Florida Lighthouses in the Civil War

By: Dr. David Coles, Longwood University

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How Florida's lighthouses played a role in and weathered the Civil War.

At the time of the Civil War, there were 20 lighthouses and one lightship along Florida’s shores. In 1861, most came under Confederate control. Lighthouses in the Keys and the Tortugas remained in Federal hands. Early in the war, the Confederates extinguished the beacons under their management, so as not to be of use to Union vessels.

At Jupiter Inlet, the keeper continued to operate the light until August 1861, when a group of Confederate sympathizers took control and removed its equipment. They also disabled the Cape Florida Lighthouse

Lighthouses that experienced significant military activity include the Egmont Key Lighthouse, the Cedar Keys Lighthouse and the Pensacola Lighthouse, which was damaged during an artillery bombardment in 1861. 

The St. Marks Lighthouse was shelled in 1862 and again in 1863, after which a Union landing party set fire to the lighthouse’s wooden stairs.

After the war, as their lenses were found and other damage repaired, the lighthouses were relit, the last not until 1872 when a new lighthouse was built at Dames Point to replace the lightship. 

To learn more, see Florida’s Lighthouses in the Civil War by Neil E. Hurley, Middle River Press, 2007.

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