When my dad and I concluded our 2500 mile road trip from California to Florida, we pulled into the Pensacola Naval Air Station base with about 30 minutes to spare before liberty call, when Jonathan would be freed up to leave the base and go sign the lease on our new home. While waiting for Jonathan, my dad and I decided to stop at one of the many tourist spots within Pensacola NAS – and yes, there are many tourist spots at this base. It’s insane. It feels more like a vacation resort than a military complex. But I digress.
About a half mile into the base, I noticed what looked like ancient ruins half buried in the landscape off to our right. We pulled over to find the Advanced Redoubt of Fort Barrancas, an historical American landmark protected by the National Park Service.
The Redoubt was built between 1845 and 1870 as part of a defensive network along with Fort Pickens, Fort McRee and Fort Barrancas to protect the entrance to the harbor in Pensacola where the Navy Yard was situated. To put this into proper perspective, when ground was broken on this bad boy James Polk was the president (16 years before Abraham Lincoln was elected President). Florida had just become the 27th state in the United States of America. And Edgar Allen Poe’s “Raven” was first published. So, yeah. Kind of a long time ago.
The design of the Advanced Redoubt – an enclosed fortress protecting a strategic point – exhibits the idea of defense in depth. As an attack began to beat back the defenders, the attacking soldiers would meet new obstacles to further advance. The goal of the Redoubt was to make an assault as costly as possible to exhaust the attacking troops before they could gain access to the Fort and the Navy Yard beyond.
As an attacker, you would be exposed to cannon and musket fire from the main wall (the scarp) as well as musket fire from the top of the outer wall (the counterscarp). Defending soldiers are protected, while attackers are exposed.
At the moat are windows that serve as embrasures for cannon called flank howitzers. Canister, cannon-sized buckshot, would be fired down the ditch at attackers. The vertical windows in the walls, called loopholes, are where infantry could fire muskets while being completely protected by the walls. Anyone caught in the moat would be caught in a deadly crossfire of musketry while facing a hail of canister from the howitzers.
If the enemy ever did manage to reach the back of the fort (the gorge), additional musket fire would come from galleries atop the demibastion on either side. Due to it’s strategic defences, the Fort could literally only be taken by siege.
The only action the Advanced Redoubt ever encountered was on October 8, 1863, when Confederate Brigadier General Clanton led an attack against Fort Barrancas, which was defended by the U.S. Colored Troops of the 14th Regiment Corps d’Afrique and the 7th Vermont Infantry. After a brisk skirmish the estimated 200 Confederates retired into the woods. The next day the Confederates returned and engaged the pickets with musketry at Advanced Redoubt. The federals blazed back with small arms and a few howitzer rounds. The Confederates retreated again with no casualties reported on either side.
The Advanced Redoubt was built at the end of an era, incorporating the lessons of many centuries of engineering. For over 500 years, cannon had hurled round iron balls to batter down walls. Cannon ended the age of castles, and had let to the designs found in seacoast forts like Pickens, Barrancas and this Redoubt. Among the most advanced buildings of their day, these structures were built to last for centuries.
But rapid changes in technology rendered the Redoubt obsolete before it was even finished in 1870. By the end of the American Civil War in 1865, rifled cannon and ironclad warships had made this fort, and all others like it, archaic. Nevertheless, the fort was completed because engineers had not yet solved the problems presented by the new weapons.
The Advanced Redoubt is a study in changes. It was begun with slave labor, but was finished by free men. In an age of brick and stone, its walls were built using cement. It was designed for the ages, but was outdated before the last brick was set. And to this day it is nestled amongst the weeds and sand of a Naval Station that continues to forge the newest technologies to potential threats against our nation.
So! This was my first sightseeing excursion at my new home! I hope you enjoyed. I’ll be sure to post more adventures as they come! ^_^