Friday, July 19, 2013

Ambush on the Waccasassa River, Florida

On 20 July 1863, a launch was dispatched at dawn from the USS Fort Henry, lying off the Cedar Keys. The boat was under the command of Chief Boatswain’s Mate Gillespie. Ordinarily, an officer would be in command of the boat, but two of Lt. Commander McCauley’s officers were down with illness, a third was taking a prize to Key West and a fourth was needed on the gunboat. The mission of this boat expedition was to pull south towards Bayport and locate and intercept any blockade runners. Gillespie was specifically ordered not to proceed up Crystal River due to the suspected presence of rebel militia. As they cruised south past the mouth of the Waccasassa River, just south of Cedar Keys, the bluejackets spotted bales of cotton floating out of the river into the bay. With visions of prize money clouding their judgment, they proceeded up the Waccasassa, hoping to capture more. As they pulled through an area where the river channel narrowed, the boat was fired upon by an ambush of as many as 50 or 60 enemy troops. Seaman Patrick Doran was hit in the neck and died instantly. Seaman John Bishop was also hit and died shortly afterward. The remaining seamen returned fire and pulled the boat back downriver out of range. As might be expected, McCauley was not at all pleased when the boat returned, indicating in his report to Adm. Bailey:

I forbade the ascent of Crystal River, little imagining a necessity of the kind in respect to the Waccasassa.”

Seamen Doran and Bishop were buried in a small cemetery on Seahorse Key. Their graves can be viewed today when the key is open to the public the third weekend in October. A nice set of photos of the cemetery is on Flicker at: (Flicker Seaman Bishop's new headstone was placed in 2004 by the Friends of the Cedar Key Wildlife Refuge.

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