Cannon at Fort Barrancas
A 19th century Columbiad
aims out at Pensacola Bay
from Fort Barrancas.
Defender of Pensacola Bay
The fort functioned with Forts
Pickens and McRee across
the bay to create a brutal
crossfire against any enemy
Fort Barrancas and Water Battery - Pensacola, Florida
Fort Barrancas in Pensacola, Florida
Fort Barrancas in Pensacola, Florida
|Fort Barrancas and the Water Battery
The brick structure at right was begun by the U.S. in
1839, while the white battery is of Spanish origin.
The Defense of Pensacola Bay
Fort Barrancas overlooks the entrance to
Florida's Pensacola Bay. Part of Gulf Islands
National Seashore, the old fort is a unique
relic of America's past.
This site has served military purposes at
least since the Spanish built a fort nearby in
1698. Named for the barrancas or red clay
bluffs of Pensacola Bay, there have been a
series of forts on the site.
The French occupied the bluffs briefly in
1719, but soon returned possession to the
Spanish. After taking possession of Florida
following the French and Indian War, the
British built a fort here. The Royal Navy
Redoubt engaged Spanish ships during the
early stages of the Battle of Pensacola, a key
encounter of the American Revolution. The
British lost the 1781 battle and Florida once
again became a Spanish colony.
Spain constructed Fort San Carlos de
Barrancas at the site and during the 1790s
added a masonry water battery, the Bateria
de San Antonio, which still stands today. The
forts were seized by U.S. troops under
General Andrew Jackson in both 1814 and
The 1814 capture was an action of the War of
1812 and came after British troops occupied
Pensacola, violating Spain's neutrality during
the conflict. They blew up Fort Barrancas
before American troops could move on the
position, but Jackson captured the Bateria de
San Antonio. The 1818 capture was part of
the First Seminole War and resulted from
accusations by Jackson that the Spanish had
been supplying Seminole and refugee Creek
warriors in their conflict with the United
States. The fort was returned to Spain both
times, but were occupied permanently by the
United States after Florida became a U.S.
Territory in 1821.
To better protect the nearby U.S. Navy Yard,
the Bateria de San Antonio was improved for
use as a water battery and a new work, Fort
Barrancas, was constructed in 1839-1844. A
large military installation, Barrancas Post,
grew adjacent to the fort. The post provided
barracks, offices, hospitals and other
necessary support structures for the fort.
The new fort functioned with Fort Pickens and
Fort McRee across the bay to create a
crossfire of artillery through which any
attacking fleet would have to sail in order to
As Andrew Jackson had easily demonstrated
in 1818, the position of Fort Barrancas was
susceptible to land attack. To counter this
deficiency, a second brick fortification called
the Advanced Redoubt was built a few
hundred yards inland to help in the fort's
By the eve of the Civil War, the small force of
U.S. troops assigned to Pensacola Bay were
quartered at Barrancas Post. Forts Pickens
and McRee were occupied by caretakers.
It is a little known fact that the first shots of
the Civil War were actually fired on the
drawbridge of Fort Barrancas on January 8,
1861, more than three months before the
Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter.
Concerned over the secession movement in
the Southern states and aware of rumors that
state troops were preparing to move on the
post, Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer, the
commander of Fort Barrancas, posted a
sergeant's guard in the fort and placed his
men on high alert. The guards observed
shadowy figures on the drawbridge and
confronted them. When the intruders failed to
identify themselves, the U.S. soldiers fired a
volley at them.
The Southerners, who turned out to be from
an Alabama militia company, withdrew
quickly without returning fire. They later said
they had heard the fort had been evacuated
and were approaching in the darkness to
investigate. No one was injured.
Slemmer evacuated Fort Barrancas two days
later on January 10, 1861, moving his men
over to Fort Pickens where he believed he
could wage a stronger defense. The post
was quickly occupied by Southern troops and
a standoff began with the Federals.
On November 22, 1861, and again the
following January, Confederate gunners in
the fort exchanged fire with Union troops
across the bay at Fort Pickens. The fort was
not seriously damaged in the artillery duels.
With the port of Pensacola effectively bottled
up by Union troops in Fort Pickens and the
Union Navy offshore, the Confederates
decided to evacuate the city and send the
soldiers posted there elsewhere. Fort
Barrancas was evacuated in May of 1862 and
once again fell into Union hands.
It remained in Federal hands for the rest of
the war and was the base for several
important Civil War expeditions. Among
these was the 1864 raid on Marianna, Florida.
Fort Barrancas remained an important army
post for many years after the Civil War, but is
now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore,
a national park area that stretches from
Florida to Mississippi. The fort and Bateria de
San Antonio or Water Battery have been
beautifully restored and can be visited daily.
The area includes the forts, the nearby
Advanced Redoubt, trails, picnic areas and a
very nice visitor center. The fort is open daily
8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. in November-February
and 9:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. in March-October,
and is free to visit.
Guided tours of Fort Barrancas are offered
daily at 2 p.m., or you can tour the fort on your
own any time during open hours. The
entrance is on Taylor Road 1/2 mile east of
the Museum of Naval Aviation.
Please click here to visit the official National
Park Service website for more information.
First Shots of the Civil War
The first hostile gunfire of the
Civil War took place here on
the drawbridge of the fort.
Confederates in the fort
fought two massive artillery
battles with Federals in Fort
Pickens (visible in the
The magazines of Fort
Barrancas contained 20,244
pounds of gunpowder on the
even of the Civil War.
Visitor Center & Cannon
Fort Barrancas is now a unit
of the National Park Service
and is open daily.
|Copyright 2012 & 2013 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Update: June 11, 2013
Historic Forts of Florida