Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Invading Florida

Apalachee Council House
Mission San Luis
Talahassee Florida

"Long before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans developed sophisticated cultures in what is now Florida, producing complex and impressive sites like the Crystal River Mounds. By the time of the  first European contact, a wide variety of tribal groupings occupied the area, including Apalachee, Timucuans, Calusa, and Tequesta.

Commander K and Spanish Soldier
Mission San Luis
Talahassee, Florida
Hard now to know whether Juan Ponce de León was actually the first European ever to set foot in what is now Florida, but he’s the first that we definitely know about. Sometime in early April 1513, he landed somewhere in northeast Florida and, in fact, named it La Florida, after the Pascua Florida, the Feast of Flowers. In 1521, he returned with a couple hundred colonists,  fifty horses, and other kit. Ponce de León was back, and this time it was serious. Serious for Ponce de León, that is.  The Calusa weren’t keen on the idea of being colonized. Not keen at all, in fact.  They attacked, and the colonists and a wounded Ponce de León made for Cuba, where he died.

It hadn’t been a great start from the Spanish point of view, and things wouldn’t improve much for them anytime soon.

Pánfilo de Narváez
1478 -1528
In 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez turned up unexpectedly on Florida’s west coast and took a look at the Tampa and Tallahassee areas. He marched inland a bit looking for gold, didn’t find any, alienated the local population, got attacked, tried to use rafts to escape, and failed to do so. Only four of his men managed to escape in the end. As disastrous expeditions go, it doesn’t get much worse than that.

Hernando de Soto
1495 1542

Another Spanish disaster occurred in 1539. Hernando de Soto arrived in Florida also looking for gold. After four years of wandering around, slaughtering, and stealing from the locals, he died somewhere near the Mississippi, still not having found any gold.

You’d think it could only get better for the Spanish, but you’d only be half right. Next came another disaster, but in some senses, not quite as comprehensive a one. In 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano arrived with settlers in Pensacola Bay.  They weren’t, however, to remain settled for very long, as a combination of bad weather and logistical and personnel problems rapidly brought the venture to an end.

Then, when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse for the Spanish in Florida, suddenly they did. In 1562, Frenchman Jean Ribaullt turned up looking for a site for a French Huguenot colony; and in 1564, Frenchman René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline, near what is now Jacksonville.
Castillo de San Marcos
St. Augustine, Florida

But the situation for the Spanish in Florida was finally about to take a turn for the better. And the situation for the French was about to take a turn, very much so, for the worse. In 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established San Augustine, a permanent settlement that, as St. Augustine is still permanent, is in fact the first permanent European settlement in the territory that became the United States. Not content with that, however, he then went on to turn Fort Caroline into San Mateo after slaughtering a bunch of French.  e French returned the compliment two years later, when Dominique de Gourgue slaughtered a bunch of Spanish. But Spain had made its mark, and Spanish control would soon expand substantially. Catholic missionaries started getting active.

However, another European power was about to take a serious interest in Florida. Yes, it’s England. Already in 1586, Sir Francis Drake was dropping in on St. Augustine, not for a bit of sightseeing, but for a bit of burning and stealing. It was the first of a number of English attacks on the town. Gradually, the English colonists farther north expanded their area of control southward. Queen Anne’s War of 1702–1713 saw extensive  fighting between the English forces in Carolina and Spanish forces in Florida, with assorted expeditions headed in both directions. In 1702, for instance, English forces under James Moore, governor of colonial Carolina, burned the town of St. Augustine but failed to take the fort.

The local Native American population had already been having a tough time. A number of rebellions against the Spanish had been crushed; and now with the arrival of extensive land warfare between two European powers, they were dragged into that as well, both as fighters and as victims. Since the late seventeenth century, the English had been trading with and arming some Native Americans, particularly the Creek, who used their weapons against Spanish missions. In 1704, Moore launched another raid, with his own and Creek forces targeting Spanish missions and killing or displacing a large number of Apalachees.

