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  Week 13   Pensacola Area Forts   Program Menu
  Program 61 Forts 
      Wood, coquina block, stone and brick- these materials were used to build the forts that once defended colonial Florida.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense and this is Unearthing Florida…

From Pensacola to the Dry Tortugas, the Spanish, British, French and Americas built a wide variety of fortifications over the past 500 years. Some were quickly assembled to temporarily defend strategic areas and others were erected to last a long time.

Most forts were constructed out of available natural resources.

For example, in Pensacola some early Spanish and British military fortifications were built out of the vast stretches of pine that covered the area.
While they were well engineered, the wood did not hold up well through the hot and moist conditions of Northwest Florida. Archaeological evidence of similarly constructed forts often limited to mere stains in the dirt.

However, many forts made out of durable materials such as the brick-built, Pensacola-based Forts Pickens and Barrancas, which remain standing, despite heavy bombardment during the Civil War.

  Program 62 Downtown Forts  
      Starting in the 1750s, there were three main forts built along the waterfront in what is now downtown Pensacola. 

I’m Dr. Judy Bense and this is Unearthing Florida…

The first fort, San Miguel de Panzacola, was a small wooden garrison built by the Spanish about 1755.  All that we have found of this fort are stains in the sand from posts of the east and west stockade walls and the northeast bastion area.

Upon their arrival in 1763, the British added a bastion to the northwest corner—and--within three years-- they had doubled the size of the fort and renamed it the “Fort of Pensacola.”

But in 1768, the British began construction of a fort that would be bigger and better.  Ten years later, they had completed the largest wooden fort ever built in Pensacola. 

Excavation of the fort walls revealed wall construction trenches, where we found artifacts such as pottery, buttons and nails.   While the wall posts were removed, the stains left behind trace the outline of the city’s old colonial forts.

  Program 63 Fort George  
      The military heart of British Pensacola was the fort located in today’s downtown on the bay.  Geographically, the fort was well-positioned to defend attacks by sea, but it was vulnerable to attack by land.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

To guard against enemy land invasion from the north, the British constructed one large and two small forts or redoubts ion the hill north of town.

Fort George, the largest, was centered at the top of the hill.  The smaller “Queen’s” and “Prince of Wales’” redoubts were located just to the north. 

The British were right about the importance of the geographical position of these redoubts, which protected the community below.  In fact, in 1781 when the Spanish General Galvez “blew up” the queen’s redoubt, the British surrendered immediately. 

When the Spanish reoccupied Pensacola for the second and final time, they realized the strategic value of “North Hill” and made it the focus of their defenses, leaving the downtown fort to fall into disrepair.

  Program 64 Fort Pickens  
      Located on the west end of Santa Rosa Island, Fort Pickens was one of the few  fortifications the Union successfully held during the entire Civil War.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense and this is Unearthing Florida…

Originally constructed in 1834, Fort Pickens was the largest of four forts built by the U.S. government to defend the Pensacola Navy Yard. 

This massive brick structure was made to last; its pentagonal shape and twelve foot thick walls gave it the strength to withstand the environment and attack.

Its first real test occurred during the Battle of Santa Rosa Island in October of 1861 when 1200 Confederate soldiers attempted to capture the fort.

After marching a few miles inland, they first encountered and destroyed a small Federal camp near Fort Pickens, but were repulsed by Union reinforcements from the fort. 

Archaeologists found several firing caps from this conflict, near the site of this former Federal camp. They were most likely dropped during the excitement of the battle.

  Program 65 Fort Barrancas  
       In 1862, Fort Barrancas in Pensacola was an important base of operations for Union movements into Florida and Alabama, but it was not always controlled by the North.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

Just days before Florida joined the Confederacy, state troops seized two of the three federally held forts- including Fort Barrancas- built to protect the navy yard in Pensacola.

Following Union raids on Barrancas in September 1861, the Confederates counter-attacked in an attempt to take nearby Fort Pickens in the battle of Santa Rosa Island.

To meet the need for more Southern troops in the West, soldiers abandoned Pensacola in the summer of 1862.  The Union quickly retook the forts guarding Pensacola Bay, including Barrancas, which is still standing today.

Archaeologists recently found evidence of the North’s reoccupation when they located the site of the Union barracks inside Fort Barrancas. They found the brick foundation of the pillars of the building, a fire pit, and a trash pit containing Union munitions.

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