The Brooksville-Bayport Raid

and The Civil War in Hernando County 

(Copyright © 2008 by Jeff Cannon)



During the Civil War the residents of Hernando County contributed to the war efforts in numerous ways, this history will not include any information outside the Civil War in Hernando County.  Among the contributions of Hernando County during the Civil War was the formation of five Confederate companies comprised of the residents of Hernando County and the Brooksville/Bayport areas.  These five companies were Capt. Water T. Saxon's Hernando Wildcats of the 3rd FL. Infantry Co. C, Capt. John Parsons' Independent Company, Capt. James H. Breaker's Old Guards, Capt. Samuel E. Hope's Company of the 9th FL. Infantry Co. C and Capt. Leroy G. Lesley's Home guards.


Capt. Walter Terry Saxon (1836-1924)Capt. Walter T. Saxon's Hernando Wildcats- 3rd FL. Infantry Co. C- Mustered at Brooksville July 1861- Mustered out April 1865
(Click here to view list of entire company)
Among the first of the Hernando County Companies to be formed was the Hernando Guards, which was raised at Brooksville under the direction of Walter Terry Saxon who severed as the company Captain.  According to Hernando County resident and one time member of the Hernando County Wildcats, Thomas Benton Ellis, "When the state seceded in 1861 Saxon began raising a Company to support the action of the State in Secession.  My brother, James L. Ellis, and I joined this company and in July 1861 the Company was ready having elected its officers and we were sent to Fernandina, where for some months we were being drilled and were engaged in building batteries of sand on Amelia Island."  The Hernando County Guards was among the first Hernando County companies raised to support the action of the Civil War.  According to Ellis, "Saxon's Company was mustered into the Confederate Service on August 10, 1861 and placed in Colonel W.S. Dillworth's 3rd Florida Regiment [Infantry].  Captain Saxon's Company was designated Company C, and was 'The Wild Cats."  Ellis tells the story of how the Hernando Guards became to be known as the Hernando County Wildcats, Ellis says "When we left Florida we had a wild cat skin stuffed and placed at the head of the engine that bore us to Montgomery and on to Chattanooga.  This Company was composed of young men from 18 to 25 and 30 years old, and from all classes, farmers, lawyers, doctors, merchants and students.  There never was a better fighting company and were often selected to perform some of the most daring feats".  As the engine passed through the country side with the stuffed skin of the wildcat at the front, Saxon's Company became known as the Hernando Wildcats.  As part of the 3rd Florida Infantry, the Wildcats fought in some of the more historic battles of the Civil War.

The 3rd Infantry Regiment and its companies were recruited in the counties of St. Johns, Hernando, Jefferson, Duval, Wakulla, Madison, Columbia, and Suwanee.  According to Soldiers of Florida, The 3rd regiment was organized in July of 1861, and mustered into Confederate Service August 10, 1861 at Amelia Island.  An election of officers was held on July 25, 1861.  William S. Dillworth was elected Colonel, Arthur J.T. Wright, Lieutenant-Colonel, Lucius A. Church, Major; they were all members of the regiment."  The regiment was involved in numerous skirmish of the northern Florida area during the 1861 year.  While the regiment was encamped in Jefferson County, "a beautiful silk banner with the motto 'We Yield but in Death', was presented to the regiment by one of the ladies of Jefferson County.  Shortly after the middle of the month of May, the regiment broke camped, marched to Chattahoochee River and went by steamers to Columbus, then by rail to Montgomery; and after a short detention there was sent to Mobile, where the orders to proceed to Bragg's Army in Mississippi were countermanded and the regiment put on patrol of the city, where they remained for several months.  Early in 1864 the regiment was ordered to Chattanooga and went into camp at the base of Lookout Mountain, near the Tennessee River."  Here in Tennessee the 3rd regiment engaged with Federal Troops in the Battle of Perryville.

After fighting at Perryville the 3rd regiment was assigned to Preston's, Stovall's, Finley's, J.A. Smith's Brigade, and during December, 1862, consolidated with the 1st Florida Infantry Regiment. The 3rd was engaged at Murfreesboro and Jackson, then participated in the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee from Chickamauga to Bentonville. It was organized with 950 officers and men, and the 1st/3rd lost twenty-six percent in action at Chickamauga. In December, 1863, this command totaled 240 men and 119 arms, but only a remnant surrendered in April, 1865. The field officers were Colonel William S. Dilworth; Lieutenant Colonels Lucius A. Church, Elisha Mashburn, and Arthur J.T. Wright; and Major John L. Phillips.


Major John ParsonsCapt. John Parsons' Independent Company- Mustered at Bayport July 1861- Mustered out specifically unknown
(Click here to view list of entire company)
While Capt. Saxon was raising his company at Brooksville in July of 1861, Bayport resident and former Seminole Indian War soldier, John Parsons, was raising his own company.  The exact services of this company are unknown as there is little history and information written for this company.  Many of this companies enlisted men mustered out and joined other Hernando County Companies such as Saxon's and Hope's.  Several soldiers of the Parsons' Independent Company are listed in two or three different companies as they were mustered out and re-enlisted with new companies, most pension applications for these soldiers are filed under their service of the latter company giving no indication of their services under Capt. John Parsons.  According to Kyla VanLandingham there is a latter muster roll for Parsons' Independent Company as they were re-mustered into service in 1863.


Capt. James H. Breaker's Old Guards, Mounted Rangers- Mustered at Brooksville March 1862- Mustered out May 1862
(Click here to view list of entire company)
The company formed under the direction of Capt. James H. Breaker and was comprised of many seasoned veterans who had served their country during the many Seminole Indian Wars.  According to Soldiers of Florida, "The Old Guards were mustered into the service of the State by Capt. Joseph M. Taylor March 29, 1862.  After three months service they were mustered out under General Order No. IX, by Captain Joseph M. Taylor at Brooksville, Florida."  During their short campaign Capt. Breaker's Company served as one of the home guards of the area.  The pension application of William Hope who served in Breaker's Company states that this company performed regular military duty "scouting in Hernando and Hillsborough County and that the company was mustered out because most of the men wanted to join other companies throughout the state."


Capt. Samuel Edward Hope (1833-1919)Capt. Samuel E. Hope's Company- 9th FL. Infantry Co. C - Mustered at Bayport June 1862- Mustered out April 1865
(Click here to view list of entire company)
In June of 1862, under the direction of Capt. Samuel E. Hope, a company of men was formed at Bayport.  Samuel E. Hope had first enlisted under Capt. John Parsons' Independent Company at Bayport in July 1861, after being mustered out of Parsons' Company Hope raised his own company.  According to Soldiers of Florida, "This company served as independent volunteer companies in different parts of the State.  In early of 1864, Gen. Patton Anderson, commanding the District of Florida, received from the War Dept. and order to send a good brigade to Richmond with all possible expedition.  Gen. Joseph Finnegan was ordered to immediately proceed to Virginia.  At the battle of Olustee these companies were formed into a battalion commanded by Maj. Pickens Bird.  In concentrating the troops between Waldo and Jacksonville, after the battle of Olustee, Lieutenant-Colonel Martin was placed in command of the battalion, and upon arrival of the battalion at Virginia the regiment was formed into the companies named A,B,C,D,E,F and G under the commander of their respective captains.  [Co. C was commanded by Capt. Hope]
 The unit served with the Army of Northern Virginia at Cold Harbor, then was placed in the Petersburg trenches south of the James River.  Early in February of 1865 the 9th was engaged at Hatchet's Run, opposing the Federal attempt to extend their line of battle.  On the morning of July 9, 1865 General Lee's lines were broken and the retreat began.  The 9th Regiment retreated by way of High Bridge and marched to Farmville; being crowded it halted and fortified for an attack, which was repulsed by heavy loss to the enemy.  This was the last battle in which the 9th was engaged.  On April 9, 1865, the 9th surrendered at Appomattox Campaign with 15 officers and 109 men. Colonels John M. Martin and Robert B. Thomas, and Major Pickens B. Bird were in command."



Capt. Leroy G. Lesley (1807-1882)Capt. Leroy G. Lesley's Home guards- Mustered at Brooksville ca. 1863- Mustered out specifically unknown
(Click here to view list of entire company)
The full list of members of Lesley's Home guards is unknown at this time.  We do know through personal correspondence of the Lesley Family, that the Company of Capt. Leroy G. Lesley's Home guards, did exist in Hernando County.  Also through military documents and personal diaries that speak of skirmishing with this company giving the proof of its existence, however there are no records giving the full list of members of this company.  In addition this company was involved in the Brooksville-Bayport Raid of July 1864 in trying to defend Hernando County from a raid of Federal Troops.  It is believed that the majority of this company was comprised from those who had previously served on other companies, from the Hernando County area, after they were mustered out of these companies.  Capt Leroy G. Lesley was mustered into service so late in the war because he was exempt from service as the owner and operator of a much needed salt works located off the coast of then Hernando County, present day Pasco County.  (click here to read a history of the Salt Springs Salt works)


1863 and Events Leading to the Brooksville-Bayport Raid
Early in the Civil War ca. 1861-62 companies such as the Old Guards and Parsons' Independent Company started fortifying the area surrounding Bayport.  During the fortification process these companies dug numerous rifle pits and made earthworks on the coast of Hernando County situated at the Port of Bayport.  The Port of Bayport was a major life line for Brooksville and the interior of Hernando County during the Civil War and the rifle pits and earthwork fortifications offered protection to the location where goods and merchandise could be shipped and received.  All along the west coast of Florida there were ports like Bayport, where goods were being shipped and received by the Confederate States Army.  While the Union had cut the goods traveling by land, they did not have control of the coastal waters of Florida nor its ports.  The coastal waters of Florida proved to be the life line of the Confederacy while land supplies had almost ceased.  To combat the problem the Union answered with the formation of  the East Gulf Blockade Squadron.  As a result the Confederacy answered with a fleet of fortified vessels that perfected the craft of out running the Union blockading boats.  It was the orders of the East Gulf Blockade Squadron to stop ALL vessels carrying goods in support of the Confederacy.

In March of 1863 Naval orders were given to the Union East Gulf Blockade Squadron to begin a blockade expedition along the coast of Hernando County.  The orders were given to patrol the Gulf waters from the Suwanee River South to Anclote Key, these were the first orders given to patrol the Bayport area and the coast of Hernando County.  During the months of April and May of 1863 the Union East Gulf Blockade Squadron was engaged in the capturing and confiscation of numerous Confederate vessels from the Bayport area.  These vessels from Bayport were engaged in Blockade running in an attempt to get their goods past the Union blockading boats.

On March 24, 1863 U.S. Navy Lieutenant McCauley filed the following report outlining his boat expedition in search of blockade runners at Bayport.


Boat expedition under the direction of Acting Lieutenant McCauley, U.S. Navy, in search of blockade runners at Bayport, and elsewhere between Suwanee River and Anclote Keys, Florida April 2-9, 1863.

Order of Acting Rear-Admiral Bailey, U.S. Navy to Lieutenant-Commander English, U.S. Navy, regarding cooperation.
U.S. Flagship St. Lawrence,       
Key West, March 24, 1863
    Sir: So soon the vessel under your command is ready for sea, you will receive from this vessel two launches (with howitzer and the crews otherwise armed), and you will proceed with all dispatch to Cedar Keys, avoiding all communication by which the object of your expedition can be known, or even surmised, without, however, suffering any attempt to avoid the blockade that may fall under you immediate notice to pass unheeded.

    On arriving at Cedar Keys, you will communicate with Acting Lieutenant Edward Y. McCauley, and arrange with him the details of the following plan:
    The two launches of this ship, together with your own and such other boats as the Sagamore and Fort Henry as can be spared (having due regard to the safety and efficiency of the latter vessel during the absence of the expedition) will constitute a force under the immediate command of Acting Lieutenant McCauley, for the purpose of scouring the entire coast between the Suwanee River and Anclote Keys.  You will take the expedition in your vessel first to the mouth of the Suwanee River, and dispatch them inside, thence along the coast to the southward, with orders to capture all vessels they may find on the way, or failing that to destroy them.  In the meantime you will manage your own vessel so as to render the most sufficient support possible to the expedition.  Passing to the southward of Cedar Keys, you will continue the process above indicated, paying especial attention to Crystal River, Chassahowitzka River and Bayport.  After the boats shall have passed inside of St. Martin's Reef, it would seem for the best plan for you to go, in the Sagamore, to cruise between the southern point of that reef and North Anclote Key, until rejoined by the expedition.

