USS Tahoma Fires on Fort Brooke, Florida on Christmas Day 1863

Though it was not officially declared a Federal holiday until 1870, both sides in the Civil War celebrated Christmas. The war went on, of course, no matter what the calendar said. Overall, there was not a great deal of fighting on Christmas Day during the Civil War with the Union assault on Fort Fisher, North Carolina on December 25th, 1864 being the only real large scale action. Nonetheless, there were some smaller engagements every year on Christmas Day.

One of these occurred on Christmas Day 1863, at Tampa, Florida, when the gunboat USS Tahoma sailed into Tampa Bay and fired at the Confederate garrison at Fort Brooke. Back in October of that year, Union forces conducted a raid where they attacked the Fort and destroyed some Rebel blockade running ships as well as military supplies before withdrawing. On Christmas Eve, Tahoma returned along with an unnamed schooner, and anchored in the bay, out of the range of Fort Brooke’s artillery. On Christmas Morning, the union vessels opened fire.

USS Tahoma

Captain John Westcott, the garrison’s commanding officer, filed this report on the action:

Tampa, December 26, 1863.

Sir: The enemy’s gunboat Tahoma and a small schooner came up the bay and anchored in front of the garrison on Thursday night, the 24th instant, the Tahoma firing one gun (a shell) about 11.30 p. m.

On the morning of the 25th, the schooner altered her position to the main channel. About 9 o’clock the Tahoma opened fire upon the garrison and continued it for two hours at intervals, throwing 150 and 33 pounder shells into the town and garrison. The schooner was not able to get up within range of her guns on account of the tide and wind, but shelled the shore to the northern and eastward of her as long as she remained there. They kept out of range of our guns. We were ready, however, to have received them properly if they had attempted a landing. About 12 o’clock they drew off and proceeded down the bay. None of my men or any of the citizens were injured.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain, Commanding Post

Lieut. Col. T. W. Brevard,
Commanding Gulf Forces.

From Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 28, Part 1.

This action didn’t appear to accomplish much, but by withdrawing at noon, both sides had plenty of time for a peaceful Christmas Dinner.

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