Fort Barrancas

Fort Barrancas

Fort BarrancasThere are, of course, no castles in the United States. But old military forts often have many of the features of medieval castles. This can be seen in the fortifications around Berwick-upon-Tweed in the North-East of England–fortifications which are more recent than the era of castle building. These sort of features can be seen in historic American forts, and the most complete example of these in the Pensacola area is Fort Barrancas.

Fort Barrancas is built on a rise, facing Pensacola Bay to the North. On the two South-facing sides, there is a large, but high-sided moat. The moat was never filled with water. It is often referred to as “the killing field”, because the high walls on either side of the moat feature gun slots, so anyone attempting to walk up the moat would soon be shot.

The Fort was part of a line of defense for the United States in the 19th Century, to prevent raids by British, French or Spanish shipping, who might have otherwise attempted to sail into Pensacola Bay, where the US Navy base was, and still is. The effectiveness of the fort as a deterrent is seen by the fact that it never had to fire a shot in anger–except once!

Fort BarrancasOn November 22-23 1861, Barrancas was in the hands of the Confederates, while Fort Pickens, across the bay, was held by the Union forces. For two days, there was an exchange of fire from the forts' guns. The guns were designed to fire about a mile, and both forts had been built to guard the entrance to Pensacola Bay (along with a third, Fort McCree), as the Bay is about a mile and a half wide. After the dust settled on November 23rd 1861, it was apparent that neither side had hit the other's fort.

There was also a brief exchange of fire in January 1862, but in May 1862, word came through that the Union Army had taken New Orleans, so the Confederate forces left Pensacola.

Today, Fort Barrancas is a place of beauty. The gun slits along “the killing field” now allow in the light in fascinating changing ways throughout the day. The millions of bricks, skillfully shaped by slave labor, working under terrible conditions, now provide a texture of rare color, beloved by artists and photographers alike.

If anywhere in the United States can qualify for having some of the romance and awesomeness of an English castle, it is surely Fort Barrancas.