Fort Barrancas – Gulf Island National Seashore

Location: Pensacola, Florida

Webpage: National Park

General Description: Fort Barrancas began as Fort San Carlos de Austria constructed in 1698 by the Spanish to protect the deep harbor of Pensacola Bay.  In 1719, French forces captured the fort and destroyed it.  Following Britain’s defeat of the French in the Seven Years War, in 1763 they exchanged some territory with Spain who took over West Florida.  The British used the site for harbor defense building the Royal Navy Redoubt in 1763.  Allying with the Americans in the Revolutionary War, Spain captured Pensacola in 1781, retaking West Florida and building San Carlos de Barrancas in 1797.  During the War of 1812, the Americans, under the command of General Andrew Jackson, defeated the allied forces of England, Spain, and the Creek.  Again, in 1818 General Andrew Jackson exchanged cannon fire with the fort for a few days and Spain abandoned the fort.  When the United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1821, it selected Pensacola as the location of a major Naval Yard, which was built around the fort.  Between 1839 to 1844, Fort Barrancas was expanded to be a defensive fort built with over 6 million brick and mortar.  The incorporated the cannon position of the Spanish fort building a connecting tunnel to the Fort.  This structure known as the Water Battery, was closer to the elevation of the Bay providing excellent position to skip cannonballs into the hulls of ships.  Along with Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island in 1834 and Fort McRee on Admirals Island in 1839 to protect the entrance to the harbor, the defenses of Pensacola Bay were formidable.  The Advanced Redoubt was completed a half mile north of Fort Barrancas with a connecting trench provided protection for the Naval Yard from land based attacks from the west along the peninsula.  At the start of the Civil War, the Union garrison withdrew to Fort Pickens since it was more easily defended and Fort Barrancas, along with Fort McRee and Advanced Redoubt were occupied by the Confederates.  On October 9, 1861 the Confederates landed 1000 soldiers east of Fort Pickens but was repelled by Union forces from the fort.  Along with Fort McRee, Fort Barrancas exchanged heavy cannon fire with Fort Pickens without any major effect except that the Naval Yard and Fort McRee were heavily damaged.  Not being able to control the harbor at Pensacola and the damage to the Naval Yard, the Confederates abandoned the forts and Pensacola in 1862 after the Union had taken New Orleans.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Visitor Center may be small but it is packed with interesting exhibits including a short movie about the history of the fort.

VisitorCenter

2) The National Park Service has done extensive reconstruction of Fort Barrancas, which means it is in excellent condition.  Visitors can see all of the fort including the tunnels connecting the Scarp with the Counter-Scarp and the Fort with the Water Battery.

DryMoatScarp CounterScarp

3) It was interesting the Fort Barrancas was purely a defensive fort without any structures on the parade ground inside the fort except for a hot furnace to heat the cannonballs.  There were no barracks or officer quarters like you see at most forts of the era as the soldiers were camped outside the fort.

ParadeGround

4) The water battery is of a older design and the art work on the fort is obviously of Spanish origin.  It looks rather strange being immediately in front of the Fort, but it made sense that they would use the structure.  The original quarters built into the water battery were converted into ammunition storage.

WaterBattery

5) The Advanced Redoubt is a half mile walk from Fort Barrancas where you can see remnants of the connecting trench manned by the Union forces after they occupied the fort.  The Advanced Redoubt was a surprise as we expected an earthen structure since it is called a redoubt.  However, it is a full brick fort although smaller than Fort Barrancas.  It is designed to repel land based attacks only so all the cannon positions are to the west.  It also had an interesting feature designed for soldiers to retreat over a brick wall as the attacking soldiers came over the west wall.  This way they were able to get behind cover while the attacking soldiers were once again in the open and exposed to crossfire from the interior of the fort and along the wall.

AdvancedRedoubt UniqueStructure

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