    Should information reach you including a belief that greater damage can be done to the rebels by first scouring the coast inside of St. Martin's Reef before visiting the Suwanee River, you are at liberty to do so, and you can not too highly appreciate the importance of taking the enemy by surprise, whereby a greater blow can be inflicted on them and with less probability of loss on our side.

    Much must necessarily be left to your discretion in the matter, and I confidently expect no insignificant results from the expedition if arranged with judgment and executed with the celerity and dash which I look for in yourself and Lieutenant McCauley, for there are reasons to believe that all this portion of the coast is thickly lined with vessels whose only object is to run the blockade with valuable cargoes.

    On the accomplishment of of this duty, and having left Lieutenant McCauley and his portion of the expedition on board his own vessels, you will return to this port with the launches of St. Lawrence and report to me.

            Respectfully,                Theodorus Bailey,
            Acting Rear Admiral-Lieutenant of the East Gulf Blockdg. Squadron

        Lieutenant-Commander Earl English, U.S. Navy,
    Commanding Gunboat Sagamore   




List of blockade runners supposed to be with in the limits of the expedition

U.S. Flagship St. Lawrence,       
Key West, March 24, 1863
    Sir: The following are some of the vessels supposed to be within the limits of your proposed expedition.

    Steamer Alice, whereabouts not known
    Steamer Cuba, in the Suwanee River
    Steamer Onward, Bayport
    Steamer Amelia, Bayport
    Steamer Clarita, Bayport
    Steamer Linnet, Bayport
    Schooner New Year, Bayport
    Pilot boat Mary C. Harris, Bayport
    Virginia, Bayport
 
            Respectfully,                 Theodorus Bailey,
            Acting Rear Admiral-Lieutenant of the East Gulf Blockdg. Squadron

        Lieutenant-Commander Earl English, U.S. Navy
Commanding Gunboat Sagamore

Reports are from author's private collection   


Feb 8, 1862 sketch of gunboat Sagmore before being assigned to the Gulf
This sketch appeared in the Feb 8, 1862 edition of Harper's Weekly and shows the Union Gunboat Sagamore located in the center of the sketch.  This was before the Sagamore was assigned to the East Gulf Blockade Squadron.

While these orders were the first orders issued by the United State Navy to conduct blockades along the coast of Hernando County and specifically Bayport, the U.S. Navy had already outlined numerous Steamers and Schooners that were operating from Bayport.  This may be the only surviving list of the blockade runners that operated the Bayport area and Hernando County during the Civil War.  As the Union East Gulf Blockade Squadron received their orders, the blockade expedition of the Bayport area began.  From this point all goods coming and going from the Port of Bayport had to run this Federal Blockade risking capture with every attempt.

By April of 1863 the East Gulf Blockade Squadron would reach Bayport where their first engagement with Hernando County's Confederates occurred, with the rifle pits and battery of Bayport manned, the U.S.S. Fort Henry and its launch gun boats carried out their orders.  This first engagement and battle of Hernando County would prove to be one of the heaviest bombardments of Bayport by the Federal Troops.  This bombardment would be heavier then the Brooksville-Bayport Raid itself, however the Confederate Troops stood and defended their post holding off the Federal Troops.  On April 9, 1863 Acting Lieutenant E.Y. McCauley, aboard the U.S.S. Fort Henry filed the following detailed report outlining his Bayport engagement with the Confederate Troops of Hernando County.  This expedition was not for the purpose of an engagement with Confederate Troops but was rather a reconnaissance expedition to ascertain the layout of the coast at Bayport for future expeditions or chasing of blockade runners.  Upon arrival at Bayport the Confederates hoisted their rebel flag signifying they were ready for battle with the Union boats, the mere sight of these boats enticed the rebels.



Detailed report of Acting Lieutenant McCauley, U.S. Navy, commanding U.S.S. Fort Henry

U.S.S. Fort Henry,
Cedar Keys, Fla., April 9, 1863
    Sir: In obedience to your orders and directions, I took charge of the armed boat expedition, consisting of the St. Lawrence's two first launches, the Sagamore's launch and cutter, the Fort Henry's launch and cutter, and a ambulance in charge of Asst. Surgeon J. Stevens.

    On the evening of the 2d instant, at 7 o'clock, we left the Sagamore and stood in for Bayport and anchored in 4 feet water at 1 o'clock a.m.  At daylight we found ourselves two miles to the leeward of Bayport, with a strong westerly breeze and ebb tide against us.  The first launch seemed so sluggish and heavy that we spent two hours reaching the entrance of the harbor through a most intricate and shallow channel.  This waste of time gave the rebels leisure to make all preparations for our reception.  The outer anchorage where the vessels usually take their cargoes, was clear of sail.  Two small schooners and two sloops were run into the bayou and grounded on the banks, which were thickly covered with trees, but a large schooner, laden with cotton and ready for sea, was at anchor in the bay, evidently of too great draft to be moved.  I dispatched the Sagamore's second cutter, in charge of Master Mate Flemming, to capture a sloop lying inshore to the southward of the harbor.  They dashed after her, carrying their boats over the flats, and took possession of her.  She proved to be the Helen, of Crystal River, loaded with corn.  She was destroyed by fire.  Her crew was brought on board the first launch.  They informed me that Bayport was defended by a battery of two guns and a company of rebel soldiers, besides other auxiliaries and gave the above mentioned information of the cotton schooner.  Having cleared boats for action, I led the launches on to capture or destroy the schooner.  On reaching with in 900 yards of the battery opened on us with round shot, and the woods around the harbor contained a good deal of riflemen, who kept up a brisk fire upon us, all equally badly aimed, for though we were from twenty-five to thirty-five minutes under fire, but one man was wounded on our side.

    On getting within 400 yards the launches opened fire with their howitzers.  A man was then seen to leave the schooner and a few seconds after the flames spread over her.  For about fifteen minutes the battery answered our fire with grape, but the fire from the Sagamore's launch was so rapid and well directed, and finally a shrapnel from her gun falling in the midst of the enemy there, their guns were deserted and our attention was turned to shelling the riflemen in the woods.

    The Fort Henry's howitzer broke its clamp plate after the second discharge and was disabled.  After the thirteenth round the second launch's gun was disabled by the same kind of accident.  She did not withdraw from under fire, but held her position and kept up a warm rifle discharge.  The first launch was so unweildly, the tide, wind, and sea so strong, that we could not keep bows on to the battery; constantly grounding.  She seemed hardly to be affected by the oars.  I got her anchor out astern, but she dragged it, and I brought up about 350 yards from the battery, where she was bravely followed by the Sagamore's launch, to whose effective fire she was indebted for getting off unscathed.

    The loader of our howitzer, J. Baptiste, of the Sagamore, had been shot through the shoulder; his place was promptly supplied by Loius Vasconi, whose conduct under fire and afterwards was [a] subject of praise from all who witnessed it.  

    By this time the schooner was ignited to such an extent that rendered eextinguishing impossible.  Having gained her object in my destruction and the clearing of the battery, the disabling of two of my guns, the unweildness of the first launch, which made it difficult for her to bring her gun to bear; the uncertainty of aim in the sea that was running, and consequent waste of ammunition, and the warning of Mr. Ashley, the pilot, that the ebb tide found us there we should be left aground, made me give up my design of trying to set the vessels in the bayou on fire by shelling.  We then began a heavy pull out of range, a feat which we accomplished in the first launch in half an hour, during which time the rebels returned to their guns and saluted us with a steady fire from a rifle fieldpiece that they had brought up.

    We anchored outside the range of their guns for rest and food.  I had found that the first launch's bow had suffered from the strain of the 24-pounder to such an extent that two rounds more would have disabled her entirely.  The Sagamore's gun, having stranded its breeching was the only gun I could depend on for future service.  Jury fitting were skillfully made, but were, of course unreliable.

    My course was then set for the mouth of the Chassahowitzka River, which we barely reached that night in time to find a slight shelter against the N.W. gale, which blew with violence, filling the light boats and launches with water, and reducing our howitzer ammunition by drowning.

    The men and officers spent the cold night bailing and pulling about, with the usual accompaniment of loss of kedges, etc., without a murmur, deserve to be remembered by the rear-admiral when he requires the service of hardy, resolute seamen.

            Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
    E.Y. McCauley                           
            Acting Lieutenant, U.S. Navy, Comdg. U.S.S. Fort Henry.

            Lieutenant-Commander  Earl English,
Commanding U.S.S. Sagamore                          

Report from author's private collection

January 27, 1865 sketch from Harper's Weekly which shows typical Confederate gun battery
This sketch from the January 7, 1865 edition of Harper's Weekly show a typical Confederate battery consisting of two guns just as the Bayport battery.

The weather throughout this small skirmish was most unfavorable to the Union boats and numerous unseen obstacles presented themselves at every step of the expedition.  The Confederates set fire to the Sloop Helen from Crystal River, loaded with a cargo of corn, so it would not be captured by the incoming Union boats.  With the Sloop Helen on fire the Union boats made their move to a large schooner loaded with cotton and anchored in the Bayport Harbor, it is said that this schooner's cargo consisted of approximately 300 bales of cotton.  As the Union boats made their move toward the anchored schooner situated in the Bayport harbor, the 2-gun battery of Bayport and a good number of riflemen in the woods opened fire on the Union boats.  The Bayport battery consisted of two small cannons, as pictured above.  The two gun battery of Bayport was capable of shooting a variety of shot including the standard cannonball and grapeshot.  Grapeshot consisted three or more iron plates that were welded together with smaller sized iron cannonballs in between each plate, these smaller sized balls were typically 2" in diameter.  There were usually 9 and sometimes 21 of these smaller cannonballs welded into the grapeshot plates, depending on its size.  One grapeshot discharged from the Bayport battery could wound several of the Union men aboard their gunboats.  This brisk engagement of fire lasted for about half an hour, at which time the rebels pulled back from the rifle pits and battery, however this was not in retreat.  At this point in the skirmish both Union gun boats and their howitzers had become disabled by their own rapid firing and consequent violent recoil of the guns.  According to the above report the Union gun boats were only able to fire 11 shots before their guns were disabled.  While the rebels were pulling back from the battery and rifle pits they also set fire to the anchored schooner loaded with cotton.

As the pilots of the Union warned that the out going ebb tide would soon leave their boats high and dry right in front of the Bayport battery, they immediately began a retreat of their own.  As the Union boats began to pull out of the harbor, watching that the schooner was completely burned, the rebels wheeled a large rifled feild piece up to their front lines.  While the Union had mistook the rebels pull back as a retreat, it was not as they were retrieving a heavier rifled guns, situated just up the road from the Bayport battery.  It is believed the large rifled field pieces was brought up from Brooksville and situated along the road just outside of sight from the Bayport Battery.  This rifled field pieces was exremely precise and carried the discharge much further than that of the two cannons of the Bayport Battery.  If Union boats had not pulled out of the Bayport Harbor, their boats may have been lost under the fire of the Confederates rifled field piece, with the crew becoming prisoners.

Following their engagement at Bayport the Union boats then began to proceed north to Chassahowitzka, Homossassa River, Crystal River and Withlacoochee River, however they were only able to make little progress each day as the small Bayport skirmish left their boats nearly inoperable.  There was 1 Confederate casualty, with 3 wounded, and 1 Union soldier wounded during this April 1863 skirmish.  It is not known who the Confederate wounded or casualty were but according to Union Acting Assistant Surgeon of the expedition, the Union man wounded was gunman John Baptiste.  John Baptiste's wounds were the result of a Edenfeild rifle, which created a 3-4 inch wound where the ball passed through.  Also included in the April 9, 1863 report of the Bayport expidition was a sketch detailing the location of the rifle pits, battery, storage and cotton houses with other buildings, roads, schooners, sloops and other items that the Federal Troops noted during their expedition.


sketch of Bayport from April 9, 1863 U.S. Navy report
This sketch which accompanied the U.S. Naval report from the U.S.S. Fort Henry dated April 9, 1863, details the expedition made at Bayport.  This sketch shows the location of the schooners and sloops, rifle pits, battery, corduroy road and other fortification made to Bayport as detailed in the Navy report.  (Map from author's private collection)



June 30, 1863 Condederate Report on location of troops

Excerpt taken from June 30, 1863 Confederate report in author's private collection

Following the Bayport skirmish of April of 1863, the troops under the command of Brig. Genl. Joseph Finegan in Florida were detailed and outlined in a Confederate report.  Included in this report were the Confederate Independent Companies that were situated at Bayport for the defense of the town.  According to the June 30, 1863 Confederate report, shown above, there were three seperate Independent Companies stationed at Bayport.  It is beleived that these are the same companies that occupied Bayport during the April 1863 skirmish.  Of these three independent companies the only one to be from Hernando County was the company of Capt. Samuel Hope, the other two were companies were formed in Levy and Marion Counties; Capt. John C. Chambers from Levy and Capt. Summerfield M.G. Gary from Marion County.  John C. Chambers, born in North Carolina, moved to Florida by 1853.  John's father, Samuel Chambers, was a large plantaion owner in South Carolina who raised primarily cotton as a staple crop.  Eventually John C. Chamber would purchase hundreds of acres in Levy, Marion, St. Johns and Putnum Counties.  Capt. Summerfield M.G. Gary was a large land owner in Marion County where he lived in Ocala.  Summerfield Gary was a successful practicing lawyer in Ocala by 1860.

