Friday, July 20, 2012

Bateria de San Antonio - Florida's Third Oldest Standing Fort

Bateria de San Antonio and Pensacola Bay
Unless they make their way down the dark tunnel that provides its only entrance, visitors to Fort Barrancas in Penscaola often overlook a fascinating old Spanish fortification that is Florida's third oldest standing fort.

The Bateria de San Antonio, built by the Spanish in 1793-1797, is a semi-circular masonry fortification built to serve as a water battery for the original Spanish fort of San Carlos de Barrancas. The Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas, both in St. Augustine, are the only still-standing Florida forts older than the Bateria, which is one of the oldest standing fortifications in the United States.

Inside the Bateria de San Antonio
The most expensive fortification built by the Spanish at Pensacola, the idea for a water battery originated during the American Revolution. Spain was then allied with the fledgling United States, but Florida was possessed by Great Britain. In 1781, General Bernardo de Galvez led an allied fleet into Pensacola Bay past the guns of the Royal Navy Redoubt which stood on the bluff where Fort Barrancas can be seen today.

The redoubt had numerous cannon aimed out at the bay, but they proved completely ineffective in stopping the allied fleet. Pensacola fell after one of the most significant yet often overlooked battles of the American Revolution. Please click here to learn more.

Model showing the Bateria de San Antonio from Above
When Florida once again became a Spanish possession after the war, that country's engineers used the lessons they had learned during Galvez's attack on Pensacola. Fort San Carlos de Barrancas, of earth and wood, was built on the ruins of the Royal Navy Redoubt, but far more expense went into building a new masonry water battery - the Bateria de San Antonio - lower on the bluff.

Semi-circular in form, the Bateria was designed so that its cannon could sweep across as much of the channel as possible. Because it was lower on the bluff than the old British fort, its cannon could actually "skip" their cannonballs across the surface of the bay and into the sides of attacking warships.

Bombproof of the Bateria de San Antonio
Due to the strength of its construction, the Bateria survived the demolition of Fort San Carlos de Barrancas by the British during the War of 1812. Spain rebuilt the fort and both it and the Bateria came under fire in 1818 when Andrew Jackson attacked and captured the works during the First Seminole War.

U.S. engineers renovated and strengthened the Bateria in 1839-1840 as they built today's Fort Barrancas on the old San Carlos de Barrancas. Thereafter called the Water Battery, it was occupied by state troops in January 1861 when the U.S. garrison of Fort Barrancas withdrew to Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island.

Manned by Confederate gunners, the cannon of the Water Battery took part in the massive bombardments that shook Pensacola Bay in November 1861 and January 1862. It was not significantly damaged in the fighting.

Restored by the National Park Service, the historic fortification is now accessed via the Fort Barrancas area of Gulf Islands National Seashore at Pensacola Naval Air Station. To learn more about the history of this fascinating old Spanish work, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bateriadesanantonio.

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