Meanwhile, approaching from the west was yet another European competitor for power, the French. For instance, in 1698 they tried to enter Pensacola, and Spanish ships had to prevent them. In 1719, though, they took the town and held it until 1722, when they abandoned it.

Between 1727 and 1729, Britain and Spain were at war again, and there was more fighting in the region.

Britain and Spain went to war yet again in 1739, in, yes, the War of Jenkins’ Ear. An unusual name for a war, and one that refers to a certain British merchant captain who claimed to have lost his ear in an encounter with a Spanish coast guard prior to the war.

This time it was the British governor of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, who marched on Florida. Again, St. Augustine was attacked. At Fort Mose, the northern defense of St. Augustine, the British came up against free African militiamen, many of them slaves who had escaped from Carolina, and were defeated at the Battle of Bloody Mose on June 26, 1740. Eventually, the British forces gave up and retreated. Spanish forces then invaded Georgia, but they were defeated.

Not long after, another round of hostilities took place between Britain and Spain, but this one ended more decisively. In the 1763 peace deal, Spain handed over Florida to Britain.

Though, to be fair, decisively might be too strong a word, since yet another war was coming. When Spain handed over Florida, it largely evacuated its people from there, and the new settlers who came in under British rule stayed mainly loyal to the British Crown. During the American Revolution, American forces made a number of attempts to invade Florida, but without much success. A 1777 attempt ended with an ambush and disaster for the American forces at the Battle of Thomas Creek; and the 1778 attempt led to the Battle of Alligator Bridge, which wasn’t exactly a success for the American forces either.
Bernardo de Gálvez
1746 -1786
However, things weren’t going so well for Britain elsewhere in the war.  The Spanish got involved on the American side and took Pensacola from the British in 1781 after bitter and prolonged fighting.  The siege lasted just under two months and was the longest siege of the American Revolution.  The city of Galveston in Texas was later named in honor of the Spanish commander at Pensacola—Bernardo de Gálvez.

In 1784, as part of the peace deal that ended the War of Independence, the Spanish got Florida back—although they did have to hand over some territory elsewhere in exchange, and they did have to sort out a border dispute with the new United States.

The Count of Aranda, a Spanish minister, declared soon after the peace was signed that “the day will come when it [the United States] will grow into a giant, even a fearsome colossus in the hemisphere.  then it will forget the assistance it received from [us] and will think only of its own exaltation.  The first step of this power ... will be to seize upon the Floridas, in order to dominate the Gulf of Mexico."

The count’s prediction would come true, but the initial conflict would be with the Native Americans. In the last decades of the eighteenth century, a new tribe developed, formed by Creek Native Americans who had moved south into Florida and other groups.  They became known as Seminoles.

The British, by now, had a long tradition of working with the Creek, and with the start of the War of 1812, they saw an opportunity to use their Creek and Seminole contacts against the United States.  They even sent troops back into Florida to help develop this mission and a fort that was known, reasonably enough, as the British Post on the Apalachicola River at Prospect Bluff. Here they recruited Native Americans and escaped slaves to fight the United States.  The war ended before the British mission could achieve very much. What it did, however, was point to a coming conflict between the United States and forces in Florida that were beyond the control of the Spanish authorities who were, in theory, supposed to be in charge. And the disappearance, largely, of the British from the equation did not end the tensions in the region.

Seminole War

In 1817, in what came to be known as the First Seminole War, General Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida and pushed the Seminoles farther south. By 1819, Spain had had enough of the declining situation in Florida and signed the Adams-Onís Treaty. Under the terms of the treaty, Spain pulled out of Florida in 1821, handing power to the United States. More violence between the United States and the Seminoles was to come.
Under a controversial 1832 treaty, the United States reckoned that the Seminoles had agreed to abandon their lands in Florida and move to Oklahoma. A lot of the Seminoles reckoned that they had not. In 1835, US troops arrived and attempted to enforce the deportation of the Seminoles. What followed was a bitter war, in which Seminoles skillfully fought a guerrilla war of determined resistance against far larger US forces. A few incidents that were large enough to be called battles did occur. For instance, the Battle of Wahoo Swamp took place in 1836, as about 2,500 Tennessee volunteers, US artillerymen, and Florida militiamen, supported by hundreds of Creek, were held up by Seminole  re. And in 1837, the Battle of Lake Okeechobee saw US troops launch an assault against Seminole fighters holding prepared positions.  The US forces compelled the Seminoles to retreat, but at a cost, and most of the defenders slipped away unharmed.

