August, 2012
Northwest Florida
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Fort Barrancas – Pensacola Bay


Your visit to this National Park will not only reveal history, but unparalleled beauty. On a bluff overlooking the entrance to Pensacola Bay sits Fort Barrancas. The natural advantages inspired engineers of three nations to build forts on this location. The British built the Royal Navy Redoubt here in 1763 of earth and logs. The Spanish built two forts here around 1797. Bateria de San Antonio was a masonry water battery at the foot of the bluff. Above it was earth and log Fort San Carlos de Barrancas. American engineers remodeled the Water Battery in 1840 and built a masonry fort on the bluff between 1839 and 1844, connected by a tunnel to the Water Battery. This is the current Fort Barrancas: a $1.2 million, eighteen-month restoration project which reopened in 1980.

While Forts Pickens, McRee, and Barrancas protected the entrance to the harbor, the Advanced Redoubt was constructed between 1845 and 1870 to defend the northern side of the peninsula (where the navy yard was located) against a land-based assault. The half-mile Trench Trail connects the Advanced Redoubt to Fort Barrancas.

Besides a glimpse into our military’s historical past and our manmade ingenuity for protection…what stands out to most visitors is the natural wonder of this area.

The beaches of Gulf Islands National Seashore (Johnson Beach on Perdido Key being the closest to Barrancas) are composed of fine quartz eroded from granite in the Appalachian Mountains and carried seaward hundreds of miles by rivers and creeks. Here there are sparkling blue waters, stunning white beaches, fertile coastal marshes, and beautiful winding nature trails.  More than 80 percent of the park is submerged lands teeming with marine life. These marshes collect fresh rainwater and support diverse communities of plants and animals. Live oak forests are home to resident and migrating bird populations, and Gopher turtles love the area’s vegetation.

The Fort Barrancas Area is on Taylor Road approximately a half mile east from the Museum of Naval Aviation on Pensacola Bay.  This area includes the historic Water Battery, Fort Barrancas, trails, a visitor center, picnic areas, and the Advanced Redoubt. Scheduled tours of Fort Barrancas are daily at 2 pm and at the Advanced Redoubt (on Pensacola Naval Air Station) every Saturday at 11am. Fort Barrancas and the visitor center is open March-October from  9:30 am to 4:45 pm and November-February from 8:30 am to 3:45 pm. Call 850-455-5167 for more information or go to www.nps.gov/FortBarrancas.  


Gulf Islands National Seashore

Fort Pickens – Pensacola Bay


For centuries, cannons fired devastating iron balls at ships made of wood, and it was sufficient to build armed forts to guard the principal harbors, rivers, and naval yards of the United States. That used to be our Homeland Security.


For this purpose, the Army Corps of Engineers built over forty masonry forts between 1817 and 1870. Fort Pickens is the largest of four such forts built to defend Pensacola Bay and its navy yard. Begun in 1829 and completed in 1834, it was named in honor of Major General Andrew Pickens of the South Carolina militia, who fought with distinction in several Revolutionary War battles and led campaigns against the Cherokees, who called him "Wizard Owl."


Fort Pickens was one of only four forts in the South that were never occupied by Confederate forces during the Civil War, thanks to a heroic stand by Lieutenant Adam Slemmer with one company of artillery and a few sailors, aided by one U.S. Navy ship, the Wyandotte. The day after the first action of the Civil War in 1861, when Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC was taken by the Confederates, Fort Pickens was reinforced to prevent the Confederates from ever controlling Pensacola Bay and using the Pensacola Navy Yard.


The most infamous Confederate assault on the bay area was led by General Richard Anderson in a night attack on the camp of the 6th New York Infantry Regiment about a mile east of the fort on October 9, 1861. In a two-day retaliation, Federal artillery from Fort Pickens, along with the USS Richmond and USS Niagara, bombarded Confederate positions at Forts Barrancas and McRee, the navy yard, and several independent batteries spread along the bay shore. Almost 5000 shot and shells were fired at Confederate positions, causing heavy damage that led to Confederate withdrawal from Pensacola Bay.


By the end of the Civil War more revolutionary changes had occurred: rifled cannon and ironclad warships could overpower harbor defenses, making even brick and stone forts less effective. However, no such weapons were available to the Indians, when in the 1880s, Geronimo and other members of the Chiricahua-Apache tribe were prisoners at Fort Pickens.


Over time every new naval threat was countered by new defenses: the atomic bomb finally made national defense by harbor fortification obsolete, and Fort Pickens closed in 1947. The fort was a Florida State Park until the fort was closed for safety concerns in 1971. Following the creation of Gulf Islands National Seashore and extensive repairs by the National Park Service, the fort was reopened in 1976.


Now seagulls call where powerful weapons shook the earth and defended our country. Whether you’re a devotee of history—especially military history—or someone who enjoys the natural beauty of the Gulf Shore, Fort Pickens can be a memorable retreat.


Visit Fort Pickens (part of Gulf Islands National Seashore) at Pensacola Bay. The grounds are open 7 am to 10 pm daily. The Visitor Center has seasonal hours: March-October from 9:30am-5pm and November-February from 8:30 am-4 pm.There are 200 campsites and one group tent site. Note that Fort Pickens road is subject to flooding. Call 850-934-2656 or go to www.nps.gov/FortPickens.           

All photos are courtesy of Gulf Islands National Seashore