Saturday, December 7, 2013

St. Andrews Bay Salt Works Raids 1863

1860's sketch of the Florida coast showing St. Andrews Bay (lower right). Source:  Florida Dept. of State photo archive.

In earlier posts (3 Feb 2012 and 4 Oct 2012) we highlighted the importance of salt to the Confederacy, Florida’s role as a main producer of salt, and the Union Navy’s efforts to destroy salt works along the Florida gulf coast. In his book “Blockaders, Refugees and Contrabands. Civil War on Florida’s Gulf Coast”, George Buker notes that the initial salt works raids were harassing efforts, conducted incidental to other blockade activities. The strategic importance of salt to the Confederacy was not apparent to the East Gulf Squadron command until they noted that nearly every blockade runner captured contained salt as at least a portion of its cargo. It was then that the squadron command realized that a concentrated effort to find and destroy these works would be a major strategic blow to the Confederate war effort. In December 1863 these focused raids began, concentrating on the epicenter of Florida salt production, St. Andrews Bay.

On 2 December 1863 the bark USS Restless, Acting Master William R. Browne commanding, sent a landing party in to Lake Ocala in St. Andrews Bay. They found three separate works with a total capacity of 130 bushels per day. The landing party destroyed carts and flat boats, disposed of the salt, and took 17 prisoners, whom they released because they didn’t have room to bring them back to the gunboat. They made the southerners swear an oath of allegiance to not take up arms against the Union.

Hearing of Browne’s exploits, Acting Ensign Edwin Crissey, commanding the steam gunboat USS Bloomer, sought out the Restless and offered to assist Browne and his ship. Crissey and his ships were actually with the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, but his proximity to the East Gulf Squadron’s operations area enabled him to help there. On 10 December 1863, the USN flotilla entered St. Andrews Bay and split up into two enterprises. Browne fired two shells into the town of St. Andrew (present-day Panama City) to warn the Confederate soldiers and salt workers garrisoned there. He then commenced shelling the town, which shortly was burning. The entire town was destroyed by the fire.

Crissey and his men landed in West Bay and proceeded to the salt works there. From his report dated 20 December 1863 he described a major raid on these:

 At 5 p.m. I proceeded to the salt works on West Bay, destroying the salt works lined on each side of the bay for 7 miles, belonging to private individuals, numbering at least 198 different works, each averaging two boilers and ten kettles each, which, with a large quantity of salt, were destroyed. . . . . On the afternoon of the 14th we came to a large Confederate Government works, under the command of Mr. Clendening, which turned out daily 400 bushels of salt. This was one of the best located in West Bay, being situated in a marsh, the water of which yielded 75 gallons of salt to 100 gallons of water; it was, in fact, a complete salt village, covering a space of three-fourths of a square mile, employing many hands and 16 ox and mule teams constantly to haul salt to Eufola Sound [Eufaula, Ala?], and from thence conveyed to Montgomery, at which place it is selling at a fabulous price of $40 and $45 per bushel. At this place were 27 buildings, 22 large steam boilers, and 200 kettles, averaging 200 gallons each, which cost the Government $5 per gallon, all of which were totally destroyed, together with storehouses containing salt, etc. This work, together with the other works, could not have cost less than three million dollars.”

Notable from this report is Crissey’s description of one of these works as “a complete salt village” and his estimate of the total value of the works he destroyed, on the order of $3 million. In today’s dollars that would certainly translate into tens of millions.

An 1886 Navigation Chart of St. Andrews Bay is on the NOAA historical maps site at: /zoomifypreview.html?zoomifyImagePath=LC00184_12_1886 . A living history event, the St. Andrews Bay Salt Works Raid, is held in April in Panama City to educate folks about these Union Navy raids and the importance of salt to the Confederacy.

Replica salt kettle at a park in Panama City, FL commemorating salt production during the Civil War.

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