Battle of Fort Myers
The Battle of Fort Myers was fought on February 25, 1865, in Lee County, Florida during the last months of the American Civil War.
This small engagement is known as the "southernmost land battle of the Civil War."
Fort Myers had been abandoned after the Seminole Indian Wars and was reoccupied by Union soldiers in December 1863. It was the only federally occupied fort in South Florida. Union commanders planned to send horse soldiers into the area north of the Caloosahatchee River to confiscate livestock from area cattle ranches, thereby preventing shipment of beef to the Confederate Army of the Tennessee in Georgia. By 1865, it was estimated that more than 4,000 head of cattle had been taken from cattle farms by the Union cavalry units from similar raids.
Fort Myers was used as a refugee center for escaped slaves and also for Union sympathizers who were being persecuted by the secessionists, who were burning their homes and driving them off their farms. At one period during the Federal reoccupation, more than 400 people crowded into the fort's grounds. The fort was garrisoned primarily by the 2nd Florida Cavalry (made up mostly of refugees who had enlisted), a recently detached company of the 110th New York Infantry and a company of black soldiers of the 2nd United States Colored Infantry, both from Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West.
The Confederates organized a special battalion of the state militia with the sole purpose of stopping the Union raids. The battalion, commanded by Col. Charles Munnerlyn, was made up of cattle drovers who were exempt from the Confederate Army. Among them was Capt. Francis A. Hendry. They became known as the Cattle Guard Battalion or "Cow Cavalry."
In early February 1865, the Cattle Guard Battalion was deployed at Fort Meade. Orders were given for the battalion to attack Fort Myers because it was learned that the fort might soon be abandoned. Three companies and one artillery piece set out, and arrived at old Fort Thomson (LaBelle, Florida) on February 19. From there, they marched down the river and encamped near Billy's Creek. The next day, they surprised some black Union soldiers who were on picket duty and shot them.
This alerted the fort, so in the morning the Confederates fired a warning shot from their lone cannon and sent a messenger forward with a demand to surrender. The commanding officer of the fort, Capt. James Doyle, refused sending back a message to the Confederates stating: "Your demand for an unconditional surrender has been received. I respectfully decline; I have force enough to maintain my position and will fight you to the last." He wheeled his two cannons outside the fort. Soon, a battle began with the black soldiers firing the big guns and the others firing muskets. Throughout the day, both sides continued sporadic firing, which finally ceased at dark. One black Federal soldier was killed in the skirmishing.
By morning, the Cattle Guard Battalion returned to Fort Meade. Fort Myers was abandoned in early March.