Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fort Barrancas: A post requested by a reader

The reader did not specify Fort Barrancas, but I have been sitting on a request from a reader to do a post (or posts) about American forts. The reader, who happens to be my European correspondent, shares an interest with me in old fortifications. In any event, I am happy to fulfill his request for a post on American forts. We will start with Fort Barrancas.

Fort Barrancas is what is known as a Third System fort -- forts built after the War of 1812 and mostly before the War Between the States. There is a magnificent book on the forts of the Third System, A Legacy In Brick and Stone, that details the history of the Third System forts. The author has visited many of the forts and took the photos himself. In that spirit, I am starting with the forts I have visited myself. Yes, I own a copy of the book, quaint as that might seem in this e-book era.

Fort Barrancas is located on what is not Pensacola Naval Air Station. A few years ago, I visited my father, who lives in Pensacola and is a retired Marine.Thirty years ago, I lived in Pensacola, but was unable to visit Fort Barrancas because it is on a military base. With Major Wolves driving and flashing ID, I had no trouble getting on base.

Fort Barrancas is one of three forts built to defend the harbor at Pensacola. Fort Barrancas is located on the mainland on a low hill overlooking the harbor entrance. The second fort in the system is Fort Pickens, located on Santa Rosa Island, directly across the harbor entrance from Fort Barrancas. The third fort, Fort McRee, was located to the right of Fort Barrancas on Perdido Key. Together, they provided a triangle of interlocking fire that would have made it impossible for a hostile ship to enter the harbor:

Alas, things did not work out that way the only time the forts had the opportunity to spring into action. In the early days of the War Between the States -- commonly known as the Civil War, which is inaccurate because that denotes a was between differing factions of the same country, while the War Between the States involved two different countries, as the southern states had seceded to form the Confederacy. But that is a story for another day. In any event, Union forces retained control of Fort Pickens, across the harbor mouth from Fort Barrancas. Union ships and cannons at Fort Pickens bombarded Fort McRee, essentially destroying it. Nothing remains today -- the ruins are underwater at the eastern end of Perdido Key. The Confederates retained control of the city and Fort Barrancas, but the Union hold on Fort Pickens ended the value of Pensacola as a blockade-running port.

As you can see from this picture, Fort Barrancas has a pretty commanding position overlooking the entrance to Pensacola Bay:

I guess that's an oil tanker entering the harbor. The fort is built on the site of an old Spanish fort, part of which was incorporated into the defenses at Fort Barrancas. The old Spanish fortifications are known as the Water Battery. Located between Fort Barrancas and Pensacola Bay, the Water Battery is the white fortifications in this picture:

Fort Barrancas itself is a traditional masonry fort:

The fort was designed to defend the city from a seaborne attack, but had limited land-attack defenses. Here you can see the area between the sea-defense fort, on the left, and the land-oriented defenses on the right:

This picture is a view from the sea-side structures looking out of a firing embrasure toward the land-side defenses:

The idea was that anyone caught between the two could be fired upon from both structures. We'll never know if that was a good idea, as the concept never was tested. Here is a view of one of the passages that provided access for rifle men to man firing ports within the fort:

Here is another exterior view of the landside defenses:

And another view:

The is a view of the cannon emplacements overlooking Pensacola Bay:

I did not take this picture, obviously, as it is an aerial shot of the water battery(in the foreground) and Fort Barrancas:

This aerial from a higher altitude provides a better view of the fort's layout:

The water batter is in front of the fort. The two are connected by a tunnel.

At some point, I will probably do more posts about forts I have visited. In this case, I have my own pictures of Fort Barrancas from a relatively recent visit. I also visited Fort Pickens relatively recently, but have been unable to locate the pictures due to a recent computer change. While I spent a lot of time at Fort Pickens many years ago, I was far more concerned with sex and drinking at the time and did not even own a camera, so there are no pictures from that era, even though I was at the fort most nights for about a year. But we'll get there. Hope you enjoyed the Fort Barrancas post and, if you didn't, well, refer to the title of the blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a great post. That is one well kept fort! I wish we kept our fortifications in similar shape here on the other side of the pond.

What did you do on that fort every night for almost a year?