Sunday, July 01, 2012


Tampa, FL – The valor of two veterans from Tampa Bay’s past were honored Saturday, June 30th at historic Oaklawn Cemetery in a colorful historical observance.

Tampa came under the gun of Federal gunboat USS Sagamore on June 30 and July 1 1862 and two valiant officers repulsed the attack: Ft. Brooke Post Commander Capt. John Pearson, Osceola Rangers and prominent Tampa Citizen Capt. James Gettis, 7th FL Infantry, Co. B.

The Tampa Bay Sesquicentennial Commission observed the 150th anniversary of the “Battle of Tampa”, when the gunboat USS Sagamore steamed into Hillsborough Bay and its captain demanded the city’s unconditional surrender. In ringing tones, Cpt. Pearson replied “The word ‘surrender’ is not in our book” and upon the threat of bombardment retorted, “Pitch in” – the 19th Century version of “bring it on”. The Sagamore did, shelling the town for two hours that day, and again the next.

Pearson’s brave defiance in defense of Tampa was backed by one of Tampa’s own prominent citizens, Cpt. James Gettis, an officer of another company, happened to be at the fort and helped direct return fire from its cannons.

The highlight of the event was a first person account of Capt. Pearson’s battle report from the Official Record. The account was presented by David Waugh, member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, donned in splendid military attire.

Marine Corps League Post 1225 Past-Commander, John Bain, presented a tribute to Gettis, who is well known in Tampa history as the city’s second lawyer, State Representative, Judge and Freemason. Though a native of Pennsylvania, Gettis adopted Tampa Bay as his home.

Capt. Gettis, interred at Oaklawn upon his death in 1867, was honored in a series of grave-side observances. Ladies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Augusta Jane Evans Wilson Chapter processed to Gettis’s gravesite, and a southern “Cross” was dedicated by its President, Brenna Rutland. A wreath was placed by President Elizabeth J. Byrd, of the Confederate Cantinieers Chapter.

Hillsborough Lodge #25 F&AM installed a Masonic marker and a tribute was given by Worshipful Master Joseph Gonzalez. Gettis was initiated in the Lodge in 1850.

Three volleys of a black-powder rifle salute were given by gray-clad soldiers in tribute to Tampa’s hero.

The event commenced at 5:30 p.m. and continued during the hour of the original shelling 150 years ago. A monument to this incident at Oaklawn witnesses that even the cemetery was not spared attack, being struck by an 8 inch shell. A cool breeze offset the 90+ degree weather at historic Oaklawn Cemetery which didn’t deter those who attended to observe Tampa’s history.

Scottish American Military Society Post 1952 Bagpiper Erla Richardson led historically attired color guards from the Sons of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Tampa Historical Society President, Marureen Patrick, and Hillsborough Veterans Park Committee Co-Chairman, David Braun brought greetings.

The Tampa Historical Society hosted a post-event reception at the Peter O. Knight house for all attendees. The Commission also lead a walking tour of nearby historic sites, which is available free online at:

The Commission was organized in 2010 to observe the participation of residents of Tampa Bay in the conflict during the sesquicentennial years.

“It is important to remember and honor our local history and its veterans” said Commission President David McCallister, Esq. “Men like Cpt. Pearson and Cpt. Gettis are honorable examples of ordinary citizens who saw their duty to their state and family, and stepped up to loyally defend them against aggressive attack. All American veterans deserve to be honored”.

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