Arsenal in Florida Captured! New York City Wants Out!

Sunday, January 6, 1861

W.J. Gunn, colonel of the Gadsden County, Florida “Young Guards” militia unit, returned from Tallahassee with orders from Governor Perry to take the sparsely-guarded US Apalachicola Arsenal in Chattahoochee. Early in the morning the troops were ready to “attack.”

The arsenal was occupied by exactly four men: Ordnance Sergeant Edwin Powell and three soldiers. Florida Colonel Gunn and his command marched through the gates of the post. Not a shot was fired.

Sgt Powell, when confronted and asked for the keys, refused to turn them over without consulting the authorities in Washington first. Gunn was fine with this, so Powell relayed: “The arsenal has been taken possession of by the State this morning, 7 o’clock. My forces too weak to defend it. I have refused keys of magazine and armory. Answer, with instructions.”

Both Gunn and Powell waited for a reply that didn’t come. So Powell suggested that if Gunn wouldn’t mind waiting a week or so, he would mail Washington. Gunn, however, suggested that the mail might not be delivered.

Gunn, also unsure of what to do, telegraphed Tallahassee about their predicament: an armed force could not pry the keys of the arsenal from a disarmed Ordnance Sergeant. Governor Perry replied that he should be compelled to turn over the keys.

With that settled (somehow), Sgt Powell was allowed to make a formal address to the invading party:

Officers and soldiers: Five minutes ago I was the commander of this arsenal, but in consequence of the weakness of my command, I am obliged to surrender – an act which I have hitherto never had to do in my whole military career. If I had a force equal to or even half the strength of your own, you would never have entered that gate until you walked over my dead body. You see that I have but three men. These are laborers, and cannot contend against you. I now consider myself a prisoner of war. Take my sword.

Powell handed his sword to a Captain, but, stating that the Ordinance Sergeant was too brave a man to disarm, returned it. Three cheers for the gallant Powell were then ordered. Huzzah!

Powell and his three men were allowed to leave. They would make their way to the US Fort Marion.

The arsenal with 173,476 musket cartridges and around 5,000 pounds of gunpowder was now in Florida’s hands.1

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If You Can Secede Here, You Can Secede Anywhere!

New York City’s Mayor Fernando Wood announced that if the country was going to break apart anyway, he would like his city to secede not only from “this foreign power” of the State of New York, but also from the “odious and oppressive connection” with the Federal government.

Wood had no idea how to leave the Union, except perhaps if the state legislature were okay with it. But, he thought, that was “doubtful.” Despite all of that, New Yorkers should give it a shot. What was there to lose?2

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Maryland’s legislature and Governor Thomas Hicks both resolved to fight secession. “Maryland will not stand as a sentinel at the bidding of South Carolina, and we remind her, by the memories of the Revolution, that such a purpose cannot be justified; and, in conclusion, in a fraternal spirit, we entreat South Carolina to suspend all further action until such measures of peaceful adjustment have first been tried and have failed.”3



  1. From The Early History of Gadsden County by Dale Cox, 2008. []
  2. From Wood’s Address to the Common Council, January 6, 1861. []
  3. Richmond Daily Dispatch, January 8, 1860. []
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Arsenal in Florida Captured! New York City Wants Out! by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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2 thoughts on “Arsenal in Florida Captured! New York City Wants Out!

  1. It’s funny how our education ignored how little NYC cared for the war. There is a brief snippet sometimes about the riots of the Irish, but mostly they ignore that NYC straight up did not care one way or another for the Union.

    In the continuing awesomeness of names I have read here: Colonel Gunn. He’s like a Bond villian. Awesome.

    1. Well, it’s hard to put these kind of things in context, I guess. It’s much easier to say “the north was against slavery and the south was for it.” It’s never as simple as that. Also note that we don’t learn much about Missouri. It’s a very complex situation.

      There are some pretty fun names during this time period. I’m hoping to hit them all.

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