An August 2007 trip
to Pensacola by Wildcat Dianne
Quote: A pulled calf muscle and extreme heat couldn't stop this Wildcat from exploring Fort Barrancas, one of the oldest forts in the USA.
With everyone wanting a piece of Pensacola and with Spanish, English, and French at each others' throats, protection was needed to protect the settlement and its people. A first and small fort built by the Spanish in the early 18th Century didn't work, and Pensacola fell to the French in 1719. The Spanish fought back and re-took Pensacola in 1722 and built another fort, but Mother Nature had other ideas and Pensacola was once again wiped out by a hurricane in 1752. The settlers moved to another area near Pensacola, and the fort remained abandoned until the British came in 1763.
The Spanish had named this fort Fort Barrancas after the red bluffs or cliffs the it stood on--barrancas, but the British called it The Fort at Red Cliffs and built the fort that stands there today in 1763 in order to protect its military assets in the area from the Spanish and French Navies. After repairs were done to the fort after the American Revolution in 1781, the British renamed the fort The Royal Navy Redoubt.
The British occupation of the Royal Navy Redoubt was short-lived, and the Spanish came back to Florida in force in 1781. After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, another treaty was signed between the Spanish and British at Versailles at the same time returning Florida to Spain.
From 1793-1797, the Spanish built the Water Battery that became known as Bateria de San Antonio and the fort was known as San Carlos de Barrancas.
After Andrew Jackson overran Fort Barrancas in 1814, it came under American occupation. The upper Fort Barrancas was built by the United States in 1840, when Florida was an American protectorate. It was at this time its present name of Fort Barrancas was given to the fort, and it was this fortification along with the Water Battery that I toured on this hot day in August including:
3-4. Ditch and Drawbridge
5-6. Sally Port and Guard Room
7-8. Scarp and Counterscarp Galleries
9-10. Parade Grounds and Water Battery (Batteria San Antonio).
I visited Fort Barrancas in August, when Florida is at its hottest temperatures. I wouldn't recommend you tour the fort at this time of year, but if you must, bring tons of water and keep the tour to about an hour at the most. I kept to the Galleries that are underground in order to avoid the heat, but I returned to the visitor center covered in sweat. Fort Barrancas is part of the National Park Service and the Gulf Islands National Seashore, but it is located at the Pensacola Naval Station and you must get to the Fort via the Navy Boulevard entrance that is patrolled by the Naval Police. There is a separate entrance to the base for non-Department of Defense (DOD) personnel and visitors. Although I had my sister's car with its military stickers, I still went onto the base this way. I was stopped by the officer on duty, and he was very nice when he asked me for my identification, which was my driver's license. The officer asked me why I was here, and I told him I was visiting Fort Barrancas, and it was there he noticed the DOD stickers. I told him I was borrowing my sister's car, and he asked where my sister and brother-in-law were, and I told him that I had dropped my sister off at work, and my brother-in-law was stationed in Mississippi. Be cool when asked questions, and you will be fine.After questioning, the officer chuckled at the bad directions from Yahoo! and told me the right way to Fort Barrancas, which was straight down the road from the entrance. Stay on the roads and don't wander down any side roads because they could be top secret Naval areas, and you can get into serious trouble if caught. There are guided tours of Fort Barrancas daily at 2pm, but I had the fort to myself at 11am. The rangers at the visitor center will give you a map of the fort and show you the trail there. The fort is open from 8:45-4:45 during the summer and until 3:45 wintertime. For more information on Fort Barrancas, you can go to:
www.wikpedia.com/wiki/Gulf_Islands_National_Seashore www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/fort-barrancas.htm There is a book the National Park Service puts out by David Ogden called The Fort Barrancas Story. It gives great information about the history of Fort Barrancas from Spanish rule to today.
Fort Barrancas was built by the Spanish near dirt slopes called Glacis that hid the fort from armies who tried to invade Pensacola and Fort Barrancas by land. The Glacis also protected the fort from land-based artillery.