Following the April 1863 expedition and bombardment of Bayport, three months later in July of 1863 the U.S. Navy would carry out a "mid-night reconnaissance" of Bayport.  On July 22, 1863 Lieutenant-Commander McCauley of the U.S.S. Fort Henry reported of this recon mission into Bayport and the harbor.  The purpose of this mid-night mission was to ascertain if Bayport was still occupied by the schooner's and sloop's of the Confederacy.  The guard boat of the U.S.S. Fort Henry, under the command of Orderly Sergeant C. Nugent carried out the reconnaissance of Bayport and reported back to Lieutenant-Commander McCauley.  Nugent reported that "the harbor of Bayport was clear of sail of any kind".  It is believed that if there had been boats situated in the Harbor of Bayport that a second expedition would have been carried out to destroy all vessels.  With this constant blockade of goods and merchandise coming and going from Bayport many hardships were created on the residents of Hernando County as food and necessities for residents were extremely scarce during these times and many families were famine.

As the East Gulf Blockade Squadron kept up their activities along Hernando County numerous expedition were carried out between 1863-1864, few resulting in skirmishes with the Confederates.  In September of 1863 additional blockade boats would arrive in the Bayport area in search of a steamer that had been reported to the East Gulf Blockade Squadron.  While the U.S.S. Fort Henry had been patrolling and carrying out its orders there were numerous other boats that were apart of the East Gulf Blockade Squadron along the coast of Florida.  If these other boats received word of Confederate activities or vessels, these other boats, under orders, would investigate the reports of the Confederate vessels.  If a Union Squadron boat failed to investigate the reports of Confederate activities their crew could be held accountable for supporting the Confederacy.  Between September 6 and September 13, 1863 the U.S.S. Two Sisters joined the U.S.S. Fort Henry along the coast of Bayport to investigate the reports of a Confederate steamer that had been spotted in the area.  As the Union boats proceeded to Bayport to investigate they spotted the Confederate steamer situated near the shore in the Bayport Harbor.  The following report was made by the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Two Sisters outlining her joint expedition with the U.S.S. Fort Henry to seek out and destroy the reported Confederate steamer near or at Bayport.


Report of Acting Master Rockwell, U.S. Navy, commanding U.S. tender Two Sisters, regarding expeditions to Bayport, Fla., in search of a steamer.

U.S. Tender Two Sisters,   
Key West, September -------, 1863
    Sir: I have the honor of making the following report.  Having received information on the 5th instant, while lying in Cedar Key, of the presence of a steamer in Bayport, I immediately proceeded to cruise off that place, arriving there on the morning of the 6th.  On the 7th saw two sails inshore, and on standing for them, found them to be two boats from the Fort Henry in charge of Acting Master's Mate Hancock, who had been sent down the coast to watch to movements of the steamer inshore.  I took the boats in tow, and the next morning, taking advantage of a flood tide, stood inshore to endeavor to discover the main channel through St. Martin's Reef.  Having arrived within 4 miles of Bayport, I anchored having barely sufficient water to float the vessel.  With the aid of a glass, I soon discover the steamer lying near the shore, partly covered with bushes.  She was painted lead color, had side-wheels, one pipe painted white, one mast with a standing gaff upon it, and her after end was covered with a rounding top, apparently painted yellow.  Being able to anything more that tide, stood offshore to a sufficient depth, and feeling assured she could never leave the harbor in the night, as soon as it was dark, stood for Cedar Keys to give information of her whereabouts to Captain McCauley of the Fort Henry.  I weighed again the same evening to return, taking the Fort Henry's armed launch with me.

    At daylight saw a sail offshore, which proved to be the tender Annie, Acting Ensign Williams in command, and whom I detained to carry any information I could procure to Cedar Keys.  Stood inshore with both vessels until within 10 miles of Bayport, when the wind failing I took the Fort Henry's launch and the Two Sister's boats, and went inshore to within 4 miles of Bayport, discovering the steamer to still be there, but the weather being very squally and rainy was unable to accomplish my purpose of finding the channel, everything being obscured.  On returning on board, dispatched the Annie to Cedar Keys with the information that the steamer was still there.

    On the 12th, the weather being again clear, stood in toward Bayport, taking advantage of a flood tide, and when within 31/2 miles of Bayport, saw the reef and channel stakes.  Anchored near the reef and sent out an armed boat in charge of Acting Master's Mate Montague to sound out the channel, which duty he performed in a satisfactory manner, going within 1 mile of the battery.  As the boat was returning, the rebel flag was hoisted on the battery, when I threw a shell in toward it, but found we were out of range.  The tide failing I stood out again.  The steamer had been hauled in behind the island on which the town of Bayport stands since my last reconnaissance, and was still further disguised with bushes.

    On returning on board Mr. Montague reported having found no less then 6 feet of water at any place, and the channel through the reef not less then 100 yards wide.  I blockaded the place the next day, and in the evening stood in for Cedar Keys, arriving the 14th and finding an expedition just starting for Bayport, consisting of the steamer James Battle, schooner Annie, with boats etc.  The steamer immediately took the Two Sisters in tow, and I went on board the steamer to render what assistance I could.  We arrived off Bayport the next day, and had the pleasure of witnessing the destruction of the steamer, and a large warehouse apparently containing cotton, and of participating in a bloodless victory, won from the fears of the enemy.

    Respectfully,
C.H. Rockwell,   
    Acting Master, Commanding.


Report from author's private collection

When the East Gulf Blockade Squadron had finally spotted the steamer in the Harbor of Bayport they found that the steamer had been disguised with branches as to hide it from the blockade boats patrolling the coast.  The steamer situated in the harbor of Bayport was further described in another report filed by A.A. Semmes, Commander of the Union Steamer James Battle, who described the Confederate steamer as being 200 feet long, made of iron with one mast and two large paddle wheels.  The steamer was further described as being English in appearance, however it was said to have been traveling under French colors.  As the Union boats were preparing to shell Bayport and the steamer, with intentions of destruction, the rebels set fire to the steamer to avoid such shelling.  This was likely a brilliant move on the part of the rebels as there were five armed Union boats, one with a howitzer, awaiting within 800 yards of the Bayport battery.  An engagement with this many Union boats could have resulted in the destruction of Bayport.  Within one half hour after the rebels set fire to the steamer they also set fire to a nearby cotton storage house situated near the Bayport battery and wharf.   The Union boats sat outside the Bayport channel for approximately 3 hours observing the activities and the burning of the steamer and storage house.  Shortly before sunset the Union gun boats pulled out from Bayport joining their squadron, after which they returned to Cedar Key having accomplished their orders without an engagement with the rebels.  

In addition to the detailed U.S. Navy reports pertaining to the September 1863 expedition to Bayport, A.A. Semmes, Commander of the Union Steamer James Battle, also filed another sketch or map showing the location of rebel positions during his expedition.  Unlike the previous sketch of Bayport from U.S. naval reports, the September 1863 sketch has a key and additional diagrams indicating the location of the cotton storage house, rebel steamer, rifle pits, battery and the corduroy road leading to the wharf at the Harbor of Bayport.  This sketch along with the sketch of Bayport above are the only known surviving maps from the Hernando County Civil War expeditions.


Sept. 1863 sketch of Bayport by A.A. Semmes, Commander of Union Steamer James Battle
This September 1863 sketch of Bayport by A.A. Semmes, Commander of Union Steamer James Battle, shows the location of the cotton storage house, battery, gun pits and steamer of Bayport.  In addition this map reveals the location of the Bayport lighthouse or beacon situated on the point of land labeled "J", this beacon marked the entrance into the Bayport Harbor.  (Map from author's private collection)


In the months following the September 1863 expedition to Bayport, between October and December, the East Gulf Blockade Squadron reported on the capture of numerous vessels that were from Bayport.  While many of these vessels were British vessels they were supporting the Confederacy by carrying cargo from the many ports along the Gulf Coast, including Bayport.  

Henry C. Winslow, owner of the Schooner Martha JaneAccording to an October 20, 1863 report filed by Acting Ensign, James S. Williams, from aboard the U.S. Schooner Annie while at sea some 20 miles W.S.W. of Bayport, they were reporting the capture of a schooner containing a very large cargo of sea-island cotton.  It was further reported that the vessel captured was the British schooner Martha Jane, which was under the command of Captain H.C. Winslow of Bayport.  Along with Captain H.C. Winslow were 5 crew members who were all detained by the Union Schooner Annie while their cargo containing 26,609 pounds of sea-island cotton was seized, this was one of the largest captures of Bayport cargo documented.  Once seized, with its crew, cargo and the British Schooner Martha Jane in tow, the East Gulf Blockade Squadron's Schooner Annie proceeded to Cedar Keys where they would delivery their prize capture to Leuitenanct-Commander E.Y. McCauley.

Henry Clay Winslow, pictured left, was born in Washington County Maine on February 18, 1836.  Henry Clay's ancestry dates back to Edward Winslow, who was the first governor of the Plymouth Colony and the family is said to have traveled to this country on the Mayflower.  His father, Jacob Winslow, was a sea captain who sailed the Atlantic for many years.  At the young age of thirteen Henry Clay went to sea and held every position from cook to captain.  Henry followed the sea for nearly 10 years when sometime in the 1850's he experienced a hurricane off the coast of Cuba where his ship was capsized and sunk.  After he returned to Maine and engaged in the mercantile business in Plymouth.  By 1857 Henry Clay had moved his mercantile business to New Orleans and at the outbreak of the Civil War he found himself with large business interest while endeavoring to remain neutral in the war.  Winslow finally gave up his large business interest and secured permission from his dear friend General Braxton Bragg to accompany the Army of Tennessee where he devoted a portion of his time in assisting the chief medical director of General Bragg's staff in caring for the wounded from battle.  At the battle of Stone River, Winslow had his horse shot from under him.  After that experience Winslow decided it was time to leave "Dixie" and he headed south to once again become captain on the sea.  At Bayport, Winslow found the large British Schooner Martha Jane for sale.  For the price of $40,000 Winslow purchased the schooner with the purpose of running the Federal blockade.  Captain Winslow loaded his schooner with a large load of the finest sea island cotton, weighing over 26,000 pounds.  In Havana this sea island cotton could be sold for $1.00 per pound in gold.  As we already know, Winslow's schooner was overhauled by the Union Schooner Annie and the cargo confiscated.  During confiscation Winslow was reluctant in giving up his suspenders in which he had concealed and sewn $2,000 worth of $20.00 gold pieces, meant to be used upon release.

While the capture of these cargo vessels many times seems uneventful it must be kept in mind that these cargo schooner had no means of defense.  With no defense these cargo vessels would many times attempt to flee, which would result in chase by the Union boats.  On October 28, 1863 this would be the very case as the crew of a different British vessel bound for Bayport attempted to run the Union blockade to prevent capture.  Following orders, the launches of the U.S.S. Sagamore consisting of its gunboat, a launch boat and the Schooner Annie, set sail from Cedar Keys to cruise of Bayport and Crystal River to intercept any vessels attempting to enter or leave from those places.  At. about 3 p.m., with a northward sail, and intentions to reconnoiter the harbor at Bayport, the Schooner Annie and launch boats discovered a sloop standing to their southeast.  The gun boat was immediately sent to the northeast in order to intercept the sloop's entrance into Bayport as the Schooner Annie followed to the outside preventing the sloop from running out to sea.  As the sun began to set the Schooner Annie lost sight of the sloop and the crew set anchor to await the return of the launch boats that were still giving chase to the sloop.  During this time the Sagamore's gun boat had given chase to the sloop as she made her way towards Bayport.  As the Sagamore's gun boat gained on the sloop, pulling within three quarters of a mile of its position, they fired three shells with two exploding close to the fleeing sloop.  With the only defense of escape, the sloop and its crew paid no attention to the shelling and continued on a steady course.  The Sagamore's gun boat eventually lost sight of the sloop as the sun began to set and heavy squalls began to roll in off the Gulf.  Being too dark to locate the position of the Schooner Annie, the Sagamore's gun boat anchored just outside the Homossassa River and awaited daylight.

