Tag Archives: Fort McRee

Fort Pickens – Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida

Before Christmas I had the chance to visit Fort Pickens on the Gulf Shores National Seashore near Pensacola, Florida. I have been to Pensacola and the beach there too many times to count, but I had never ventured down to the end of the beach where Fort Pickens has sat since the 1800s. I am glad I finally did.

Fort Pickens is a historic fort on Santa Rosa Island named after a Revolutionary War hero, Andrew Pickens. The fort was completed in 1834 and was used for over a hundred years until 1947.

The fort served with two others, Fort McRee and Fort Barrancas, that served to protect the entry to Pensacola Bay. Between the three forts the entire entry to the bay was protected. The area has another interesting fact in that some historians argue that this is where the first shots of the Civil War occurred.

On the night of January 8, 1861 Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, who was in charge of Fort Barrancas, repelled a few local men intent on taking over the fort. Two days later Florida seceded from the Union and Slemmer left Fort Barrancas. Before he did, he spiked the guns and destroyed the gunpowder at Fort McRee moving his troops and arms to Fort Pickens because he felt it was the easiest to defend. After reinforcements, Fort Pickens remained in the hands of the Union throughout the war being one of the few military forts in the south to stay with the Union.

As time moved on, captives from the Indian Wars were sent here including Geronimo, and Apache war chief, who spent nearly a year here in captivity. Along with a few of his warriors, Geronimo’s family was brought to the fort as well. Eventually the military would move him and his warriors back west.

With new advancements in military science and weapons, Fort Pickens was turned into a more modern defense installation. Several batteries were built including the eventual Battery Pensacola which was built in the middle of Fort Pickens.

Here you can see the back of Battery Pensacola, the black section, built in the middle of Fort Pickens (the brick walls).

One if the interesting parts, or missing parts perhaps, of Fort Pickens is the huge hole in the outer wall. On June 20, 1899 a fire reached a magazine containing 8,000 pounds of black powder exploding and destroying Bastion D. An entire corner of the fort was blown away sending debris over 1.5 miles away. Surprisingly there was only a single fatality.

This is a view looking down on where Bastion D would have once stood. Instead there is a huge hole in the fort from the explosion.

The fort became apart of the National Parks Service in 1971 when it was added to Gulf Islands National Seashore. You can find out more information about visiting, camping, and fees from the National Parks Service website at – https://www.nps.gov/guis/index.htm

To see more of my photography of the fort and the surrounding area or to purchase a print, visit my gallery by clicking on the Galleries button above.