It is hear that the trek up to the fort gets hilly so wear good shoes and be careful. To your right there is Fort Barrancas, and straight ahead, the trail ends and you can go up to this observation area to see the Gulf of Mexico and the Naval Base from Fort Barrancas. Passing the fort, I walked up to the observation area to soak in the beautiful view of the blue/green waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Naval Base.
I stood here about five minutes to take pictures and enjoy the view before getting down and heading into Fort Barrancas.
It was at Fort Barrancas on January 8, 1861 that a shot was fired by a Confederate soldier on the Drawbridge. It didn't cause any damage or repercussions, but locals consider this the first shot of the American Civil War and not the shot fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina in April 1861 that is considered the official start of the war.More about Fort Barrancas is coming in another entry. Please go to Fort Barrancas Parts 5-8: Sally Port to Counterscarp Gallery!
1801 Gulf Breeze Parkway
Pensacola, Florida 32501
American occupation of Fort Barrancas started with a bang, sort of. In 1814, the United States and Great Britain were embroiled in the War of 1812. British and American forces were fighting each other in the Gulf of Mexico and on land. In late 1814-early 1815, General Andrew Jackson's forces were on the way to battling the British at New Orleans, Louisiana, which had become part of the USA in 1803. Spain was allied with the British in its war against France, but assumed neutrality in Britain's war against the USA. However this neutrality didn't stop Jackson from storming into Western Florida in pursuit of British forces.
The British had made Fort Barrancas useless by blowing up the Bateria San Antonio and spiking the cannons to prevent them from being fired. So the Spanish were screwed by their allies and by a country they weren't even at war with. The Americans left Fort Barrancas to continue onto New Orleans and the Spanish thought they had seen the last of "Old Hickory," but they were sadly mistaken.
General Jackson returned to Pensacola in 1818 during the First Seminole War, the war between the US Army and the Seminole Nation. Jackson thought the Spanish were aiding the Seminoles, so Jackson attacked the town and fort, but quickly withdrew when told by the US Government not to attack a fort held by a neutral nation. But by 1819, Spain felt they couldn't keep Jackson out of Fort Barrancas and Florida and in 1820, ceded Florida to American control, and Florida remained a US Territory until it became a state in 1845.
After crossing the Drawbridge, you are greeted by the main entrance into Fort Barrancas, The Sally Port. The Sally Port is guarded by heavy doors and a small gate that allowed you to get into the fort without opening the heavy doors. To the right of the Sally Port is The Guard Room which housed four bunk beds for the six soldiers on duty at the entrance. Soldiers were on guard duty for 4-hour rotations with two hours off in between shifts. The rest of the soldiers stationed at Fort Barrancas slept at the main quarters east of the fort.
I also discovered a caged room that stored the Fort Barrancas' gunpowder supply. From there, I discovered the Scarp and Counterscarp Galleries, the underground passages and arches that support the upper fort from collapsing during war and hurricanes. The Scarp Gallery are the series of arches that support the sandfill and allowed the soldiers access to the windows for muskets in time of combat. The top of the Scarp Gallery are vented to allow smoke from the guns to escape and keep the air clear.
The Counterscarp Gallery are the tunnels under the ditch that contain loopholes, cannon emplacements, and powder kegs. Some visitors have said that they have seen a ghost of a Confederate soldier wandering around the Counterscarp Gallery.
Not seeing the ghost of the Confederate soldier, I entered the Counterscarp Gallery and explored these narrow and low tunnels. If you are well above 6-feet tall, I would be prepared to walk these tunnels in a stoop. These tunnels were built in a time when men were about 5'10" or shorter. The Counterscarp Gallery is like a huge maze, and I thought "one can get lost pretty easily here," so I didn't go too deep into the tunnels. I could have seen the Park Ranger calling home or my boss Art, "well, she went in there last week, and she wasn't seen since!"
After exiting the Counterscarp Gallery, I headed towards The Parade, which was the center of Fort Barrancas armaments and overlooked the Gulf of Mexico.
The next part of this journal Fort Barrancas Part 9: The Parade will be in another entry.