At daylight on the morning of October 29, 1863 the Sagamore's gun boat once again began to patrol along land in hope of find the sloop that they had given chase the night before.  Not seeing any signs of the sloop they returned to the Schooner Annie arriving at about 8 a.m.  Resting for the better part of the day, at 4 p.m. the Sagamore's gun boat took the launch and stood in for Bayport.  As the launch boats cruised up towards Bayport they proceeded close enough to check the harbor for the sloop and any other vessels.  As the rebels discovered their approach the Confederate flag was hoisted on the Bayport battery.  With the discovery of no vessels in the Bayport Harbor, the launch boats returned to the Schooner Annie at about 7:30 p.m. and anchored for the night.

At 7:30 a.m. on October 30, 1863 the Schooner Annie, the Sagamore's gun boat and launch situate 30 miles southwest from Bayport discovered a sail on the horizon to the southwest of their position, it was none other then the elusive sloop from two days prior.  The Sagamore's gun boat immediately set to intercept the sloop's entrance into Bayport while the Schooner Annie got underway and stood for the sloop itself.  By 11 a.m. the weather and the seas began to calm and the Sagamore's gun boat hauled up and stood for the chase of the sloop.  By 3 p.m. the gun boat came within range of the sloop and immediately fired a shell, the sloop finally gave in and the chase was over.  As the captured vessel lowered her jib, Acting Ensign, Commanding, James S. Williams, of the Schooner Annie, boarded the sloop.  The captured sloop actually proved to be the 29-ton British Schooner Meteor from Havana in charge and owned by Captain Anthony Bado.  The captain claimed that he was taking his assorted cargo to St. Marks, Fla., however he was cleared for Matamoras located no where near St. Marks.  The cargo, vessel and crew were immediately seized by the East Gulf Blockade Squadron.  The Schooner Annie turned the captured vessel over to the launch, which made sail for Cedar Keys with the Schooner Meteor and its assorted cargo in tow.  Once to Cedar Keys the prize capture would again be turned over to Leiutenanct-Commander E.Y. McCauley.

Chase of Confederate Schooner Blockade Runner in 1863
This sketch appeared in an 1864 edition of Harper's Weekly and shows the chase of a Confederate Schooner by a Union Blockade fleet.  This sketch provides an image of the activities performed by blockade fleets such as the East Gulf Blockade Squadron, which was blockading Bayport.

The capture of these Confederate Blockade runners proved to be very rewarding and successful venture for those Union officers who had the pleasures of participating.  As a result of these captures many officers of the East Gulf Blockade Squadron became wealthy men from these ventures.  According to the U.S. Prize Laws, one half of every prize or capture went to the Government while the other half was divided among the officers and seamen of the capturing fleet, which was added to their monthly pay.  This prize law also encourage the capturing fleets to increase their activities and capture more prizes and vessels.  In December of 1863 with the increased activities in blockade running the U.S. Navy was making preparation to add a new steamer to the East Gulf Blockade Squadron.  Consisting of the Steamer Nita preparations were to have the new steamer cruise an area between Bayport and the Suwanee River, however the steamer was stationed in Key West for repairs.  This steamer's armament consisted of one rifled 12-pounder howitzer, in pivot, forward; two heavy 12-pounder howitzers, in broadside, forward; one smooth 24-pounder howitzer, in pivot, aft. with a compliment of officers numbering 46.  It is believed that this steamer was never commissioned for the Bayport area but if so this steamer alone could have caused significant damage to Bayport with its number of large guns and pivot howitzers.


1864 and the Brooksville-Bayport Raid
While the East Gulf Blockade Squadron was actively involved with the blockading of Bayport and the coast, there was still an excessive amount of beef that was making its way to the Confederate Troops.  By the end of 1863 there were a number of local home guards between Tampa and Hernando County that were engaged in herding beef cattle for support of the Confederate Army.  In addition to the local home guards there were also special details and orders from the front lines for the assistance in the gathering of the beef cattle from the area.  Among these special details was one from the company of Capt. Walter T. Saxon's Hernando Wildcats, who at the time were in battle at Missionary Ridge.  The Chief Commissary of Florida had made a requisition on General Bragg for sixty Florida men to report to the plantation of James McKay Sr., at Tampa, for the purpose of gathering beef cattle for the Western Army.  Among the men listed for this detail was Brooksville resident Thomas Benton Ellis of Saxon's Company.  As the sixty men gathered at the home of McKay in Tampa they organized into a company with Captain James McKay Jr.; Fist Lieutenant W.W. Wall, Second Lieutenant John W. Crighton, and First Sergent Thomas Benton Ellis.  This company at once began to gather beef cattle from all parts of South Florida, driving them north to Live Oak where they were shipped to Bragg's Army [Confederate] and the front lines.

According to one detailed military reports, Capt. James McKay's company was in charge of gathering cattle south of the Withlacoochee River with his headquarters at Brooksville.  In addition to McKay's company having headquarters in Brooksville, there was also now the added support of Capt. Leroy Lesley's Homeguard's who had been orginized and muster into service only a few months prior.  According to one Union report Capt. Lesley's Company numbered 80 and was classified as being Infantry situated near Brooksville.  It would be Capt. Leroy Lesley's Home-guards who would provide the area with much need picket lines to protect and defend Brooksville from any raiding Union troops.   According to these reports there was approximatly 450 Confederate men patroling the areas between Brooksville and the Pease Creek in Hillsborough County during 1864.

With the gathering of beef cattle throughout Florida and the blockading of goods along the coast, many Hernando County residents found it difficult to find the necessities of everyday life including food.  Things became so bad for the residents of Hernando County that on many occasions people were made to give up their last bit of corn and milk or beef cow to support the wartime efforts.  As a result some residents had very little sustenance during the Civil War and faced near starvation.  In January of 1864 the Hernando County Board of County Commission met to discuss the crisis of no food for residents.  The Board of County Commissioners further directed the Hernando County Probate Judge, Perry G. Wall, to draft and send a letter to then Florida Governor John Milton.  This letter outlined the desperate need of food for the residents of the county and stated that the McKay detail had stripped the country of cattle.  This letter further asked for the help and support of the State of Florida during Hernando County's time of need and read as follow:


January 12, 1864

Sir: At a meeting of the [Hernando] Board of County Commissioners of this county on the 9th instant, for the purpose of considering the necessities and means of supplying the indigent families of soldiers in this county, it was ascertained that the supply of corn within the limits of the county is nearly exhausted, and that there can be very little or no corn purchased anywhere between here and Gainesville; whether from actual scarcity or an indisposition to sell I don’t know, but it is generally supposed it is from the latter cause. On the suggestion of General J. M. Taylor, who said that he had heard Your Excellency say that corn would be sent down to Archer from Middle Florida for soldiers’ families if it became necessary for the support of those families, I was verbally instructed by the Board of Commissioners to communicate their necessities to Your Excellency, and ask if 1,000 bushels of corn could be had in that way, in the event that we cannot procure it otherwise.  

Their situation will be deplorable in the extreme if corn cannot be had beyond the limits of the county, as in consequence of a bad crop season the past year there was not more than one-third of an average crop raised in the county.  Another matter which I would direct the attention of Your Excellency to is the fact that the cattle drivers under the orders of Captain McKay, commissary of this department, have stripped the county of every beef steer that they can find, from two years old and upward, and are now taking the cows, many of which have been known to have calves, in less than fifteen miles’drive. This is cutting off the only supply of meat we had for soldiers’ families, as the supply of pork from various causes - mainly for want of corn to fatten it - is unusually short - so much so that the most fortunate of us will be on less than half allowance. Whatever the exigencies of the case may be, I consider it an outrage upon a community having in their midst as many suffering families as we have to take the cows, the only dependence for milk and beef for the future. In many cases the cows of poor families of soldiers in the Army are taken, as I have been informed. Does the order to those commissaries authorize them to take the milch cows from the people against their will or consent?  If so, the country is certainly ruined and a general famine will be the result. Already the soldiers’ families are becoming clamorous for meat and are killing people’s cows wherever they can get hold of them. It does seem to me that this wholesale taking the beef-cattle and milch cows of the country should be stopped, for by taking the cows it certainly cuts off the means of any future supply of beef, saying nothing of cutting off the supply of milk. If we have arrived at that point where it has become actually necessary to impress all the cows in the country, which are so necessary to the support of any country, then I say, God help us, for starvation must be inevitable.  

Will your Excellency do us the favor to write me in answer to these several points?  With great respect I have the honor to be,

Your Excellency’s obedient servant,

PG. Wall, Judge of Probate

Taken from a report in author's private collection
  
Late 1863 to early 1864 plans for a joint expeditions between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy was being planed and orginized.  At the request of Union Brigadier-General Daniel P. Woodbury, commanding the U.S. Army in the Key West District, Acting Master's Mate Henry A. Crane, from aboard the Sloop Rosalie, was ordered to report to the General for temporary duty connected with the United States Army.  General Woodbury was in the process of organizing a company of refugee rangers to cooperate with some of the troops under his command, for the purpose of an expedition.  The purpose of the expedition was to prevent the supply of beef cattle being sent to the rebel army from the region of Tampa.  It was reported that between 1,500 to 2,000 beef cattle were being sent from the Tampa Bay region per week by Capt. McKay's Company with headquarters in Brookville.  These beef cattle were much needed food support for Bragg's Confederate Army.  While the cattle was much needed food for General Bragg's Confederate Army, it was also much needed food for the residents of Hernando County.  Subject to the approval of the U.S. War Department, General Woodbury proposed the appointment of Henry A. Crane as the Captain of his company of refugee rangers that was being formed.  General Woodbury believed that Crane's experience in military matters was to be of great service to the expedition in preventing the the supply of beef cattle to the Confederate Army as planned.

Soon after the forming of General Woodbury's company of refugee rangers, in January of 1864, this small company would carry out an expedition of the Charlotte Harbor south of Tampa, however the Charlotte Harbor expedition proved to be a trying one on the General's new company of refugee rangers.  Following the Charlotte Harbor expedition, General Woodbury and the 47th Regiment Pennsylvania joined the refugee rangers and proceeded to establish a U.S. Military Post at Fort Meyers.  According to a Theodorus Bailey, Acting Rear Admiral  and Commander of the East Gulf Blockade Squadron, the expectation of receiving recruits for the refugee rangers from the surrounding country has not been justified by the event; speaking of the Charlotte Harbor expedition.  Bailey writes that only a month had passed when six of the already enlisted had deserted to the enemy [Confederates] and had combined with them to attack our men [Union].  Bailey adds that these circumstances occurred before the arrival of the General and that the defection appeared to have been arranged before leaving Key West to carry out the expedition.  Bailey also recommended that the support of a much larger force, than could possible be spared, to produce any important results.

In addition to the formation of the refugee rangers company was the formation of the 2nd Florida Calvary, a Union Regiment comprised of companies such as the refugee rangers formed at the direction of General Woodbury.  The 2nd Florida Calvary enlisted into the U.S. Army in December of 1863 in Cedar Keys, around the same time the company of refugee rangers was formed.  Service duty of the 2nd Florida Calvary would be in Fort Meyers, Cedar Keys, and the district of Key West.  While in service at Fort Meyers the 2nd Florida Calvary would enlist more supporters, including numerous residents from Hernando County who had abandoned their Confederate ways and joined the Union under Companies A and B of the 2nd Florida Calvary, among these residents was former Hernando County Probate Judge Samuel J. Pearce.  Those Hernando County residents who joined Companies A and B of the 2nd Florida Calvary were neighbors of those families who supported the Confederate movement in Hernando County.  Between February and May of 1864 the numerous companies formed under the 2nd Florida Calvary would carry out numerous expedition including raids on Tampa and the Pease Creek.

