William Henry Chase
William Henry Chase, a major
general of Florida state forces, was born at Chase's Mills near Brickfield,
Massachusetts (now Maine), on June 4, His father, Thomas Chase, was of an old
Massachusetts family. Many of the family, including Chase's two brothers, were
army officers. His mother, Sarah Greenleaf, was a niece of Governor John
Hancock, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Appointed to the United
States Military Academy, the young Chase graduated thirtieth (of forty) in the
class of 1815. One classmate was future Confederate General Samuel Cooper.
Chase's distinguished antebellum army career included stints building forts
throughout the United States. Posted to the engineer corps, he worked at Fort
Niagara in New York from 1815 to 1819. From 1819 to 1828 he helped build the
forts below New Orleans. From 1829 to 1834 he was engaged in the construction of
Fort Pickens near Pensacola, Florida. Chase rose to the rank of major (July,
1838) and senior officer of engineers on the Gulf Coast, with responsibility for
fortifications along the Caribbean. The forts were largely constructed with
rented slave labor. Chase, as chief engineer, became the largest slave renter on
the Gulf Coast—a factor that led him eventually to espouse the slaveholder's
point of view. In 1856 President Pierce asked Chase to become the superintendent
of West Point, which honor. Chase declined, fearing the appointment would injure
his health. Instead, Chase resigned from the army (October 31,1856) to devote
himself to his extensive business interests in the Pensacola area. One of that
town's leading citizens, he was a slave-owner, civic "booster," city alderman,
and president of the Alabama and Florida Railroad Company. By now a thoroughly
"southern gentleman," married into a southern family, Chase wrote nationally
syndicated articles promoting the power of "King Cotton."
Florida seceded from the United States on January 10, 1861. Florida's immediate military objective was to take possession of Pensacola Bay (the best harbor on the Gulf), and Union-held Fort Pickens, which dominated the entrance to the bay.
Chase, a prominent Pensacolan and
senior officer in the old army, was the obvious choice to coordinate Florida s
effort. Governor Madison Perry appointed him colonel of state forces to command
the eight hundred Florida troops concentrated in and around Pensacoia. On
January 15, 1861, Chase, his eyes filled with tears in the emotion of the
moment, demanded the surrender of the fort (which he had designed and
constructed) and its garrison, threatening to take the fort by assault if the
demand was refused. Lieutenant Adam Slemmer, who commanded a company of U.S.
troops holding the fort, refused this demand and another demand three days
later. Although Chase could have taken the fort by assault (as Slemmer himself
admitted) and in consequence started the war, southern politicians stepped in
and arranged a truce. Florida Senator Stephen Mallory worked out a deal with
President Buchanan to keep the peace. Under this deal the North would not
reinforce Fort Pickens, and the South would not attack it. This arrangement
lasted until April, after the Lincoln administration had taken over, by which
time Confederate forces under Braxton Bragg had assumed command of Chase's state
troops. The war that was not started at Fort Pickens in January was started that
April in Charleston Harbor, where, under similar circumstances, Confederates
bombarded the Union-held Fort Sumter. Fort Pickens remained in Union hands
throughout the war. On January 17, 1861, the Florida Secession Convention
authorized the governor to appoint Chase a major general in the newly created
"Army of Florida," which appointment the governor soon made. The convention also
officially approved Chase's diplomatic handling of the Fort Pickens crisis,
adopting a resolution expressing "their approval and high appreciation" of his
actions.' Chase took no active part in the war after March, 1861.
After the war Chase was a businessman in Pensacola until his death on February 8,1870. He was buried at Chasefield plantation on Big Lagoon, Pensacola. Because of a construction project General Chase's remains were displaced many years ago and cannot be precisely located today.
Chase's rank of general in the Florida state army qualifies him to be considered a Confederate general.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.