The Civil War Connections Blog

150 Years Ago Today….

This was written by our friend Fran DuCoin – who has agreed to be a guest blogger! Look for his posts – coming soon!

Fort Pickens

April 7, 1861, a Sunday.

Lieut. John Lorimer Worden, who had turned 43 years old just over three weeks before, caught a very early train south on a secret mission for Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. The mission was to carry an order to navy Captain Henry A. Adams, of the USS Sabine and who was commanding the naval forces off of Pensacola, Fl, to allow army Captain Israel Vogdes, First Artillery, to reinforce Fort Pickens. Ft. Pickens, one of the largest brick forts in the US, is on Santa Rosa Island and defended the entrance to Pensacola Harbor and the Navy Yard. (In 1886, Ft. Pickens would also serve as the prison for Geronimo.)

On 11 March General Winfield Scott had sent a written order via the USS Crusader to Capt. Vogdes to reinforce Ft. Pickens. Capt. Adams, who would actually land the troops, received this order on 1 April, but refused to recognize it since it was from an army general and was in conflict from his last command orders. Adams last written orders regarding Ft. Pickens were on 21 January from Sec. of the Navy Toucey and on 29 January from Toucey and Sec. of War Holt (both of the Buchanan Administration). These orders specifically told him not the land the army unless the fort was actually attacked. Scotts order conflicted with these.

Adams quickly sent a message back asking for specific instructions from the Navy Department via a special messenger who traveled overland to Welles. The messenger arrived on 6 April. Welles went directly to Lincoln who, at 3 PM that same day, authorized immediately sending a messenger back south with the appropriate confidential orders.

Welles first choice for this task was Paymaster Henry Etting who was to leave that evening on the mail train heading south. Etting, who was not feeling well, asked if he could find a replacement whose fidelity was unquestionable. Lieut. John Worden had been ordered to the Navy Department and had just arrived earlier that same afternoon, so Etting suggested Worden. Welles interviewed Worden around 5 PM, asked if he was willing to fulfill this mission, which he was even on such short notice, and Welles verbally ordered him to take the order to Capt. Adams.

This set up a unique series of events that would change the life of Worden. The next time John L. Worden would be in Washington, DC, would be on 10 March 1862 when he would be recovering from the only serious injury which had occurred on the USS Monitor in its epic battle with the CSS Virginia on 9 March 1862.

In the Diary of Gideon Welles, he says Worden left on April 6 on the 9 PM mail train, but this portion of the diary was written “several years” after the Civil War. John Worden, in a letter to G.V. Fox dated September 20, 1865, says he left “early the next morning (April7).” Lieutenant Gwathmey, who delivered Adams secret message to Welles was true to his uniform and his convictions. Two days after delievring the message to Welles, which he had carried northt through the Confederates sates in a hidden compartment in his belt, he submitted his resignation to Welles so he could join the Confederate Navy. Welles, also true to his principles, did not accept Gwathmey’s resignation, even though he had just completed this dangerious task, but dismissed him from the US Navy.