By May of 1864 preparation were underway by General Woodbury of the U.S. Navy to conduct a raid on Brooksville.  As preparation were being made for the Brooksville expedition, Acting Rear Admiral and Commander of the East Gulf Blockade Squadron, Theodorus Baily, issued the orders to the navel vessels under his command to place themselves under General Woodbury for the purpose of cooperating in an expedition planned by him against the enemy.  These orders further gave General Woodbury command of vessels that would carry his troops.  On May 2, 1864 the following naval vessels were ordered under the command of General Woodbury to carry out an expedition planned for Brooksville.  Again this expidition was the cut the supply of beef cattle coming from the area and being sent to Bragg's Confederate States Army.


Order of Acting Rear-Admiral Baily, U.S. Navy, to commanding officers of four navel vessels for cooperation with the army forces.

U.S. Flagship Dale,   
Key West, May 2, 1864.
    Gentlemen: On the presentation of this order to you by Brigadier-General W.P. Woodbury, commanding this district, you will place yourselves under his orders for the purpose of cooperating in an expedition planned by him against the enemy, and you will remain with the expedition as long as he may direct.
    On being released by him, you will resume your duties as directed in your previous orders.
        Respectfully,
Theodorus Baily,       
Act. Rear-Admiral, Comdg. East Gulf Blockade Squadron.

    Acting Master J.J. Russell,
                            Commanding Schooner Ariel
    Acting Master P.F. Coffin,
                            Commanding Sloop Rosalie
    Acting Master H.B. Carter,
                            Commanding Schooner Stonewall
    Acting Master T. Chatfield,
                            Commanding Schooner Two Sisters

Report in author's private collection


Immediately following the above orders, the Union Steamer Honduras carried General Woodbury and his troops from Forth Meyers to Tampa where they met the above mentioned naval vessels.  With a joint expedition the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army met at Tampa for the purpose of a raid.  On the afternoon of May 5, 1864 navy vessels carried General Woodbury, the 2nd FL. Calvary and two companies of colored troops to land.  On the morning of May 6, 1864 these Union Troops carried out a raid on Tampa and took possession of that place capturing 40 rebel prisoners and hoisting the Stars and Stripes in the town that had been under Confederate command the day before.  In addition to making a raid on the City of Tampa it was reported on May 14th, 1864 by Confederate Major General Patton Anderson that Union Troops had also carried out their first raid on Hernando County.  

It was on May 14, 1864 that the Confederate States Army had received word from Brig. General Joseph Finegan, that in addition to the raid on Tampa, the village of Brooksville had also been completely destoryed by the raiding Union troops.  Major General Anderson who was given command of the Florida District and was responsible for filing reports giving details as to the forces in his district and under his command.  Under Major General Anderson was Brig. General William M. Gardner, sub-district no. 1 of Florida, and Brig. General Joseph Finegan, sub-district no. 2 of Florida.  Hernando County and south of the Chasahowitzka River was apart of sub-district no. 2 under Brig. General Finegan.  On May 14, 1864 Major General Anderson reported and filed an 8 page report where he detailed that "on May 6th Union troops landed at Tampa and arrested several citezens, but what other acts were perpetrated by them I have as yet been unable to learn.  On the following night they [the raiding Union] are reported to have destoryed the village of Brooksville, but this needs confirmation."  This was the first reported land raid on Hernando County and the village of Brooksville.  The reports of Brooksville being completely destoryed in May of 1864 proved to be unfounded and false and Anderson further clarified this in his report by saying, "since ascertained to have been without foundation"  The ever impending doom of a Union raid was fresh on the minds of Hernando residents and the Confederate States Army as reports of the Union troops making their way north to Hernando were starting to come in.  Below is an excerpt taken from Major General Anderson's report filed on May 14, 1864 detailing the village of Brooksville being destroyed.

Excerpt taken from May 14, 1864 report by Major General Anderson

Excerpt from May 14, 1864 Major General Anderson's report

Excerpt taken from full report in author's private collection

After their raid the Union troops were sent back to the U.S. Military post in Fort Meyers and by June of 1864 the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army were making plans for a joint expedition to carry out a raid on Brooksville and Hernando County.  On June 25, 1864 the Schooner Ariel, Sloop Rosalie and Schooner Stonewall all received communication from Capt. J.W. Childs, commanding officer of the U.S. Army Post at Fort Meyers, requesting the means of transportation of 250 troops to a point convenient to Bayport.  The object of the planned expedition was to make a raid on Brooksville and then fall back on Bayport, where the troops could be extracted after the raid.  On July 1, 1864 the three schooners took on board the companies of the 2nd Florida Regiment [Union] and the 2nd U.S. Colored Troops consisting of 240 men, under the command of Capt. J.W. Childs.  While at sea the wind and rains were rough, on the day of July 4, 1864 the boats anchored and there was no sailing for the celebration of Independence Day.  On the 6th day at sea the vessels finally reached their destination of Anclote Key where the troops would be detached, on July 6, 1864 at 5 p.m. the Schooner Ariel, Sloop Rosalie and Schooner Stonewall anchored just off Anclote Key to await daylight.

On the morning of July 7, 1864 the consort boats spent the better part of the day running troops from the three schooners anchored just off Anclote Island to the mainland where they would march toward Brooksville.  With the troops loaded on the small consort boats conditions were cramped and men had to lay across and atop one another for the entire trip.  By 3 p.m. in the afternoon most of the troops had made their landing on the north side of the Anclote River, Captain Childs and 8 men being unable to march remained on board the Schooner Ariel for a return trip to Tampa, along with the Sloop Rosalie and Schooner Stonewall.  While the three schooners were ordered to return to Tampa, orders were given to the Schooner Ariel to meet the troops at Bayport on July 12, five days after their departure from Anclote.  Having been at sea for the better part of a week, once landed the men could finally make a fresh cup of coffee and straighten themselves from their lengthy trip at sea from Fort Meyers.  Once all the troops were landed on the north side of the Anclote River, the orders were given and the 240 Union men immediately formed ranks and took up their line of march.  The men marched until about 8 p.m. that night when orders were given to make encampment for the night.  Having marched the short distance of 3 miles north of the Anclote River the Union Troops stopped their line of march and camped for the night.

At 3 a.m. on the morning of July 8, 1864 the Union encampment awoke early to discover the smoke of a camp fire ahead of them to the north.  The Union Troops were immediately order to form their ranks and prepared to take up their line of march toward Brooksville.  While the troops were falling into ranks and making preparation for the days march an advanced guard was formed consisting of 10 men who were under the command of Capt. Henry A. Crane, a few years prior in 1860 Crane had been the supporter of secession but soon sided with the Union.  Eventually the 240 Union Troops picked up their line of march for the day with their advanced guard ahead of them.  As the advanced guard made their way towards Brooksville, just after sunrise they encountered the first Confederate pickets that had been set along the roads.  The Union's Advanced Guard had surprised the Confederate picket originally comprised of 18 old men and young boys.  Being surprised by the Union's Advanced Guard more then half of the Confederate picket retreated, resulting in the capture of 7 men and 9 horses with their supplies of guns and ammunition.  While these men were captured they put up a strong resistance.  As a result of the Confederate resistance one of the men on the Union's Advance Guard was slightly wounded in the ankle.  This small skirmish and first Confederate picket was located approximately 25 miles southwest of Brooksville.  By noon the Union Troops, advancing on Brooksville, captured 3 more rebels at their homes where the troops also paused and had a brief dinner.  After dinner Union Troops advanced another 3 miles when Capt. Daniels fell sick and the advancement was ordered to halt.  As the Union advancement halted a small party of men was ordered to return to the home, where they had paused for dinner, to retrieve a cart for the ill Capt. Daniels.  Here, the small party of men comprised of U.S. Colored Troops behaved most outrageously to the families as they entered the house and tore the children's and women's clothes to rags.  In addition the men took a ring from one of the small girls, which had been sent to her by her brother.  As the men left with the cart they had been sent for, they took with them the tin ware and broke a crockery and pots completely raiding the home.  It was finally decided to set encampment for the night and the Union Troops didn't march any further.

On the morning of July 9, 1864 the Union encampment broke as the men were once again ordered to form their ranks and prepare their line of march toward Brooksville.  Having marched the short distance of 3 miles from their encampment, with the Union's Advanced Guard 2 miles ahead of their mainline, they encountered a Confederate patrol.  Just as the day was breaking, Hernando County residents Thomas Benton Ellis, Walter Delany and John Crichton were on patrol with Capt. Leroy Lesley's home guard and the picket that had been set along the road leading to Brooksville.  As Capt. Ellis saw the Yankees coming up the road they were riding the Confederate horses that had been captured in the skirmish the day before.  Ellis immediately sent Capt. Delaney at once towards Brooksville to give warning to the remaining members of Capt. Leroy G. Lesley's Home guard Company of old men and young boys.  As Capt. Delaney reached Brooksville, a runner was sent at once to Tampa to have the companies of Capt. John T. Lesley and if possible Capt. McKay's detailed men to come immediately and assist in the protection of Brooksville against Union Raid, the runner left at full speed.  As the runner left for Tampa, Capt. Leroy G. Lesley's Company of old men and young boys were at once to come to a creek or branch situated about 20 miles from Brooksville.  The men were ordered to form themselves along the creek as Capt. Crichton and Ellis would try to hold the Yankees in check as best as they could.  While riding their horses backwards, Capt. Ellis and Crichton stayed just ahead of the Yankees allowing them to get within speaking distance.  Capt. Ellis recognized the Yankee pilot leading the Advanced Guard as a deserter who was also one of his neighbors, a man named Hancock.  The Yankee named Hancock hollered to Capt. Ellis and told him to stop as they would not hurt him, however Ellis didn't believe the deserter and continued in front of them.  At times the two parties were only 100 yards distance from of each other but neither party fired nor advanced but instead held their position yelling back and forth as they slowly advanced along the road, each side with their own plan.

After about 1-1/2 miles Capt Ellis and Crichton reached the creek where they had ordered Lesley's Home guard to form themselves and prepare to engage with the advancing Union Troops.  By this time the main body of the Union Troops had caught up to the Advanced Guard.  As Lesley's Hom guard had prepared themselves along the creek, they were not prepared for the advancement of 240 Yankees that they saw marching down the road toward them.  Capt Ellis noted the men on the other side of the creek were running all about helter skelter with no one and everyone in command, as some of the men ran back to their plantations to run off their slaves.  Capt. Ellis immediately saw that he couldn't really do anything to check and hold the advance of the Union Troops on Brooksville however, Ellis wasn't going to go down without a fight.  Just as he had ordered as soon as he reached the creek, Ellis turned his horse and fired on the advancing Union Troops.  The Union Troops soon formed their skirmish lines and immediately sent out a flank party of 30 men to combat the rebels.  Under the protection of the flank party Union Lieut. John Miller moved the white troops forward to within 20 yards of the creek, leaving the Colored Troops back as reserves along with the prisoners captured the day before.  Eventually the Union's main body crossed the ford in the creek and in single file poured their volleys towards the Confederates driving them back about 400 yards.  The Confederates soon took refuge behind a large pond where the fire of the Union Troops couldn't reach their lines.  As the two sides skirmished the Confederates eventually pulled out and retreated to Brooksville likely to prepare for the arrival of the advancing Union Troops upon the town.

As the Union Troops advanced along the road leading to Brooksville they eventually reached the plantation and home of Capt. Thomas Benton Ellis where the troops halted for breakfast.  Ellis' mother, Sarah Townsend Ellis, being home with the children of the family, fed the Union Troops in hopes that they would not burn their home.  Here at the Ellis Plantation the Union Troops spent several hours feeding the men from the plantation smokehouse, pantry, barns and corn cribs eating chickens, eggs and as much honey as each man wanted.  The Union Troops also took the plantation wagons loading them up with supplies and food.  After breakfast the Union Troops again formed their ranks and prepared to take their line of march toward Brooksville.  As the troops prepared to leave the Ellis Plantation they set fire to the barns, smokehouses, corn cribs and servant houses in addition to the house with Sarah Ellis and the children inside.  Capt. Ellis tells, that as the troops marched away from their plantation one of the deserters, a Methodist preacher and neighbor, slipped to the back of the Ellis home and snuffed out the fire, which was well underway.  The Methodist  preacher was kind and told Mrs. Sara Ellis that nothing in her room would be disturbed as he slipped into the other rooms of the house taking certain articles from each, it is not known if the preacher and neighbor snuffed the fire for the family or for his own personal benefits.

