Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Civil War in St. Augustine, Florida

Civil War activity in Florida is often overlooked because it was of smaller scale that the massive campaigns and battles fought at such places as Chickamauga, Gettysburg, Petersburg, etc.

Even so, there was critical Civil War activity in the Sunshine State, much of it centered around the state's important towns and seaports. Among these in 1861 was old St. Augustine, an Atlantic Coast port and the oldest city in United States (or the Confederacy, in this case).

State troops seized the Castillo de San Marcos (then called Fort Marion) without firing a shot on January 7, 1861, three days before Florida officially voted to leave the Union. Built by the Spanish in the 1600s, the old stone fortress was still an active military post that had been strengthened by the filling of its waterfront dry moat and the addition of a battery of heavy artillery there. When it was taken by Florida troops, the fort contained 20 pieces of heavy artillery, including four 8-inch Columbiads and sixteen 32-pounders. An additional six complete batteries of field artillery were also stored in the fort, along with a number of antique Spanish cannon.

Confederate troops occupied the Castillo until March of 1862 when they withdrew ahead of a planned Union effort to occupy St. Augustine. The U.S.S. Wabash arrived off St. Augustine on March 11, 1862, and sent a small boat into the harbor in an effort to arrange a peaceful surrender. The sailors found a white flag flying from the abandoned fort.

Commodore C.R.P. Rogers met with city leaders and negotiated a peaceful surrender with them. Not everyone, however, was glad to see the Federals. A large group of women went to the St. Francis Barracks and chopped down the flag staff so it couldn't be used to raise the U.S. flag. Mayor Paul Arneau also refused to reveal the location of the hidden lens from the St. Augustine Lighthouse. He was jailed until he gave up the information.

Today there are many sites in St. Augustine associated with the Civil War. The best known, of course, is the Castillo de San Marcos, now a national monument and open to the public daily. On the outside of the fort, the Water Battery in use during the Civil War can still be seen along with a number of cannon from that era. On the Plaza de la Constitucion, where the city was surrendered, several original Civil War era guns from the fort can also be seen. The St. Augustine Lighthouse is now a museum and is also open to the public.

To learn more about historic St. Augustine and Civil War activity there, please visit

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