The Battle of Santa Rosa Island on October 9, 1861, stands as one of the most significant Civil War engagements in Florida and was of some national significance during the early months of the war.
This was the most serious attempt by the Confederacy to take Fort Pickens from U.S. control.
The fact that Fort Pickens remained in U.S. hands–and it remained in U.S. hands throughout the war–deprived the Confederacy of perhaps the best port on the Gulf Coast and of the use of the important Navy Yards within the bay.
The attack on Fort Pickens was also in reprisal for daring U.S. raids on Confederate-held resources at the Navy Yard, which resulted in the burning of a dry dock on September 2 and the capture and burning of the Confederate Privateer Juday on September 14. U.S. and Confederate losses during the Judah event were the lives lost in during combat in Florida during the Civil War.
The fight occurred on the morning of October 9. The Zouave camp was situated on Santa Rosa Island, about one mile from Fort Pickens, and was so distributed as to command all the approaches to the fort; and also to protect the batteries.
The rebel force, 1500 strong, embarked from the Pensacola Navy-yard in three large steamers, and landed on the island, about four miles above the camp, Soon after 2 A.M.
The battle of Santa Rosa
The night was very dark. The revels rapidly formed in three columns, and proceeded silently toward the Zouave camp, hoping to Effect a total surprise. In this they were but partially successful. The picket guard, stationed about 600 yards from the camp, discovered and fired upon them.
This gave the alarm and saved the regiment from annihilation.
The attack of the enemy’s columns was simultaneous, and volley after folley was aimed at the volunteers, who were forced to fall back, leaving their camp in the hands of the rebels, which they immediately commenced burning.
Fort Pickens was by this time thoroughly aroused, and three companies of regulars went to the assistance of the Zouaves.
It was now our turn the rebels commenced retreating to their boats, closely followed by the regulars and a small number of volunteers keeping up a destructive fire upon them, killing and wounding a large number.
The rebels finally succeeded in reaching their boats but were not permitted to depart so easily. Their steamers were about five hundred yards from the beach, and our men poured volley upon volley into the crowded mass.
Every bullet told, and from the shouts and utter confusion of the enemy, it was clearly evident that we had obtained ample satisfaction.
The regular soldiers behaved nobly, and great credit is due to Captains robertson and Hildt, and Lieutenants Seely and Taylro, for the admirable coolness they displayed in maneuvering their respective commands.
The volunteers were badly mangled, and Colonel Wilson is very much censured for the inefficiency and want of skill displayed n the action.
He did not arrive at the scene of action until all was over.
The camp of the Sixth Regiment was almost totally destroyed, officers and men losing everything.
Aftermath of the Battle of Santa Rosa
Major Newby had a narrow escape from capture. He was confined to his bed dangerously ill at the time of the attack, and having been assisted in the dressing by his servants, was on the point of leaving his quarter when the Rebels charged up to the door.
One of his servants was instantly killed, and the other taken prisoner; the Major leveled his revolver and shot one of the rebels through the head, and then passing quickly out of the house, succeeded in mounting his horse, and rode safely through the storm of bullets showered upon him.
The Sixth Regiment lost ten killed, sixteen wounded, and nine prisoners. The regulars lost four killed, twenty wounded, and ten prisoners.
The rebels lost, by their own statement, 350 killed, wounded, and missing.
We took thirty-five prisoners, including three doctors, who were released.”
*This article was originally published at www.flpublicarchaeology.org