January 8, 1861 – While the Florida State Convention considered secession at Tallahassee, Federal troops garrisoning Fort Barrancas at Pensacola fired on and repelled potential secessionists approaching them.
The Florida convention had assembled in the first week of January. During that time, Florida militia had seized Apalachicola Arsenal and Fort Marion at St. Augustine. Federal troops resisted attempts to take Fort Barrancas and Barrancas Barracks on the 8th, but two days later the convention delegates voted 62 to 7 in favor of secession. This made holding the positions untenable.
Lieutenant Adam G. Slemmer, anticipating an attack on Barrancas, spiked his cannon and transferred his Federal garrison of 81 soldiers and sailors to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island at the mouth of Pensacola Bay. That same day, Navy Lieutenant Henry Erben of the commissary ship Supply and some sailors destroyed guns and supplies at nearby Fort McRee to keep them from falling into secessionists’ hands.
Florida militia seized Fort Barrancas, Barrancas Barracks, and Fort McRee on the 12th. In addition, U.S. Flag Officer James Armstrong surrendered the Pensacola Navy Yard. State militia then demanded the surrender of Fort Pickens, but Slemmer refused. When the governors of Florida and Alabama reiterated the demand for surrender, Slemmer responded, “A governor is nobody here.” Slemmer also rejected surrender demands on the 15th and 18th.
Meanwhile, Federal troops under Captain John M. Brannan occupied Fort Taylor at Key West. This provided the U.S. Navy with a strategically important coaling station. A few days later, Federals led by Major Lewis G. Arnold also took up positions at Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas, off Key West.
On January 24, a Federal squadron consisting of U.S.S. Brooklyn, Sabine, Macedonia, and St. Louis left Fort Monroe, Virginia with 200 reinforcements for Fort Pickens near Pensacola. President James Buchanan had issued cautious orders for the ships to go to Pickens but not to land troops unless secessionists showed hostility toward them.
Five days later, the so-called “Fort Pickens Truce” went into effect. This was an informal agreement under which the Navy Department ordered the U.S. Marine detachment aboard U.S.S. Brooklyn not to land as long as secessionists showed no hostility toward the Federals in the fort. Brooklyn stopped within sight of Santa Rosa Island. This “truce” was like that involving Fort Sumter, but in Pickens’s case the Federals could have landed beyond the range of the Florida guns but agreed not to do so.
- Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 128-29
- Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 9-12
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 23, 25-27, 29
- McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 266
- Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 276-77
- Wikipedia: Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War