The “Grand and Sublime” Duel Continues; Rebels Moving North in Missouri?

November 23, 1861 (Saturday)

The Union guns at Fort Pickens, barely cooled from the previous day’s fighting, sounded again this morning. Col. Harvey Brown and his Federal force had already done much damage to Fort McRee and wished to drive the Rebels from their fortifications at Pensacola, Florida.

The US Naval ship Niagara stood in and opened fire upon the Rebel fortifications. Her shots, however, fell short and did no damage at all. The Confederates in Fort Barrancas and the shore batteries responded, flinging shells all around the vessel. To get a better shot, the Niagara would have to get closer.1

Though Confederate General Braxton Bragg referred to the Union fire of the first day as “wild firing,” they had been able to take Fort McRee completely out of the game. Likewise, the Rebels had grounded the USS Richmond. On this day, the Union artillery fire was less rapid, but more accurate. By noon, the Rebel flags from both Forts McRee and Barrancas had been shot away. Union shot and shell riddled the shore batteries and even the lighthouse.2

Meanwhile, the Niagara moved closer to the shore, her keel bumping up against the bottom of the sound. She struggled for an hour to lob a shell into the Rebel batteries. Being given so close a target, the Confederates concentrated their fire upon the Niagara. Realizing that it was hopeless, and after taking two hits of her own, she withdrew from the fight.3

The steady Union barrage, by 1pm, had largely silenced Fort Barrancas. Other opportunities, however, arose. From the shore batteries, the Rebels were keeping up with the Union fire. To give them something else to think about, some of the Federal guns were loaded with hotshot, a cannonball that had been heated in a furnace. When they landed near Warrington, the village next to the Rebel navy yard, buildings burst into flames. First, the southwest part of town was ablaze, but soon, the Union mortars focused upon the northeast section nearest the navy yard. By 4:30, the church was on fire, flames licking the steeple and spreading to the navy yard.4

With darkness quickly falling and the navy yard illuminated by fire, Union gunners hammered away through the fleeting minutes of dusk. Though most of the Union guns had ceased, the mortars continued to fire hotshot into the town and navy yard throughout the night. Several fires engulfed most of the village, reducing it to ashes.5

The Rebels, however, would not be moving any time soon. It would have been nearly impossible to have driven them from their fortifications with only the fire from Fort Pickens and two ships. General Bragg considered it a Confederate victory. “We have crippled his ships and driven them off,” announced Bragg to his men, “and forced the garrison of Fort Pickens, in its impotent rage, to slake its revenge by firing into our hospital, and burning the habitations of our innocent women and children, who had been driven there from by an unannounced storm of shot and shell.”6

Union Col. Brown didn’t quite call it a victory, but claimed that “the attack on ‘Billy Wilson’s’ camp [Battle of Santa Rosa Island], the attempted attack on my batteries, and the insult to our glorious flag have been fully and fearfully avenged.”7


Rebels Moving North in Missouri?

Union General Henry Halleck had taken over command of General Fremont’s old department, now reorganized as the Department of Missouri, still headquartered in St. Louis. His field of vision had to be kept as wide as possible.

Fortunately for him, the Confederates opposing General Grant along the Mississippi seemed to be settling down and the Rebels under both Sterling Price and Ben McCulloch were reported to be slinking south into Arkansas after having retaken Springfield once Fremont was relieved.8

Everything changed on this date. Union forces had pulled back towards Rolla, 110 miles northeast of Springfield, and Sedalia, 110 miles north. A colonel from Sedalia telegraphed Halleck that he obtained “reliable information that Price is marching north with a large army at the rate of 30 miles a day. Force estimated at from 33,000 to 50,000.”

Halleck, though he was still of the mind that Price was in Arkansas, ordered him to make “armed reconnaissances in sufficient force in the direction of the enemy’s reported movements” and to keep him up to date on the findings.9

In reality, General Price was in Osceola, sixty miles southwest of Sedalia. He and his Missouri State Guards pursued the Union army, falling back from Springfield, but decided that he wouldn’t be able to catch up with them before winter. Mostly, he was concerned about recruiting and going into winter quarters. He had no thought at all of moving much farther north.10

General William Tecumseh Sherman, recently relieved from command of the Department of the Cumberland, reported to St. Louis. On this date, General Halleck ordered him to visit each of the separate commands in the Department of Missouri. He was to report their strengths, available supplies, and discipline. Sherman was also to report on the condition of the roads.11

Sherman would also, no doubt, be able to sniff out what, if any, movements the enemy was making.

  1. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, p776. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p470; 475; 477; 482; 489. []
  3. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, p776. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p478; 482-483; 484-485. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p478; 482. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p494. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p470. []
  8. Civil War on the Western Front by Jay Monaghan. []
  9. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p374. []
  10. General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West By Albert E. Castel. []
  11. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p374. []
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The “Grand and Sublime” Duel Continues; Rebels Moving North in Missouri? by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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