150 years ago: The garrison at St. Augustine reports

The report cited below is included among the various Correspondence, orders and returns relating specifically to the operations on the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and middle and east Florida from April 12, 1862, to June 11, 1863, in the Official Records (Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, page 333-4):

Saint Augustine, FLA., April 15, 1862.
Brig. Gen. H. W. BENHAM,
Comdg. Northern District, Department of the South:
I have the honor to report that (finding a constant communication was kept up between the inhabitants of this city and the enemy and that the members of the city government would not assist me in preventing it) I placed the city under martial law on the 12th instant. The day after a re-enforcement of four companies of my regiment arrived. I should have replaced the city officials in power had not the feeling among the citizens been that they desired martial law to still remain. I am pleased to be able to report that no ill-feeling or difficulty has arisen between the citizens and the men of my command, and that not an instance of any insult or unpleasant feeling has taken place. I have prohibited any person passing the line of my command without taking the oath of allegiance. Fort Marion has now mounted two 8-inch sea-coast howitzers, one 32-pounder gun, four iron 6-pounder guns, one brass 6-pounder gun, one 24-pounder siege howitzer, and a Wiard rifled gun. Lieutenant Tardy, U.S. Corps Engineers, has arrived at this post and taken charge of putting the fort in a state of defense. Lieutenant Tardy intends to mount two 8-inch columbiads on the fort. With the ordnance stores I have drawn a requisition for I can defend the post against all the enemy now in arms in Florida. I have the honor to request instructions as to slaves belonging to disloyal men. I have retained such slaves, furnishing them with food and compelling them to work, and simply excluding other slaves from the fort. This city is in a most lamentable condition with respect to food. I have been compelled to issue Government provisions to families to prevent them from perishing from hunger. I have the honor to request instructions as to whether such issues will be permitted. Five deserters from the enemy have come in; no information of any importance has been got from them, except that one of the Saint Augustine companies wished to lay down their arms and surrender. I have used every effort to inform them that they might return here and remain unmolested.
I take the liberty of suggesting again that the ordnance stores I have drawn a requisition for are very necessary for the defense of my post.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
LOUIS BELL,
Lieut. Col., Comdg. Fourth New Hampshire Volunteers, Commanding Post of Saint Augustine.

Several points of interest in this report.

First, at least for us artillery types, there’s a nice description of the guns used in Fort Marion, a.k.a. Castillo de San Marcos. I do wonder if the two 8-inch seacoast howitzers mentioned are the same remaining at the fort today. There is a 32-pdr at the fort today, but it is far too corroded for speculations. And there is that Wiard gun to mull over.

Castillo 2 Aug 11 950
Pair of 8-inch Seacoast Howitzers at Fort Marion today

Second, what to make of Lt. Col. Bell’s relations with the local population? Martial law imposed, and the locals seemed to prefer such for the short term. Then again, the townspeople were dependent on the Army for even the most basic provisions. And the locally raised militia didn’t seem to have much fight.

Lastly, Bell has a problem that confronted commanders from Missouri to Fort Monroe. What to do with escaped slaves? Only a few days before General David Hunter issued General Orders No. 7 declaring all slaves on Cockspur Island, in the aftermath of Fort Pulaski’s fall, to be free. A few weeks later Hunter issued General Orders No. 11 expanding the emancipation to all of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. That did answer Bell’s question for a while, but caused quite a stir. President Abraham Lincoln rescinded the order with a public statement that sounds, even 150 years later, somewhat forced.

Don’t you just love the echos of history that bounce around the walls at places like Fort Pulaski and Castillo de San Marcos?

Castillo 2 Aug 11 1002
West side of Castillo de San Marcos

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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