ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Union Attack on Cedar Key, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Union Attack on Cedar Key, Florida
Waterfront at Cedar Key, Florida
The citizens of Cedar Key watched from shore as the
Union Navy sent small boats into the harbor as part
of its attack on the Gulf Coast port.
Cedar Key, Florida
The Union boats approached
Cedar Key (left) across the
channel between Way and
Atsena Otie Keys (seen here).
USS Hatteras
The warship that carried out
the attack on Cedar Key was
destroyed one year later by
the CSS Alabama (left).
Cannon at Cedar Key
This cannon at the Cedar Key
Museum Historic State Park
may have been used in the
Seahorse Key battery.
The Union Attack on Cedar Key - Cedar Key, Florida
Naval Raid on Cedar Key, Florida
Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
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Island Hotel in Cedar Key
The Island Hotel was built in
1859 and survived the Union
attack on Cedar Key.
The Union Navy's attack on Cedar Key was
one of the first significant incidents of the
Civil War in Florida. It also marked the end of
the Confederacy's use of the island port as a
harbor for blockade runners.

Actually a group of small islands in the edge
of the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the
famed Suwannee River, the Cedar Keys
were an important military post during the
Second Seminole War (1835-1842). U.S.
troops were based on what is now Atsena
Otie Key and Seminole prisoners were held
on nearby Seahorse Key before being sent
west to what is now Oklahoma on the Trail of

By the time of the Civil War, a lighthouse had
been established on Seahorse Key and the
harbor was becoming an important port for
small vessels. Two mills on Atsena Otie Key
sawed native cedar for shipment to pencil
mills in the North.

Cedar Key's importance grew when the
Florida Railroad bought much of Way Key in
1859. Under the leadership of U.S. Senator
David Levy Yulee, the railroad built facilities
on the key and laid out a town that would
become the modern community of Cedar
Key. Among the buildings built that year was
the structure now called the Island Hotel.

The Florida Railroad was completed to Way
Key in March of 1861, two months after
Florida seceded from the Union and one
month before Confederate forces fired on
Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The railroad
linked Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast with
Fernandina on the Atlantic and provided an
important way of getting cotton, turpentine
products and timber to the two ports.

The Union navy blockaded Cedar Key during
the summer of 1861, but small Southern
schooners and sloops continued to slip in
and out of the port. They carried out cargoes
of lumber, naval stores and cotton, while
bringing back cargoes of military supplies
and other items needed by the Southern

The harbor was fortified by the Confederate
army. A battery mounting two old 18-pounder
cannon was built on Seahorse Key, where
barracks were also constructed to house the
men of the Fourth Florida Infantry that
garrisoned the island. Additional troops were
positioned on Atsena Otie Key (across the
harbor from present-day Cedar Key) along
with a 6-pounder field gun.

By the winter of 1861, however, rumors
reached Florida of a planned attack on
Fernandina by Federal troops. The town was
reinforced by troops from all over Florida,
including the infantry companies previously
stationed at Cedar Key. After they left on the
trains, only a lieutenant's guard of a couple of
dozen men was left more to protect the
citizens from outlaws than to defend the port
against the Union Navy. The cannon on
Seahorse Key were declared obsolete and
abandoned where they sat.

The Union Navy picked this time to attack.
The U.S.S.
Hatteras was ordered east along
the northern Gulf Coast. Stopping first at
Apalachicola, she arrived off Cedar Key at 10
o'clock on the morning of January 16, 1862.
A Confederate eyewitness described the
developing attack:

...[A]t about 10 o’clock in the forenoon, a
vessel of the Federal fleet came in sight and
anchored off the harbor. About that time the
schooner Stag, which was ready for service,
commenced weighing anchor. As soon as
the Yankees discovered this, they fired three
shots at her, all of which fell short. The owner
of the Stag then ran her ashore and set her
on fire, the crew making their escape. The
few soldiers, with a number of the ladies at
Way Key, attempted to make their escape in
a flat and reach the railroad; but were unable
to reach the shore. The Yankees perceiving
their situation, sent out from their vessel three
boats, who captured the flat, and put the men
in irons. The men in the flat, some fifteen in
number, having no arms, no resistance was

The Federal sailors then boarded the Anna
, a schooner tied to the wharf, and
attempted to tow her out of the harbor but
were unable to do so. The vessel was
burned, as were the schooners
Wyfe and
Aucilla. Another vessel, the Fanny, ran for it
and managed to escape south along the
coast into the Crystal River. Several fishing
smacks also were burned.

The wharf, warehouses and other facilities of
the Florida Railroad on Way Key were fired,
as were the barracks and other buildings on
Seahorse Key.

So far as is known, only three hostile shots
were fired in the engagement, all by the guns
of the
Hatteras. No one was injured. While
the islands were not occupied by Federal
forces at the time, Cedar Key would soon
became an important station for the Union
army and navy.

The Cedar Key Museum Historic State Park
is a great place to learn more about the Civil
War on the islands.
Please click here for
more information.