Monday, January 16, 2012

Naval Actions at Seahorse Key, Florida 1862

The Cedar Keys, on the Gulf Coast of Florida (consisting of Way, Depot, Atsena Otie, Seahorse, Snake, and North Keys), was an important port at the start of the Civil War, in part because a newly constructed rail line connected the port to interior parts of the state and ran all the way up to Fernandina on the Atlantic coast. Seahorse Key had a light station (constructed in 1854 under the direction of then Lt. George Gordon Meade) which guided ships into the Port of Cedar Key and the nearby mouth of the Suwannee River. The Town of Cedar Key itself was located on Atsena Otie Key.

On 16 January 1862 the Union gunboat USS Hatteras hove to off Cedar Key and debarked ships boats which entered the harbor and burned four schooners, three sloops, a scow, a sailboat, and a launch. Some of the schooners were loaded with cotton, turpentine, rosin, and lumber, ready to run the blockade. The railroad depot and wharf, seven railroad cars, the telegraph station and a storehouse were also burned, and arms and equipment confiscated. To add to all this, the ship’s crew captured most of a small Confederate garrison manning a gun battery on Seahorse Key, including the officer and 13 soldiers. Needless to say, the bluejackets of the Hatteras earned their pay that day.

Not long after Hatteras departed, the USS Tahoma arrived off Seahorse Key on 1 February 1862 and commenced shelling the battery, just in case it had been reoccupied. Ships boats were sent ashore and the battery was found abandoned, with the destruction wrought by the crew of Hatteras still evident. For the remainder of the war, Seahorse Key with its lighthouse (which had been disabled by the Confederates) remained under Union control, and was used as a secondary base of operations by the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, thus depriving the Confederacy of the use of Cedar Key as a port for the remainder of the War. Thanks to the Florida Dept. of State and NHHC on-line photo archives for the illustrations.

USS Tahoma:

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