Fort Walton Beach’s carronade
The interesting story of how the ‘Fort’ came to Fort Walton Beach Florida in the American Civil War.
Florida is unique in the south and is often referred to as the most northern of southern states. It is also said that the further north you go in Florida, the further south you get. This is perhaps the truest in the far western Florida panhandle. A little known Confederate force, comprised of local volunteers, fought a few minor battles near what is now Destin/Fort Walton Beach.
Florida in the Civil War
Florida succeeded from the United States on 10 January 1861 and within a month joined the Confederacy. Florida was very sparsely populated in 1861 and its population was thought to be just 140,000 of whom more than 60,000 were slaves. From this population base, the state mustered 16,000 local men to serve in 11 infantry regiments and 2 of cavalry from the Sunshine State. All told, Florida units made up just fewer than 2 percent of the Confederate Army.
One of these units, who later became Company D of the 1st Florida Infantry Regiment, was the Walton Guard. They were organized and mustered into Confederate service for 12 months at Chattahoochee Florida on 5 April 1861.
The Walton Guard and the Indian Mound
Formed from volunteers of Walton and Santa Rosa Counties near Euchee Anna Florida in March 1861, the Walton Guard was a scratch force. Armed with few regular weapons and no artillery they formed a defensive line near what is today downtown Fort Walton Beach.
The Fort Walton Mound, a thousand-year-old Indian burial site, was chosen as the fortification for the unit. The mound was a truncated pyramid made of sand, dirt, and shells 223 feet long, 17 feet high and 178 feet wide. The local Native Americans had used the site as the center of their village up until the 16th century when they became extinct. It was here that the Walton Guard chose to watch over the narrows of Santa Rosa Sound and Choctawhatchee Bay.
The Walton Guards stood their ground for a year, watching over nearby Union-held Fort Pickens and getting into a few light rifle skirmishes with Union gunboats in the area. Finally, regulars from Fort Pickens decided to scatter the Confederate force and in March 1862, a unit of the 1st US Artillery moved from the fort to within cannon range of Camp Walton. On the early morning of April Fool’s Day 1862, Union forces bombarded the Walton Guards on their Indian Mount and oyster shell fortification. Withdrawing from the battlefield Confederate forces fell back down the peninsula and only returned to their post once the Union artillery returned to Fort Pickens.
The Lost Cannon of the Walton Guard
Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, upon finding out of the skirmish, sent small naval cannon to Camp Walton to give the local Confederates some more firepower. The 18-pounder carronade sent over from Pensacola of the type of short naval cannons used on early frigates before the Civil War. They were smoothbore pieces that could be fired comparatively rapidly for ordnance of that era.
The weapons’ primary handicap was that it had a short-range (1-2 miles) and a low elevation. This meant that a Union ship would have to anchor nearly right in front of it to be in danger from it. With the inability to properly defend the mound and their enlistments coming up the Walton Guards evacuated the site in the summer of 1862. They spiked and buried their cannon in the mound so that it could not be used if captured and withdrew to the north.
The Walton Guards joined the rest of the 1st Florida Infantry under Colonel James Patton Anderson. They fought with Stovall’s Brigade, Breckinridge’s Division, D. H. Hill’s Corps, Army of Tennessee at the battles of Chickamauga and Murfreesboro. The remnants of the Walton Guard surrendered and were paroled in North Carolina May 1865.
Their cannon was recovered during archeological excavations of the Indian Mound and today is mounted next to the mound on US 98 in Fort Walton Beach.
It has been a standard site in the area for generations.