Veterans Memorial Park

Pensacola in the Civil War


  • February 2, 2015
  • /   Emmalee Sutton
  • /   Post Tags

Like many southern towns prior to the Civil War, Pensacola was a peaceful place, draped with the same sleepy Spanish moss and surrounded by the same gentle tides as it is today. However, on April 12, 1861 the fate of Pensacola would soon change. On this date, Confederate forces attacked Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Florida had only recently seceded from the Union, joining South Carolina and Mississippi.  With the Confederate bombardment kicking off a nation-wide war, this placed attention on Pensacola’s forts.

Forts in Pensacola had not been intended for protection from attacks overland. They were neither staffed nor designed to adequately offer security. The harbor defenses appealed as a prime Confederate conquest.  Before Florida’s secession, the Union had given up mainland defense and moved to Fort Pickens, on Pensacola Bay. Beginning in January 1861 Confederate forces began to tighten the reign around the Fort. As strategic needs forced both sides to relocate, the size of Union and Confederate troops in the area shrank.  Other than several small battles over the course of the rest of the year, no major changes in power took place. However, with Union triumphs elsewhere in the South, pressure on Confederate troops to relocate resulted in the Union takeover of Pensacola on May 12, 1862.

The Union controlled Pensacola for the rest of the Civil War.  Offering a place to dock, fuel, and refit vessels, the town served as a port city for ships of Northern blockades.  Pensacola’s forts: Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas, and Fort McRee, were prizes that, after won, majorly contributed to the victory of the Union. Under Union forces, they continued to act as a basis of operations for invasions into Florida and Alabama. The forts also served as containment structures for military prisoners.

Fort Pickens remains one of the largest brick forts built in the United States. It served to delay the bloody battles of the Civil War, helping Southern forces in Florida to find a somewhat peaceful way to secede from the Union. Surrounded by beautiful white sand and yellow-gold sea oats blowing peacefully in the wind along with the rhythm of the tranquil transparent blue waves gently crashing ashore, it is difficult to comprehend the turmoil that the fort holds forever in its history.

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