Sunday, December 14, 2008

San Marcos de Apalache - Part Four


Continuing our series on San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida, the United States maintained a garrison at the old Spanish fort in the years after the First Seminole War.

Florida was then still a Spanish colony, but Spain was powerless to expel the American force. Buried on the grounds of the old fortress are a number of U.S. soldiers, men who died while garrisoning what they called Fort St. Marks. Most were from the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantry Regiments and the 4th U.S. Artillery Battalion.

Following the cession of Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821, Fort St. Marks remained an important miltary installation, but its importance diminished over time and the garrison was withdrawn during the 1820s. Men were sent back to the fort during a brief crisis with the Seminoles and again during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), but it never again took on the significance of its early years.

By the time of the Civil War, the fort had been long abandoned and partially dismantled. Stone from the old Spanish walls was used to build a Marine Hospital on the grounds and, reportedly, the St. Marks Lighthouse as well. The ruined walls, however, still stood.

Due to the deterioration of the fort, the outbreak of the war in 1861 found the harbor of St. Marks (key port for the city of Tallahassee) completely unprotected. Confederates initially built a battery far out in the marshes at the lighthouse, but soon realized this position was too exposed and evacuated it in favor of new defenses on the old San Marcos site.

Using the ruins of the massive stone walls of the old Spanish fort for support, Confederate engineers designed an earthwork battery on top of the old defenses. The Spanish moat was filled to create the center of the fort and the stone bastions on the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers were reinforced with earth and used as artillery positions. Named Fort Ward, after Col. George Ward of Florida, the fort was crudely built but nevertheless successfully protected the port of St. Marks for the duration of the war.

In the next post, we'll look at the two main attempts to capture the fort by Union forces and explore its history as an unconquered Southern citadel. Until then, you can read more about the history of the park by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanmarcos1.

San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park is one of a number of parks on a list recommended for either permanent or temporary closure by the state of Florida due to budget issues. If you agree that this site should remain open to the public, please take a few minutes to write to Governor Charlie Crist at Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com. Also please contact your local state representatives and senators.


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