Fort Pickens, Defending the Pensacola Bay
Standing for nearly 200 years, Fort Pickens has endured multiple hurricanes, a couple wars and even witnessed some notable people. This historic fortress remains as a glimpse into the past of military history along the glistening sands of the Emerald Coast. It is surrounded by water on three sides due to its location on Santa Rosa Island which made it an ideal location for protecting the harbor.
The Pensacola Bay was established as an important shipping port due to the depths of its waters. The National Park Service has worked to preserve this landmark and nearly 700,000 people visit the area annually.
After the War of 1812 it was determined that the United States needed to built a better fortress system. Being that the Pensacola Bay was such an important location for shipping and a popular port it was an essential location for a fort. The fort began to be constructed in 1829 and its duration lasted until 1834. While most of the building was completed by slave labor, over 21 million bricks were used in its construction.
Fort Pickens stood not only to defend the harbor but also aid nearby forts such as Fort McRee and Fort Barrancas.
In fact, in 1858 a fire broke out at the fortress and just a few short years later the Civil War broke out. While Fort Pickens had not been used much since the late 1840s, it was in much disrepair. Crews worked to get the fort operable to function once again in a possible line of action.
On January 8, 1861, a group of local men attempted to conquer Fort Barrancas for the Confederate movement. It was there that shots were fired and some even say they were the official first shots fired in the Civil War. After Florida ceded from the Union two days later, U.S. soldiers moved to Fort Pickens.
The first major battle at Fort Pickens occurred on October 9, 1861. It was called the Battle of Santa Rosa Island and started when Confederate forces attempted to siege the fort. Over 1,000 Confederate soldiers stormed Fort Pickens but Union forces had better artillery support being the sturdy walls of Fort Pickens. Soon the Confederates retreated after suffering nearly 100 casualties. Fort Pickens was one of only four southern forts that remained in Union control during the duration of the war.
After the Civil War, Fort Pickens was once again on standby until the 1880s Indian Wars of the west drove captives back east via train. Several famous Indian chiefs including Geronimo served time here from the fall of 1886 to the spring of 1887.
Prior to World War I some more batteries were installed at Fort Pickens. Destroying its pentagon shape, Fort Pickens suffered an explosion of 8,000 pounds of gunpowder in 1899. This explosion destroyed Bastion D and killed a solider. During World War II the fort was used to defend the coast once again from German U-boats in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1947, the fort was decommissioned and since has become a historic part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Violet Sky’s Visit
After visiting this historic fortress several times, I still always find it just a wonderful experience. There is so much history found throughout the landmark. It is interesting to see how well history has been preserved.
Exploring this fort is a lot of fun and I like that visitors have the ability to walk around and experience the entire place for themselves. Also the fort is located right on the water which makes for some beautiful views.
How to Visit
Fort Pickens is located in Gulf Islands National Seashore at the entrance to the Pensacola Bay. It is a drive from Pensacola Beach out to the fort site. There is a park entrance fee and camping available.
Thanks for reading and as always, keep on truckin’!