Fort Pickens is a historic U.S. military fort located on Santa Rosa Island in Pensacola, Florida. The fort is named after Andrew Pickens, an American Revolutionary War Hero. It is included within the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which preserves natural and historical sites along the Gulf of Mexico barrier islands of Florida and Mississippi, and is thus administered by the National Park Service. The Seashore is a great place for many recreational activities, including touring the forts and fishing. If you want to take a break from history, come fish with Rock Bottom Charters in the present!
Construction of Fort Pickens was completed in 1834, and it was used until 1947. After the War of 1812, the U.S. wanted to fortify all of its major ports and Simon Bernard, a French engineer, was appointed to design Fort Pickens. 21.5 million bricks were used to build Fort Pickens, and construction started in 1829 and was completed in 1834. Fort Pickens was one of the most extensive fortifications designed to defend Pensacola Harbor. The fort is located at the western end of Santa Rosa Island and guarded the island and entrance to the harbor.
On January 20, 1858, a major fire broke out at Fort Pickens while the USCS Robert J. Walker was at Pensacola. The men and boats, joined by the USCS Varina, came together to fight the fire. The next day, the captain of Robert J. Walker received a communication from Captain John Newton, commander of the harbor of Pensacola, acknowledging the service rendered.
Fort Pickens stopped being occupied shortly after the Mexican-American War. Despite the fort’s poor condition, Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer who was in charge of the U.S. forces at Fort Barrancas decided that Fort Pickens was the best defensible post in the area. On January 8, 1861, Slemmer decided to abandon Fort Barrancas when his guards fought back a group of local civilians who wanted to occupy the fort. Some historians say that these were the first shots fired in the Civil War.
On January 10, 1861, Florida declared its secession from the Union and Slemmer destroyed over 20,000 pounds of gunpowder at Fort McRee. Slemmer spiked the guns at Fort Barrancas and moved his small force of soldiers and sailors over to Fort Pickens. He defended the fort against the threat of attack until he was relieved by Colonel Harvey Brown and the USS Brooklyn in April of 1861.
On October 9, 1861, the Confederates attacked Fort Pickens during the Battle of Santa Rosa Island with a force of 1,000 men. The attack was repelled, and the Confederates retreated with 90 casualties.
The Confederates began doubting their chances of success in the Battle of Pensacola when they started running low on supplies and losing morale. The Battle of Mobile Bay pulled the last of the southern forces toward Alabama to defend against Admiral Farragut’s invasion forces, and so on May 10, 1862, the last of the Confederates at Pensacola surrendered to Fort Pickens.
Some nearby fortifications include Fort McRee and Fort Barrancas. Fort McRee was built on Perdido Key, across Pensacola Pass. This fort is now only accessible by foot or boat and has been left to be battered by the elements. Fort Barrancas was built around previously constructed Spanish forts from the 17th- and 18th-centuries.