The war cost the Unites States more than $20 million and killed 1,500 American troops. In the end, the United States was reduced to desperate measures to try to win, including seizing and imprisoning Seminole leader Osceola when he turned up for negotiations under a flag of truce.  The war dragged on until 1842, but ultimately the Seminoles could not resist the sheer military might of the United States. By the end of the war, most Seminoles were either dead or deported.

In 1855, yet more fighting broke out. By the end of it, the Seminoles had been virtually wiped out in Florida.
Florida joined the Confederacy in 1861

During the American Civil War, Florida was part of the Confederacy. Union troops, though, remained at locations within its borders throughout the war. It was generally regarded as a strategic backwater; and as the war progressed, many Confederate troops stationed there were redeployed to more critical locations. Despite this, a significant number of clashes and raids did take place in Florida.

Natural Bridge Monument
A rare Confederate Victory in 1865
Talahassee, Florida

Early in the war, fighting took place around Santa Rosa Island at Pensacola, which held the Union-controlled Fort Pickens. In September 1864, Union cavalry launched a devastating raid from Fort Barrancas near Pensacola that culminated in something of a Union victory at the Battle of Marianna.

Fort Pickens
Florida History Museum
Talahassee, Florida
The Union Navy conducted a blockade of much of Florida’s coast, and even ran patrols on some of its rivers. In early 1864, a powerful Union force landed at Jacksonville and advanced inland. However, after defeat at the Battle of Olustee, it retreated again to Jacksonville. And in March 1865, another Union force landed near St. Marks Lighthouse and again advanced inland. Again it was stopped by a Confederate force, this time at the Battle of Natural Bridge, and was forced to withdraw to the coast. Elsewhere though, the Confederacy was on the brink of defeat. It was on May 10, 1865, that Union Brigadier General Edward McCook entered Tallahassee, and on May 20, the United States flag was raised over the state capitol.
U-Boats off Florida Coast
Florida History Museum
Talahassee, Florida
World War II would once again bring conflict to the seas off Florida. For instance, on the night of April 10, 1942, crowds in Jacksonville watched aghast as the steamer Gulfamerica, just  five miles o  shore, was  first torpedoed and then finished off  with surface fire by Reinhard Hardegen’s U-123.  The waters of the region were particularly dangerous in the months soon after America’s entry into the war, before it had time to adapt to the realities of World War II U-boat warfare.

And later that year, in June 1942, U-584 landed four German saboteurs near Ponte Vedra Beach.  They cached explosives and kits in the sand and then headed for New York and Chicago. All were caught and executed.
Che Guevara
1928 - 1967
During the Cold War, with Cuba so close, Florida was in some sense on the front line again. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Che Guevara admitted to a reporter that, had his fingers been on the trigger (instead of the Soviets’), missiles would have been launched, presumably targeting Florida.
On June 12, 2016, the most deadly terrorist attack since 9/11 took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine people were killed by Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan descent."

Source: Florida chapter of America

Commander K at
Truman Little White House
Key West, Florida

Tourist Notes:  Florida is a splendid state to visit with many tourist attractions for all ages.  Some of my personal favorite historic sites in Florida are...

Fort San Marcos in St. Augustine...
Harry S. Truman Little White House, Key West...
Ernest Hemingway Home and Musuem, Key West...
Mission San Luis, Talahassee...
Florida History Museum, Talahassee..,
National Naval Air Museum, Pensacola...

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...

No comments: