Moreno Point is the name the Spanish gave to the land mass that we know today as Destin long before Florida was owned by the United States. On Feb. 9, 1842, while Florida was still a territory, the ninth president of the United States, John Tyler, transferred the land at Moreno Point to the War Department as Moreno Point Military Reservation.
While Moreno Point was "reserved" by the War Department for military purposes, in doing the research for my recent books about the history of Destin, I was never able to find any evidence that they actually used Moreno Point for any active military purpose. In 1926, the War Department declared Moreno Point Military Reservation excess and offered the land for sale. This early history of the land at Destin is the topic of my book "DESTIN Pioneer Settlers…A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940."
Recently, I found that there actually WAS a military presence very close to present day Destin during the Civil War. That military presence is the topic of this month’s History Mystery. The portion of an 1864 Union map is in both of my books. My purpose for including the map was to show the family names living near East Pass, and the map also shows the old East Pass very clearly.
The map also shows something called a “Camp of Expedition” on Santa Rosa Island just about where the new East Pass is located today. I was never able to determine what this "camp" was used for, until recently. In reading about the Union Army that patrolled Northwest Florida during the period from 1863-1865, I discovered that the 1st Florida Union Cavalry set up a recruitment camp in 1864 at the eastern end of Santa Rosa Island, at East Pass.
This camp housed the troops that routinely scoured the countryside around Choctawhatchee Bay looking for four types of men as follows:
1. Men interested in serving in the military and supporting the Union effort
2. Run-a-way slaves from south Alabama and Northwest Florida
3. Deserters from the Union Army
4. Deserters from the Confederate Army
As those men were located they were brought to the Recruiting Station at East Pass for further transfer to Fort Barrancas. At Fort Barrancas those interested in joining the Union war effort were sworn in as Union soldiers. Those deserters from both sides, not interested in serving in a Union military capacity, were also transported to Fort Barrancas or Fort Pickens for detention.
During 1863-1865, the Union ships USS Charlotte and USS Bloomer took turns blockading the East Pass. They often left their blockading duty and took potential new recruits and captured deserters back to Pensacola. In my earlier research about Leonard Destin life at East Pass, I discovered even some of Leonard Destin’s fishing hands went to Union ships blockading East Pass during periods of Union/Confederate conflict at East Pass for protection.
On July 12, 1861, Leonard Destin and his family were still living at East Pass. In the log of the Union Navy blockader USS Water Witch a noon to 4 p.m. entry in the ship’s log it states “a small boat came off shore containing one man with a flag of truce.” The crew of the Water Witch took him aboard for protection. Then again on Aug. 9, 1861, in the ship’s log for the USS Wyandotte, which was then blockading East Pass, in the 8 p.m. to midnight log entry it states “Fred Lawmaster came off shore for protection.” Frederick Lawmaster was an employee of Leonard Destin’s and was known to have family in Pensacola. Additionally, those living in the area around the bay heard about the recruitment efforts, and the Union camp at East Pass had individuals finding their way there on their own, offering to enlist.
UNION CEMETERY AT EAST PASS – Union troops stationed at the recruitment station (the Camp of Expedition on the map) got sick and some died. Those that died were buried on site. A relative of one of those soldiers who died on Sept. 24, 1864, at the camp at East Pass believed the relative had eventually been washed out to sea. Knowing that the spot on the 1864 map is just about where the new East Pass was cut by four Destin fishermen in March 1929, I became worried that maybe the cutting of the new East Pass caused Civil War graves to be washed away. But I eventually located records of five individuals who died at East Pass. They are actually now buried at Barrancas National Cemetery.
The cemetery at Fort Barrancas began as a small post cemetery meant for those Naval personnel and their families who lived and worked at the U.S. Navy Yard in Pensacola. With the onset of the Civil War, the cemetery expanded to accept the remains of soldiers killed in action.
In 1868, the site was officially designated as Barrancas National Cemetery; many of the earliest burials were interments of soldiers who died during the Civil War at the Battles of Pensacola, Bayou Chico, Gunboat Point, Santa Rosa Island, East Pass, Apalachicola, San Juan Island, and Saint Andrews Bay.
There are four unknown soldiers buried in Barrancas who were initially buried at East Pass. In the late 1860s the remains of these four Union soldiers were moved to Barrancas National Cemetery and according to the U.S. Burial Register for the cemetery, these four soldiers were reinterned in Section 8, in Graves 671, 672, 673, and 674.
Additionally, Private John Gaskins, a native of Santa Rosa County, also died at East Pass and was reinterned in Section 1, Grave on 960. Mystery solved! They weren’t washed away, but were moved to the local National Cemetery and given a proper military burial in Pensacola.
H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author and speaker. He visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published historic books about Destin - DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin and DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940. Both can be obtained from Amazon.com, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 850/585-2909, The Destin History & Fishing Museum, Dewey Destin's Restaurants in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.