Klein: Why was the East Pass important to the Union during the Civil War?

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
A letter written by Lt. Henry T. Wright (a member of the Walton Guards) to his father on Aug. 16, 1861 mentions Captain Len “alias Destin” and states that he was thought to be “trading with the enemy.”

Another History Mystery of Destin is why the East Pass was important to the Union during the Civil War and why the Confederates guarded it.

One of President Abraham Lincoln’s first acts following the secession of the southern states from the Union was to give orders to the Union Navy to blockade all southern ports.

This included East Pass. Early in the war the Union controlled Fort Pickens at the mouth of the Pensacola Harbor while the Confederates controlled Fort Barrancas in Pensacola. General Braxton Bragg was the General in charge of the Confederate troops in Pensacola.

The Union Navy blockaded the East Pass off and on during the Civil War to be sure no vessels entered or left Choctawhatchee Bay. The USS Mohawk and the USS Wyandotte actively blockaded from May 10 through July 5, 1861. On July 5, the USS Water Witch relieved the USS Wyandotte. The USS Wyandotte returned to East Pass and took over the blockade from July 20 to Aug. 16, 1861.

The Union then sank the schooner General T. F. Chambers of Galveston, Texas in the East Pass to try to stop any movement through the East Pass. Then the Union stopped blockading the East Pass until 1862.

In the column on the left on the chart above we see that after the USS Water Witch and USS Wyandotte left East Pass it does not appear that there were any active blockading until the USS Maria A. Wood arrived on Jan. 23, 1862. The Wood remained at East Pass until March 27, 1862. That is about the time the Walton Guards left Camp Walton for Pensacola and then on to Tennessee as a part of the 1st Florida Infantry.

From Jan. 1 through June 30, 1863 the USS Charlotte actively blockaded East Pass. In 1864 the USS Charlotte and the USS Bloomer took turns running blockade duty from March 15, 1864 through July 1, 1865. As you can see, sometimes the East Pass was not guarded at all by the Union Navy.

The Confederates had a camp in what is today downtown Fort Walton Beach. The camp was atop and around three Indian mounds, including what is today the Indian Temple Mound. The camp was manned by the Walton Guards, the local militia of Walton County. At that time, what is today downtown Fort Walton Beach was in Walton County.

The Walton Guards were given two assignments. First, the guards were to watch the Union activity at East Pass and to make sure the Union did not come ashore. Secondly, they were to make sure the Union did not come into the East Pass and sail or steam up the ‘Narrows” and into Santa Rosa Sound towards Pensacola unseen.

Camp Walton was set up so the Walton Guards could watch the Narrows – the east entrance to Santa Rosa Sound. They also watched the activities of the blockaders at East Pass.

From time to time there were skirmishes at East Pass. The Union would come ashore by boat, and the Walton Guard would push the Union back, usually with gunfire. Leonard Destin, the founder of Destin, lived with his family at East Pass and was just a few hundred yards away from the action and gunfire at East Pass.

Having been born in New London, Conn., Leonard was a Yankee living in a very vulnerable place considering the Union Navy was blockading the entrance to Choctawhatchee Bay at East Pass and that is where he lived.

A letter written by Lt. Henry T. Wright (a member of the Walton Guards) to his father on Aug. 16, 1861 mentions Captain Len “alias Destin” and states that he was thought to be “trading with the enemy.”

It says, “Our Captain has received orders from head quarters to move Captain Len, ‘alias Destin’ who is supposed to have carried on trade with the enemy from East Pass. Len started for the interior last week he will land at Four Mile Landing.”

So exactly what was Leonard Destin trading with the enemy, and why was his family moved? That and more of the Mysteries of Destin will be discussed next month in an article titled – Why Was Leonard Destin Moved from East Pass During the Civil War?

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian who visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published a historic book about Destin's pioneer settlers. DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940 can be obtained from Amazon.com, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 585-2909, Dewey Destin's Restaurants, in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, or Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted at klein@aristotle.net.