Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fort Pickens - Santa Rosa Island, Florida

Fort Pickens
Battered over the years by hurricane, war and even a massive accidental explosion, the old brick walls of Fort Pickens continue to defy man and the elements at the western end of Florida's beautiful Santa Rosa Island.

Surrounded by the most beautiful beaches in the world, the brick walls of the historic fort stand in stark contrast to the gleaming white sands that attract millions of visitors to Northwest Florida each year. It is a little known fact that Fort Pickens was almost the spot where the Civil War began 150 years ago.

Aware that state troops from Alabama and Florida were gathering to seize the fortifications at Pensacola Bay, Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer of the U.S. Army moved his tiny garrison across the bay from Fort Barrancas on the mainland to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island in January of 1861. With fewer than 100 men, he held the fort and refused three demands that he surrender from Colonel William H. Chase, who commanded the growing force of Southern troops arrayed against the fort.

Fort Pickens
Built in 1829-1834, the huge five-sided fort was designed to sweep the entrance to Pensacola Bay with the fire of hundreds of cannon. With Fort McRee across the channel and Fort Barrancas on the mainland, it presented a formidable defense against any attack by a foreign navy. In Union hands, however, the fort also bottled up the entrance to Pensacola Bay preventing Southern forces from making use of the harbor there and the outstanding navy yard captured from Federal forces.

With more than 1,000 men at his disposal, Colonel Chase was moving in the direction of storming the fort and taking it from its small garrison when, unexpectedly, President James Buchanan agreed to the so-called "Fort Pickens Truce" on January 29, 1861. The truce provided that Federal forces would not try to reinforce the fort so long as Southern troops did not move against it. The agreement halted militia forces in their tracks and prevented the looming battle at Fort Pickens from taking place. Bloodshed was averted, but Fort Pickens would remain in Union hands throughout the war and Pensacola as a port was of no use to the Confederacy.

To learn more about Fort Pickens, please visit

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An Eyewitness Account of the Nancy Harts - LaGrange, Georgia

Home of 2nd Lieutenant, Mrs. Peter Heard
The events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War reminded me of one of my favorite stories about the war, the almost legendary tale of the Nancy Harts.

The Nancy Harts, as the story goes, were an all female military company that organized in LaGrange, Georgia, to defend the city against Union raiders. Most of the city's men and boys were away in the Confederate service and the community was only lightly defended, so the women of LaGrange took it upon themselves to provide for their own defense. They gave their company the name of Georgia's legendary female fighter of the American Revolution, Nancy Hart.

They drilled regularly under the direction of a disabled Confederate soldier and became quite proficient in their marksmanship and military order. The legend continues that when Union troops approached the city in 1865 during Wilson's Raid, the Nancy Harts formed ranks and marched out to meet them. A truce was negotiated, however, and bloodshed was averted.

It is a fascinating legend and I recently came across an 1861 account of the actual formation and naming of Georgia's all female Confederate company. The article first appeared in the LaGrange Reporter, but was reprinted by the Atlanta Southern Confederacy a few days later:

The Company Drilled near Belleview House
June 1, 1861,
Southern Confederacy (Atlanta), p. 2.

The “Nancy Harts” of LaGrange.

We are informed that the ladies of LaGrange, to the number of about forty organized themselves, on Saturday last, into a military corps for the purpose of drilling and target practice. They elected Dr. A.C. Ware as their Captain; and, we believe, resolved to meet every Saturday. The following are their officers:

Dr. A.C. Ware, Captain
Mrs. Nannia Morgan, First Lieutenant
  Peter A. Heard, Second Lieutenant
Miss Aley Smith, Third Lieutenant.
“ Andelle Bull, First Sergeant.
“ Augusta Hill, Second Sergeant.
“ M.E. Colquitt, Third Sergeant.
“ Pack Beall, First Corporal
“ Lelia Pullen, Second Corporal
“ Sallie Bull, Third Corporal.
“ Ella Key, Treasurer.

The corps not having a name, and it being their determination to prepare to defend their homes, if necessary, as did Nancy Hart of olden time, we have taken the liberty of calling them the “Nancy Harts” until they shall adopt one. We have no doubt they will prove as true as did Nancy Hart if the emergency ever presents itself; and, therefore, we do not think a more appropriate name could be suggested. The “Nancy harts” of LaGrange! That’s it, ladies. – LaGrange Reporter.

To learn more about the Nancy Harts, please visit

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Key West Lighthouse - Key West, Florida

Photo by Lauren Pitone
Built in 1847-1849, the Key West Lighthouse is one of the most elegant such towers that dot the Southern coastline.

Located in the island city of Key West at the southern tip of Florida, the lighthouse replaced an earlier structure that was demolished in the Great Hurricane of 1846. A number of people had taken shelter in the original tower, hoping that its strong brick walls would protect them from the wind and waves of the storm. When it collapsed, fourteen people died, including six children of lighthouse keeper Barbara Mabrity.

