Friday, April 20, 2012

Fort McRee - The Lost Fort of Pensacola Bay

Interpretive Sign at Site of Fort McRee
It is hard to imagine a massive masonry fort being so obliterated by war and the elements that not even a trace of it remains to be seen, yet that is exactly what has happened to Fort McRee at Pensacola Bay.

Built in 1834-1839, Fort McRee was one of a network of forts built to protect Pensacola and the important Pensacola Navy Yard from foreign attack. It stood on what was then called Foster's Bank but is known today as Perdido Key. The site is directly across the entrance of Pensacola Bay from better-known Fort Pickens.

Site where Fort McRee Stood (Fort Pickens in the Background)
The fort was designed to work with Fort Pickens to create an impenetrable wall of cannon fire through which no enemy ship could pass without being reduced to splinters. Had it been called upon strictly to perform that task, McRee might well still be standing today.

Instead, when war actually came to Pensacola Bay in 1861, Fort McRee fell into the hands of Southern troops while its partner, Fort Pickens, remained in the hands of the Union. The result was that instead of combining with Fort Pickens to defend the entrance to the harbor against enemy warships, Fort McRee had to battle both. It was an assignment for which it was not designed.

Site of Fort McRee
On November 23, 1861, when the Battle of Pensacola Bay erupted between General Braxton Bragg's Army of Pensacola and the Federal forces at Fort Pickens and on board the warships USS Niagara and Richmond offshore, Fort McRee found itself caught in a devastating crossfire.

While the guns of Pickens blasted the three-tiered fort from across the harbor entrance, the ships closed to within range of the fort's rear. Although the garrison fought valiantly, one by one the guns of Fort McRee were silenced. With the soldiers in the fort no longer able to fight back, shot and shell rained on the burning fort for two days. By the time the battle was over, Fort McRee was riddled and sections of its walls were collapsing.

Fort McRee in Ruins, ca. 1899
The damage so weakened the fort that tidal erosion was able to finish the job that the Union military had begun. Fort McRee collapsed and today not a single surviving ruin can be seen above ground. There is even some debate about where the fort actually stood. Some believe the site has been washed away completely, while others believe the foundations of the fort still exist beneath the sand of Perdido Key.

To learn more about Fort McRee and the later concrete batteries erected at the site during the Spanish American War and World War II, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortmcree.

You can learn more about the other forts of Pensacola Bay by following these links:
To explore other forts and battlefields in the South, be sure to visit my main site at www.exploresouthernhistory.com.


4 comments:

RoadDog said...

Thanks for clearing up my question as to how much of the fort is left.

Other than your fine account, there is not much on the internet about it.

Dale Cox said...

Thank you for the note. I've always had a fascination with Fort McRee. I understand some ground penetrating radar was recently done out there that indicates some of the foundations may indeed still exist, either of the main fort or the adjacent brick water battery. As I learn more, I will post it here.

Thanks as always for reading!

Dale

Anonymous said...

Can u go to the site though?
I heard battery 233 is still there is this true?

Dale Cox said...

Thanks for the note. Yes, the only way to reach it is by boat or a loooooooooong walk. You can see some additional photos at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortmcree