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With Slemmer in Pensacola Harbor.

J. H. Gilman, Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, U. S. A.1
Entering Pensacola Harbor from the Gulf of Mexico, one sees as he crosses the bar, immediately to his left, Fort McRee on the mainland, or west shore of the bay, and to his right Fort Pickens on the western extremity of Santa Rosa Island, which is about forty miles in length, nearly parallel to the shore of the mainland, and separated from it by Pensacola Bay. On the mainland, directly opposite Fort Pickens, about a mile and a half from it and two miles north-east of Fort McRee, stands Fort Barrancas, and, now forming a part of it, the little old Spanish fort, San Carlos de Barrancas. About a mile and a half east of this is the village of Warrington,

William Conway, the man who refused to haul down the Union flag at the Pensacola Navy Yard. From a sketch from life by William Waud.

adjoining the Navy Yard, and seven miles farther up the bay is the town of Pensacola. Near Fort Barrancas, and between it and the Navy Yard, is the post of Barrancas Barracks, and there, in January, 1861, was stationed Company G, 1st United States Artillery, the sole force of the United States army in the harbor to guard and hold, as best it might, the property of the United States. The captain of this company, John H. Winder (afterward brigadier-general in the Confederate army, and widely known in connection with the military prisons in the South), and the senior first lieutenant, A. R. Eddy, were absent [27] on leave, and the only officers with it were First Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer and the writer of this sketch,--then the second lieutenant of the company, who, by virtue of that high rank, was also the post treasurer, post quartermaster, post commissary, and post adjutant.

With the new year, 1861, came to us at that quiet little post the startling news of the seizure of United States property at various points by State troops, and by January 7th rumors, to us still more startling, reached our ears, to the effect that the Navy Yard and forts in Pensacola Harbor were to be seized by troops already preparing, in Florida and Alabama, to march against us. As yet no orders had come to Lieutenant Slemmer for his guidance in this emergency, and, as may be imagined, we had frequent conversations as to what should or could properly be done. As it would be useless to attempt to hold Barrancas, the occupation of Fort Pickens was suggested and considered; but Lieutenant Slemmer, thinking that he would not be justified in changing his station without authority, decided to remain where he was.

On January 8th the first step indicating to outsiders an intention on our part to resist was taken, by the removal of the powder from the Spanish fort to Fort Barrancas, where on the same night a guard was placed with loaded muskets. It was none too soon, for about midnight a party of twenty men came to the fort, evidently with the intention of taking possession, expecting to find it unoccupied as usual. Being challenged and not answering nor halting when ordered, the party was fired upon by the guard and ran in the direction of Warrington, their footsteps resounding on the plank walk as the long roll ceased and our company started for the fort at double-quick. This, I believe, was the first gun in the war fired on our side.

Next day, January 9th, an order came from General Scott to Lieutenant Slemmer to do all in his power to prevent the seizure of the public property and to cooperate with Commodore James Armstrong at the yard. The latter received orders on the same day to cooperate with the army; but he was already so greatly under the influence of Captain Ebenezer Farrand and other secessionist officers of his command that he dared not take any very active part in aiding us, not even so far as to let us have the marines, as he had promised. The excitement at the yard and in the village of Warrington was intense and was increasing daily, and the commodore was nearly distracted. He was desirous of doing his duty, and apparently saw it clearly while we were with him; but as soon as we left, became demoralized, and was thwarted in his plans by his own officers and others about him, who advised and warned him not to inaugurate civil war and bloodshed by aiding us in what they called the mad scheme of resisting the State authorities.

Fearing that, as soon as the determination to occupy Pickens became known, attempts would be made to prevent it, Lieutenant Slemmer decided to move at once, and the commodore promised to have the Wyandotte at Barrancas to take us across at 1 P. M. that day. She did not come, however, and we had to visit the commodore twice more that day to counteract the influence of those about him. The steamer was again promised at 5 P. M., but did not arrive until next morning. In a large flat-boat or scow, and [28] several small boats loaded with our men, provisions, brass field-pieces, ammunition, tools, and whatever public property was most needed and could be carried, including, I remember, an old mule and cart (which afterward proved of great service to us), we were towed over to Pickens and landed there about 10 A. M. January 10th, 1861, the day that Florida seceded from the Union.

Lieutenant Slemmer's family and mine were sent on board the storeship Supply, on which, a few days later, they sailed for New York. All our men

This map shows the Union and Confederate batteries as they existed May 27, 1861. the shore batteries were constructed by the Confederates after Slemmer's crossing to Fort Pickens. Two other Union batteries near Fort Pickens--batteries Scott and Totten — were added after the date of this map.

were compelled to leave behind more or less personal property, those who were married leaving their houses and families as they were. Under such circumstances, when so many inducements were held out for men to desert, and when so many men in higher places failed, it speaks well for their character, loyalty, and discipline that none of our men deserted. No company of men could work better or with more enthusiasm, and they were not at all disposed to give information to those outside. The day before we left, a civilian, visiting the post to see what news he could gather, asked one of them: “What is all this stir about? You men are not going to fight, are you?” “Faith, you needn't ask me; I'm not the man that gives orders here!” “What are they moving these gun-carriages out for?” “Well, sir, I hear they are to be painted to-morrow.” “How many men are there here now?” “Sure, I'm not the baker, and don't know how many he bakes for.”

Next to the commodore, the most thoroughly excited and demoralized man I saw was our old Spanish friend, Francisco Gomez, who was well known in all that region, and had long lived in a little cottage just in front of the barracks. He was the friend of all army officers, but his hero was General Jackson, and his great delight was to spin yarns to us about Jackson's capture of Pensacola from the British. Gomez was a true “original Jackson man,” [29] having as a youth seen him at Pensacola. The morning we left, I met him walking to and fro in front of his cottage, and said: “Good-bye, Mr. Gomez; you must take care of things here now!” He replied, with upturned eyes, “My God! My God! it is awful; nothing can be saved; we shall all be killed — everything destroyed. I am afraid to say anything. How I wish General Jackson was here.” And the old man straightened himself up as if the mere mention of the name gave him strength and courage.

On the 12th we saw the flag at the Navy Yard lowered, and then knew that it had been quietly and tamely surrendered. Seeing our flag thus lowered to an enemy caused intense excitement and emotion, a mingled feeling of shame, anger, and defiance. Not yet having a flag-staff up, we hung our flag over the north-west bastion of the fort, that all might see “that our flag was still there.” The Supply (Captain Henry Walke) immediately hoisted extra flags, and soon after was towed out of the harbor by the Wyandotte (Captain O. H. Berryman). With the capture of the Navy Yard everything on shore fell into the enemy's hands, including the large fine dry dock — the workshops, material, and supplies of all sorts. Fortunately, the Supply and Wyandotte, the only United States vessels in the harbor, were commanded by loyal men, and were saved.

We now felt sure that an attack on the fort would not long be delayed. The enemy was in possession of everything on the mainland, and Fort Pickens alone was left, and it was in a very dilapidated condition, not having been occupied since the Mexican war. We numbered, all told, including the 30 ordinary seamen, only 81 men. Our first attention was given to the flank casemate guns, loading with grape and canister such as could be worked, and at other points closing the embrasures.

Just before sundown that evening, four gentlemen landed, and demanded of the corporal on guard, outside the gate, admittance to the fort as “citizens of Florida and Alabama.” Lieutenant Slemmer and myself went to the gate and found Mr. Abert, civil engineer of the yard, whom we knew very well, and three officers, strangers to us, whom he introduced as Captain Randolph, Major Marks, and Lieutenant Rutledge. Captain Randolph said: “We have been sent by the governors of Florida and Alabama to demand a peaceable surrender of this fort.” Lieutenant Slemmer replied: “I am here by authority of the President of the United States, and I do not recognize the authority of any governor to demand the surrender of United States property,--a governor is nobody here.” One of them exclaimed sharply: “Do you say the governor of Florida is nobody, the governor of Alabama nobody?” Lieutenant Slemmer replied: “I know neither of them, and I mean to say that they are nothing to me.” They soon left, the conference being very short.

The next night (the 13th) a small party of armed men was discovered near the fort by our patrol, and a few shots were fired. We had little fear of an attack by day, but had every reason to expect a night attack, an attempt to surprise us and carry the place by storm. All the men had to work by day mounting guns, preparing fire-balls, hand-grenades, etc., and by night do picket or patrol duty or stand by the guns. They were nearly tired out [30]

Confederate water Battery near Warrington, Pensacola Harbor. From a war-time photograph captured at Mobile in 1864 by Admiral Farragut.

with hard work and want of sleep, not having had a night's rest since the night of January 7th.

On the 15th Colonel W. H. Chase, commanding the enemy's forces at the yard and Barrancas, came over in a small boat with Captain Farrand (late of the United States navy, and next in rank at the yard to Commodore Armstrong) and landed at the Pickens wharf, where Lieutenant Slemmer and myself met them, and the following conversation took place:

Colonel Chase: “I have come on business which may occupy some time, and, if you have no objection, we had better go inside to your quarters.”

Lieutenant Slemmer: “I have objections, and it could hardly be expected that I would take you into the fort.”

Colonel Chase: “As I built the fort and know all its weak and strong points, I would learn nothing new by going in, and had no such object in proposing it.”

Lieutenant Slemmer: “I understand that perfectly, but it would be improper for me to take you in; and, however well you may have known the fort before, you do not know what it now contains, nor what I have done inside.”

Colonel Chase: “That is true, and I will state my business here. It is a most distressing duty to me. I have come to ask of you young officers, officers of the same army in which I have spent the best and happiest years of my life, the surrender of this fort. I would not ask it if I did not believe it right and necessary to save bloodshed; and fearing that I might not be able to say it as I ought, and in order, also, that you may have it in proper form, I have put it in writing and will read it.” [31]

He then took the manuscript from his pocket and began to read, but, after reading a few lines, his voice shook, and his eyes filled with tears. He stamped his foot, as if ashamed of exhibiting such weakness, and said, “I can't read it. Here, Farrand, you read it.” Captain Farrand took it, and, remarking that he hadn't his glasses and his eyes were poor (they looked watery), passed the paper to me, saying, “Here, Gilman, you have good eyes; please read it.” I took the paper and read aloud the demand for the surrender. As soon as I finished, I handed the paper to Lieutenant Slemmer, when he and I went a few paces away; and, after talking the matter over, it was decided, in order to gain time and give our men a night's rest, to ask until next day to consider the matter. We returned to Colonel Chase, and the following conversation took place:

Lieutenant Slemmer: “Colonel, how many men have you?” Colonel Chase: “To-night I shall have 800 or 900.”

Lieutenant Slemmer: “Do you imagine you could take this fort with that number?”

Colonel Chase: “I certainly do. I could carry it by storm. I know every inch of this fort and its condition.”

Lieutenan Adam J. Slemmer, U. S. A. From a photograph.

Lieutenant Slemmer: “With your knowledge of the fort and of your troops, what proportion of them, do you imagine, would be killed in such an attack?”

Colonel Chase (shrugging his shoulders): “If you have made the best possible preparations, as I suppose you have, and should defend it, as I presume you would, I might lose one-half of my men.”

Lieutenant Slemmer: “At least, and I don't believe you are prepared to sacrifice that many men for such a purpose.”

Colonel Chase: “You must know very well that, with your small force, you are not expected to, and cannot, hold this fort. Florida cannot permit it, and the troops here are determined to have it; and if not surrendered peaceably, an attack and the inauguration of civil war cannot be prevented. If it is a question of numbers, and eight hundred is not enough, I can easily bring thousands more.”

Lieutenant Slemmer: “I will give this letter due consideration, and as I wish to consult with the captains of the Supply and Wyandotte before replying, I will give you my answer to-morrow morning.”

The next day the reply, refusing to surrender, was sent, Captain Berryman of the Wyandotte taking it to the yard. Immediately after, the Wyandotte steamed out of the harbor, and, the same day, I think, the Supply sailed for New York. [32]

On the 18th another, and the last, demand for surrender was received from Colonel Chase, and next day Lieutenant Slemmer sent the following reply: “In reply to your communication of yesterday, I have the honor to state that, as yet, I know of no reason why my answer of the 16th inst. should be changed, and I therefore very respectfully refer you to that reply for an answer to this.”

With his small command, Lieutenant Slemmer continued to hold Fort Pickens until he was reenforced about the middle of April. He remained there until about the middle of May, when our company, on the recommendation of the surgeon, the men being much broken down by the severe labor, incessant watching, exposure, and want of proper food of the past four months, was ordered to Fort Hamilton, New York Harbor, to recruit. The order was a humane one, and came none too soon, as scurvy had already appeared among the men. On the way North one of them died, and few of them ever entirely recovered from the effects of the severe physical and mental strain they had endured with Slemmer in Pensacola Harbor.

During the remainder of the war Fort Pickens continued to be held by the United States troops, assisted by various vessels of the blockading squadron. Lieutenant Slemmer was reenforced on the 6th of February by one company under Captain Israel Vogdes in the Brooklyn, and on the 17th of April by five companies in the Atlantic, under Colonel Harvey Brown, who had been appointed to the command of the Department of Florida, with headquarters at Fort Pickens, and continued in command until February 22d, 1862, when he was succeeded by General Lewis G. Arnold. The Confederates continued to hold the opposite shore until the 9th of May, 1862, when it was evacuated by them, the Union forces taking possession the next day. On the 11th of March, 1861, General Braxton Bragg assumed command of the Confederate forces. He was succeeded in command of the Army of Pensacola on the 27th of January, 1862, by General Samuel Jones, who, on the 8th of March, was succeeded in command of the post by Colonel Thomas M. Jones, under whom the evacuation took place, whereupon the position was occupied by the United States troops, and the headquarters of the West Gulf Squadron, which had been at Ship Island, were transferred to Pensacola. The harbor was considered the best on the Gulf.

The chief events during the Confederate occupation were:

September 2d, 1861. Destruction of the dry-dock at Pensacola by order of Colonel Harvey Brown.

September 14th. Destruction of the Confederate war schooner Judah by a night expedition.

The Judah was moored to the wharf at the Navy Yard under the protection of a battery and a columbiad, and was armed with a pivot and four broadside guns. The expedition, which was matured by Captain Theodorus Bailey of the Colorado, consisted of 100 men in 4 boats, under the command of Lieutenant John H. Russell, U. S. Navy. Lieutenant Sproston and Gunner Borton, from one of the boats, succeeded in spiking the columbiad. Lieutenants Russell and Blake with two boats, after receiving a volley from the Judah, boarded her, and, joined later by their comrades, engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict with her crew of 75 men, who made a brave resistance, but were driven off to the wharf, where they rallied, and, reinforced, kept up a continuous fire upon the vessel, which had been ignited in several places by Lieutenant Russell's men. The alarm roll was sounded, and rockets were sent up by the Confederates. The enemy's forces being aroused, the Colorado's boats pulled away, rallying at a short distance from the shore to fire six charges of canister from their howitzers, under cover of which they returned to the fort. The Judah burned to the water's edge, and, having been set free from her moorings by the fire, drifted down opposite Fort Barrancas, where she sank. The Union loss was 3 men killed and 13 wounded. Lieutenant Russell's gallantry was the subject of official mention.

October 9th. Night attack by a Confederate force of one thousand men, under General R. H. Anderson, upon the camp of Colonel William Wilson's 6th New York (Zouave) regiment on Santa Rosa Island. The Confederates landed on the island at 2 A. M., burned a part of the camp four miles from Fort Pickens, and retired to their boats after encountering Union reenforcements from the fort. The losses in killed, wounded, and missing were: Union, 67; Confederate, 87.

November 22d and 23d. Bombardment of the Confederate lines by the United States vessels Niagara (Flag-Officer McKean) and Richmond (Captain Ellison), and by Fort Pickens and the neighboring Union batteries. Although Fort McRee was so badly injured that General Bragg entertained the idea of abandoning it, the plan of the Union commanders to “take and destroy” it was not executed.

January 1st, 1862. Bombardment of Forts McRee and Barrancas by Union batteries.

May 9th. Burning and evacuation of Pensacola.


1 Lieut. Slemmer's report says of Lieut. Gilman: “During the whole affair we have stood side by side, and if any credit is due for the course pursued, he is entitled [to it] equally with myself.”--editors.

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