Fort Barrancas (1839) or Fort San Carlos de Barrancas (from 1787) is a historic United States military fort in the Warrington area of Pensacola, Florida, located physically on Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The hill-top fort, connected to a sea-level water battery, overlooks Pensacola Bay, from what is now Naval Air Station Pensacola. Because the hill-top fort was rebuilt of brick (1839–1844), becoming Fort Barrancas, the older, water battery downhill (Baterie de San Antonio, 1787) has also been called Fort San Carlos, separately, being a remnant from the time the hilltop was the wooden (Spanish language: Fuerte ) Fort San Carlos de Barrancas.
Spanning a multi-century history, the U.S. Army deactivated Fort Barrancas on April 15, 1947. Designated a National Historic Site (NHL) in 1960, control of the site was transferred to the National Park Service in 1971. After extensive restoration during 1971-1980, Fort Barrancas was opened to the public (see below: Timeline).
Fort Barrancas was built on the site of numerous previous forts, including Fort San Carlos de Austria, which was constructed by the Spanish in 1698. It was besieged in 1707 by Indians under the general leadership of some English traders, but was not taken. In 1719 French forces captured Pensacola and destroyed the Spanish fort.
The site was used as a harbor fortification by the British, building the Royal Navy Redoubt in 1763. The Spanish captured Pensacola in 1781, and completed the fort San Carlos de Barrancas in 1797. Barranca is a Spanish word for bluff, the natural terrain feature that makes this location ideal for the fortress.
In 1814, the fort was the scene of the American victory at the Battle of Pensacola, which was fought between the American forces, commanded by General Andrew Jackson, and the British, Spanish, and Creek Indians during the War of 1812.
In 1818, the Spanish garrison of the fort exchanged cannon fire with an American battery for a few days. The U.S. force was again led by General Andrew Jackson. Eventually the Spanish surrendered the fort, leaving Pensacola in American hands.
When Florida was acquired from Spain in 1821, Pensacola was selected as a navy yard, and harbor fortifications were constructed to protect its deepwater bay. After 1829, Fort Pickens and Fort McRee were built to defend the pass to Pensacola Bay.
Fort Barrancas, expanded with brick between 1839–1844, is on the mainland. It was built to defend against both sailing ships entering the harbor and attack across land. The Advanced Redoubt was built north of the fort, and a trenchline connected them. This system protected the navy yard to the east from infantry attacks.
Fort Barrancas was designed by Joseph Gilbert Totten and was connected to the Spanish-built water-battery by an underground walkway tunnel. Major William Henry Chase supervised the construction, done mostly by slave labor.
In 1861, during the American Civil War, there was a company of 50 U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Barrancas, under the command of John H. Winder. On January 8, Florida state troops under Colonel William Henry Chase demanded that the federal troops surrender the fort, which was met by warning shots meant to repel the militia. As Winder was not present (and would later be promoted to General in the Confederate Army), Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer was acting commander. Lt Slemmer knew that Fort Pickens was easier to defend, so he spiked the guns at Barrancas, loaded ammunition and supplies on a flatboat, and moved his company across the bay to Fort Pickens which was held by the Union throughout the Civil War.
Confederate soldiers from Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi were then stationed at Fort Barrancas. While a small company of soldiers could man the fort successfully, additional sand batteries were constructed along the coast, and operated by these soldiers. General Braxton Bragg took command of Confederate Pensacola on March 11, 1861, and continued work on the batteries. On October 9, a Confederate force of 1000 troops landed east of Fort Pickens, but was repelled by Union forces. Fort McRee and Fort Barrancas exchanged heavy cannon fire with Fort Pickens on November 22–23, 1861 and January 1, 1862. However, in May 1862, after hearing that the Union Army had taken New Orleans, Confederate troops abandoned Pensacola.
Stronger cannon and ironclad ships developed during the Civil War made masonry forts like Fort Barrancas outmoded. The fort was used as a signal station, small arms range, and storage area by the Army until 1946, when newer weapon technology made coastal defense completely obsolete. On April 15, 1947, Fort Barrancas was deactivated, and the U.S. Navy incorporated the site into Naval Air Station Pensacola. At the same time, local leaders, Congress, and the National Park Service were working to designate the harbor defenses of Pensacola as a national monument. In 1971, Congress authorized the establishment of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, as part of the National Park Service, and after a $1.2 million restoration, Fort Barrancas was opened to the public in 1980.
