ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Fort McRee & Battery 233, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Fort McRee & Battery 233, Florida
Site of Fort McRee
Viewed from the top of Battery 233, the site of Fort
McRee is between the position of the camera and
the channel leading into Pensacola Bay.
Fort McRee & Battery 233
The historic fort as well as
three later coast defense
batteries stood on the eastern
tip of Perdido Key.
Fort McRee in 1861
This photo of raw Southern
troops drilling at Fort McRee
was taken in 1861. The fort
was badly damaged in
November of that year.
Fort McRee & Battery 233 - Perdido Key, Florida
"Lost Fort" of Pensacola Bay
Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Custom Search
Battery 233
The growth visible behind the
interpretive sign covers the
remains of Battery 233, a
World War II battery at Fort
Perdido Key & Fort McRee
Other than by walking miles
from the nearest road access,
the only way to reach the site
of Fort McRee is by boat.
Fort McRee was an antebellum fort that stood
on Perdido Key at the entrance to Pensacola
Bay. It was all but destroyed during the Civil
War and no surface remains of it exist today.

When U.S. engineers devised a plan for
defending Pensacola Bay in the years after
Florida was transferred from Spain to the
United States, they decided that the bay could
only be guarded by a series of forts. In the
years from 1829  to 1861, they planned and
built four major works: Pickens, Barrancas,
McRee and the Advanced Redoubt.

Fort Pickens, the largest of these forts, still
stands on Santa Rosa Isand. Its companion
work, Fort McRee, was literally blasted to bits
by Union cannon fire during the Civil War. Its
site, however, attracts the curious to this day
and Fort McRee is known as the "lost fort" of
Pensacola Bay.

Constructed between 1834 and 1839, Fort
McRee (sometimes incorrectly spelled "Fort
McRae") was named for Colonel William
McRee. The most uniquely shaped of the
forts at Pensacola Bay, it looked something
like a stubby boomerang when viewed from
above. The walls were curved and the fort
was rounded at both ends, a design that
allowed it to bring maximum firepower to
bear on the main channel leading into the

The fort stood on what was then called
Foster's Bank (today's Perdido Key). It was
seized from its caretaker by Southern militia
in 1861 as Florida seceded from the Union.
Federal troops had barely finished dumping
thousands of pounds of gunpowder from the
fort into the bay when the militia made its

Fort McRee passed from the control of
Florida to that of the Confederate government
when the latter was organized at Montgomery
in February of 1861. Over the months that
followed Southern soldiers and engineers
worked desperately to mount cannon and
prepare the fort for defense.

Three tiers high and almost completely
exposed, Fort McRee was never intended by
its designers to be held against an enemy
that also had control of Fort Pickens across
the channel. Not only was it within range of
the heavy guns at Pickens, without the
support of that fort it was at the mercy of
enemy warships that could close to within
range from behind it.

When Union troops managed to hang on to
Fort Pickens at the beginning of the war, Fort
McRee was doomed. The proof came on
November 22, 1861, when the opposing
forces opened the Battle of Pensacola Bay.

Fort Barrancas, on the mainland, held its
own against Union cannon fire from massive
Fort Pickens, but Fort McRee did not. The fort
initially responded well to the incoming fire
from Fort Pickens and the Union warships
Niagara and USS Richmond. As the day
wore on, however, the accuracy of the
Federal cannon improved and one by one the
guns of Fort McRee were silenced.

For Colonel John Villepigue and his men
from Georgia and Mississippi, the defense of
Fort McRee was waged under desperate
conditions. Overall commander General
Braxton Bragg explained:

The magazines were laid bare to the
enemy's shells, which constantly exploded
around them, and a wooden building to the
windward, on the outside of the fort, taking
fire, showers of live cinders were constantly
driven through the broken doors of one
magazine, threatening destruction to the
whole garrison.

Bragg reported that the wooden parts of the
fort caught fire three times and that courage
of Villepigue and his men was witnessed by
the whole Confederate army:
Defenses of Pensacola Bay
Fort McRee, visible at left,
cooperated with Fort Pickens
and Fort Barrancas to guard
the entrance to the bay.
In the midst of this terrible ordeal the cool-
ness and self-possession of the commander
inspired all with confidence, and enabled him
to hold a position which seemed to others
utterly untenable.

Six lives were lost at Fort McRee when a
powder magazine collapsed. A number of
other men were wounded, Colonel Villepigue
among them. Even though the garrison could
do little to defend itself after the first day of the
battle, the fort held out through two days of

By the time the smoke of battle cleared, Fort
McRee had been literally riddled by Union
shot and shells. Confederate soldiers held
on until May of 1862 when they gave up the
fort as they abandoned Pensacola. They
burned the remaining woodwork as they
withdrew, but the military usefulness of Fort
McRee was over.

Subject to tidal erosion and weakened by the
hammering they had taken, the walls of the
fort collapsed in subsequent years and no
trace of it can be seen today. While many
believe that the site has been washed away,
recent research suggests that some of the
foundations may still be buried beneath the
sands of Perdido Key.

Despite the destruction of Fort McRee, its
position at the entrance to Pensacola Bay
remained of military importance for years to
come. Batteries Slemmer and Center were
built there in 1898-1899 as the Spanish-
American War raised concerns over the state
of American coastal defenses.

These concrete installations were obsolete
by World War II and were largely demolished
when Battery 233 was built at the Fort McRee
site in 1943. Its two 6" guns were never
installed, but the concrete emplacements
can still be seen.

The site of Fort McRee and remains of
Battery 233 are now part of Gulf Islands
National Seashore but can only be accessed
by boat or a walk of several miles up the
beach from the nearest parking area.

The east end of Perdido Key, where the fort
once stood, is easiest viewed by looking
west across the channel from the Tower
Bastion of Fort Pickens, which is accessible
by car.

Please click here to learn more about Gulf
Islands National Seashore.
Historic Forts in Florida