Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Fort Barrancas/Spanish Water Battery walkaround

barely still in Florida, 
Pensacola was "La Floridas" westward extremity for quite some time

a current aerial shot of the two forts, courtesy Google Earth
notice that North is in the upper left of this picture
       The most complete of the forts that I visited in my whirlwind tour of western Florida Fort Barrancas in on the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Like most coastal fortifications in the area it began as a Spanish effort and changed hands several times during the 1750-1820 period. The current fortifications consist of a late-period Spanish Water Battery and a U.S. Third System fort protecting the back of the Water Battery. Both are in excellent condition and are a nice contrast between the styles and thinking of the different systems of defense.These forts were built on the on the site of several previous fortifications dating back to 1698 which had been occupied by Spanish, English, and French forces in turn, for a delightfully tongue in cheek explanation of the convoluted military history of the forts around Pensacola check this post over at Starforts.com.

       Enough of that, let us begin our tour! The fort has a very informative and well-appointed visitor's center (not much larger than my living room really, but WAY cooler). Pride of place goes to the model of the fort that occupies the center of the space.

this provides a sense of what the forts look like
 that would be difficult to get from walking the grounds  
it is a beautiful model, 
I felt like I needed to get a ton of 10mm figures and give it a garrison

seriously, every wargamer should have a model like this of their favorite fortified place

the approach from the Visitor's Center to the fort heads up the glacis,
if the fort were defending itself there would be the parapet-mounted cannons 
peeking over the horizon and peppering the attacker with grapeshot

there are many informative plaques scattered around the forts

a view of the back of the Water Battery from the corner of the glacis
the wall on the right is a face of the Upper Work

a slightly better view

a now-vanished strange little fort that was part of the harbor defenses 
until it was burned by retreating Confederates in 1862

a period photo of the fort when it had a nearly full complement of guns

a look at the north-east corner of the fort from the top of the ditch

the face of the northern glacis from the same spot

the entry through the glacis I love that it is still a drawbridge,
 some elements of fortifications lasted a lot longer than others

the drawbridge was covered by rifle and cannon ports in both the scarp and counterscarp walls

a deadly pace to get caught,
if the 20 foot drop into the ditch didn't get you in the first place

cannons would have been mounted on the parapet to sweep the glacis 
and there are mountain howitzers in the counterscarp walls to sweep the bottom of the ditch
not to mention the dozens of musket-ports

even if an attacker could get a gun in position to blast the drawbridge
 the opening in almost ten feet above the ditch floor

a most unhappily exposed position

the larger ports in the distant facing wall of the counterscarp are for mountain howitzers
four such guns were set to sweep both angles of the ditch with grapeshot

looking west along the ditch from the drawbridge

and east along the ditch from the drawbridge, the green door is a sally-port

another westward view 

massive oak doors,
 they would have been right at home on a dark ages fortress

a view through a musket port

these are sited about every fifteen or twenty feet
 all along the length of the scarp and counterscarp

a look down the musketry gallery inside the fort, 
the green door on the right leads into a magazine

it is as massively-built as the entryway door, five or more inches thick

the inner door of the magazine

the interior walls were painted white to help with lighting

it was late in the afternoon in November when I visited
 and the galleries were easy enough to navigate by sunlight alone

the vaulted chambers were quite large and 
would allow for several men to be loading while one took a shot through the port

a view from a musket port on the eastern face

just beyond the far tree line is the bay

the gallery almost looks like a surrealistic painting

musket ammunition was disbursed through small doors

this is the passage that leads under the ditch from the fort into the counterscarp galleries

a view into the magazine from the doorway on the stairs under the ditch

the stairs leading up into the counterscarp gallery

which look even more surrealistic

a view toward the fort from the counterscarp musket port

they are rather narrow, only about six inches wide

I didn't see the need for the smoke evacuation post above the firing slit as the 
muzzle of the musket would be outside the port, but it looks really cool

one of the cannon ports facing into the ditch

no place to hide

the door into the magazine from the cannon chamber

 the other cannon position, right next to the last one

the doorway into the cannon magazine from the gallery

another look into the ditch

looking back down the gallery from the cannon chamber

and rotating clockwise from the corner of the chamber

and slightly more clockwise

the full length of the western counterscarp gallery

the N.P.S. does some pretty good signs

and the graphics are pretty good too

somehow I wouldn't be excited about ramming a red-hot cannonball 
down on top of a load of black powder!

