The Last Train from Fernandina

By Lewis L. Zerfas

Early in the American Civil War, the United States Navy decided that deep water coastal supply stations in Federal hands were spaced too far apart for blockading ships to operate effectively. Initially, a fleet was sent to capture Port Royal Sound (South Carolina) and that was completed on November 8, 1861.

The next objective was Fernandina, Florida, located twenty-five miles north of Jacksonville on the Atlantic coast. Fernandina was also the eastern terminus of the railroad that crossed Florida to Cedar Keys on the Gulf of Mexico. Near Fernandina was Fort Clinch, built but not completed before the war. Fort Clinch was in Confederate hands, so a significant Federal Navy force was sent south.

Map of Fernandina, Florida

Securing Fernandina
This is an aerial photo of Fort Clinch located in Fernandina, Florida.
Fort Clinch

Very little resistance to the squadron of Federal ships was encountered. A few scattered shots were heard as the ships arrived. The fifteen smaller gunboats of the squadron that had passed through the inner waterway anchored in the harbor by 10:30 AM on March 2, 1862. They were waiting for a high tide and the arrival of the larger ships on the ocean side. Finally the squadron of war ships and transports with a battalion of marines and a brigade of army troops had secured the port.

Having found Fort Clinch (photo, above) abandoned, Commander Drayton ordered an officer to go and hoist a white flag of surrender at the fort. A force of sailors and marines had secured the fort and smaller steam launches were sent about looking for enemy boats and resistance. Being the navy restrained on any destruction of the town, some residents had passed information that the fort was abandoned and the Confederate garrison had left the fort with all the supplies they could carry, and planned to depart by train.

The Ottawa’s captain, Lt. Cmdr. T. H. Stevens, was told by the local sheriff that the train they could see at the railroad depot with the Confederate garrison from Fort Clinch on board and ready to depart.

Continue to Continue to The Train Chase

© 2008 Lewis L. Zerfas
Reprinted with permission