Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ft. Pickens and the Pensacola Navy Yard II

In a prior post (26 August 2011), I introduced you to the events transpiring at the Pensacola Navy Yard (Florida) and Ft. Pickens through the first half of 1861. The summer of 1861 passed quietly, with the Confederates reinforcing their positions on the mainland and Union forces fortifying their garrison at Ft. Pickens, on Santa Rosa Island. Because the Union position effectively sealed off use of the Navy Yard and Pensacola Bay from the adjacent Gulf of Mexico, the seizure of the Navy Yard never really benefitted the Confederacy. In late August, a vessel attempted to put to sea from the Navy Yard, but gunfire from batteries erected on Santa Rosa turned it back.

In early September, a Union raiding party burned a dry dock that had floated loose in the Bay to prevent its recovery and use by the Confederates. About this same time, Flag Officer Mervine of the Gulf Blockading squadron received a report that the Confederates were fitting out the privateer Judah at the Pensacola Yard. During the night of 13-14 September 1861, a raiding force of 100 bluejackets and marines under Lt. John H. Russell set out from the USS Colorado. Somehow the Confederate watch on the Judah had been forewarned and they opened fire on the Union raiders. Undaunted, the sailors and marines swarmed over the gunwales and captured the privateer. Confederate reinforcements arrived on the adjacent dock and an intense fire fight ensued between ship and shore. Russell ordered the spiking of the guns mounted on the privateer, and subsequently set fire to the schooner. The entire affair was over in 15 minutes, and the Union raiders returned to the Colorado with the Judah burning away brightly. The Union force suffered 3 killed and 13 wounded, the Confederates the same number killed and unknown wounded. Historian Ed Bearss has noted that this was the first Florida Civil War battle involving loss of life.

Photo sources: Naval History and Heritage Command and Florida Dept. of State photo archive.

1 comment:

  1. A Correction. Flag Off. Mervine was commander of the Gulf Blockading Squadron, which had not yet been divided into East and West Gulf squadrons as of Sept. 1861. That was my error.

    Seaman Rob