Friday, March 2, 2012

Union occupation of Ft. Clinch, Fernandina, Florida

Ft. Clinch, at the northern tip of Amelia Island, after recapture by Union forces:

While attention focused, then and now, on the impending battle of the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, things were really getting going in the Florida theatre of operations at this time. The Port of Fernandina, Florida, was important due to its ability to handle all but the largest US Navy ships in the entrance channel, its rail connections, and it’s proximity to the Bahamas (English territory and a key waypoint for blockade running). For a period of time (December 1861 to February 1862), the Union Navy was more occupied with shutting down the Port of Savannah, Georgia. Eventually however, interest in taking Fernandina resumed and a detachment from the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron headed toward the coast of Florida.

On 3 March 1862, US Navy and Marine forces arrived off the mouth of the St. Marys River (the Atlantic coast border between Georgia and Florida) and occupied Ft. Clinch, controlling the river mouth and the Port of Fernandina. Ft. Clinch, along with some well-constructed batteries in earthworks, was found abandoned, with a variety of artillery pieces in fine condition, along with powder and shot. The next day, the nearby town of Fernandina was occupied by Union forces. Ft. Clinch was turned over to US Army troops a day or so later. Flag Officer DuPont of the South Atlantic Squadron reported:

“. . . I learned from a contraband who had been picked up at sea by Commander Lanier, and from the neighboring residents on Cumberland Island, that the (Confederates) had abandoned in haste the whole of the defenses of Fernandina and were even at that moment retreating from Amelia Island . . . . . on receiving this intelligence I detached the gunboats and armed steamers of light draft from the main line and, placing them under the command of Commander P. Drayton, of the steam sloop Pawnee, I ordered him to push through the sound with the utmost speed, to save public and private property from threatened destruction . . .”

“Immediately on his entering the harbor, Commander Drayton sent Lieutenant White, of the
Ottawa, to hoist the flag on Fort Clinch, the first of the national forts on which the ensign of the Union has resumed its (place).”

“We captured Port Royal, but Fernandina and Fort Clinch have been given to us.”

A detailed account of the occupation of Ft. Clinch and Fernandina is in a paper by Chuck Veit on the Navy and Marine Living History web site at: . Illustration source – Florida Dept. of State on-line photo archive.

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