period photos

entryway into the gallery in the northern face

and the gallery itself

the fort is a mirror image, with matching galleries
 and magazines on both sides of the centerline

the ramp up from the drawbridge to the parade-ground, this fort is almost 
entirely filled with earth so there isn't much depth below the parapet inside the fort

looking back down into the entryway

looking at the entryway from the center of the parade ground

then a slow clockwise sweep of the interior of the fort

sadly there is but one gun mounted on the parapet

the entryway into the (very steep) tunnel that leads to the Water Battery

closer view of the cannon

the track for the rollers was crude but effective

oddly there was no informational placard anywhere near the gun,
 usually the N.P.S. has some information regarding mounted ordinance

the pintle was little more than a massive iron plug set into a huge block of concrete

the view over the bay from the gun mount

other pintle-mount positions

another look over the parapet, on the headland opposite is Fort Pickens

the iron base of a pintle mount

sorry about the sun-glare

a view into the parade ground from the parapet

the foundations for the hot-shot furnace 

which probably looked like this one from the Castillo San Marcos in Saint Augustine 

the well-head rising out of the earthen embankment

the tunnel through the bluff down into the Water Battery

inside the heavy wooden door the passage was very steep

and dark

they really loved their doors!

the final few steps down into the Battery

the "parade ground" Battery

originally the battery was open at the back, when the U.S. added the upper works they enclosed the rear of the battery and added an odd rectangular structure that nearly fills the old parade ground

the structure serves as a magazine and a raised firing platform for riflemen

a doorway into the magazine

looking back toward the stairs leading up into the tunnel to the upper works

the steep and wide stairway that leads to the rifle position

this structure looks like some odd combination of Spanish and Mayan architecture 

looking west across the face of the structure

a dual stairway leads from the parade ground to the firing platform

the entry to the magazine

fancy drainpipes for the upper deck

additional entrances to what I have to assume are magazines as well

looking back at the upper works from the top of the rifle structure 
the light colored stone surrounds of the cannon ports in the counterscarp
 are visible just above the tip of the shadow of the fort

panning slowly westward from the top of the rifle structure

ending looking almost straight west

the rifle position is one of the oddest things I have ever seen in a fort
it resembles a massive swimming pool
 and I can see almost no reason to have gone to the trouble of building it

it has very nice views over the bay and is very well built

looking west at the end of the rear wall of the battery

and south toward the bay

then east at the eastern end of the rear wall

looking down the stairway into the parade ground

fancy details

the inner door to the magazine

they appear to be cedar lined

two more doorways into similar rooms without the odd outer structure that the first one had

looks rather inviting

I would love to know if the cedar lining is an original feature

or if the Commandant just had an extensive wardrobe that he wished to keep free from moths

a tiny doorway into an equally tiny room 
at the foot of the stairs up onto the firing platform

barely large enough for two small men

looking back from the top of the stairs

and turning clockwise from there

that huge stairway again

the western end of the structure joins the rear of the firing platform
this series of photos sweep west-to-east from the top of the stairs 
looking at the interior of the battery wall

the original battery had deck and truck-mounted guns rather than pintle mounts

later cannon were far too heavy to be man-handled around on the deck

your tax dollars finally doing something worthwhile

the view down to the bay, of course when this was an operational fort 
the trees would have been cut down to afford an unlimited view of the bay

and one down the steep face of the bluff that serves as a natural glacis

facing the forts from the center of the battery position

the structure is offset to the west

and sweeping across from west to east from the same place 

that crazy stairway gain

 there is a display of cannon and mortars outside the Visitor's Center

I know nearly nothing about Civil War era guns
 so if anybody can identify these I would appreciate it

the mount for this one looks oddly minimalistic

I tried to get the serial number that is cast into it, 
in case that helps identify it

       Well worth a visit if you are in the Pensacola area, try to call ahead if you are planning on a visit, the Adavanced Redoubt is only open at certain times and, as this is an active military base, the whole thing is closed from time to time. Additionally if you have a carry permit you will need to leave your sidearm at home, the Navy is very particular about people netering their base with a weapon.

1 comment:

  1. I doubt I’ll ever get to see the site myself, but great virtual walk about.