Despite the tragedy, Mabrity stayed on to serve as keeper of the new lighthouse when it was completed in 1849. She remained on the job until the Civil War, when at the age of 82 her anti-Union statements caused her to lose her federal job.

The lighthouse was heightened to 86 feet, its present height, during the 1890s and remained in use until it was deactivated in 1969. Now operated by the Key West Art & Historical Society, it has been beautifully restored and is open to the public.

To learn more, please visit

Monday, January 10, 2011

Eatonton, Georgia - Home of the Brer Rabbit Statue

Brer Rabbit Statue in Eatonton
One of the most unusual sights in the South is the full color statue of the famed mythical character Brer Rabbit on the lawn of the Putnam County Courthouse in Eatonton, Georgia.

Incorporated in 1809 and located 39 miles north of Macon and 77 miles southeast of Atlanta, Eatonton was the birthplace of beloved Southern writer Joel Chandler Harris. It was Harris who took stories he had heard from elderly slaves as he was growing up and preserved them on paper in his series of Uncle Remus books.

Many of the stories preserved by Harris actually bridge three cultures. The stories of the wily Brer Fox and the crafty Brer Rabbit actually have their foundation in the tales told long ago by Creek Indian elders who amused villagers by bringing to life the creatures of the forest around them. These tales captivated African American story tellers as settlement and slavery spread west into the lands of the Creek Nation and the stories continued to be told even after most of the Creeks were moved west on the Trail of Tears.

Uncle Remus Museum
So far as is known, Harris was the first person to put many of the old stories down on paper (while also creating some new ones of his own). He used the figure of an elderly slave named Uncle Remus to tell the stories and both Uncle Remus and the fanciful characters of the tales become beloved fixtures of American literature.

Eatonton is the perfect place to explore this unique part of Southern literary history. In addition to the Brer Rabbit Statue on the courthouse lawn, the town is home to the Uncle Remus Museum which preserves the stories and details the early life of Joel Chandler Harris.

The town is also located near the famed Rock Eagle Effigy Mound, one of only two verified stone effigy mounds east of the Mississippi River. The nearby Rock Hawk, also now open to the public, is the other.

Eatonton is on the trail of Sherman's March to the Sea and the vicinity is rich in Civil War history. To learn more, please visit

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Crossing of the Dan - South Boston, Virginia

Site of the Crossing of the Dan
One of the greatest military accomplishments of the American Revolution was not a battle, but a retreat.

In January and February of 1781, American General Nathaniel Greene led his army across North Carolina and into Virginia in what became known as the "Race to the Dan." The race was against the larger and much better equipped army of Lieutenant General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, the British commander in the South.

Greene's subordinate, General Daniel Morgan, had achieved a stunning victory over a British force led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina, on January 20, 1781. Not only was "Bloody Ban" Tarleton driven from the field, but more than 300 of his men were killed and wounded and another 630 taken prisoner.

Taking the prisoners and captured supplies and turning north, Morgan reunited with the main army under Greene and the Americans started a rapid retreat north across North Carolina. Aware the Cornwallis would be desperate to rescued the captured British soldiers and that they could not hope to stand against his main army, the Patriot generals launched a race for the Dan River in Virginia. If they could reach and cross that natural barrier ahead of Cornwallis, they knew they could end their campaign with success.

Crossing of the Dan Exhibit
For nearly four weeks the Americans stayed just ahead of the oncoming British as they moved rapidly through North Carolina and into Virginia. Ferry boats were destroyed along the way and rear guard actions help hold the British back just long enough for Greene to reach the Dan.

On February 14, 1781, he led his army across on a flotilla of flats and boats, successfully outrunning Cornwallis and bringing the prisoners captured by Morgan across the river and to safety. The British reached the Dan River shortly after the Americans had completed their crossing, but had no way to cross after them. Cornwallis withdrew back into North Carolina.

To learn more about Greene's great accomplishment and to see photos of the Crossing of the Dan Exhibit in South Boston, Virginia, please visit

(Photos by Heather LaBone)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Civil War Daily - A New Blog of Interest!

Fort Barrancas, Florida
I've launched a new blog that might be of interest as we observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (or War Between the States).

Civil War Daily can be found at

The site will feature daily posts on the events, battles, campaigns, people and places of the Civil War to help those with an interest in the military aspects of the conflict to learn more about the war as it happened, day by day, 150 years ago. Today's post, on the state seizure of Fort Pulaski, Georgia (January 3, 1861), is the first.

Fort Sumter in 1861
I hope to continue to post new articles daily (or as close to it as I can) for the next four years. I hope you will visit Civil War Daily regularly and join in posting comments, information, questions and otherwise discussing the military history of the war. The purpose of this site is to focus on military aspects only. There are plenty of other places to discuss (or argue about) the causes of the war, etc., but I thought it would be nice for those of us with an interest in military history to have a place to learn and share.

If you are in Florida or have an interest in Florida history, you might also be interested in a series that I have started at Civil War Florida on the military aspects of the secession of that state from the Union. You can read those at