Monday, July 29, 2013

Assault on New Smyrna, Florida, July 1863

As the war progressed, and the U.S. Navy blockade along the SE Atlantic Coast tightened around many of the main ports of entry in northeast Florida (Fernandina, Jacksonville and St. Augustine), blockade runners began to make use of more remote entry points in Florida to the south along the coast. Mosquito Inlet (now Ponce de Leon Inlet), along the Florida coast north of Cape Canaveral, became an important entrance point for runners. The inlet and Mosquito Lagoon were deep enough to accommodate larger steamers and schooners. The community of New Smyrna was located south of the Inlet along the Mosquito Lagoon. Runners would enter the inlet and dock at New Smyrna, or hide along the mangrove shoreline of the lagoon and offload their cargo. Wagons would transport the cargo overland to the St. Johns River, where it would be loaded on river steamers for transport to other offload points fortransfer to railroad stations and further distribution. George Buker indicates that this was known as “running the inner blockade.” Mosquito Inlet was the dividing point between the operating sectors of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron (to the north) and the East Gulf Blockading Squadron (to the south), so ships of both squadrons participated in actions in this region.

The Mosquito Inlet continued to be a thorn in the side of the Union blockaders. On 28 July 1863 a squadron of U.S. Navy gunboats, under the command of Lt. Commander Earl English, arrived off New Smyrna; USS Sagamore (Unadilla-Class gunboat), Para (mortar schooner), Beauregard (schooner), and Oleander (steamer). The Oleander took Beauregard in tow and they hove to inside the inlet and commenced shelling the town from offshore. English dispatched a large landing party of bluejackets and marines in ships boats into the harbor. They captured one sloop loaded with cotton, a schooner without cargo, and caused the Confederates to set fire to other sloops in the harbor, some loaded with cotton. The southerners also burned the large quantities of cotton stockpiled on shore. The landing party then went ashore, headed into the town, and destroyed and burned numerous structures (shops and homes).

Steamer at a dock near New Smyrna, Florida, after the war. This gives an idea of what a blockade runner offloading supplies may have looked like. Source:  Florida State Archives.


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