Thursday, March 4, 2010

More on Fort Ward at St. Marks, Florida

By the early months of 1865, the Confederate fort at St. Marks was complete.

In addition to heavy guns that covered both the St. Marks and Wakulla River, Fort Ward was well protected by geography. Vast marshes spread out in all directions from the point of land formed by the confluence of the rivers and it would have been extremely difficult for a large land force to approach the defenses. The narrow and winding nature of the channel that approached St. Marks from the Gulf also meant that any attacking warships would have to approach under heavy fire from the fort's cannon from long range, without being able to reply with broadsides of their own.

The primary garrison of the fort was Campbell's Siege Artillery, a heavy artillery company raised primarily in Decatur County, Georgia. A strong or large company, the unit had drilled with the guns at Fort Ward for months and were well familiar with the natural and manmade defenses of the position. They were well housed in the former Marine Hospital.

In addition to the earthworks of the fort itself, St. Marks was also defended by the gunboat C.S.S. Spray. Armed with several pieces of heavy artillery, the Spray was a small river steamer with high pressure engines that made her both fast and highly maneuverable. Manned by a large crew of sailors and marines from the C.S. Navy, she had enjoyed a fairly successful career and was one of the longest operating such vessels in the Confederate Navy. By March of 1865, she was tied up alongside the east or St. Marks River battery of Fort Ward, but routinely moved up and down the lower river to watch the movements of the Federal blockade ships offshore.
As the war neared its end, Fort Ward and the Spray were the primary defenders of the Florida capital of Tallahassee. They were expected to offer the most formidable opposition to the campaign launched by General John Newton in March of 1865, but the Federal force would instead be surprised at Newport and Natural Bridge and neither the fort or gunboat at St. Marks would come under fire.

To learn more about San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park, which preserves the earthworks of Fort Ward, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanmarcos1.

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