Friday, November 20, 2009

Fort Pickens Santa Rosa/Pensacola

Fort Pickens was the largest of a group of forts designed to fortify Pensacola Harbor. Constructed between 1829-1834, Pickens supplemented Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee, and Naval Station. Located at the western tip of Santa Rosa Island, just offshore to the mainland, Pickens guarded the island and the entrance to the harbor. By the time of the American Civil War, Fort Pickens had not been occupied since the Mexican-American War. Despite its dilapidated condition, Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, in charge of United States forces at Fort Barrancas, determined that Pickens was more defensible than any of the other posts in the area. His decision to abandon Barrancas was hastened when, around midnight of January 8, 1861, his guards repelled a group of local men intending to take the fort. Some historians suggest that these were the first shots fired by United States forces in the Civil War. Shortly after this incident, Slemmer destroyed over 20,000 pounds of gunpowder at Fort McRee, spiked the guns at Barrancas, and evacuated about eighty troops to Fort Pickens. Shortly after that the Fort fell to the Union. Despite repeated Confederate military threats to it, Fort Pickens remained in Union hands throughout the Civil War.
During the late 1890's and early 1900's, new gun batteries were constructed at Fort Pickens. These batteries were part of a program initiated by the Endicott Board, a group headed by a mid-1880's Secretary of War, William Endicott. Instead of many guns located in a small area, the image most people have of a fort, the Endicott batteries are spread out over a wide area. This system used disbursement and concealment for protection from naval gunfire, which was more accurate and powerful than in the past. The use of the modern, powerful weapons eliminated the need for the concentration of guns that was common in the Third System fortifications. One such battery, called Battery Pensacola, was constructed physically within the walls of Fort Pickens, while other similar concrete batteries were constructed to the east and west as separate facilities. The ruins of these later facilities are also included in the Fort.
On June 20, 1899, a fire in Fort Pickens' Bastion D reached the bastion's magazine, which contained 8,000 pounds of powder. The resulting explosion killed one soldier and obliterated Bastion D. The force of the explosion was so great that bricks from Bastion D's walls landed across the bay at Fort Barrancas, more than one and one-half miles away.

While the famous Apache Indian chief Geronimo was imprisoned in Fort Pickens from 1886-May 1987. His presence made the Fort an unintentional tourist attraction, receiving an average of 20 visitors a day, and one time as many as 459. Fort Pickens remained a strong military outpost along Pensacola Bay until 1947, when it was decommissioned and became a state park. Fort Pickens has suffered a lot of damage due to its location and vulnerability to hurricanes. Even small storms over wash the area and wash out the road to the Fort.

Fort Pickens like all forts, dark, cool and reeks with age and this one is filled with the sound of footsteps and voices where there are no people. We heard footsteps behind us throughout the Fort. Voices speaking in whispers seem to come from many of the darken rooms. These voices do not stop when you stop to listen. They are faint and the actual words are not clear. Pickens is know for the appearance of soldiers who are mistaken for actors when none are present. Locals report seeing lights in the Fort where they not suppose to be. There is also a large dark mass that many people have seen cross from one doorway to another. While there we saw that shadow three times. It appears to be a natural shadow until it disappears as you are looking at it. But the most famous and most ofter reported ghost is that of Geronimo. That ghost is often seen at dusk moving slowly from one area to another. Even the Park Service employees admit to hearing strange voices and the sounds of people walking when the Fort is totally empty. It is one of the eeriest Forts I have seen, surpassed only by deserted Fort Macomb in Louisiana.

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