Santa Rosa Island
The Battle of Santa Rosa
Island was fought in pitch
darkness in the shifting white
sands of the island.
Land Face of Fort Pickens
Union officers were able to
see the flames of Wilson's
burning camp from the walls
of Fort Pickens.
The Battle of Santa Rosa Island - Pensacola, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Battle of Santa Rosa Island, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Battle of Santa Rosa Island, Florida
The Battle of Santa Rosa Island
This wartime sketch depicts the Confederate attack
on the camp of the 6th New York Volunteers.
Bloodshed on the White Sand
On October 9, 1861, Confederate forces
launched a surprise attack on the Union
camps and outposts at
Fort Pickens near
Pensacola, Florida. Remembered today as
the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, the
encounter was the first major Civil War battle
on Florida soil.

The action was a retaliatory attack for a raid
on the Confederate privateer
Judah by
sailors and marines from the
U.S.S.
Colorado.
Rowing into the bay under cover of
darkness, a boat party had surprised and
torched the
Judah in September of 1861
before Southern troops could drive them off.

Determined to retaliate for the bold raid,
General Braxton Bragg reviewed his options
and decided to launch an attack on the outer
camps and batteries of Fort Pickens on
Santa Rosa Island. Although it is often stated
that Bragg hoped to capture the fort, his real
goal seems to have been to destroy the
camp of the 6th New York Volunteers.

Commanded by William Wilson, a rough and
tumble former politician from New York, the
unit was commonly known as Billy Wilson's
Zouaves. Many of the men in the regiment
were toughs from the docks and streets of
New York and Bragg's troops were anxious
for a chance at them.

Commanded by Brigadier General Richard
H. "Dick" Anderson, 1,100 Confederate
soldiers were moved across Pensacola Bay
by boat and barge shortly after midnight on
the night of October 9, 1861. Coming ashore
on Santa Rosa Island about four miles east
of Fort Pickens, they moved west down the
island in three columns.

Commanding the individual battalions were
Colonel James R. Chalmers, Colonel Patton
Anderson and Colonel John K. Jackson, all
three of whom would serve with distinction in
the Confederate cause.

Chalmers' column, moving down the bay or
north beach of the island, stumbled into
Wilson's pickets at around 3:30 a.m. The
alarm was sounded and Wilson began to
form his men on the camp's parade ground.
The column under Colonel Jackson,
however, attacked with bayonets fixed.
As rebel yells broke out in the darkness,
Wilson's Zouaves broke and ran before the
oncoming Confederates. Southern soldiers
looted and set fire to the camp, spiking a
number of Union cannon in the process.

Realizing that the Federal troops from Fort
Pickens were coming out for a counterattack,
General Anderson reformed his men and
began to move back down the island. Intense
and confused fighting followed, but the
Confederates made it to their boats and
returned across the bay.

Southern losses were 18 killed, 39 wounded
and 30 captured. Bragg reported that 11 of
the dead were executed by Federal soldiers
after being wounded. Union losses were 14
dead, 29 wounded and 24 captured.

The site of the battle is now preserved at the
Fort Pickens area of Gulf Islands National
Seashore.
Union Mortar at Fort Pickens
In addition to torching the
camp of the 6th New York,
Anderson's troops were also
able to spike several pieces
of Union artillery.
View of Santa Rosa Island
This view looks across
Pensacola Bay to Santa Rosa
Island from Fort Barrancas.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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