Battle of Santa Rosa Island – October 9, 1861

Aerial view of Fort Pickens, Florida (via Bing Maps).

At the beginning of the Civil War, four Union forts stood in Confederate territory, still garrisoned by Union soldiers. The forts stood as threats to the newly-seceded Confederate nation. The April 12, 1861 attack on Fort Sumter saw the surrender of Union forces in the first shots fired in the Civil War.

Companies C & E of the 3rd Infantry Regiment were part of the forces manning Fort Pickens,  having deployed from Fort Hamilton, NY and arrived in Pensacola on April 16, 1861. Just after midnight on October 9, 1861, Confederate BG Richard Anderson landed two steamers full of troops on Santa Rosa Island, the 40-mile barrier island on which Fort Pickens is located. His 1200 men attacked soldiers of the 6th New York Infantry Regiment, who were encamped about one mile east of the fort. The New York Regiment was routed and fell back until reinforcements from the fort could stop the Confederate advance. The Confederates took a defensive stance, eventually falling back and leaving Santa Rosa Island. The battle saw 1800 men engaged in battle, with 150 causalities and losses. The Regiment carries the battle streamer “FLORIDA 1861” for this and a later action at Fort Pickens.

Construction on Fort Pickens was started in 1829 and completed in 1834, with slaves laboring to build it with over 22,000,000 bricks. The fort saw service and upgrades through World War II, and retired from service in 1947. The site was a Florida State Park until 1971, when it was incorporated into Gulf Islands National Seashore. After renovations to the site, it re-opened to the public in 1976.

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