Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Gulf Islands - Fort Pickens

Happy Fourth of July!!!

What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with a post on a massive US fort in one of our most beautiful National Parks? Gulf Islands National Seashore stretches 160 miles along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and includes everything from the picturesque white beaches of Florida postcards to maritime forests, bayous, and marine habitat. In the Pensacola Bay area there are multiple parcels that are part of Gulf Islands NS, among others including Naval Live Oaks, and two of the forts that historically fortified the Bay: Fort Barrancas and Fort Pickens.

After the War of 1812 it was clear that Pensacola Bay (along with the various military installations taking advantage of the strategic port waters) was in need of protection, and three forts were proposed for the task: Fort Pickens on the western end of Santa Rosa Island, Fort McRee the eastern end of Perdido Key, and Fort Barrancas on the bluffs north of the channel. Fort McRee was heavily damaged during the Civil War in 1861 and was not re-built – all that remains today is the foundation of the one of the batteries. However, the other forts remained in use until WWII, and can be explored today during a visit to the Gulf Islands NS. It is easy to understand the significance of the location of the three forts; when looking out over the channel you can see where Fort McRee was located, as well as Barrancas; the first was directly across on Perdido Key, and Barrancas is near the Pensacola Lighthouse on the mainland. 

Fort Pickens was named for Revolutionary War General Andrew Pickens, and it was the largest of the three forts built on the harbor.  The design (a pentagon) was influenced by the geography of the barrier island with the intent to control the approach to the channel and to control access to the bay.  

Just as with Fort Barrancas & McRee, the only combat the fort saw took place during the Civil War. In October 1861 Confederate soldiers launched an attack against Union forces encamped outside the fort. Following the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, Union forces twice bombarded the other two forts (November 1861 and January 1862), nearly destroying Fort McRee and the navy yard. Confederates abandoned Pensacola in May of 1862.

Battery Langdon

From 1886 to 1888, 16 Apache men including Goyahkla (also known as Geronimo) were imprisoned at Port Pickens, separated from their families for over a year before the women and children were also brought to the island. In May of 1888 the Apaches were moved to the Mount Vernon Barracks north of Mobile AL, and a final time in 1894 to a reservation in Oklahoma.

Rays swimming in formation

After the Civil War Fort Pickens saw the addition of new batteries, rifled cannon and underwater minefield equipment. In 1898 Battery Pensacola was added, one of the many reinforced concrete batteries built on the island. Today as visitors drive the winding road across the island they encounter various self-guided battery tours and other historical markers, however the majority of visitors are lured to Santa Rosa by the white-sand beaches.

In addition to touring the historic fort, the Pickens area also boasts fishing, swimming, hiking, biking, birdwatching, picnicking and camping opportunities. Fishing piers allow access to deeper waters, and parking areas adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico have restroom and shower facilities. Ferries run to the island from Pensacola and Pensacola Beach, providing an alternate means of access other than driving in from Pensacola Beach via Fort Pickens Road.

Look for one of the many osprey nests on the island
For more on the Gulf Island National Seashore:

1 comment:

  1. Happy 4th to you and yours.... We have a big family day planned --with lots of traditional food and tons of laughter!!!!!


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