Fort Pickens, Pensacola Beach, Florida

Day 1751

     Hidden beneath this vegetation is Battery Langdon, Ft. Pickens. Its 12-inch gun could propel a projectile 17 miles out to sea. This massive gun bunker, begun in 1917 and competed in 1923, was covered with soil during WWII to camouflage it from enemy aircraft.

     In 1816, the United States began constructing Third System forts along its coastline to protect important waterways and seaports. Five years later, the federal government began fortifying areas along Florida’s 3,500 mile seaboard. Pensacola Bay was one such area.

     Tidbit of Information: Unlike First and Second system forts built between 1794–1812, Third System forts had durable construction materials and uniformity. Brick and stone forts were more resilient to time, nature, and battles. Maryland’s Ft. McHenry is a third system fort. The Third System came to an end around 1867. More powerful weapons technology, like steel breech-loading rifled cannon and steel steam-powered warships, made the forts obsolete.

     European powers had long considered Pensacola Bay one of the most important on the northern Gulf Coast. With depths ranging between 20–65 feet and a length of about 13 miles, the bay afforded excellent anchorage and protection for ships. After the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, in which Spain ceded East and West Florida to the US, Pensacola Bay became a US territory. In 1825 President James Monroe signed a law establishing a new navy yard and depot on the bay. Forts were needed to protect the natural bay and navy yard, and thus Fort Pickens was conceived. In May 1828, the federal government acquired 998 acres on Santa Rosa Island to build Fort Pickens. The fort is named for Brigadier General Andrew Pickens, who fought in South Carolina during the American Revolution.

     The fort would be built on the western end of Santa Rosa Island, a low-lying barrier island that provides natural protection to the bay and mainland Florida. From this location, Fort Pickens would command the approaches to the channel, control access into and out of the bay, work with forts built around the channel, and prevent an enemy force from using the island to launch attacks against the navy yard. With five walls, cannons installed at Fort Pickens could fire at all points of the compass. During times of peace, a garrison of 60 soldiers could occupy Fort Pickens, increasing to 500 during times of war and up to 1,000 soldiers during a siege.

     Another Tidbit of Information: At the time of its completion, Fort Pickens was the largest brick structure on the Gulf of Mexico. It exhibited the latest theories in coastal defense design, construction, and weaponry. The fort illustrated the growing power of the US, and as a part of the Third System, it helped make the nation virtually impregnable.

     While the fort was a formidable force, it really only saw actual action during the Civil War. Fort Pickens was only one of four seacoast forts in the south that remained under Union control. When the confederates, who were holding the mainland, took on the Union soldiers at Fort Pickens they were met with a fierce battle that lasted two months. The Confederate soldiers were finally forced to retreat.

     And yet another Tidbit of Information: On October 25, 1886 the Fort was used as a prison to house Geronimo and his braves. Now, everyone knows Geronimo, but how about the 14 braves that survived with him? They are:  Natchez, Porcio, Fenn, Abnandria, Mahi, Yahenza, Fishnoith, Touze, Bishi, Chona, Lazalyah, Molzos, Nulthigal, Sophonne and Louah.

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