Apr 21, 2018
|Today we walked up the 177 steps to the top of Pensacola’s current lighthouse, placed in service in 1859. Located on NAS Pensacola, the 150 foot tower was built on a 40 foot bluff with the lens 190 feet above sea level. It was important to get this lighthouse right as the first ‘light’ for Pensacola bay was a lightship, the Aurora Borealis.
The lightship worked well in calm seas but in rough waters had to be towed behind Santa Rosa Island where it was hard to see the light. In 1840 a 40’ tower was built behind a forest but the ships couldn’t see the light. But all’s well that ends well as the current lighthouse is made of bricks in a conical design (10’ thick at the base 3’ at the top) to withstand hurricanes.
There was a two year interruption after the start of the Civil War when the Confederates stole the lens. The Union relit the lighthouse in 1863 and it’s been performing its duties ever since.
Pensacola was settled by the Spanish in 1559, they built fortifications to safeguard their treasure ships, keep out the French and to spread the gospel to the natives. From then until 1821 when East and West Florida was handed over to the US, flags of 3 countries (Spain, France and England) had flown over Pensacola.
Fort Barrancas was one of several military installations built with rented slave labor. The Fort was one of three forts built in the area with overlapping cannon fire to protect the entire harbor area. In the case of Fort Barrancas, the enslaved laborers worked from sunrise to sunset with one hour for both breakfast and dinner (1839 - 1844).
On January 8 1861 Lt Slemmer ordered Company G, 1st Artillery to guard Fort Barrancas from Florida. When the state succeeded two days later he evacuated to Fort Pickens across the bay.
Nearby the Advanced Redoubt of Fort Barrancas (built 1845-1870) was built to protect the Navy Yard from ground forces. Oct. 8, 1863 the Confederate Brigadier General Clinton led the attack against the fort. The defenders were US Colored Troops of the 14th Regiment Corps d/Afrique and the 7th Vermont Infantry. On that day there was a brief skirmish. The next days the confederates came and the Federals responded with howitzer rounds and small arms. The attackers retreated with no casualties on either side.
The Redoubt was built to prolong the enemy to exposure to one obstacle after another, to exhaust the troops and make the siege too costly. First the attackers needed to cross an open slope, exposed to cannon and musket fire. If the enemy crossed the open slope, the defenders would fall back behind their series of traverses. If the enemy reached the moat; the attackers would be caught in a deadly crossfire of howitzers, muskets and canon sized buckshot.
One problem, technology changed and rifled cannon and ironclad warships made this fort, and forts like it, obsolete. After the Civil War the fort was completed as the means to counter these new weapons did not exist.
The fort was finished by free men. The brick and stone walls designed to last centuries were outdated 35 years after the construction began.
The lighthouse, Fort Barrancas and the Redoubt are all part of the National Park Service.
We have enjoyed our stay in Pensacola. I learned so much about Forts and Redoubts today. Also I was glad to find the spiral stairs in the lighthouse were longer than average making it easier for folks going down to pass those going up.