"Lifeguard Station" by U.S. National Park Service , public domain

Gulf Islands

Fort Pickens Tour

brochure Gulf Islands - Fort Pickens Tour
Gulf Islands National Seashore Florida, Mississippi National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Fort Pickens “...as the means of preserving peace, and as obstacles to an invader, their influence and power are immense.” - Lt. Henry W. Halleck “Report on the Means of National Defense” 1843 Coastal Defense For over a century, Fort Pickens guarded the entrance to the Pensacola Bay Harbor and the Navy Shipyard, protecting the American coastline from foreign invasion. The fort has withstood the actions of war, time, and the elements. Named after Revolutionary War hero General Andrew Pickens, the fort was the largest of the four forts built in this area. General Andrew Pickens Construction Army drawing of Fort Pickens Civil War Fort Pickens bombarding Forts McRee and Barrancas Defense Through the 1900s Modern batteries were added in and around the fort. During the War of 1812, vulnerabilities along America’s shores were exploited by British forces. In response, the United States constructed a system of over 40 coastal forts. These forts could withstand cannon balls fired from wooden ships. Fort Pickens is an enduring monument to a time in American history when our independence and national security were dependent upon the brick and mortar of our seacoast fortifications. Designed for over 200 cannon, built with over 21.5 million bricks and completed in 1834, Fort Pickens was a formidable structure and a war machine. Built in the shape of a pentagon, the fort could withstand possible attack on all five faces; landward on the east side and seaward on the other four. Its four-foot thick walls and symmetrical archways were built to endure heavy cannon fire. Construction began in 1829 under the supervision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Due to the lack of skilled laborers in the area, the government allowed contractors to use slave labor. Up to 200 enslaved masons, carpenters, and laborers of African descent were working at any given time. Those working on the fort were exposed to disease, intense heat, and high humidity. Following the completion of Fort Pickens, many of these slaves went on to build Forts McRee and Barrancas. Although built to repel foreign invaders, the only combat that took place at the fort was during the American Civil War. In October 1861, General Braxton Bragg led 1,000 Confederate soldiers in a land assault against Union forces encamped outside the fort. Following the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, Union forces bombarded Forts McRee and Barrancas from land and sea on November 2223, 1861, and again on January 1-2, 1862. All three forts sustained some damage, but Fort McRee and the navy yard were nearly destroyed. Confederates abandoned Pensacola in May 1862. Fort Pickens saw no further combat, and the fort remained in Union control throughout the war. To keep up with advances in technology, Fort Pickens underwent dramatic changes after the Civil War as part of a larger system of upgrading American defenses. New batteries were added, smoothbore cannon were replaced or converted to rifled cannon, and equipment to lay and maintain an underwater minefield in the harbor was installed. The most notable addition is Battery Pensacola, constructed in 1898. Painted black to reduce glare from sand and water, it covers most of the parade ground, and is one of many reinforced concrete batteries built on the island. Learn more on the Coastal Artillery self-guiding tour. Preservation Fort Pickens was an integral part of the United States’ coastal defense system until 1947 when coastal forts were declared surplus. Formerly a state park, in 1971, Fort Pickens became part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, which preserves the structure and tells the fort’s history. Today, Fort Pickens represents a link between our past, present and future. Fort Pickens visitor center and museum are open daily. For more information about visiting the fort, and a current listing of ranger-led programs, please visit our website at nps.gov/guis, like us on Facebook - Facebook.com/GulfIslandsNPS, or call 850-934-2600. The National Park Service turns 100 in 2016. Celebrate the Centennial with us with programs and activities throughout the year. Learn, discover, be inspired, or simply have fun at Gulf Islands! Guide to Fort Pickens Take a stroll through history to see how Fort Pickens was designed to oppose enemy forces from the early 1800s through 1947. As you wander, be careful of uneven sandy surfaces and steps and low doorways. To preserve our history, practice “Leave No Trace” principles and Pack-it-in, Pack-it-out. 1.Sallyport: Secured with heavy oak doors, this is the main entrance to the fort. The word “sally” means to rush forth. Tracks were later installed to move heavy equipment and ammunition to Battery Pensacola. 9 & 10. Counterscarp, Moat, & Bastions: The counterscarp created a ditch, or dry moat, on the other to protect the fort from land-based assaults. Attackers who reached the dry moat would be caught in a terrific crossfire. This portion of the dry moat was filled in circa 1915. Before that time, the gun embrasures were 10 feet off the ground. 2.Quarters: Officers lived in these plaster-lined rooms. They also served as a hospital in 1861. Later, Apache prisoners were housed here. Apache leader Geronimo lived in identical rooms along the south wall. 11.Battery Pensacola Tunnel: A tunnel was placed through the battery to allow access to warehouses on the south side of the fort. The tunnel was sealed in the 1920s. 3.Casemates: Arched rooms called casemates provided protected artillery positions and a base for the second level of cannon. Granite semicircles in the floor supported the cannon weight. Slots under the embrasures locked gun carriages into the wall, providing a pivot point. Vents over the windows allowed the hot, white smoke produced by the cannon to disperse. 4.Mine Battery Room: Concrete construction is evidence of a later modification to the original masonry. In 1894, this area was converted to shelter electric batteries to power a minefield for the harbor. The minefield was deployed during the Spanish-American war and remained as part of the harbor defenses until 1926. 12.Cisterns: The fort was designed to collect and store rainwater for drinking, a crucial design if the fort was ever under siege. Geronimo, although not a chief, was a noted leader of Apache. For approximately two years, Geronimo and 15 other Apache men and their families were imprisoned at Fort Pickens. The prisoners were never confined to cells and became a local tourist attraction on the island. 5.Mine Chambers: This tunnel system leads to three chambers, each designed to hold about 1,000 pounds of gunpowder. If enemy forces breached the walls, defenders of the fort would blow up the chambers as a last resort, collapsing the walls on attacking forces. 6.Powder Magazine: One of three magazines that stored the fort’s supply of black powder. Magazines were lined with wood to keep the powder dry. Soldiers wore felt slippers over their boots to prevent dangerous sparks. The Tower Bastion as seen today. 7.Shelf Supports: These concrete shelf supports may have been for mine equipment and later ammunition for Battery Pensacola. 8.Generator Room: The concrete pads are evidence of the power station installed in 1903. Steam-powered generators provided electricity for searchlights and other modern equipment. The explosion in Bastion D left a large gap in the northern side of the fort. EXPERIENCE YOUR AMERICA 13.Reverse Arch: To support the weight of the fort on a foundation of sand, engineers used arches. Just as the arches overhead distribute weight to the piers, the reverse arches of the foundation spread the weight of the entire structure to minimize settling. The file marks on the bricks in the arches show that they were hand cut for proper fit. 14.Tower Bastion: Pointing directly across the channel, this bastion was the critical point in protecting the harbor entrance. In 1834, the island ended about 500 feet from the fort. It is now 0.75 miles away due to natural forces which move the island from east to west and from dredging to maintain the pass for large ocean vessels. 15.Parade Ground: 3.5 acres of open ground inside the fort was used to quarter and drill troops. During the Civil War, up to 900 men lived in 18-foot circular canvas tents that housed up to six men each. Battery Pensacola dominates the area and disguises the vast size of the original design. 16.Bastion D: This bastion was destroyed on June 20, 1899 when a fire reached a magazine containing 8,000 pounds of black powder. The explosion was so powerful debris flew as far as the Navy Yard, a distance of 1.5 miles. Remarkably, there was only one fatality. 3/16

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