As the Union Troops marched toward Brooksville they were once again met with resistance from the local rebel home guard.  The Union pulled their best marksmen and placed them at the front, soon after the rebels pulled back but continued to skirmish throughout the day.  Towards the evening Capt. Leroy G. Lesley rode his horse out onto the lines that had been formed, carrying with him a flag of truce.  Lesley rode out with the purpose of inducing, a one Capt. Green and other Union Officers, to desert the Union cause and move back to the side of Dixie.  The Union Officers immediately let Lesley know "that they would not listen to nothing of that kind" and broke the conference dismissing Lesley and his flag of truce.  Being insulted at Lesley and his offers of desertion, the Union immediately took their line of march toward Brooksville again skirmishing with the Confederate Home guard along the way.  By nightfall the Union Troops had reached the plantation of David Hope, it was decided that the march would halt for the day and encamp and the plantation David Hope.  Here at the Hope plantation the Union Troops helped themselves to the chickens, ducks, geese, a quantity of yams, plenty of mutton corn, an entire barrel of bacon and a cache of syrup; the men didn't spare anything.

On July 10, 1864 while the Union Troops were encamped at the plantation of David Hope and preparing to take up their line of march for the day, the Union Schooners Seabird and Ariel left Tampa sailing for Bayport as previously ordered upon the departure of the Army troops from Anclote on July 7.  The Seabird being unable to navigate the shallow waters of Bayport anchored about 4 miles from the town and prepared a small boat with 10 armed men.  In the meantime Ariel had stood in for Bayport running within 100 yards of the battery where they pulled up and anchored, observing a few men retreating from Bayport by road.  After Ariel had anchored at Bayport, Acting Ensign Bacon, was then dispatched to reconnoiter under a flag of truce and demand the surrender of the town if he found anyone still there, or to take possession if they had evacuated.  When Acting Ensign Bacon returned he reported that all the male inhabitants had fled leaving only the women and children, consisting of five or six families; all residents of Bayport.  Bacon also reported that there were a few bales of cotton, located on the wharf, ready for shipping.  The Ariel was soon joined by the smaller boat of the Seabird and its 8 armed men along with the Seabird's Captain Robbins and Acting Ensign Dunderdale.  These 10 men along with U.S. Army Capt. Childs, were immediately dispatched on shore where 6 of the 10 soldiers began the duty of setting pickets along Bayport's main road.  

As the Union Officers landed on shore they proceeded to examine Bayport, visiting the families who were greatly frightened while claiming they had no knowledge of the expedition that was operating against Brooksville.  These families also assured Union Officers that only two vessels had run the blockade from Bayport within the last five months.  The two guns that had been situated on the Bayport battery and had been used against the Union Blockade Squadron the year before, had been removed to Brooksville for sometime indicating that perhaps residents did have knowledge of the operation against Brooksville.  Officers seized 11 bales of cotton located on the wharf and ready for shipping , which was sent on board the Ariel.  There was also 20 to 30 bales of loose cotton lying in the building formerly used as the Bayport Schoolhouse and 32 bales of cotton on the road about a mile and a half from the wharf, this cotton was ready for shipping.  There was also a number of large scows and small boats used to move cotton and goods up and down the rivers, however there were no blockade running boats.  Four slaves had also placed themselves under the protection of the Union Officers and they too were seized as contraband.  After a thorough examination of Bayport extra pickets were stationed along the main road with strict orders not to enter a house or molest anyone, the Union Troops then settled themselves and awaited the next day.

Meanwhile, the Union Troops situated near the plantation of David Hope again took up their line of march toward Brooksville.  As the troops departed from Hope's plantation they proceeded in burning all of the building located on the plantation property, which included the smokehouses, corn cribs, servant house and barns.  While it is believed the Union Troops spared the home of David Hope, it is believed that they pillaged the home taking anything they wanted.  At 11 a.m. the Union Troops halted their line of march to take a break and have dinner, this was 1-2 miles from their destination of Brooksville.  While the Union Troops paused and had lunch it was determined that Brooksville was completely deserted.  As some argument between the officers had occurred, it was decided to change the first intentions of raiding Brooksville.  The Captain of the 2nd U.S. Colored Regiment, Capt. Bartholf, was convinced against the raid of Brooksville, perhaps from the earlier conduct of his men, and would not proceed to the town.  At 3 p.m., 4 hours after halting their line of march, the Union Troops were turned and recommenced marching not toward Brooksville but towards Bayport, some 18-miles distance.

As the Union Troops marched towards Bayport they reached the plantation of William B. Hooker, located 3 miles from the David Hope plantation.  Here the troops met Mrs. Hooker who informed the officers that Mr. Hooker was absent as he was carrying away his slaves to avoid being captured during the raid.  Mrs. Hooker saved the sacking of her home by furnishing Capt. Bartholf and his officers of the colored troops with dinner and a change of shirts, the refugees and their officers refusing.  The men however did accept melons, which they found in abundance at the plantation.  After spending 2 hours enjoying their refreshing treats the troops commenced their march and soon came to the plantation of Aaron T. Frierson.  The troops spent very little time at the Frierson plantation, however the burned the fences and all the houses as the marched through.  As they continued their march toward Bayport they soon came upon the plantation and home of Capt. Leroy G. Lesley.  Here the Union Troops once again sacked the corn cribs, wagons and barns setting fire to everything.  Mrs. Lesley met the Union Officers with a flag of truce and begged them to spare her life.  Capt. Batholf thought that it was best to do so but allowed the black troops to pillage and sack the Lesley home.  As the colored troops marched toward the Lesley home the Confederates were lying and waiting in the brush near the home.  The rebels skirmished with the small body of Yankee troops until their main body of troops came up to offer support, at which time the rebels pulled back.

March 4, 1865 scene of Union Troops burning Confederate plantations
This sketch from a March 4, 1865 edition of Harper's Weekly shows the typical scene of Union raid and the burning of Confederate plantations.  This horrific scene is similar to the raid of Hernando County plantations in July of 1864 by the 2nd FL Calvary and 2nd U.S. Colored Troops consisting of 240 Union men.

After the sacking and burning of several plantations the Union Troops continued their line of march towards Bayport.  Since the troops had spent so much time enjoying melons and sacking the plantations they continued their march well after nightfall.  Shortly after dark the Union Troops located about 4 miles from Bayport decided to encamp along the road when a lone Confederate soldier mistook the encampment for his own.  Here the lone Confederate soldier shared what information he knew with the Union Troops, after which he was released with orders to hurry to Capt. Ellis and Capt. Lesley informing the captains that they might capture the Union gunboats at Bayport if they hurried.  The Union Troops were trying to lure the Confederate to their encampment, however an hour after the man was released he returned to the Union encampment, lost.  Upon the lone Confederates second approach to the Union encampment he was fired upon but was missed and it was thought best to retain this man before he was killed.  After consultation the Union Officers thought it was best to break up their encampment and move to the swamps where they could form a line of battle for protection..  At a half mile from the swamp the Union Troops heard the horse pickets of the Confederate Home guard who were on their patrols of the area.  The Union march was so cautious that the Confederate picket didn't hear them although they passed within 50 yards of each other.  After the Union Troops reached the swamp where they had relocated their encampment, the main command laid flat upon their arms while their skirmish pickets were positioned in the front with 50 men lying in wait along the road.  With the Union Troops in position, at about 10 o'clock that night the Confederates appeared on the road before the Union pickets.  The party of Confederates on the road proved to be the company of Capt. Leroy G. Lesley.  As the young Capt. John T. Lesley also approached he was fired upon by his own father who mistook him for a Yankee, Capt. John T. Lesley was wounded in the in the shoulder and arm but was not killed.  However, the gun fire from Capt. Leroy G. Lesley did kill a Yankee prisoner who was with the young Lesley as he approached.

On the morning of July 11, 1864 the Confederate Home guard and pickets pulled their company out from Bayport and headed back to Brooksville as the raid was nearing the end.  The Union Troops continued their line of march for Bayport and at about 10 a.m. they reached the town.  As the troops came in and took possession of Bayport the pickets that were stationed along the road by Capt. Childs, several days prior, were removed.  The commanding officer ordered a party of detailed men to assist in getting the cotton to the wharf to be loaded on the boats.  When the advanced guard reached Bayport they established a post at one of the houses.  Before the guard got around the town to all the families, a members of the 2nd U.S. Colored Troops had gotten to the home of Confederate Capt. John Parsons.  The Parsons' House was sacked and all the furniture broken up by the Union men and was said to have been done since Capt. John Parsons had sent the lost man to the Union encampment the night before.  This man had been sent to Capt. Lesley to let him know about the arrival of the Union gunboats at Bayport.  Capt. John Parsons was the man that the Union gunboats had seen escaping upon their arrival to Bayport.  Parsons saw the Union boats entering the Harbor of Bayport and escaped up the salt creeks warning the Confederate home guard stationed at near Brooksville.

Once the Union Troops had secured all the houses and families of Bayport they began to gather all the cotton and any useable provisions, which was to be loaded on the boats for transport.  Cotton was gathered from a site along the road just outside of town and from the former schoolhouse, after which it was taken to the wharf where it was baled.  Once all the cotton was gathered it equaled approximately 140 bales, however there was about 40 bales accidentally burned during gathering.  During the gathering process one of the guards, while lighting his pipe, set fire to a large batch of the loose cotton, consisting of about 40 bales in total.  At 5 p.m. with all the cotton loaded on the Schooner Ariel orders were given to the troops for them to withdraw from Bayport, this would be a slow and somewhat steady process.  Not only did they have to transport the army troops but they also had the additional cargo of cotton, prisoners, and captured slaves; which they didn't have on their incoming trip.  The Schooner Ariel took 60 men and transferred them to the Schooner Seabird, which was anchored and waiting just off shore.  These would be the only men transferred on this day as nightfall soon came and it was too dark to carry out any further duties.  The Union Troops actually set encampment in Bayport for that night.  This was the only time during the war that Bayport was under control of Union Troops, Brooksville NEVER fell to Union control.  Brooksville was among the few Confederate controlled cities in Florida who remained under Confederate control for the entire war.

On the morning of July 12, 1864 the Schooner Rosalie arrived and anchored just off shore near to Seabird as the Schooner Ariel transported the troops from the Bayport mainland to the waiting vessels.  In addition to the Ariel transporting troops there were several smaller launch boats that also carried troops, the entire day was spent transporting troops from the mainland to the schooners anchored off Bayport.  On the morning of July 13, 1864 both the 2nd FL Calvary and the 2nd U.S. Colored Troops, consisting of 240 men, had completely withdrawn from Hernando County and were situated just off the coast of Bayport aboard the Schooners Rosalie, Seabird and Ariel.  Before pulling their anchors and leaving, James J. Russell, Acting Master of the Schooner Ariel, destroyed the building used as a customs house, all the boats, scows and cotton storage house.  With the Port of Bayport burning the three schooners left Bayport and set sail for the U.S. Military Post in Fort Meyers where they had departed from a week prior.  However, the Schooner Ariel made a stop once again at Anclote Key for the purpose of storing the cotton captured at Bayport.  By leaving the cotton at Anclote Key there would be more room aboard the schooner for the army troops who were already cramped.  After leaving the cotton at Anclote Key the Schooner Ariel proceeded to Tampa and there transferred all the troops and prisoners to the Steamer Ella Morse.  The Schooner Ariel then returned to Anclote Key to retrieve the captured and prized cotton that was stored at that place earlier.  The 240 Union Troops would return to the U.S. Military Post at Fort Meyers on July 14, 1864.

Within days after the Union Troops withdrew from Hernando County the Confederate reinforcements arrived from Tampa.  Leslie's and McKay's Companies had started from Tampa as soon as they got the message from the runner but the runner had to ride 50 miles to Tampa and the Companies had to come 50 miles back, making it a 100 mile trip.  Arriving too late these two companies began to prepare for plans of making their own raid against the Union at the U.S. Military Post at Fort Meyers.

After the Brooksville-Bayport Raid
With several plantations throughout the Brooksville area being destroyed from the Union raid and the East Gulf Blockade Squadron keeping up their increased activities, residents had to endure many new hardships including the process of rebuilding.  Prior to the raid, life was difficult due to the lack of food throughout the county while the raid itself destroyed what little food was left leaving Hernando County in total disarray.  After the Brooksville-Bayport Raid was completed the East Gulf Blockade Squadron continued their efforts in the blockading of vessels off the coast of Hernando County further keeping goods and food from reaching the residents.  After Union Troops were returned to the Fort Meyers Military Post, the Schooners Rosalie, Ariel, and Seabird returned to their duties of blockading the coast.  By October 1, 1864 the Schooner Seabird, being assigned to the U.S.S. Hendrick Hudson,  made a capture of a British Schooner loaded with an assorted cargo, the following report was filed upon the schooner's capture:


Report of Lieutenant-Commander McDougal, U.S. Navy, commanding U.S.S. Hendrick Hudson, regarding the capture, October 21, 1864, of the British Schooner Lucy from Bahia Honda.

