Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12, 1861: A Delay at Fort Pickens

The situation at Fort Sumter appeared to be hopeless, but Fort Pickens at Pensacola, Florida, was different.

Unlike Fort Sumter, which sat in the middle of Charleston harbor and would require a fleet of warships and 20,000 men to relieve it, Fort Pickens was on Santa Rosa Island at the mouth of Pensacola harbor and could be reinforced and supplied without firing a shot.  In fact, a squadron of ships was already at Pensacola, including the U.S.S. Brooklyn with a company of troops aboard, waiting for further developments.

In January, President James Buchanan had reached a status quo agreement with Senator Stephen Mallory of Florida over Fort Pickens.  The state would not attack the fort and the Federal government would not reinforce it.  The Navy Department had sent orders to Captain H. A. Adams, commanding officer of the U.S.S. Sabine and commander of the squadron around Fort Pickens, on January 30.  Adams was not to land troops at Fort Pickens "unless said fort shall be attacked or preparations shall be made for its attack."

Now, Lincoln had finally decided to hold Fort Pickens.  On Tuesday, March 12, 1861, the U.S.S. Mohawk left for Pensacola with orders for Captain Israel Vogdes, captain of the company of regular troops aboard the Brooklyn.
"At the first favorable moment you will land with your company, reinforce Fort Pickens, and hold the same till further orders."
The complication was that Captain Adams was still bound by the January 30 orders from the Navy Department.  He saw the orders the Mohawk had brought and refused to honor them.  What the War Department might write to Captain Vogdes did not affect him.  Adams would have to write to the Navy Department for further instructions, postponing Fort Pickens's relief. 

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