Home > Floripedia > Key West: Civil War
Site Map

Key West: Civil War

Key West: The Old and the New


The influence of the cultured Southern men who located in Key West in the early days fostered the spirit of resisting Federal usurpation, and as early as 1832 an editorial appeared in a newspaper then published in Key West, voicing a sentiment which rings true to the Declaration of Independence. Said the writer:

"We have always thought that the value of our Union consisted in affording equal rights and equal protection to every citizen; when, therefore, its objects are so perverted as to become a means of impoverishment to one section, whilst it aggrandizes another, when it becomes necessary to sacrifice one portion of the States for the good of the rest, the Union has lost its value to us; and we are bound, by a recurrence to first principles, to maintain our rights and defend our lives and property. If we are oppressed, it is a matter of perfect indifference whether that oppression be inflicted by a foreign power or our next door neighbor. Upon the same principle we are compelled to resist both-'even unto death.'

The election of Abraham Lincoln, the first president to be elected upon the sectional issue of antagonism to the South and its institutions, stirred up the people of Key West, in common with the rest of the Southland.

The cultivated and wealthy citizens were nearly all strongly pro-Southern. Among these were Senator Stephen R. Mallory, the elder, Judge Winer Bethel, Mr. Joseph B. Browne, Mr. William Curry, Mr. William Pinckney, Mr. Fernando J. Moreno, Mr. George Bowne, Mr. Asa F. and Mr. Charles Tift, Mr. W. C. Maloney, Jr.; Mr. Peter Crusoe, Mr. William C. Dennis, Mr. John P. Baldwin, Mr. Henry Mulrennan, Mr. Samuel J. Douglass and Mr. William H. Ward, the latter the editor of a newspaper called the Key of the Gulf.

Judge Marvin's sympathies were strongly Southern, but he wanted Florida to wait until after the border States had acted, and go out of the Union with them. At the breaking out of the war, he decided to resign, not caring to serve on the bench of a divided country, and so announced his intention, but was prevailed upon by the Federal authorities to withhold his resignation, and he finally accepted the new order of things.

The secession of South Carolina was soon followed by a proclamation from the Governor of Florida for a convention of the people to take into consideration the present and future relations of Florida towards the Federal Union, which brought our people to the question of secession or submission.

A meeting was held on December 12, 1860, at the county court house, for the purpose of nominating delegates to the State convention to assemble in Tallahassee on the third day of January, 1861, for the object of taking into consideration the dangers to this State in remaining in the Federal Union. It was the largest meeting ever held in Key West up to that time. Hon. John P. Baldwin was called to the chair, and Charles Tift and Peter Crusoe, Esqrs., were appointed secretaries. The meeting was in session until after midnight.

Colonel W. C. Maloney, Sr., was the only speaker who favored remaining in the Union. Mr. William H. Ward, Mr. Samuel J. Douglass, Mr. W. C. Dennis, Mr. William Pinckney, Mr. Asa F. Tift, Mr. J. L. Tatum, Mr. Winer Bethel and Mr. Joseph B. Browne spoke in favor of secession. Judge Marvin was not in favor of immediate secession, but desired to wait for the border States and secede with them. The meeting adjourned to the evening of the 13th, and after a few short speeches, Honorables William Marvin, Winer Bethel and William Pinckney were placed in nomination and a vote taken by the holding up of hands, with the following results: Marvin, 33 yeas; 26 nays: Bethel, 66 yeas; 1 nay: Pinckney, 62 yeas; 1 nay. The strong sentiment for secession was manifested by this vote.

Judge Winer Bethel and Mr. Pinckney, pronounced secessionists, were elected by an almost unanimous vote, and Judge Marvin, who did not favor immediate secession, received a bare majority.

After the election it was suggested that Judge Marvin's official position as judge of the United States court was incompatible with the duties of a delegate to the convention, and Mr. Asa F. Tift, another avowed secessionist, was elected in his place.

On December 11, the day before this meeting was held, Captain James M. Brannan of the First Artillery, who was stationed at the barracks at Key West, applied to the adjutant general at Washington for instructions whether he should "endeavor at all hazards to prevent Fort Taylor from being taken or allow the State authorities to have possession without any resistance on the part of his command." When Florida seceded, Captain E. B. Hunt of the engineer corps of the army, who was on duty at Fort Taylor, called on Captain Brannan to secure the military custody of Fort Taylor, and asked him to at once assume command of that fort. Captain Brannan on the night of the 13th of January, while the city slept, marched his entire command from the barracks to Fort Taylor, and took possession Of it. It was expected that an attack would be made by the citizens of Key West on the fort and Captain Brannan reported that he had "four months provisions and seventy thousand gallons of water, but that he could not stand a siege unless he was reinforced immediately."

On January 26th Captain Brannan reported that there had been no demonstration made on the fort to that date, and that he then had no apprehension of an attack from the people of Key West, but he had no doubt that a force would soon appear from the mainland, and urged that reinforcements be sent him, and one or two vessels of war stationed in the harbor.

Captain Hunt, of the engineer corps, threw up sand embankments on the shoreward side of the sand spit on which Fort Taylor is situated, and mounted ten 8-inch guns to prevent the establishment of breaching batteries on Key West opposite the fort.

The ordnance stores at Fort Taylor at this time consisted of fifty 8-inch Columbiads; ten 24-pounder flanking howitzers with caissons, and four 12-pounder field howitzers; 4,530 projectiles, 34,459 pounds of powder, 2,826 cartridge bags, 962 priming tubes, and 759 cartridges for small arms.

At the barracks there were four 6-pounder field guns and cartridges, 1,101 rounds of shot and other ammunition for same, 171 pounds of powder, 158 cartridge bags, 538 priming tubes, 7 rifles and 2,000 rifle cartridges.

Key West, the most strategic point within the Southern Confederacy, being in the hands of the Federal government during the entire war and used as a naval base, was one of the determining factors in the result of the war between the States. The sentiment of Key West was strongly Southern, but with the fortifications in possession of the Federal troops, and no military organization here sufficient to wrest this control from them, the secessionists were deterred from taking any active steps to capture them. Whatever hope the faithful ones may have had that they might ultimately wrest it from Federal control, was destroyed on April 6, 1861, when Major French of the Fifth United States Artillery arrived here with his command. He had been stationed in Texas, and in order to avoid surrender, marched his troops down to the Rio Grande to Point Isabel and there embarked for Key West.

Some, who had been wavering in their sentiment towards secession, and who had pretended to be in sympathy with the South, saw on Major French's arrival the destruction of all hope of Key West being a part of the Confederacy, and they became very loud and offensive in their so-called loyalty to the Union. They spied upon the homes of Southern sympathizers and reported to the military authorities every action that their eyes could ferret out, and sought to have them locked up in the fort.

The bulk of the Southerners were firm in their allegiance to the Confederacy, and defiant of the Federal government. Flags of the Southern Confederacy were raised on some of the stores and warehouses, and so strong was the Confederate sentiment, that Captain Brannan reported on March 13th that he "doubted if any resident of Key West would be allowed to hold office under the Federal government unless supported by the military and naval forces."

The war brought into prominence a number of people who prior to that event were of meager importance, who sought to prejudice the Union officers against those who favored secession, and representations were made which resulted in the suspension by Major French of the writ of habeas corpus. Peremptory orders were also issued by him prohibiting anyone from exhibiting Confederate flags on public buildings.

In May, 1861, Major French refused to permit any judicial or magisterial functions to be exercised, except by persons who would swear allegiance to the United States. Having ascertained, however, that Captain Von Pfister had been elected a magistrate in 1860, but had declined to serve when Florida passed the ordinance of secession, Captain French sent for him and induced him to act.

The time for opening the regular session of the District Court for Florida was on the second Monday in May, and on the 19th of May Judge McQueen McIntosh of that court arrived, intending to hold court under his Confederate States commission. Judge McIntosh was advised that such an attempt on his part might result in a clash with the Federal authorities, and he was persuaded to return without holding court. Major French applied to Captain Craven of the navy to allow the officers of the court to leave the island without applying for a permit to do so. This was necessary, as there was an order in force prohibiting non-residents from going or coming without the authority of the commanding officer, unless they would take the oath of allegiance.

The Union men in Key West could not brook a free discussion of the issues involved in the war. The local newspaper, the Key of the Gulf, however, kept up the discussion, and Major French sought to have it suppressed. In his report he says, "I have spoken to several respectable citizens to have the paper suppressed, and had assurances that it would not appear again." The issue of the Key of the Gulf on May 4, 1861, contained strong secession arguments and Major French suspending the writ of habeas corpus "in order to arrest without molestation the parties suspected of uttering treasonable sentiments." Mr. Ward, the editor, realizing that he was about to become a victim to persecution, left the island and entered the Confederate service.

Major French further reports: "The Salvor today takes away Mr. Crusoe, the late magistrate of the county, and county clerk; Judge Douglass and family; Mr. Asa Tift and his negroes. Others are preparing to leave, and winding up their affairs."

Matters went from bad to worse, and every act of cruelty towards Southern sympathizers was hailed with ghoulish glee.

On June 17, 1862, the city was shocked to learn that Mr. William Pinckney, the junior member of the firm of Wall & Co., and Judge Winer Bethel had been arrested and held in close confinement in the fort. After several months imprisonment without a trial, they were sent as prisoners to Fortress Monroe, and there kept for nearly a year.

The New York Herald of June 29, 1862, contained a most venomous letter from Key West recounting the arrest of these gentlemen, and praying that "there will be no delay in their case, and that they will receive their punishment quickly, and that it will be of a character to strike terror among those who desire to do as these have done." It fairly portrays the feeling of the Northern sympathizers in Key West towards those who were true to their homes and their native Southland.*

Following this came the arrest of Mr. W. D. Cash. An irresponsible negro by the name of Noah Lewis, a drayman of Wall & Company's store, where Mr. Cash was employed, was induced to report that Mr. Cash had made treasonable utterances against the United States government; among them, that fie wished every Union officer and soldier would die of yellow fever. Mr. Cash was arrested, and confined in Fort Taylor for about two weeks without a hearing, when he was sent for by Colonel Morgan who offered to release him if he would sign a parole d'honeur. The document contained two clauses to which Mr. Cash objected, and he declined to sign, unless they were eliminated. After some conversation, during which Col. Morgan threatened to send Mr. Cash back to Fort Taylor, the objectionable clauses were stricken out, and the parole signed. Upon his release he was entertained at the quarters of Captain Macfarlane and other officers-an evidence that they gave no credence to the malicious charges which had been made against him.

Facts were distorted or manufactured to curry favor with the Federal army officers. One instance of this was when a young scion of a distinguished family was given a small toy pistol, from which a cork was driven out by compressed air, with a loud "pop." It happened to be about the time that news of a Confederate victory reached Key West, and Union sympathizers carried the report to the Federal commanding officer that Mr., a rebel, was celebrating the Confederate victory by a champagne party, and that the popping of champagne corks could be plainly heard.

On the 16th of May, 1861, a move was set on foot under the instigation of Thomas J. Boynton, then United States district attorney, and others for the purposes disclosed in the following document:

"We, the undersigned citizens of Key West, believing that the distracted condition of the country demands that our services should be offered to her in this hour of need, that we may assist in. preserving the honor of our flag, upholding the laws, and quelling rebellion, do hereby agree to form a volunteer company, and hold ourselves subject to the commander of the United States forces at Key West."

The individuals thus organized on the day named, having assembled in a large room in the building adjacent to the St. James hotel, which stood on the site of the Jefferson, proceeded to Fort Taylor, and Colonel W. C. Maloney, Sr., was made the spokesman for the company. The contents of the paper having been read in the presence of Major French, they were presented with a flag, and mutual assurances of fidelity interchanged. After being hospitably entertained, the members of the company returned to the city and to their several avocations. According to promise they were furnished arms by Major French, and Daniel Davis was elected captain. They drilled regularly and were familiarizing themselves with the manual of arms, when Captain Joseph S. Morgan of the 90th Regiment, N. Y. Volunteers, military commander of the island, disarmed them in 1863, and they disbanded.

About this time an incident occurred which caused Colonel Morgan to be most unjustly execrated by Southerners and Northerners alike.

On January 29, 1863, this order was issued from the headquarters of the Department of the South at Hilton Head:


"Hilton Head, Port Royal, S. C.,
"January 29, 1863.
"Col. T. H. Good, 4th Pennsylvania Vols.,
"Commanding Post, Key West, Fla.

"COLONEL: You will immediately send to this post the families (white) of all persons who have husbands, brothers or sons in Rebel employment, and all other persons who have at any time declined to take the oath of allegiance, or who have uttered a single disloyal word, in order that they may be all placed within the Rebel lines. The officer who will hand you this, will take such persons on board the steamer which carries him down to your post.

"By command of Maj. Gen. D. Hunter. Very respectfully, "Your obedient servant,

"(Record not signed.)


Before the order was received at Key West Colonel Good had been relieved by Colonel Jos. S. Morgan, and the order being received by the latter, be bad no alternative but to obey the instructions contained therein.

This order was of similar character to the reconcentrado policy of General Weyler in Cuba, during the last Cuban insurrection. The Southern army was half starved; farms had been abandoned; many within the Confederate lines were without food, and the enforcement of this order would have resulted in suffering equal to that sustained by the reconcentrados. It was, however, in line with the policy of the United States government towards the South during the entire war.

About six hundred citizens, including some who were recognized as staunch Union men, had been directed to hold themselves in readiness to embark for Hilton Head, thence to be transferred to some Confederate post. "The town," wrote a loyal citizen, "has been in the utmost state of excitement. Men sacrificing their property, selling off their all, getting ready to be shipped off; women and children crying at the thought of being sent off among the Rebels. It was impossible for any good citizen to remain quiet and unconcerned at such a time."

It stirred up the Union citizens to an amazing extent, but instead of placing the blame where it belonged-on the government that issued the order-they made Colonel Morgan the scapegoat for their indignation, and assiduously stirred up a sentiment which caused him to come down in the history of the place as a monster of cruelty.

The order affected Union men as well as Southerners, many of the more prominent of the former having near relatives in the Confederate army. Among these were Colonel W. C. Maloney, Sr., whose son, Walter C. Maloney, Jr., was gallantly fighting for his native Southland, and Mr. Daniel Davis, whose son George had also gone into the Confederacy.

The Union men at Key West, led by United States District Attorney Boynton, sent to Washington a protest against the order. Colonel Good was ordered back to Key West with authority to suspend the operation of the order, if he saw fit, and he arrived in Key West and relieved Colonel Morgan February 22, 1863. His first act before landing from the transport was to suspend the enforcement of the order.

On the day Colonel Good arrived, a transport was about to sail with some of those who were to be forever banished from their homes, and their baggage was on board. Among these were the families of Mr. Fernando J. Moreno, and the venerable Methodist minister, Rev. W. J. McCook, who had gone on board with the few effects they were permitted to carry with them. About four o'clock in the afternoon the first information received by persons living further uptown that the order had been revoked, was seeing Rev. Mr. McCook with his family and their effects, on a dray, waving to all whom be saw, informing them that the order had been countermanded and they were not to leave. It brought great joy to many households, as there was not one of any prominence that had not gone through the sad experience of preparations to abandon their homes. Private residences with handsome old furniture, valuable portraits and silver, were locked up with the hope that they might be secure from vandal hands, but the experience of the rest of the South where the Federal troops were in undisputed possession, shows how vain their hopes would have proved.

The citizens of Key West presented Colonel Good with a gold-hilted sword in appreciation of his action in suspending this order. The presentation was made at Clinton Square by Colonel W. C. Maloney, Sr., as spokesman for the donors. A. large concourse of people gathered to witness the presentation, and several companies of troops and squads of marines were drawn up around the square, to add to the impressiveness of the occasion. After the sword had been presented and accepted, the citizens joined hands and sang a paraphrase of the popular song, with the refrain "Bully for that," which ended

"Colonel Good has got the sword, Bully for that! Bully for that!


There were a number of our young men who desired to join the Confederate army, but were prevented from doing so by the difficulty of getting away-permits to leave the island being issued only by the army officer in command, to those who would take the oath of allegiance. Too much praise cannot be given to that band of noble men who left Key West under these circumstances to fight for their native Southland. Their names are given to perpetuate the memory of their patriotism.


Mr. Walter Maloney and Mr. Pacetti took a small boat, slipped past the guard boat in the harbor, went to Tampa and there enlisted in the Confederate army.

Mr. Alfred Lowe applied to Major French for a pass, but was refused unless he would take the oath of allegiance, but as that would have thwarted his intention, he with Marcus Oliveri, William Sawyer and Robert Watson stowed away on an English schooner bound for Nassau. After reaching that port they got a vessel to land them at Cape Florida, and walked from there to Jupiter Light, and there got a small boat and went to New Smyrna. Thence they walked to Enterprise where they took the steamer Darlington to Jacksonville, and continued their journey until they reached Tampa, where they joined Company K of the Seventh Florida Regiment under Colonel Madison Perry.

Mr. Joseph Fagan and Mr. John T. Lowe were working in Manatee county and joined their comrades in Tampa. The others were engaged in smack fishing for the Havana market. Their vessels were captured by the Confederates near Tampa, which afforded them an opportunity to give their services to their country.

Mr. William Sawyer, son of Mr. Philip Sawyer, died in camp at Knoxville, Tenn. Mr. Joseph Fagan was captured at Missionary Ridge and kept prisoner until the close of the war. Mr. John Pent was shot in the hand, and draws a pension from the State of Florida as a Confederate veteran.

Mr. Charles Berry, father-in-law of Mr. Joshua Curry, was killed by the explosion of the boiler of the Confederate gunboat Chattahoochee.

Mr. John T. Lowe was a brother of Mrs. Charles Curry and Mrs. John Lowe, Jr.

Mr. Samuel Morgan was an invalid for many years in the Marine Hospital, where he died a few years ago.

All honor to these heroes and may their memories ever be revered in this community!

Of this gallant band the only living are Mr. Alfred Lowe and Mr. John Pent. Long may they live!

Excerpt from "Key West: The Old and the New" by Jefferson B. Browne. Published 1912.


Home > Floripedia > Key West: Civil War
Site Map

Exploring Florida: A Social Studies Resource for Students and Teachers
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.