    U.S.S. Hendrick Hudson,           
Tampa Bay, October 23, 1864
    Sir: I have the honor to report the capture of the English schooner Lucy, with an assorted cargo, by the U.S. Schooner Seabird, a tender to this vessel, the circumstances of which are as follows:

    On the morning of the 21st of October, while the Seabird was cruising off Bayport, a sail was discovered and chase given.  The stranger envincing no disposition to heave to, fire was opened on him and he finally, seeing the hopelessness of the case, ran ashore, and all hands, with the exception of one man, took the only boat belonging to her, deserted her, and pulled for the shore, closely pursued by the armed boat from the Seabird, which, however, was unsuccessful in their attempt to capture.
   
    On boarding the vessel she was found to be the English schooner Lucy, from Bahia Honda, with an assorted cargo, and cleared for Matamoras.  I sent the schooner in charge of a prize crew to Key West for adjudication, and with her all the papers, etc., found on board, together with the one man, who, unfortunately for himself, was too drunk to escape to the shore with the remainder of the crew.  The capture was made in latitude 28° 20' N., longitude 82° 55' W.  I here enclose a prize list of those entitled to share in the capture.

                        I am, respectfully your obedient servant,
Charles J. McDougal,                           
Lieutenant-Commander, Comdg. U.S.S. H. Hudson   
            Hon. Gideon Wells,
                    Secretary of the Navy

Report from author's private collection


sketch from May 21, 1864 Harper's Weekly, shows burning of schooners off Homossassa River
This sketch from a May 21, 1864 edition of Harper's Weekly was titled as "destruction of rebel schooners off Homossassa River."  While most vessels were captured not all were as fortunate and many resulted in destruction by Union boats.

Once captured the crew and prize cargo of the Schooner Lucy were turned over to Union Officers stationed at Key West.  In most cases these blockade running vessels were captured by the East Gulf Blockade Squadron but some crews were not so fortunate as there vessels were destroyed by Union boats.   In addition to the heavy blockading of Bayport was the heavy blockading of the Homossassa River where David L. Yulee, Florida Senator and the business partner of Bayport resident John Parsons, operated a large sugar mill and had a home.  Just as a raid had been carried out on Brooksville and Bayport there was also a raid carried out on the plantation of David Yulee along the Homossassa River, in an attempt to stop Confederate activities throughout the entire area.  All the rivers along the coast of Hernando County were home to numerous Confederate blockade runners, these rivers included the Anclote, Weeki Wachee, Chashowitzka, Homossassa and Withlacoochee including the numerous small salt and fresh water creeks in between.

As the year of 1864 came to an end the commencement of another years Civil War would begin, however the end of the war was soon approaching.  In February of  1865 yet another raid would be carried out on the town of Bayport, as if the previous raid had not been successful enough in destroying many of the towns commercial buildings.  The raid of 1865 was less eventful as the war was nearing an end, much of the purpose was to gather contaband and cattle for the Union men still serving on the Florida front.  On February 8, 1865 Union Major, Edmund C. Weeks, left his post in Cedar Key with 186 men from the Second Regiment Florida Cavalry and 200 men from the Second Regtiement U.S. Colored Troops Infantry for the purpose of carrying out an expidition throughout the region.  It was sometime on February 12, 1865, during this expidtion, that the troops under Major Weeks carried out another raid on Bayport.  The 1865 raid on Bayport was poorly planned and Major Weeks mentions in his report that more complete preperation needed to be made to finish the raid to Bayport which he had commenced.

Excerpt taken from February 16, 1865 report by Major Edmund Weeks

February 16, 1865 report of Major Edmund C. Weeks

Excerpt taken from full report in author's private collection
 
The full details surrounding the second raid carried out on Bayport by Major Edmund C. Weeks are unknown.  The troops under Major weeks did meet some Confederate resistence throughout, however there was no resistence recorded in Bayport during this operation.  Even while the Union had made their presence known in Hernando County and Bayport, blockading activities along the coast of Hernando were still underway.  While Major Weeks was carrying out his land raid on Bayport the East Gulf Blockade Squadron was busy chasing Confederate blockade runners who had plotted a course for Bayport.

In February of 1865 that the Steamer U.S.S. Mahaska carried out orders and made the last known capture of a Confederate blockade runner from Bayport.  The Steamer U.S.S. Mahaska was among the largest vessels of the East Gulf Blockade Squadron to patrol the coast of Hernando County and Bayport.    The following report was filled by William Gibson, Lieutenant-Commander of the Steamer U.S.S. Mahaska pertaining to his prize capture off Bayport:



Steamer U.S.S. Mahaska
June 26, 1862 sketch of the Steamer U.S.S. Mahaska



U.S.S. Mahaska,       
Off Bayport, Fla., February 17, 1865.
    Sir: I have the honor to report that this day, with the boats of this vessel, I captured a schooner purporting to be the Delia.

    We discovered her about 8 o'clock this morning steering out from the vicinity of Bayport on a wind to the southward.  Upon seeing us she made all sail for the nearest land.  We chased her until stopped by shoal water, firing at her with the Parrott 100-pounder about a dozen times.  I then sent a boat in pursuit, followed soon after by another.

    The landing boat went alongside of her, finding her with all sail set, the English flag at the main and the rebel flag at the fore, and abandoned, the boats of the deserters and people on the beach in view.  No papers except one or two triffling memoranda, from which the name of the vessel is inferred (as also from a burgee), were found on board.  The boat which first boarded the schooner was in charge of Acting Master's Mates J.C. Boteler and J.W. Sanderson.  When board her cabin was partially in flames, and in addition a slow match was discovered in a bucket of turpentine.  I wish to command the judgment and promptitude displayed by these gentlemen in extinguishing the fire and throughout the whole affair.

    The Delia is a center-board schooner of apparently about 80 tons burden.  Her cargo consists of pig lead and some cases of sabers.  Part of her cargo was thrown overboard.  I have taken some 15 gallons of rum belonging to her on board this ship for safe-keeping.  I forward herewith the muster roll of officers and crew, No other Naval vessels was in sight.

    I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
William Gibson,                   
Lieutenant-Commander.
    Hon. Gideon Wells,
                    Secretary of the Navy.

Report from author's private collection

Soon following the capture of the blockade running, Schooner Delia from Bayport, the Civil War would finally come to an end.  On April 2, 1865 Richmond, VA., the Confederate States Capital, would fall under Union command.  The Schooner Delia would be that last vessel captured from Bayport as the East Gulf Blockade Squadron would soon be reduced in size.  By May of 1865 orders were given for the reduction of the East Gulf Blockade Squadron to a total of 14 vessels being: four tugboats and ten steamers to cover the entire Gulf of Mexico.  In addition the name of the East Gulf Blockade Squadron was changed to the East Gulf Squadron as duties of blockading would soon cease.  Vessels that were no longer needed for further services with the East Gulf Squadron were either ordered to the north were their services could be used or they were sold and scrapped.  Many of the confiscated vessels of the Confederacy were also disposed in the same manner.  While the East Gulf Blockade Squadron was being reducing its numbers the Confederate Cabinet and President Jefferson Davis were fleeing the Confederate Capital of Richmond making their way south to safety.

While fleeing the burning capital of Richmond, President Jefferson Davis and his Confederate Cabinet hopped from place to place, establishing temporary capitals along the way as they attempted to rally their remaining troops by urging the continuance of the war.  For some weeks leading to the fall of Richmond the the packing of the Confederate Governments archives had been going on quietly and Secretary of the Confederate States, Judah P. Benjamin, was making preparations to destroy the secret service papers, whose capture would compromise all persons named in the papers.  Among the first stops of the fleeing Confederate Cabinet was at Danville, VA. where the cabinet halted and established the first temporary headquarters.  The Confederate Cabinet spent a long and anxious week in Danville, VA., sleeping in separate quarters spread throughout the town and only coming together to meet and discuss war strategy's and their escape.  By April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Troops at Appomattox while still being urged to continue the war by President Davis.  As word had reached the Confederate Cabinet of General Lee's surrender, they feared that "the Confederate cause was lost."  

The Confederate Cabinet then decided they must continue their escape and headed at once to Greensboro, N.C.  Days later, on April 14, 1865, United States President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and Confederate States President Jefferson Davis and his Confederate Cabinet were held responsible.  At Greensboro they halted for only a few days.  Their fleeing procession was made up and disguised as U.S. Army wagons, ambulances, carriages and mounted men among whom were President Davis and most of his cabinet in case they need to quickly escape.  The more stout men of the cabinet who could not ride horseback, including Benjamin, were taken in an ambulance drawn by a pair of broken down old grey mules.  From Greensboro the Confederate Cabinet traveled along an abandoned and poorly constructed railroad to Charolette and then to Abbeville.  As the fleeing Confederate Cabinet traveled through North Carolina they eventually consulted with General Johnston urging him to continue the war, while Johnston was asking Sherman for terms for surrender.  On April 26, 1865, as the Confederate Cabinet continued from Charolette to Abbeville, S.C., General Joseph E. Johnston  surrendered to Union Troops at Hillsboro, North Carolina.  It is said that Abbeville, S.C. was the location of the last Confederate Cabinet meeting as the party continued their escape.  Upon hearing the news that General Johnston had surrendered President Davis announced his determination to try to make his way to Texas to join Kirby Smith, a general who severed under Lee.  In early May of 1865 the Confederate Cabinet reached Georgia staying in a location near Washington, GA. where they stopped for breakfast at a house known as "Vienna".  

Sometime between Abbeville and Georgia, Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin, had went to President Davis stating that he "could not bear the fatigue of riding" as the President could.  Benjamin further stated, "As I can serve our people no more just now, will you consent to my making an effort to escape through Florida?  If you should be in a condition to require me again, I will answer your call at once."  This was Benjamin's considerate way of telling the President all was indeed lost in his opinion.  It seems that Benjamin was making his preparation of breaking away from the President's entourage back at Abbeville as he left a trunk containing the whole of his personal belongings with a friend, except what he wore.  As President Davis granted Benjamin's request he broke away from the President upon leaving Washington, GA.  Upon Benjamin's departure President Davis ordered him to make his way to either Havana or Nassau and after attending to his personal affairs make his way back to the Trans-Mississippi District by way of Mexico and Texas, where he would then rejoin the President and the rest of the Confederate Cabinet who were under the same direct orders.  On May 10, 1865, shortly after Benjamin made his request and left the party, President Jefferson Davis was captured by Union Troops at Irwinsville, GA.

Oddly enough on May 01, 1865 that Union officers received reports in Key West that Jeff Davis and his cabinet might try an escape through Florida.  Immediately officers left Key West for Cedar Keys and began to blockade all of the major ports and rivers along the west coast.  On May 02, 1865 Major Weeks was relieved of his post at Cedar Key and was ordered to picket the mouths of the Suwanee, Wacasassee and Crystal River; also at the mouth of the Withlacoochee and at Bayport.  While at Cedar Key Brig. General John Newton received a report from a citezen had seen a partry of thirteen persons, three of whom he thought to be general officers.  The party had brought a boat through the country on wheels and landed said boat at Crystal River and were said to have started for Bayport on the 2nd of May.  For an instance in May of 1865 Union officers were under the assumption that Jeff Davis and the Confederate Cabinet was in Florida and making their way to Bayport by boat.  Immediatly Newton started down the coast of Hernando County from Cedar Key hoping to overhaul and catch the party the citezen had seen.  After sailing past Cape Sable and inspecting every vessel, Newton was satisfied that the boat had not escaped.  Soon the East Gulf Blockading Squadron joined in the search with forces on both the Atlantic and Gulf sides of Florida.  These reports obviously proved to be false as Jeff Davis was captured on May 10, 1865 in Irwinsville, GA., however Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin, was courageously making his way through Florida on his escape.

