Confederates politely fought for Fort Brooke

Special correspondent
July 01, 2012

The Tampa area doesn’t have the same Civil War legacy as other regions in the country, but a number of significant events did occur here.

The main source of these events was the continued conflict between the U.S. Navy’s blockading squadron and the Confederate defenders of Fort Brooke.

Early in the war, Tampa’s John T. Lesley organized a group of local volunteers into a unit called the Sunny South Guards. They were tasked with protecting the area and were stationed at the fort, located in what is now the southern part of downtown Tampa.

On several occasions, the Federal blockaders shelled Fort Brooke and Tampa. In 1862, Tampa was attacked twice, first in April, and later on June 30 and July 1. The Sunny South Guards were not in Tampa during those attacks.


On both occasions, Federal commanders ordered the surrender of the town and garrison and both times they were rebuffed. Neither attack caused much damage to the town or the fort.

The June 30 to July 1 clash illustrates an interesting trait of the early years of the conflict: civility in war. The exchange between Confederate Capt. J. W. Pearson and a lieutenant from the Union navy was polite to say the least.

After the demand for the fort’s surrender was declined (see official report), the naval lieutenant replied that his ship would begin firing on the town and fort at 6 that evening. True to his word, the attack began at 6 p.m. sharp, which allowed Pearson time to move the town’s women and children to a safer location. Unfortunately, this level of civility would not survive much longer.

The following report, in its original writing, is from "The Official Record of the Rebellion," vol. 1, part 14, pages 111-112.

Report of Capt. J.W. Pearson, C.S. Army, Osceola Rangers to Gen. Joseph Finegan, Tallahassee:


July 2, 1862.

Dear Sir: I now have the honor to report to you a spirited little battle between my command and a Federal gunboat, commanded by Captain Drake, in which God has given us a victory:

On Monday morning, June 30, the gunboat hove in sight in the bay, and after sounding and maneuvering to get a favorable position came to anchor, turned her broadside to us and opened her ports, and then started to launch, with a lieutenant and 20 men, bearing a flag of truce, toward our shore. I immediately manned one of my boats with 18 men and met them in the bay, determined that they should not land on my shore, and on meeting the boat the lieutenant in command reported he had been sent by Captain Drake to demand an unconditional surrender of the town. My reply to him was that we did not understand the meaning of the word surrender; there was no such letter in our book; we don’t surrender. He then said they would commence shelling the town at 6 o’clock, and I told him to pitch in. We then gave three hearty cheers for the Southern Confederacy and the Federal boat crew said nothing. Each party then returned to their respective places to prepare for action. I had a part of my ammunition … moved 1 mile in the rear and placed a guard over them. In the mean time the women and children moved out a mile or so, and at 6 o’clock they promptly opened fire on us with heavy shell and shot, and after two shots from them we opened from our batteries, consisting of three 24-pounder cannon. Both parties then kept up a regular fire until 7 p.m., about one hour, when they lowered their flag and ceased to fire. We fired three guns after they stopped. We fired twenty-two shots and they fired twenty. They struck our batteries several times. They threw rifle shot and 11-inch shell. This we know, as we now have one of these shells in our yard that did not explode. They lay out of the range of our guns (the vessel) by from 2¼ to 2½ miles from our batteries, but we put our guns up to the utmost capacity. It is said by outsiders who were close lookers-on that we struck their vessel.

I am proud to say that my men behaved handsomely on the occasion, though some of them had never before fired a cannon. I had them drilled in ten minutes so they were as old veterans, and I would here mention the name of Captain Gettis in the highest terms. He took command of one of the batteries manned by a green squad of my men who had never fired a cannon before, his own company having left a few days previous for Tennessee. Captain Gettis acted with the cool firmness which characterizes the man in all his various spheres at the bar and legislative councils; and I would also remark here that the citizens behaved handsomely, showing loyalty to the backbone.

As I before remarked, the firing ceased at 7 p.m., each party remaining on the field ready to renew the conflict at daylight. The next morning at daylight I repaired to my batteries, but the vessel seemed to be repairing damages or fixing something and did not get ready for action until about 10 a.m., at which time she opened fire on us with heavy shell and shot and kept it up until 12 o’clock — two hours. We kept our ground, but did not fire in consequence of their being out of the range of our guns and ammunition too scarce to be wasted foolishly.

At 12 o’clock they stopped firing, for dinner I suppose, and we rested upon our ground until 2 o’clock, when I sent up our flag, and it seemed to float so proudly and beautifully, showing its broad side to them, it made them furious. They then fired at us two powerful shots in rapid succession, then weighed anchor, and in a few minutes showed us her stern, and left us in peaceful possession of the town that they had the evening before demanded unconditional surrender of in such furioso-gusto manner.

Nobody hurt on our side; we cannot tell what damage was done to them.

My son, the bearer of this, will answer you all questions you desire to ask, as he was at one of the batteries.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Captain Osceola Rangers and Commander of Post.

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