April 12, 1861 – Federal Lieutenant John L. Worden delivered President Abraham Lincoln’s order to break the unofficial truce with local Confederates by reinforcing Fort Pickens, Florida.
Pickens lay two miles offshore from Pensacola, surrounded by Confederates under Brigadier General Braxton Bragg. The Confederates had seized nearby Forts Barrancas and McRee, as well as the Pensacola Navy Yard. Pickens held great importance because it had access to the best harbor and naval repair yard besides Norfolk, Virginia, but Bragg’s men threatened to starve out the Federal garrison at the fort if more supplies and reinforcements did not arrive.
Through Worden, Lincoln directed that soldiers, artillery, and supplies be transferred from the naval squadron of U.S.S. Brooklyn, Sabine, St. Louis, and Wyandotte to the fort. Brooklyn moved behind Santa Rosa Island to disembark 200 Federal soldiers under Colonel Harvey Brown at Pickens’s rear. Inside the fort, Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer transferred command of the garrison to Brown. The “Fort Pickens Truce” that had been in effect since January 29 was no more.
Confederates could not prevent the Federal landing due to its location. When word reached Confederate officials at Montgomery that the Federals might try reinforcing Pickens, Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker telegraphed General Bragg to warn him. Bragg responded: “Mr. Worden had communicated with fleet before your dispatch received. Alarm guns have just fired at Fort Pickens. I fear the news is received and it will be reinforced before morning. It cannot be prevented…” The strengthening of Federal defenses compelled the Confederates to cancel plans to invade Santa Rosa Island.
The next day, Confederate authorities apprehended Lieutenant Worden near Montgomery as he was returning to Washington by train. However, they caught him too late to prevent him from delivering Lincoln’s order to reinforce Fort Pickens and blockade the harbor. Worden was ultimately released due to lack of evidence.
Meanwhile, Confederate officials received a dispatch stating the Federals “have violated their agreement. Reinforcements thrown into Fort Pickens last night by small boats from the outside. The movement could not even be seen from our side, but was discovered by a small boat reconnoitering.”
This news outraged the Confederates, who considered Federal forts to be state property on loan to the Federal government. To reinforce Pickens was to invade sovereign territory with foreign troops, an act of war. President Jefferson Davis, not expecting the Lincoln administration to commit such a dubious act, lamented that he did not order Confederates to attack Pickens along with Fort Sumter.
Within a week, a second naval relief expedition led by Lieutenant David D. Porter’s U.S.S. Powhatan arrived at Pickens to land more reinforcements. Powhatan had flown a British flag to deceive nearby Confederates. Federal presence in the Pensacola area now totaled 1,000 troops and four warships. Colonel Brown soon established headquarters at Pickens as the commander of the new Federal Department of Florida.
- Chaitin, Peter M., The Coastal War: Chesapeake Bay to Rio Grande (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 8
- Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17-18
- Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 34-36
- Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 22-23
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 56-61
- Longacre, Edward G, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 264-65
- Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 276-77
- White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261