Good day to all! Did you know Charlotte Harbor was the site of a military skirmish during the Civil War? With the fall of Vicksburg, Mississippi and Port Hudson, Louisiana in July 1863, Union control of the Mississippi River became uncontested. Consequently, cut off from its western states, the Confederacy came to rely even more heavily on Florida to feed its forces in the east.
Florida was sparsely populated, but thousands upon thousands of cattle, descended from those brought by the Spanish over 200 years earlier, roamed the swamps and open prairies. It’s thought that by late 1863, over 2,000 head were rounded up and driven or shipped north each week.
With Florida’s increased importance, a southwest Florida Union sympathizer, Enoch Daniels, made contact with Brigadier General Daniel P. Woodbury, commander of Federal forces in Key West. Daniels had commanded a company during the Third Seminole War, which had ended just a few years earlier and was familiar with the area. His plan was to lead an expedition of volunteers, “refugee rangers,” backed by Federal troops, to occupy southwest Florida and disrupt the cattle drives. He also planned to make use of two Union ships recently arrived in Charlotte Harbor on blockade duty.
The bark, Gem of the Sea, had been acquired in August 1861 and commissioned that October. Armed with six 32-pound guns, she was 116 feet long and displaced 371 tons. After serving successfully in the South Atlantic Blockade, she was reassigned to the East Gulf Blockade, arriving at Key West in December 1862. By the summer of 1863, she was on station in Charlotte Harbor.
The U.S.S. Rosalie was a confederate sloop captured by federal forces in March 1863 on a run from the Bahamas to Charleston, South Carolina. Sent to Key West, she was refitted as a “tender” and commissioned in June 1863. Forty-five feet in length, displacing 28 tons, and armed with one 12-pound gun, she was in Charlotte Harbor by mid-June.
On Dec. 24, 1863, Daniels and his group of 15 rangers left Useppa Island escorted by Gem of the Sea, going ashore near the mouth of the Myakka River. Union naval personnel established a camp on shore and Daniels set off into the interior, promising to return in seven days. Soon after his departure, there were reports of signal fires, indicating his presence was not unknown. A few days later, the Rosalie arrived. With her shallower draft, she could approach nearer to shore and provide covering fire for the encampment if necessary. More on the Myakka River skirmish and Enoch Daniels’ reconnoiter in my next column.
Thank you to everyone helping make this year’s Hibiscus Festival a success! We couldn’t do it without you!