Friday, January 18, 1861
Fort Jefferson sat upon the Dry Tortugas, 50 miles west of Key West, Florida. The brick, three-tiered, hexagonal fort was built to house 1,500 troops and nearly 300 large caliber guns. It was built to command the Gulf of Mexico as every ship that entered the Gulf had to pass within eyesight of Jefferson. In January of 1861, it was garrisoned by Captain Meigs and a few workers.
Major Lewis G. Arnold and his company of artillery aboard the Joseph Whitney arrived at Fort Jefferson on this day. Unaware that their fort was to be occupied, Captain Meigs spied the steamer, which was not showing any flag.
Fort Jefferson wasn’t showing any flag, either. It was possible, Major Arnold thought, that the insurgents had captured the fort. It was also possible, Captain Meigs may have thought, that the steamer approaching the fort was there as part of the insurgency to capture the fort. There was a rumor that such a craft was on its way with 200 rebels.
To figure all of this out, Major Arnold sent a small boat to the island. After it was seen by Meigs that Arnold was there to help, there was much relief. The fort was to be reinforced and preserved for the United States. Huzzah!1
Up the Florida Gulf Coast, near Pensacola, Lieutenant A. J. Slemmer from Fort Pickens was again asked to surrender the fort by Colonel W.H. Chase, Commander of the State of Florida’s forces. Chase claimed to have between 800 and 900 men ready to take the fort the moment orders were received to do so. Slemmer replied that he would have to give his answer tomorrow. He then relayed the surrender request to Captain Berryman, of the U. S. steamer Wyandotte, co-operating with him in the harbor.2
Sherman Wishes to Resign
With the Southern states seceding or about to secede, many Southern officers were resigning their posts with the US Military to go with their individual states. However, on this date, something sort of opposite occurred.
William Tecumseh Sherman had taken a job as superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy in Pineville, Louisiana. Sherman was to accept the surrender of the United States Armory in Baton Rouge, by order of the Governor. Louisiana was threatening secession, but had not yet left the Union.
Even so, Sherman wrote to the Governor saying that if Louisiana were to secede, he would “maintain my allegiance to the Constitution as long as a fragment of it survives; and my longer stay hero would be wrong in every sense of the word.”
He then asked that someone else be appointed to accept the surrender. In closing, Sherman begged the Governor “to take immediate steps to relieve me as superintendent the moment the State determines to secede, for on no earthly account will I do any act or think any thought hostile to or in defiance of the old Government of the United States.”3