The Navy’s Great Salt Raids
© Copyright August 2009
“Salt works are as plentiful in Florida as blackbirds in a
–New York Herald January 5, 1864
Salt no longer has the importance today as it had until the advent of refrigeration. For centuries it was crucial for the preservation of meat and fish, in packing cheese and eggs, and in the preserving of hides. It was worth so much in ancient times that part of the Roman soldier’s pay was “salarium” or salt for their families. This is where the word salary is derived from and the old term, “worth his salt” originated.
During the Civil War, salt was a critical item for both sides of the conflict, and in the South, salt workers were exempt from military service. Salt for the South was produced in Saltville Virginia, Manchester Kentucky, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida. The Kentucky and West Virginia salt producing areas were lost to the South early in the war and later the Louisiana salt was cutoff from the Confederacy. The Saltville works and a substantial works in Morehead City, North Carolina escaped destruction during the war.
Much of the salt for the South during the last half of the war came from the extensive salt works along Florida’s Gulf coast. There Florida residents and many people from Alabama established salt works along the coast, from Choctawhatchee Bay Florida, to Tampa Bay. The government of Florida passed a resolution in December of 1862, giving citizens of other states the permission to produce salt along the Gulf Coast of Florida. They were organized into companies and given arms and ammunition to protect themselves. They were also exempted from military service in the regular army. It is estimated that over 2,500 men were employed in making salt around the St. Andrew’s Bay area alone.
For the first part of the war, until the Union Navy built up its blockading presence in the Gulf of Mexico, these salt works were untouched. Once the Navy had the resources in the area, it expanded its mission from just blockading ports and capturing blockade runners, to making raids along the coast to capture and destroy war goods, pick up run away slaves (contrabands) and to disrupt anything that could assist the Southern war effort. It was these works that the four ocean blockading fleets attacked on a regular basis from 1862 till the end of the war. The North Atlantic, South Atlantic, East Gulf and West Gulf Blockading Fleets raided the salterns as they discovered them.
Of the fleets, it was the East Gulf Squadron that inflicted the most devastating raids. There were several documented raids on the salt manufacturing along the West Coast of Florida, ranging from simple personal salt works to very elaborate works that produced several hundred bushels of the precious commodity a day. The largest raid of them all destroyed over $3,000,000.00 in salt and equipment, a huge loss to the Confederacy driving the price of the prized commodity to an all time high. All told by estimates of the Confederate government, the Federal Navy cost the South over $6,000,000.00 in damages and lost product.
“The Rebels here needed a
lesson and they have had it!”
declared the captain of the Somerset.
These raids were comprised of sailors and Marines of the blockading vessels. Armed with sledge hammers, awls, top mauls and axes, they would come ashore and break up the brick furnaces, cast iron boilers, cauldrons, and drying pans. Some of the boilers and vats were so thick, they had to be destroyed by the use of a landing howitzer, or planting explosive shells under them. Quite often they were aided by local Unionists and contrabands.
The first raid on 8 September, 1862 began with a landing party of the USS Kingfisher under the command of Lt. Commanding Couthouy at St. Joseph’s Bay, Florida. There they destroyed the works that produced 200 bushels of salt a day. A bushel of refined salt in those days was figured to contain 50 pounds. The following was reported by one of his officers (most likely Acting Master Allen) to the Harper’s Weekly, “About two weeks since we had a lot of contrabands come off, who informed us that there were extensive salt works at the town of St. Joseph, making 100 to 150 bushels a day, and not yet completed. We sent a flag of truce and politely informed them that they must stop, or we should destroy them. They paid no attention to us, but continued their fire day and night. We got under way at daylight, sailed up the bay with a fair wind, and came to anchor a quarter of a mile from the works. As we came in sight we could perceive an unusual excitement, and observed wagons driving inland at a furious pace. We gave them two hours to quit, and then fired a few shells into the works, which had the effect of bringing two contrabands to the beach with a salt bag which they waved most furiously. We sent a boat for them, and found out that they had removed about two hundred bags of salt and provisions, but that everything remained with this exception; and also the intelligence that there were about eighty guerillas, mounted three miles back in the country, and would probably be down to see what was going on. As soon as we obtained this information we manned all the boats, leaving enough men on board to man the battery. I had been ordered to take command of the picket-guard, and stationed them about a quarter of a mile inland, surrounding the works. You may imagine that was rather skittish work with twenty men to into the woods out of sight of the ship; but we all drew up on the beach, the pickets in front (in all about fifty men), loaded muskets and fixed bayonets--the whole under command of Mr. Hallet, executive officer We started, whistling Yankee Doodle. I advanced my men in a straight line to the other side of the works, when we entered the woods and extended our lines entirely around the place. The main body then began their work of destruction, and in less than two hours the whole place was in flames, the machinery broken up. I send you a sketch. The whole coast of Florida is lined with these works of a smaller size. This one finished, would have been capable of making five hundred bushels a day, at $10.00 per bushel. When the new military colony is fairly under way these salt factories will probably become of some national importance.”
This was followed up on the 12th when the USS Sagamore sent a raiding party ashore which took all day to destroy works including the heavy wrought iron boilers located at St. Andrew’s Bay.
The following month on 4 October, 1862, Marines and sailors of the USS Somerset and USS Tahoma destroyed the salt works on Depot Key one of the small islands at Cedar Keys, Florida. The commander of the Somerset had fired several shells at the works until a white flag was hoisted. The landing party landed without opposition; however they were attacked by twenty-five local troops as they set about their work. Several of the Federals were wounded; however they succeeded in the destruction. A couple of days later they landed a larger force and destroyed some larger works in the vicinity. There were two extra heavy cast iron kettles and two wrought iron boilers which were too thick to break up with sledge hammers, so the sailors put howitzer shells through them. The captain of the Somerset declared, “The Rebels here needed a lesson and they have had it.”
On 14 November an expedition was launched from the Naval Yard in Pensacola. Five boats loaded with sixty Marines and work party headed to St. Andrew’s Bay and destroyed salt works located around the bay. Lieutenant Commander Hart of the Albatross stated that on their entry into the bay, there was a great deal of smoke from the salt furnace fires, and at night the sky was lit up from all the fires along the bay. He reported that when they entered North Bay on the morning of the 24th, “. . . a fog hung over the water, preventing them from seeing which way to go. As soon as we lay on our oars, we thought we heard voices on shore. Pulling in that direction, we soon ascertained that we were near quite a number of people, and as we came nearer we not only heard voices, but we heard dogs barking and horses neighing, and we felt quite sure that we had stumbled upon a company of soldiers, for day was breaking, and what we afterwards found out were canvas-covered wagons, we mistook them for tents. I thought I would startle them and ordered a shell to be sent over their heads, and in a minute there never was heard such shouting and confusion. They seemed not to know which way to run. Some of their mules and horses succeeded in harnessing to the wagons and some they ran off to the woods beyond as fast as they could be driven, a shell every now and then over their heads making them hurry the faster. The water was so shoal that our men had to wade over 200 yards through the water, over a muddy bottom, to the shore, and before they reached it, the people had all left and we could just see them through the woods at a long distance off. We threw out the pickets, and Acting Master Browne, with the men belonging to the Bohio took one direction, and I, with my men and officers, took the other, and with top mauls, axes, sledge hammers, and shovels, we commenced the destruction of salt kettles and salt pans and mason work, for we had got into a settlement of salt-workers….To render everything completely unfit for future use we had to knock down all the brickwork, to destroy the salt already made, to knock in the heads and set fire to barrels, boxes, and everything that would hold salt, to burn the sheds and houses in which it was stowed, and to disable and burn up the wagons that we found loaded with it. The kettles being such as are used in making sugar, we know the capacity of by the marks on them, but the salt pans we could only tell by measurement, which we had no time to do, so that our total estimate of the amount of sea water that was boiling in them when we arrived is far short of what it really was.” It is estimated that the daily production was between 360-560 bushels of salt a day. Some of the boilers that they destroyed close to the town of St. Andrews were made from coast-survey buoys cut in half. Along with the boilers and furnaces, brick kilns, sheds and fire-wood were also destroyed. The local forces stayed a safe distance away while the works were destroyed.
The following year the raids were few until the end of the year. The USS Ethan Allen destroyed a large works south of St. Joseph’s Bay that produced 75 bushels a day.
On 14 June 1863, the USS Somerset entered Alligator Bay near St. George’s Sound. After shelling the works, 65 Marines and sailors landed and destroyed 65 kettles, 200 bushels of salt, and 30 buildings that were part of the works. On 2 October 1863 a raiding party of the USS Port Royal raided St. George’s Sound again destroying 6 large boilers, two vats and a variety of huge cast iron kettles.
The largest raids to date took place in December 1863. Acting Master W.R. Browne anchored the USS Restless at St Andrew’s Bay and sent a raiding party overland to Lake Ocala (now known as Lake Powell) on 7 December 1863. The water in Lake Ocala at the time was extremely saline. Three years of drought had affected the brackish water in the lake. The water in the lake had a 75% salt content at the time. The salt produced there was of the highest quality, and 130 bushels of it was produced daily. The three salt works owned by a Mr. Kent, were the target of the raiding party. Acting Ensign J.J Russell and his men destroyed the boilers made from six steam boat boilers, two flatboats, six oxcarts and other equipment. All the salt on hand was thrown into the lake. The raiders captured the seventeen workers, and rather than take them prisoner, paroled them.
A few days later on 10 December 1863, the raiding party of the steamer Bloomer and the Caroline arrived to assist Browne and the Restless to attack the works at St. Andrew’s Sound. Browne sent forty-eight of his men and three officers on board the Bloomer instructing them to move up into the North Bay to capture a schooner loaded with cotton and to attack the salt works, then to move into the West Bay to do the same there. Browne’s plan was to attack the headquarters of the rebel troops at St. Andrews. As the Restless approached the town early in the morning, Browne reported seeing two cavalry officers and many infantrymen. The local forces fled the area after the second shot from the ship’s guns was fired. Browne then fired a third shot at a house on the southeast end of the town which sparked a blaze. The wind helped spread the fire to the rest of the structures in the small town, causing all 32 to burn in short order. Meanwhile the Bloomer’s men destroyed the government salt works located in the West Bay run by a Mr. Clendenin. Here again the local drought had caused the bay water to be almost 75% salt. The total destruction included 27 buildings, 22 large steam boilers, 300 kettles along with 2,000 bushels of salt, supplies of corn meal, bacon, syrup and other items, totaling $500,000.00.
“The destruction of the salt industry in St. Andrews Bay would be a greater blow and more severely felt than the falling of Charleston.” –Mr. Blunt, salt works overseer.
The destruction continued down the bay for seven miles destroying 198 privately owned works most consisting of a couple of boilers and about ten kettles each along with a large quantity of salt. Many of the workers involved attempted to hide their kettles by burying them in the swamps; however the contrabands that fled to the attackers led them to the hiding places. Five-hundred and seven kettles were dug up and destroyed, 300 buildings were burned along with 27 wagons and carts, and 5 flatboats. They were joined by 31 contrabands, including two females, who assisted in finding the buried kettles. Mr. Blunt who was in charge of some of the works explained to the landing party about the salinity of the bay water and that it produced the highest quality of salt. He also stated that the destruction of the salt industry in St. Andrews Bay would be “a greater blow and more severely felt than the falling of Charleston.”
The totals Browne gave for the raids through the 15th came to 380 salt works, 1,000 kettles, a large number of steam boilers, 500 buildings and other property totaling an estimated $3,787,698.00. He also estimated that there were approximately 689 local troops in the area, while he had 92 sailors and Marines at his disposal. Browne reported on the 20th of December the final raids the previous day. They moved up ten miles above St Andrews and continued to destroy another 90 works consisting of several kettles and boilers and 30 storage sheds. They saw smoke rising further ahead and discovered the local forces set fire to over two hundred more works. Upon returning to the Restless, Browne noted that three deserters from Rebel Captain William Anderson’s infantry had been captured. They surrendered their weapons and took the oath of allegiance. They were also sworn in as part of the ship’s crew for a term of one year. The deserters reported that Anderson and several of his men had resigned and returned to their homes, and many of the other local troops were also tired of the war.
The USS Pursuit under the command of Acting Ensign Norman McLeod destroyed two works at the head of St. Joseph’s Bay on 30 December 1863.
The following year the USS Tahoma started raids in the area again.
On 17 February 1864 a landing party from the ship destroyed a large operation near St. Marks. On the 26th, another raiding party from the Tahoma destroyed another works on Goose Creek near St. Marks.
Two months later, 13 April 1864 landing parties of the USS Restless attacked two large salt works established again in the East Bay of St. Andrews Bay. Along with the works 300 bushels of salt, 200 bushels of corn and 50 bushels of corn meal were destroyed.
Later that month, the USS Pursuit landed men at Cape San Blas on St Joseph’s Bay where they destroyed a sizable works and buildings on 18 April 1864.
Another attack by the USS Wartappo at Goose Bayou resulted in another salt works destroyed on 5 May 1864. As reported on 28 May 1864, the USS Fox raided the area between St. Marks and the Suwannee River destroying 100 bushels of salt and 25 kettles and small furnaces.
The works on Tampa Bay came under attack by the USS Sunflower on 2 June 1864, where 4 kettles, a good quantity of salt and several furnaces were destroyed. Other works on Tampa Bay Belonging to secessionists, Haygood and Carter were destroyed by landing parties of the USS J. L. Davis. These were equipped with pumps, vats and eight boilers on 11 July 1864. On 16 July 1864 another salt producing works on the Bay owned by another secessionist, McCloud was destroyed consisting of 4 boilers and all the necessary tools and equipment.
The USS Restless again raided in St Andrew’s Bay 6 October 1864 and destroyed 50 boilers, 31 wagons, 500 cords of wood, 90 kettles, and 150 buildings associated with salt production.
One of the more unusual raids took place at Rocky Point in Tampa Bay on 12 November 1864. A landing party from the USS Nita and USS Hendrick Hudson landed and waded through the muck of low tide to the works. A look out on one of the ships signaled the party to return as they sighted some cavalry approaching. One sailor was wounded and captured. Five other sailors were listed as deserters. Local lore tells a different story. Judge Robles was on duty overseeing the works when he saw the approach of the landing party. He claims to have hidden in some trees and fired on the party as they entered the production area wounding one of the sailors. He claims the other five surrendered to him. The story goes that he held them prisoner with his empty shotgun and marched them into Tampa. The official Navy reports one sailor was seen to be wounded, and listed the other five sailors as deserters.
Not to let the embarrassing results of the raid stand, a couple of weeks later the Federal force returned this time with more fire power. The landing parties of the USS Nita, Stars and Stripes, Hendrick Hudson, Ariel and Two Sisters landed unopposed on 3 December 1864. They destroyed seven large boilers constructed of steamboat boilers cut in half, and a large quantity of supplies. This time there were no wounded or captured sailors.
The men of the fleet took to these raids with vigor and enthusiasm as it was a break from their monotonous routines of blockade duty. The results of these raids, especially by the East Gulf Blockading Squadron had a devastating effect on the South’s war effort. The importance of salt to the South is evident in the fact that the government, short of cash and materials, replenished the equipment needed to reestablish the works in the Florida panhandle. In just a few short months, the large works were once again established and producing salt. Unfortunately, the Navy returned and destroyed them again. Not only did these actions impact the production of food for the armies of the Confederacy, they also severely impacted the civilian food production. The price for salt grew from about one dollar a pound or fifty dollars per bushel, to some sources indicate in the cities of the South it reached prices of over one hundred and fifty dollars per bushel. Another consequence of these raids was the erosion of the local support of the war. The Union Navy was able to strike at will along the coasts while the Confederate government appeared to be helpless to prevent them from doing so. As the war dragged on, more locals joined in the Union effort as they assisted the Union forces and joined in the Union units formed along the coast of Florida. These locals were an important source of intelligence for the fleet and its efforts. The far-reaching importance of these raids can not be underestimated in the affect they had on the South’s ability to wage war. The affect they had on the food supply and morale of the armed forces and populace were a severe blow to the South’s efforts. They were extremely effective with a very minimal loss of live to either side of the conflict.
A salt furnace
Landing party from USS Kingfisher attacks a salt works
Map showing US Navy shore raids in Florida (green dots)
Blockading Fleet Records On Line Collection of Cornell University
Marines In The Civil War (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Year) Volumes by David Sullivan
Florida Historical Society
Florida State Archives
Harper’s Weekly Archives
Raids of the Other Fleets
The North Atlantic Fleet
17 August 1862 Benjamin Porter Acting Master of the USS Ellis with army troops under Acting Brigadier General Stevenson attacked two salt works off New Berne, NC.
29 October 1862 Lieutenant William B. Cushing of the USS Ellis destroyed slat works in New Topsail Inlet, NC.
22 November 1862 Commander Foxhall Parker of the USS Mahaska, along with the USS General Putnam, and the armed tug May Queen assisted by troops of the 52nd Pennsylvania Volunteers under Brigadier General Naglee set out on a raid to East River, Mobjack Bay, VA.
23 November 1862 Lt. Cushing took the USS Ellis into New River Inlet to capture Jacksonville, NC and destroyed what salt works and boats that they found.
24 November 1862 Lt. Commander D.L. Braine of the USS Monticello destroyed two salt works near Little River Inlet, NC.
22 August 1863, Lt Cushing of the USS Shokokon destroyed works at New Topsail Inlet.
24-25th December 1863, a Joint Army-Navy operation off Bear Inlet, NC landed to destroy salt works and boats.
21 April, 1864, Lt. J.B. Breck of the USS Niphon, assisted by the USS Howquah, Acting Master Balch commanding and the Steamer Fort Jackson, Acting Master Dennison attacked the State Salt Works at New Inlet, NC.
South Atlantic Blockading Fleet
19-21 July 1862 Acting Volunteer Lt. I.B.Baxter of the Gem of the Sea along with Captain Gregory of the USS Western World and a tug at Murray’s inlet by Pawley’s Island destroyed salt works belonging to John La Bruce and Captain Ward of the SC artillery.
21 October 1862 Commander M. Woodall of the USS Cimarron reported the destruction of salt works at Cedar Point, Florida on the St. John’s River. Fifty sailors and all of the Marines on the vessel were sent aboard the steamer Governor Milton under the command of Lt. Commander Bushrod Taylor who took charge of the raid.
7 November 1862 Commander M. Woodall of the USS Cimarron reported that salt had reached a price of $40.00 per sack, and sent a portion of the Savannah Newspaper dated 24 October that reported salt was being sold in Atlanta for $140.00 per sack.
10 November 1862 Lt. Colonel Beard of the US Army in command of the First South Carolina Volunteers (Negro Regiment), accompanied by Lt. Budd with the USS Potomska, and the USS Darlington, raided up the Sapelo River to Fairhope, SC. and destroyed the works there.
9, 10 December 1862 Acting Master Browne of the US Bark Restless sent two armed boats up Harbor Creek at Bull’s Bay, SC to destroy the salt works there..
24 September 1863 Lt. Commander Gibson of the USS Seneca sent an armed boat’s crew up the river at Darien, Ga. and destroyed the Hudson Place Salt Works
21 April 1864 Acting Mater Pennell of the US Bark Ethan Allen destroyed salt works at Cane Patch, SC.
30 July, 1864 Captain R.P.Swann of the USS Potomska went up a creek from Back River, SC. To destroy salt works located there.
16 August 1864 Commander George M. Colvocoresses of the USS Saratoga, landed with a small force at South Newport, McIntosh County, Ga. They destroyed two of the largest salt works on the coast.
5-6 September 1864 Acting Master Gillespie of the US Bark Braziliera made several landings up Turtle River leading into Buffalo Swamp near St. Simon’s Sound, GA.
25 February 1865 Acting Master William Master of the USS James. S Chambers sent a landing party under Acting Master William Bowers ashore At Palmetto Point Bull’s Bay, SC. Where they destroyed 100 salt pans, and boilers, brine vats, two windmill pumps, several sheds and a large quantity of salt.
15 March 1865 Acting Volunteer Lt. R.P. Swann of the USS Lodona destroyed an extensive salt works on Broro Neck, McIntosh County, GA
West Gulf Blockading Fleet
24 November 1862 to 8 December 1862 US Brig Bohio George Browne Acting Master assisted in the St Andrew’s Bay Raid. They also landed at Phillips Inlet including some on the eastern end of Santa Rosa Island.
27 and 28 November 1862 USS Morning Light Acting Master John Dillingham’s crew destroyed an extensive salt works at Cedar Lake, Texas.
20 December 1863 USS Bloomer Acting Ensign Edwin Crissey and the sloop Caroline joined the US Bark Restless from the EGBS in attacking the salt works again in St Andrew’s Bay as noted in the EGBS timeline.
22 January 1864 USS Commodore Acting Master J. Hamilton and Acting Master Francis Grove with the US schooner Corypheus destroyed salt works on Lake Pontchartrain, LA.
2 June, 1864 Acting Ensign R Canfield of the USS Cowslip destroyed 4 salt works and captured one steam boiler along Biloxi Bay.
8 and 9 September 1864 At Navy Cove, La., Acting Volunteer Lt. Thomas Edwards of the USS Stockdale and landing party went ashore and destroyed salt works.
11 September, 1864 Acting Volunteer Lt. George Wiggin with three gun boats destroyed salt works on Bon Secours Bay on both sides of the Bon Secours River.
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