Location: Fernandina Beach, Florida
Webpage: Florida State Park
General Description: Fort Clinch is one of the best preserved brick and mortar fort from the Civil War Era. Built as part of the Third System of coastal forts following the War of 1812, it protects the entrance to the Cumberland Sound and the railhead at Fernandina Beach. Construction began in 1847 on a pentagonal brick fort with two sets of walls. The outer wall is built of bricks with bastions at each corner and embrasures along the wall. The interior wall of earth was used to hold the cannon protected by the outer brick wall. Interior structures include a two story barracks and storeroom/commissary, a three cell prison, a bakery, a blacksmith, and laundry room. The fort was not yet completed when the Civil War began in 1861 and was quietly occupied by local Confederate militia. During the first year of the war it was used as a safe haven for blockade runners bringing supplies to the Florida railroad at Fernandina Beach. However, advances with rifled cannon made these brick forts susceptible and in March 1862, General Lee ordered the abandonment of the forts, including Fort Clinch, to consolidate his forces. The Union quickly took possession of the fort and worked to finish the fort and use it as their base of operations along the Georgia and Florida coast. It also denied access to the railroads for Confederate blockade runners. The Fort never saw action although it was garrisoned and repaired during the short lived threat of the Spanish-American War in 1898. It was once again used by the Coast Guard as a communication and security post during World War II. Today, the fort has been reconstructed and used on the first weekend of each month to host volunteers in period clothing telling the story of life of the Union soldiers during the Civil War.
1) The museum at the Visitor Center is not very large but well done. It gives a complete history of the three systems of coastal defensive forts leading up to Fort Clinch. It includes a continuously running clips of the volunteers talking with visitors about the different parts of the fort. You can get a sense of what it would be like during the first weekend of each month, which we were too late in the month to see for ourselves.
2) The fort is an impressive example of the brick fortifications at the beginning of the Civil War. The walls are all intact, as well as, the interior buildings. They have furnished most of the buildings with period furniture, supplies, and tools. You can walk through most of the fort, even being allowed to climb up to the top of the bastions in the corner which provide a nice view of the Cumberland Sound.
3) There is a nice short nature walk around a bunch of fresh water ponds that were used by the CCC for road material when they created the state park. It is a great habitat for alligators although the day in November was too cool to see any. They also have put up signs giving information about some of the plants and trees you see along the hike.
4) Another stop along the road is a nice overlook of the salt water marsh looking at the lighthouse that is the oldest structure on the island. Today it is fully automated, but it also has a rich history since it started out on Cumberland Island before being moved to Amelia Island on the other side of the entrance to Cumberland Sound.