THUNDER ON THE RIVER — St. Johns Bluff took a serious pounding during the Civil War. The Confederates built a nearly impenetrable fortification on the ridge, which rises 75 feet above the St. Johns River. They hoped that their stronghold could help keep the Federals from cruising up the river to Jacksonville. It ultimately failed to do so, but the fort did withstand a couple of powerful attacks.
At daybreak on September 11, 1862, two Union gunboats hammered the bluff with about two hundred rounds. The bombardment would’ve easily drowned out the noise made in Jacksonville on New Years Eve, 1999. Of course, the Confederates blasted back at their attackers. One shell whooshed into a gunboat’s ammo storeroom, but it didn’t go off. Had it done so, the boat would’ve been blown into matchsticks & metal shavings.
When the thunder died down, the opponents tallied up their losses. The gunboats had suffered some damage, yet no casualties, while the Confederates lost one dead & eight wounded.
The Southerners held the bluff until a week later, when five Union gunboats began another assault. For five hours, shot & shell fell like hail on the Confederates. As before, the Union vessels took some damage, but no casualties. The Southerners lost two killed & three wounded.
With gunboats in front and Union soldiers threatening from the rear, the Confederates made a tough decision: They abandoned the bluff shortly after the second attack. The Southerners tried to blow up their ammo & breastworks as they retreated. A faulty fuse fizzled, though, and their foe captured the fort intact.
During the attacks, the gunboats accidentally fired low at times, striking the face of the bluff below the Confederate fortification. According to local legend, these shots occasionally erode out of the hill, splashing into the water below.