Fort Barrancas and the nearby Advance Redoubt are located aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola and are managed by the National Park Service. Access to Naval Air Station Pensacola by non-Department of Defense affiliated personnel may be subject to homeland security concerns.
The site of Fort Barrancas has been involved in numerous events and has changed names several times, depending on which country ruled in the region, over the past five centuries:
- 1559-1561: when Spanish Pensacola is first settled on Santa Rosa Island, the site was only a hilltop that overlooked the island;
- 1698: the Spanish construct Fort San Carlos de Austria;
- 1719: Fort San Carlos de Austria is completely destroyed by the French;
- 1763: now under British rule, Royal Navy Redoubt is constructed of earth & logs;
- 1787: now under Spanish rule (from 1781), the sea-level battery, Bateria de San Antonio, is built of masonry;
- 1787-1797: under Spanish rule, Fort San Carlos de Barrancas, a wooden and earthen structure is added on the hill-top bluff overlooking the battery;
- 1814: Fort San Carlos de Barrancas is demolished by the evacuating British as Andrew Jackson approaches;
- 1817: again under Spanish control, San Carlos de Barrancas is rebuilt;
- 1839-1844: now under U.S. rule (from 1821), the wooden hill-top structure is replaced with a massive brick fortress connected via tunnel to the battery (remodeled in 1838), with the entire site comprising Fort Barrancas;
- 1845-1869: the Advanced Redoubt is built 1400 ft (427 m) north of the fort;
- 1861: under Confederate control, Fort Barrancas is bombarded from Union-held Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, with heaviest attacks on November 22–23 and January 7, 1862;
- 1862: in May, the site, and the City of Pensacola, are abandoned by Confederate troops (after the fall of New Orleans);
- 1870: The Pensacola and Fort Barrancas Railroad, an eight-mile line connecting Pensacola, Florida, with the fort, through Warrington and Woolsey, is constructed. The line will pass through several corporate ownerships before the rail link aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola is abandoned circa 1979 with track and bridges across several waterways removed.
- 1941-1947: Fort Barrancas is used by the U.S. Army as a signal station and small arms range until it is deactivated in 1947;
- 1960: on October 9, Fort San Carlos de Barrancas becomes an NHL landmark.
- 1966: Fort Barrancas Historical District (640 acres) enters the National Register of Historical Places, as district #66000263.
- 1971: Fort Barrancas becomes part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore managed by the U.S. National Park Service;
- 1978-1980: Fort Barrancas is restored during an 18-month project and opened to the public as a National Historic Landmark.
- 1989: Fort Barrancas is listed in A Guide to Florida's Historic Architecture, published by the University of Florida Press.
Fort Barrancas is currently operated as a visitor center for the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Visitors can tour the restored fort and battery, learn about the fort's history through the exhibits in the visitor center, and walk trails to the Advance Redoubt on board Pensacola Naval Air Station.
- "The Forts of Pensacola Bay" (history), Visit Florida Online, 2006, webpage: VFO-Forts.
- "Fort San Carlos de Barrancas" (history), National Park Service (NPS), webpage: NPS-fort2.
- The Spanish names of the wooden fort and downhill water battery were Fuerte San Carlos de Barrancas and Baterie de San Antonio, with Spanish words fuerte (meaning "fort") and baterie (meaning "battery").
- [ PDF "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination"]. National Park Service. PDF.
- "Fort Barrancas" (history), National Park Service, 2006, nps.gov webpage: NPSft.
- Turner, Gregg M., "A Journey Into Florida Railroad History", University Press of Florida, Library of Congress card number 2007050375, ISBN 978-0-8130-3233-7, page 94.
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- "National Register of Historical Places" (list), webpage: NRfl.
- A Guide to Florida's Historic Architecture, 1989, Gainesville: University of Florida Press, p. 7, ISBN 0-8130-0941-3
- Fort Barracas at Gulf Islands National Seashore
- Information about the fort
- National Park Service brochure
- Fort Pickens and the Outbreak of the Civil War, a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan
- Fort Barrancas, San Carlos & Hovey Roads vicinity, Pensacola, Escambia, FL at the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)
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