Fort McRee is a historic military fort constructed by the U.S. military on the eastern point of Perdido Key to defend Pensacola Harbor. Two other forts were also built to fortify the Pensacola Harbor – Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island across Pensacola Pass, and Fort Barrancas on the grounds of Naval Air Station Pensacola, across Pensacola Bay. Fort Pickens was the largest of the three forts, while very little remains of Fort McRee today.
Fort McRee’s construction lasted from 1834 to 1839, and it became a three-tiered fort and detached water battery close to sea level. Because of the fort’s position on a narrow barrier island, it had a very unusual, boomerang shape.
The first troops were stationed at Fort McRee on May 2, 1842. After the Mexican-American War was over in 1848, barracks were built on the mainland near Fort Barrancas, and once they were completed, Fort McRee was only manned during drills, target practice, and maneuvers. The other two forts were manned in a similar way until the Civil War.
Fort McRee During the Civil War
Less than 50 men were occupying all three forts in Pensacola, and First Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer decided to concentrate his small troop in a more defensible location. On January 8, 1861, the first shots of the war were fired when the Union soldiers at Fort Barrancas fired at the Florida Militia. On the 9th and 10th of January, Slemmer’s garrison spiked the guns at Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee before moving across the bay to Fort Pickens. On January 12, Florida and Alabama militia took control of the evacuated forts.
On November 22, 1861, Fort McRee was bombarded by Union forces at Fort Pickens, along with two ships – Niagara and Richmond. Initially, the Confederates were able to hold out against them and even managed to do some significant damage to the Richmond. However, the combined efforts of the ships ultimately led to the suppression of fire in the early afternoon. Once darkness hit, a fall in the tides forced the two ships to withdraw.
Colonel John B. Villepique, the commander of Fort McRee, advised that his position was exposed on most sides, and half of his weapons had been dismounted. He was unable to return fire and asked the General for permission to sabotage the fort and withdraw. However, the request was denied.
On November 23rd, the Niagara and the cannons at Fort Pickens once again began attacking Fort McRee, while the guns there remained silent. And while Fort McRee did survive, it was severely damaged – large portions of the wall had been blown away, other parts had huge holes from cannon shells, and most of the wood decking in the fort had perished in flames. The attacks on November 22nd and 23rd were the last engagements for Fort McRee. In May of 1862, Confederate forces burned Fort McRee and other strategic buildings when they abandoned Pensacola.
Fort McRee Today
The land that Fort McRee once stood on belongs to the National Park Service and is open to people visiting the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The Seashore offers lots of recreational activities from viewing wildlife to touring the historic forts. If you’re looking for other fun activities to do while in the area, why not try your hand at some fishing or enjoy a dolphin tour? Rock Bottom Fishing Charters can give you the trip of a lifetime, exploring the waters around Pensacola!