The Civil War Photography of St. Augustine

Local writer Andrew Nicholas shares a look at pictures taken of St. Augustine by Union photographer Samuel Abbot Cooley during the Civil War.

Images of Union St. Augustine

Samuel Abbot Cooley was a Union photographer for the Department of the South. Cooley and his associates took the majority of photographs in Jacksonville and St. Augustine during the Civil War. This photograph was taken in South Carolina prior to traveling with the Union Army to Florida in 1864.

During the Civil War, Jacksonville produced a small but interesting number of photographs from February 1864 to the end of the war. According to Partners with the Sun: South Carolina Photographers 1840-1940 by Harvey S. Teal, these photographs were taken by a team of photographers led by Samuel Abbott Cooley, the official photographer of the United States Army’s Department of the South. Together these photographers traveled between many towns under Union occupation in Northeast Florida.

South of Jacksonville, St. Augustine had been occupied by Union forces since 1862, and Cooley and his associates traveled there to take photographs. The locations of many of the St. Augustine photographs can easily be determined since their landmarks still exist to this day. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, many of the buildings and structures in the Civil War photographs are long gone.

The photographs are from the Library of Congress and the State Archives of Florida. Most of these photographs from the two institutions have either a vague date, no author given or short captions which barely described what is happening in each photograph.

The photographs

The Castillo de San Marcos was renamed Fort Marion in 1821 when the United States acquired Florida from Spain. Fort Marion was named after General Francis Marion of the American Revolutionary War. The photograph shows a portion of Fort Marion facing the Matanzas River. Union soldiers can be seen in the back.

*A view of Fort Marion facing north. Union soldiers can be seen in the distance on top of the fort.

The main entrance to Fort Marion. Union soldiers are seen at the top guarding the fort.

The interior of Fort Marion. Union soldiers are seen posing for the photograph next to cannonballs and cannons. Union tents are seen at the top.

Union soldiers pose for a photograph at Fort Marion.

The entrance to George Street. Wagon wheels tracks can be seen in the mud.

This photograph was taken at an unknown location on George Street.

This photograph was also taken at an unknown location on George Street.

The Matanzas River and downtown St. Augustine. The steeple of Trinity Parish can be seen in the distance in the center-right.

This cropped part of the previous photograph shows the slave market pavilion. Slaves in St. Augustine at this time were legally freed because St. Augustine was occupied by the Union and the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect. A portion of the Emancipation Proclamation states, “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

The Cathedral Basilica was built from 1793 to 1797. The photograph shows the exterior of the Cathedral Basilica in 1864. In 1887 the building was burned but fortunately it was salvaged and restored with a new bell tower on its left side.

The Monument to the Spanish Constitution of 1814 in Plaza de la Constitucion. The photograph was taken in front of the Basilica Cathedral looking south. The man sitting is possibly Samuel Cooley.

St. Mary’s Convent on George Street.

A view of St. Augustine with Fort Marion in the distance.

This is a cropped-out portion of the previous photograph showing Fort Marion in greater detail. Union tents can be seen on top of the fort.

Article by Andrew R. Nicholas. Follow Andrew on Twitter at a_r_nicholas.