Excerpt taken from May 10, 1865 Union report by Brig. Gen. John Newton

May 10, 1865 report of Jeff Davis heading for Bayport

Excerpt taken from full report in author's private collection

Judah Phillip Benjamin's Escape Through Florida and Hernando County
Judah P. BenjaminTo understand how Judah P. Benjamin was able to escape we must first understand a little about the man and background of who he was.  Judah P. Benjamin was born in St. Thomas on August 6, 1811 to parents Phillip and Rebbecca de Mendes-Benjamin, who had moved to St. Thomas from London just prior to Judah's birth.  Sometime between 1816 and 1818 the Benjamin's moved to the United States where they settled in Charleston, S.C.  Phillip Benjamin owned a small shop on King Street in Charleston.  Judah Benjamin went on to study for about three years at Yale in ca. 1825 and before earning his degree he moved to New Orleans where he earned a living by teaching, in addition to the study of law as a notary's clerk.  While Judah was away at Yale his older sister, Rebbecca, married to a Mr. Abraham Levy, connected with the David Yulee Levy Family of Florida.  On December 16, 1832 Judah P. Benjamin joined the Louisiana Bar and became a lawyer, three months later he married to Natalie St. Martin.  Judah P. Benjamin quickly climbed through the ranks of politics in Louisiana and soon elected to the lower house of the General Assembly on the Whig ticket.  Harper's Weekly once wrote, "The Hon. J. P. Benjamin, of Louisiana, Attorney-General, is distinguished as one of the profoundest jurists and most accomplished advocates in the the country. He is of the old line of Whig class of State Rights politicians."

Benjamin's personal appearance was not at all impressive, he was short, fat and pudgy in figure with half a smile about his mouth that sometimes seemed to degenerate into a simper.  His manner however was something much different and was most attractive; gentle, sympathetic and absolutely unaffected, which seemed to restore his confidence.  He was also endowed with a voice of singular musical timbre, high pitched but articulate, resonant and said to be sweet.  Judah P. Benjamin excelled in conversation with an easy flow of direction embellished by a singular mastery of languages at the base of which lay the Latin and its fibers of the French and Spanish.  All of this gave grace to his conversation, enriched by anecdotes and playful humor and genle philosophy.  Benjamin certainly shone in his social life as a refined genial and charming companion while engaged in conversation.  All of these characteristics assisted in Benjamin's escape through Florida and Hernando County as he was well liked by Confederate Loyalist and others who didn't even know him.

While Judah P. Benjamin was a well like man he was very reserved when it came to his private affairs as well as matters of professional or official business within his kin, perhaps this is why President Davis enlisted Benjamin.  Judah Benjamin's rule was to destroy any and all correspondence or anything that might aid or enlighten a person who shouldn't be.  This is no more evident than when Benjamin's devotion during the last days in Richmond were spent burning the secret service papers of the Confederacy.  In April of 1883 Benjamin wrote, "I have never kept a diary or retained any copy of a letter written by me.  No letters addressed to me by others will be found among my papers when I die.  With perhaps the exception of Mrs. Jefferson Davis, no one has many letters of mine; for I have read so many American biographies which reflected the only the passions and prejudices of their writers, that I do not want to leave behind for my letters and documents to be used in such a work about myself", even Benjamin's Family knew nothing but general facts about the man.  The facts surrounding Benjamin's escape are even shrouded with mystery as few accounts remain.

As Benjamin broke away from the Presidential escape party near Washington, GA., he traveled south through Georgia with the Florida boarder in mind.  Before leaving Richmond, Benjamin had a Confederate passport made, which stated that he was a Frenchmen traveling through the south prospecting for property.  Benjamin further disguised himself with hat, goggles, a cloak and a full grown beard, which had been grown on his journey from Richmond.  Adorned with his disguise Benjamin went by the alias name of M.M. Bonfals and spoke broken English with a French accent, which he had picked up from his many years living in Louisiana.  Benjamin's alias name of Bonfals is Cajun-French ,meaning "good disguise" showing Benjamin's smart sense of humor during stressful times.

As Judah P. Benjamin reached the Florida-Georgia boarder it is said that he entered Florida through Madison County.  As Benjamin reached Florida he shed his Frenchmen disguise and took on a new appearance.  Benjamin befriended a kind farmer whose wife made Benjamin home-spun clothes just like those of her husband, in addition Benjamin acquired what he refers to as "the commonest and roughest equipment" for his horse.  Benjamin now took on the alias of a farmer who was traveling in search of land to settle with friends from South Carolina, Benjamin states that this was his most successful disguise.   With his new disguise Benjamin began his hazardous journey through Florida on the by-roads, passing around towns and keeping in the least inhabited districts.  His progress through the state was slow and he made about thirty miles a day being certain to stay clear of people.  Benjamin himself states that he had intended on going to East Florida to the Indian River but had learned that there were no vessels to be found there and that the risk of detection would be great.  Benjamin decided it was best to make his way to the Western Coast of Florida where his travels would bring him to Hernando County for nearly a week.

According to Lesley's Family records, Judah P. Benjamin crossed the Suwanee River on May 14th, 1865 now bearing the name of Charles Howard.  Benjamin made his way south through the state and sometime around May 19th, 1865 former Secretary of the Confederate States, Judah P. Benjamin, arrived in Brooksville.  Upon Benjamin's arrival in Brooksville he sought out Capt. Leroy G. Lesley producing to him letters from his South Carolina friends introducing him as Charles Howard and asking of Lesley's assistance in Mr. Howard's travels through Florida, while producing the letters Benjamin made himself known to Lesley.  Benjamin was immediately taken to the Lesley Home and plantation where he stayed for nearly a week while further plans of his escape were hatched out.  Capt. Leroy Lesley immediately sent for his son, Major John T. Lesley of Tampa, to come to Brooksville to assist in the planning process of the Secretary's escape.  With few exceptions very few residents had the privilege and knowledge of Benjamin being in Brooksville and among those was Capt. Samuel Hope.

Capt. Samuel Hope says that he had just returned home from the war, Hope was mustered out on April 9, 1865 and Benjamin was in Brooksville at the end of May.  Upon learning that Judah P. Benjamin was in Brooksville, Samuel Hope proceeded to the home of Capt. Leroy Lesley.  Once at the Lesley Home Capt. Samuel Hope had the pleasure of sitting and conversing with Benjamin, which was no doubt an honor for Capt. Hope.  While Hope doesn't disclose the topic of discussion while visiting with Benjamin they likely discussed what was on everyones mind at the time, that being the war.  Upon the arrival of Capt. John T. Lesley from Tampa, it was decided that without further delay Benjamin must go to the coast where a boat was being prepared.  It was further discussed that Benjamin would be taken to Cuba aboard the boat being prepared.  At some point during preparations Benjamin objected to his Cuban destination with the reasons that he had little confidence of finding protection under such a weak Spanish Government in Cuba.  Benjamin further expressed that he wished to be taken to the British Islands of the Bahamas since the British Government had professed a friendship for the Confederacy during the war

Lesley prepared a buggy for the trip farther south where other preparation were under way.  Capt. Lesley guided his companion through Hernando County onto Hillsborough County where it is believed they went to the plantation and home of Capt. James McKay in Tampa.  It is believed that Benjamin stayed at the McKay home for only a day or two as at this time Tampa was occupied by Union Troops.  From the McKay plantation Benjamin was safely guided farther south by Captains McKay and Lesley, their destination was the Gamble Plantation and Mansion in Manatee, the Gamble Plantation was owned by Archibald McNeil, a friend of Capt. Lesley.  Upon arrival at the Gamble Plantation McNeil was introduced to Benjamin, McNeil reluctantly opened his home and allowed Benjamin to stay.  Upon their arrival at the Gamble plantation Capt. John T. Lesley set out and made a hurried trip to located the person who would take Benjamin to the Bahamas, sea Captain Frederick Tresca.  Captain Tresca was a long experienced captain of the Atlantic and Gulf waters, however they would have to first acquire a boat to make the journey.  Captain Tresca returned to the Gamble plantation where he met Secretary Benjamin and offered his aid by assisting in his escape by water.

After nearly a week and a Union raid on the Gamble plantation, Benjamin was finally taken to the home of Captain Frederick Tresca in Bradenton.  Tresca had finally acquired a boat that consisted of a what Benjamin describes as a "yawl-boat open to the weather".  After being in central Florida for a month, on June 23, 1865 Secretary Benjamin, Captain Frederick Tresca and Hiram A. McLeod departed from Sarasota Bay, aboard their small vessels, for the Bimini Islands.  At this time the East Gulf Squadron had been reduced to approximately 14 vessels, however these vessels were searching for the fleeing Confederate Cabinet and specifically Secretary Benjamin.  During the voyage to the Bimini Islands Captain Tresca had to escape capture by Union boats.  The first encounter with these Union boats occurred near to Gasparilla Island where Captain Tresca was able to escape capture.  Their second encounter while still along the west coast would not be so fortunate as Captain Tresca was forced to stop and their vessel was boarded by Union officers.  Benjamin by this time had already shed his farmers disguise and was now disguised as a cook, wearing his apron and greased smeared across his face Benjamin was able to avoid detection by the boarding Union officers.

The three men finally made it to safety on July 10, 1865 and Confederate Secretary Judah P. Benjamin had made his escape from the country.  Eventually Benjamin made his was to England where he had previously shipped, according to his own account, six or seven hundred bales of cotton.  Before arriving in England, Benjamin was taken aboard a steamer that passed by the St. Thomas Islands where Benjamin was born.  Benjamin received only one hundred bales of cotton, which sustained him for a few years.  Benjamin latter compensated his income by working for a local London newspaper while engaging in the study of English Law, this was the beginning of Judah P. Benjamin's new life.  Benjamin's study of the English Laws allowed him to eventually serve as Counsel to the Queen by 1870.  Eventually Benjamin was given amnesty for his support and work with the Confederacy.

The Written Surrender of Bayport and Brooskville
While Union forces had carried out numerous expidition and raids on Hernando County and Bayport, Hernando was one of the few locations in the state to remain under Confederate control through the entire war.  In Tampa and Cedar Key Union forces remained at those locations setting and establishing military post at each place, Brooksville never saw raiding Union forces and escaped the war unscathed.  Perhaps this was what drew Confederate Secretary Judah P. Benjamin to stay here for nearly a week.

The United States had to actaully ask for the surrender from Hernando County and specifically Bayport and Brooksville.  It wasn't until the first week of June when Hernando County was requested surrender once and for all, one of the last documented surrenders of the Civil War.  According to reports filed by Major Edmund C. Weeks, from Cedar Key the United States Army sent commissioners to both Bayport and Brooksville, on June 5 Bayport finally surrender and it wasn't until the very late date of June 8 that Confederate forces in and south of Brooksville finally surrendered.  Below is the report filed by Major Edmund C. Weeks announcing the surrnder of Confederate forces in Hernando County.

May 30, 1865 report filed by Union Major Edmund C. Weeks

June 5, 1865 surrender of Confederate forces in Hernando County


Report from author's private collection

The above report is the last military report filed pertaining to Hernando County.  Like many coastal counties in Florida, Hernando County was extemely active during the Civil War.  Life in Hernando County during the Civil War was an extremely trying time for residents and the Confederate Companies formed to protect the area.  With the end of the Civil War many young boys and old men who had joined and supported their communities during the war were able to once again return home to Hernando County.  Life after the Civil War was much different in Hernando County as it was across the deep south as the period of Reconstruction would now began.  In Brooksville there was a local Freedman's Bureau Office established and opened to support the areas freedmen that had been previously worked at the local plantations.  As Reconstruction began the previous life was no longer as many residents had to now pay their former slave laborers.  Many plantation in Hernando County and in the south were nearly crippled after the war and many families had to now turn to new means to make a living.  

Please click here to read a collection of Freedmen Bureau reports pertaining to Hernando County and the local area, Hernando County Freedmen's Bureau Records and History


This page was last revised on December 11, 2009

This article written by Jeff Cannon ©2008 



Research References

1.  Soldiers of Florida
2.  Thomas Benton Ellis, Senior, Personal Transcript 1903 (unpublished)
3.  Confederate Pension Files of Florida including personal letters of Hernando County Soldiers
4.  Rev. Leroy G. Lesley by Spessard Stone
5.  My National Troubles, The Civil War Papers of William McCullough by Kyle Vanlandingham
6.  Letter from Perry G. Wall to Governor Milton
7.  Harper's Weekly Newspaper
8.  The Escape of Judah P. Benjamin by Rodney H. Kite-Powell, II as appeared in the Sunland Tribune
9.  Life and Career of Captain Samuel E. Hope by Dr. Joe Knetsch
10.  Confederate Veteran, June 08, 1910, Letter from Capt. Samuel Hope regarding escape of Judah P. Benjamin
11.  Official Navy Records of the Union and Confederacy during the War of the Rebellion, 1903
12.  Judah P. Benjamin by Pierce Butler, 1906