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Fort Barrancas

Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida

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Fort Barrancas, built on the site of numerous previous forts, is a United States military fort and National Historic Landmark located physically within Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Fort Barrancas, the hill-top fort, connected to a sea-level water battery, overlooks Pensacola Bay. From 1839 - 1844, the historic Spanish fort was reconstructed and dramatically expanded in brick. The older, water battery downhill (Baterie de San Antonio, 1787) has been separately named as Fort San Carlos. It is a remnant from the Spanish fortification, the wooden (Spanish: Fuerte) Fort San Carlos de Barrancas of the late 18th century.

Following Britain's defeat of the French in the Seven Years' War, in 1763 it exchanged some territory with Spain and took over West Florida. The British used this site as a harbor fortification, building the Royal Navy Redoubt in 1763. More than a decade later, as enemies of the British, the Spanish joined the war against them in 1779 during the American Revolutionary War, though they never officially became American allies. They took Pensacola in 1781. After the war, the Spanish retook control of West Florida. They 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.

During the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom, the fort was the scene of the American victory at the Battle of Pensacola (1814). This was fought between American forces commanded by General Andrew Jackson as well as some Indian allies, and the allied forces of the British, Spanish, and Creeks.
American units raided West Florida. In 1818, the Spanish garrison of the fort exchanged cannon fire with an American battery for a few days. The U.S. force was led by General Andrew Jackson. Eventually the Spanish surrendered the fort, leaving Pensacola in American hands.

When the United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1821, it selected Pensacola as the site for a major Navy Yard, which was developed around the Spanish Fort Barrancas. In addition, the US developed plans for construction of additional harbor fortifications to protect this deepwater bay. Fort Pickens was completed on Santa Rosa Island in 1834, and Fort McRee was completed in 1839 to defend the pass to Pensacola Bay.

Fort Barrancas was reconstructed and expanded with bricks, between 1839 - 1844, on its hilltop overlooking the bay. It was strengthened to defend against both ships entering the harbor and attack across land. The Advanced Redoubt was built north of the fort, and a trench line connected them. This system protected the Navy Yard to the east from infantry attacks.

The expanded Fort Barrancas was designed by Joseph Gilbert Totten. It was connected to the Spanish-built water-battery by an underground walkway tunnel. Major William Henry Chase supervised the construction, done mostly by enslaved African-American workers.

January 8th 1861, more than three months before the American Civil War officially started at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, a company of 50 U.S. Army soldiers stationed at Fort Barrancas, under the command of John H. Winder fired upon a militia. This militia was Florida state troops under Colonel William Henry Chase demanding that the U.S. troops surrender the fort. Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, acting commander in Winder's absence, had the troops fire shots meant to repel the militia. 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. The Union held this fort throughout the Civil War.

The Confederacy stationed soldiers from Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi at Fort Barrancas. While a small company of soldiers could man the fort successfully, the Confederate Army fortified the position with additional sand batteries along the coast, to be operated by the garrison. 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. But, in May 1862, after learning that the Union Army had taken New Orleans, Confederate troops abandoned Pensacola.

Stronger, rifled 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. Newer weapon technology developed during World War II made coastal defense completely obsolete.

Due to changing requirements, the U.S. Army deactivated Fort Barrancas on April 15, 1947. 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 historic national monument. In 1971, Congress authorized the establishment of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, to be managed by the National Park Service.

Although Fort Barrancas and the nearby Advance Redoubt are located on Naval Air Station Pensacola, they are both managed as historic properties 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.

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.

Visitor Center - 8:30 am to 4:30 pm daily

Fort Barrancas
Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida

A Tour of Historic Fort Barrancas


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