Federals Lose, Then Retake, Florida’s Fort Marion With No Shots Fired

Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, was one of several masonry forts that were part of the coastal defenses of the United States. The Spanish, who controlled the area at the time, began building the fort in 1672, naming it the Castillo de San Marcos. After Spain ceded Florida to the United States, the fort became a U.S. Army base in 1821.

Forty years later, Florida became the third state to secede from the Union, doing so on January 10th, 1861. But secessionist Floridians were taking action even before the legislative vote, seizing or attempting to seize Federal properties in the state. One of these was Fort Marion, which was occupied by volunteer Florida troops on January 7th. At the time, the Federal presence at the fort was light; an ordinance sergeant was in command. The sergeant reported the seizure of the for in this report:

SAINT AUGUSTINE, EAST FLORIDA,
January 7, 1861.

SIR: I am obliged to perform what is to me a painful duty, viz, to report to the Chief of Ordnance that all the military stores at this place were seized this morning by the order of the governor of the State of Florida. A Company of volunteer soldiers marched to the barracks and took possession of me, and demanded peaceable possession of the keys of the fort and magazine. I demanded them to show me their authority. An aide-de-camp of the governor showed me his letter of instructions authorizing him to seize the property, and directing him to use what force might be necessary.

Upon reflection I decided that the only alternative for me was to deliver the keys, under protest, and demand a receipt for the property. One thing certain, with the exception of the guns composing the armament of the water battery, the property seized is of no great value. The gentleman acting under the governor’s instructions has promised to receipt to me for the stores.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
HENRY DOUGLAS.
Ordnance Sergeant, U.S. Army.

Col. H. K. CRAIG,
Chief of Ordnance Department, U.S. Army.

The outnumbered Sergeant Douglas had little choice except to surrender the fort, but that also meant that there were no casualties.

Fort Marion, St. Augustine FL

Fort Marion, St. Augustine FL

In March of 1862, the Union Army and Navy conducted operations against the Confederate defenses along the South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coasts. On March 11th, the U.S.S. Wabash, under the command of Commander Christopher R. P. Rodgers, sailed into St. Augustine Harbor to capture and occupy St. Augustine. There was no resistance from Fort Marion as the Confederate forces there and in the rest of the city had already withdrawn, leaving St. Augustine to the Federals. Rodgers went ashore and accepted the surrender of the city from the St. Augustine authorities. Once again, Fort Marion changed hands without shots fired. Rodgers filed this report on the surrender of St. Augustine:

U. S. FLAGSHIP WABASH,
Off St. Augustine, Fla., March 12, 1862.

SIR: Having crossed the bar with some difficulty, in obedience to your orders I approached St. Augustine under a flag of truce, and as I drew near the city a white flag was hoisted upon one of the bastions of Fort Marion.

Landing at the wharf, and enquiring for the chief authority, I was soon joined by the mayor and conducted to the city hall, where the municipal authorities were assembled.

I informed them that having come to restore the authority of the United States, you had deemed it more kind to send an unarmed boat to inform the citizens of your determination than to occupy the town at once by force of arms; that you were desirous to calm any apprehension of harsh treatment that might exist in their minds, and that you should carefully respect the persons and property of all citizens who submitted to the authority of the United States; that you had a single purpose–to restore the state of affairs which existed before the rebellion.

USS Wabash

USS Wabash

I informed the municipal authorities that so long as they respected the authority of the Government we serve, and acted in good faith, municipal affairs would be left in their hands so far as might be consistent with the exigencies of the times. <nor12_596>

The mayor and council then informed me that the place had been evacuated the preceding night by two companies of Florida troops, and that they gladly received the assurances I gave them, and placed the city in my hands.

I recommended them to hoist the flag of the Union at once; and in prompt accordance with this advice, by order of the mayor, the national ensign was displayed from the flagstaff of the fort.

The mayor proposed to turn over to me the five cannon, mounted at the fort, which are in good condition and not spiked, and also the few munitions of war left by the retreating enemy.

I desired him to take charge of them for the present, to make careful inventories, and establish a patrol and guard, informing him that he would be held responsible for the place until our forces should enter the harbor.

I called upon the clergymen of the city, requesting them to reassure their people and to confide in our kind intentions toward them.

Christopher R. P. Rodgers USN

Christopher R. P. Rodgers USN

About 1,500 persons remain in St. Augustine, about one-fifth of the inhabitants having fled.
I believe that there are many citizens who are earnestly attached to the Union, a large number who are silently opposed to it, and a still larger number who care very little about the matter. I think that nearly all the men acquiesce in the condition of affairs we are now establishing.

There is much violent and pestilent feeling among the women. They seem to mistake treason for courage, and have a theatrical desire to figure as heroines.

Their minds have doubtless been filled with the falsehoods so industriously circulated in regard to the lust and hatred of our troops.

On the night before our arrival a party of women assembled in front of the barracks and cut down the flagstaff, in order that it might not be used to support the old flag.

The men seemed anxious to conciliate us in every way.

There is a great scarcity of provisions in the place. There seems to be no money except the wretched paper currency of the rebellion, and much poverty exists.

In the water battery at the fort are three fine army 32-pounders of 7,000 pounds and two VIII-inch seacoast howitzers of 5,600 pounds, with shot and some powder. There are a number of very old guns in the fort, useless and not mounted. Several good guns were taken away some months ago to arm batteries at other harbors.

The garrison of the place went from St. Augustine at midnight on the 10th for Smyrna, where are said to be about 800 troops, a battery, the steamer Carolina, and a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition.

I am led to believe that Mosquito Inlet, upon which Smyrna is situated, has been much used for the introduction of arms from the Bahamas.

It is very positively stated that the governor has ordered the abandonment of east Florida, and proposes to make a stand near Apalachicola.

When I attempted to return to the Wabash at 5 p.m. the breakers had become so heavy as to render the bar absolutely impassable, though I had secured the services of the best pilot in the port.

I crossed them this morning with much difficulty, having remained in the town all night.
Mr. Dennis, of the Coast Survey, who accompanied me, rendered me much valuable aid.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. R. P. RODGERS,
Commander.

Flag-Officer S. F. DU PONT,
Commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

St. Augustine remained under Union control for the rest of the war. Today, Fort Marion is part of the National Park Service under its original name as Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.

Sources:

Minor Operations of the South Atlantic Squadron Under Du Pont by James Russell Soley. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume I, Chapter IV.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 12

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