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Fort Pickens, FL

Gulf Islands National Seashore

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Gulf Islands NS stretches intermittently along the Gulf coast from Fort Walton Beach FL to Gulfport MS. The FL sections of the park are accessible by automobile, while further west the park, with the exception of Davis Bayou, is comprised of off-shore islands reachable only by boat. We spent a week at the Fort Pickens Campground south of Pensacola in January 2011.

 Fort Pickens is at the western end of 48-mile long Santa Rosa Island. The fort was completed in 1834 and remained in service until 1947. The road passes through a breach in the southern breastworks of the fort. The fort was named for American Revolutionary War hero Andrews Pickens of South Carolina. At one time it was the second-largest fort in the US.  fort pickens01
fort pickens03   The National Park Service has re-installed some of the cannons and artillery used during the 100+ years use of the fort. Here is an 8" Rodman cannon that looks out over the inlet to Pensacola Harbor.
 On the north side of the fort is the sallyport, or entrance to the fort. Behind the porch were officer quarters and behind them, facing outward were casements where cannon were placed. In 1887 Apache prisoners were housed here, including Geronimo.  fort pickens19
 fort pickens18  This is the northwest wall of the fort. At the far right was the location of Bastion D. In 1899, a fire spread from a warehouse into a powder magazine containing 8,000 pounds of black powder. Debris from the explosion rained down a mile and half away at Fort Barrancas.
 In 1898, to keep up with advances in weaponry, Battery Pensacola was built in the middle of the 7 acre parade ground. fort pickens05 
 fort pickens25  When Battery Pensacola was built, the top of the south wall of the fort was removed to improve the field of fire from the Battery. Like a cut-away drawing, this shows the massive construction of the original fort.
 Most of the fort consisted of gun emplacements both on top and within the walls - a double-decker. Cannons faced out through portals within each arch.  fort pickens20
 fort pickens26  The contruction of the fort included reverse arches under the piers to help distribute the great weight and reduce settling into the ground. The NPS has excavated a bit at this arch so visitors can view the reverse arches.
 Here is a 15" Rodman cannon, one of the largest smooth-bore cannons manufactured. Installed in 1868 with a barrel weighing 50,000 pounds, it could hurl a 300-400 shell up to three miles. The circular iron tracks allowed it to be rotated to any fire in any direction. They were removed in the late 1880's. fort pickens22 
 fort pickens28  Along the east side of the fort was a counterscarp wall (right) and dry moat. The wall protected the landward face of the fort from direct artillery fire.
 This cannon shows how they were mounted in the casements. A link connected the front of the carriage to a pivot point anchored in the wall. The wheels on the carriage allowed it to recoil.  fort pickens29
 fort pickens31 This is the where Bastion D stood at the northwest corner of the fort. It was not rebuilt after the 1899 explosion. What remains clearly shows how massive the walls and casements were. 
 Between the late 1890's and 1943, ten batteries were constructed in the vicinity of Fort Pickens, including, as noted above, Battery Pensacola, built inside the original fort. Just to the southwest of the fort was this set of three batteries: Cullum, Sevier and Van Swearingen.  fort pickens50
 fort pickens51  These wooden buildings date from the early 1900's and contained administrative areas and officers' quarters. Today the housing units are used by volunteers and the park is opening a museum in the large admin building. During WWI, hundreds of troops were housed in tents in this area.
 Battery Worth was built in 1899 about half a mile east of the main fort. This is now near the north end campground loops C and D.  fort pickens30
fort pickens10   The view from inside the spotting tower atop Battery Worth.
 Battery Worth had two large gun pits that each held 4 12" mortars. These mortars could lob 700-pound projectiles that could crash through decks of ships up to 9 miles away. fort pickens11 
 fort pickens37  Battery 234 was built in 1943 about half a mile south-east of the fort overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. It was armed with two WW-II 6-inch shield guns. Like a turret, 4-inch thick cast steel is wrapped around the 6-inch rifle to protect the crew from machine gun and light cannon fire. Each gun shield weighed 80 tons. The Smithsonian Institue provided two of these guns to the park in 1976.
 Completed in 1906, Battery Cooper is just a few hundred yards east of Battery 234. It was equipped with two 6-inch guns mounted on disappearing carriages. During WWI the guns were removed for use on railway mounts in France.  fort pickens41
 fort pickens47  The disappearing carriage allowed gun crews to reload without being exposed to enemy fire. The gun would rise up when ready to fire; the recoil from the shot would push the gun back down.