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com and looking for the St. Augustine heading.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Continuing our look at Civil War sites in St. Augustine, Florida, this is the main entrance or sally port to the historic Castillo de San Marcos.
Now a national monument, the Castillo is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Construction on the Spanish fortress began in 1672 and it took decades to complete. St. Augustine was already 107 years old when work started on the Castillo.
The old fort withstood massive English sieges during the 18th century, but never fell. The unique coquina rock from which it was constructed absorbed the British cannon shot without shattering and even a bombardment that lasted for nearly 30 days failed to breach the walls.
The fort was held by a Ordnance Sergeant at the beginning of the Civil War, but was seized by state militia troops on January 7, 1861, as Florida was still considering the issue of secession.
The Confederate troops held the fort until the spring of 1862, when they evacuated St. Augustine as Union ships approached the historic city. Two companies of troops were occupying the old fort at the time of the withdrawal.
It is interesting to note that despite the obvious antiquity of the fort (it was nearly 200 years old at the time), one of the Union naval officers described it as one of two "strong" positions that had been returned to Union hands.
It has long been thought that because of its age, the Castillo would not have been able to withstand an attack, but this is questionable. In fact, it might have proved a tough nut to crack. The walls of the old Spanish fortress were massive and the Castillo was designed to make an infantry attack extremely difficult. In fact, the fort withstood a 52 day assault at one point and the attacking infantry got nowhere near the walls.
The inlet to the harbor and Matanzas Bay was shallow and extremley difficult for warships to navigate, as the Union navy found out when it tried to send in a ship to to find out if St. Augustine had been evacuated. The vessel couldn't make it in and had to send in boat parties and then contrary winds caused all kinds of nightmares for the effort. In other words, Union warships would have been positioned miles away in any attempt to bombard the works.
Anastasia Island separates Matanzas Bay from the Atlantic and Union forces could have placed artillery there, but it would not have been easy. Shallows called "conch island" are offshore of Anastasia and would have obstructed efforts to land artillery. In addition, Anastasia Island is within 2 miles of the Castillo. Placing guns at that range would have been created a turkey shoot for the heavy artillery in the fort's water battery.
To the north, vast salt marshes stretch away to the horizon and to the west, the San Sebastian River forms a natural moat around the city. In other words, it would have been very difficult to move enough artillery into position to reduce the fort.
Our series on St. Augustine will continue. Until then, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com and looking for the St. Augustine heading.