Friday, January 23, 2009

The Fort at the St. Marks Lighthouse

During the early days of the war, Southern troops built a rectangular fort or battery at the St. Marks Lighthouse.

Named Fort Williams, it was built to defend the entrance to the St. Marks River against naval attack. A battery of artillery was put in place at the fort and scouts used the adjacent lighthouse as a watch tower to observe Union activity in the Gulf off the mouth of the river.

The fort was already completed by the time the U.S.S. Mohawk arrived off St. Marks in June of 1861 to enforce the blockade of the port as ordered by President Abraham Lincoln. The following account appeared in the Tallahassee Floridian on June 29, 1861. It is unique because it describes not only the arrival of the first blockade vessel at St. Marks, but also the response of the Confederate troops at Fort Williams:

On Sunday afternoon last the U.S. steamer Mohawk, Lieut. Strong commanding, arrived below St. Marks, and anchored within the bar - but early on Monday morning it was discovered that she had dropped some distance further down, and had anchored about six miles below Fort Williams. She probably drew too much water for the place where she at first anchored.

News having reached Tallahassee of her arrival, Capt. Gamble's company of volunteers proceeded to the Fort. Before their arrival, however, a boat from the steamer, with a flag of truce, approached the shore, and communicated with Capt. Maxwell, in command of the Fort, and informed him of the object of her mission, which is to enforce a strict blockade of the port.

The Mohawk is a steamer of 464 tons, carries six guns, with a crew of 110 men.

In his intercourse with those on shore, the officer is said to have been courteous and gentlemanly.

Orders have been issued forbidding all intercourse between the citizens and the steamer, except through the proper channel.

The fort at the lighthouse was occupied by Confederate troops until the summer of 1862, when it was abandoned in favor of a new fortification built into the ruins of the old Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache. It was then burned by sailors from the blockade vessels Tahoma and Somerset.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the St. Marks Lighthouse, please visit

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