By early January 1861, mechanic W. Thomas Morrill, pictured here, and other employees of the Pensacola Navy Yard in Florida were caught in a humanitarian crisis. They had not been paid for two months—the result of civil unrest that disrupted the flow of money and materials to military outposts in the Southern states as the country drifted towards civil war. Hunger became a real and present danger.
Morrill had a wife and two infants to feed. Many of his fellow workers also had families to support and no relief was in sight. On January 8, the workers rallied at a mass meeting at a Masonic hall in Warrington, a village outside the walls of the Yard.
They appointed a committee who promptly met with the commander of the Yard and requested that provisions be issued in lieu of pay. The sympathetic officer in charge, Cmdr. James Armstrong, acted promptly to relieve their sufferings. Flour, sugar, rice, coffee and butter were distributed on January 10—the same day Florida legislators voted by a wide margin to secede from the Union.