Shaped in the shape of a pentagon, Fort Barrancas' Parade was well-armed in its heyday (1845). There were ten 24-pound cannons (pdrs for short), two 8-inch howitzers, five 18-pdrs, three 12-pdrs, one 8-inch mortar, two 6-pdrs, and other lighter artillery and armaments.
Since I pretty much had Fort Barrancas to my little old self, I was running around the Parade looking at the weaponry, looking out onto the bay, and taking pictures all the while. I was like a kid in a candy store. To your right when you enter Fort Barrancas, you can see the Pensacola Lighthouse. Thinking of vampirefan, I thought I could get a good shot of the lighthouse, but with it being further than I thought and trees obstructing my view, my picture didn't come out very well.
Feeling the heat, I decided to make a break for it and head back to the visitor center, but then I realized, I had forgotten to visit The Water Battery. As I turned around to head back into the fort, I felt a loud pop in my left calf muscle and then searing pain. OUCH! I had re-pulled that darn calf muscle that I had hurt at work a couple of weeks before. Fearing I would be in a heap in the middle of Fort Barancas and Mom having to call my boss with a doozy of an excuse, "Uh, Art. This is Dianne's Mom. Uh she was running around this old fort, and she pulled a calf muscle, and no one heard her screams for a while!" To read about if I completed the tour of Fort Barrancas with my injury, please go to the next entry: Fort Barrancas Part 10: The Water Battery.
So limping along and sweating like a pig (us Home Depot ladies sweat like guys anyway!), I made my way back into the fort and through the Parade tunnel and into Fort Barrancas' Water Battery. Built by the Spanish in 1783 after reclaiming the fort from British control after the American Revolution, The Water Battery was known by the Spanish as the Bateria de San Antonio and is the only Spanish fortification left at Fort Barrancas today.
Armed as well as the Parade, the Water Battery had eleven 32-pdrs, two 8-inch seacoast howitzers, and two 10-inch mortars pointing towards the Gulf of Mexico and any enemy shipping that might make its way towards Pensacola.
During the Civil War, Pensacola became an important Naval base for the Confederate Army. Led by General Braxton Bragg, a hero of the Mexican War, The Army of Pensacola at Fort Barrancas housed over 5,000 soldiers who protected Pensacola from Union invasion. Improvements were made at Fort Barrancas at this time, but it didn't prevent war from coming to Pensacola. At nearby Santa Rosa Island, a New York unit was ambushed by Confederate troops who then got too cocky and a counterattack happened driving the Confederate troops back to their boats.
Pensacola fell to Union troops in May 1862 when the Confederate Army fled, but not before destroying anything of importance that they didn't want the Union Army to have. That included the Navy Yard, parts of Pensacola, and Fort Barrancas. Even with a "harassing raid" by Confederates from Alabama in 1864, Fort Barrancas remained in Union control until the end of the war and afterwards. An 1875 Yellow Fever epidemic decimated the garrison at Fort Barrancas and reconstruction of the fort didn't begin until 1879.
In 1980, another extensive reconstruction took place at Fort Barrancas, and what you see there today is its present state.
After limping my way around the pristine white walls of the Water Battery. I finally left Fort Barrancas. By the time I got back to the visitor center, I was boiling hot and sweat was coming out of every orifice from my body. I limped into the rest room and rinsed off a bit before going back into the Center.The Ranger at the desk said as I came in, "You're back!", and I said, "Yes I am!" and proceeded to look around the gift store. Wanting a book about Fort Barrancas, I got what I wanted and got David Ogden's The Fort Barrancas Story, which gives great details about the history of Fort Barrancas from its discovery by the Spanish to today. At $2.50, the book is small but worth the money. I also got a book on America's First Ladies for $7.95 to read during the rest of my vacation. For kids, there are Junior Ranger Programs and Union and Confederate caps for sale. Admission is free into Fort Barrancas, and it is a lot of fun for people of all ages to explore the old Fort Barrancas and learn about the Spanish, English, French, and American military presence and history.