Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pensacola's Battle-scarred Lighthouse

The historic Pensacola Lighthouse holds a unique place in the Civil War history of Florida.

Built during the final years leading up to the war, the lighthouse was first lit in 1859. The supervising U.S. Army engineer for the project was John Newton, who eventually rose to the rank of brevet major general during the war. Long associated with the Army of the Potamac, he fought on most of the key battlefields of the Civil War. At Gettysburg, it was Newton who assumed command of the famed "Iron Brigade" after General John Reynolds was killed at a critical moment of the battle. He later served with Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign and eventually commanded Union troops at the Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida.

In 1861, the lighthouse was seized by Confederate troops who removed its lense to prevent the beacon from being used by the Union Navy as it began to assemble warships offshore. They also built a strong artillery battery near the base of the lighthouse, fortifying it with banked sand reinforced by heavy timbers.

In November of 1861, a massive bombardment erupted between the Union gunners at Fort Pickens and aboard U.S. warships offshore and Confederate gunners at Forts Barrancas and McRee and in the various "sand batteries" ringing Pensacola Bay. The Lighthouse Battery played a key role in this battle and was specifically targeted by Union cannon at Fort Pickens.

The Pensacola Lighthouse itself was struck at least six times by Union cannonballs and shells during the engagement, but was sufficiently strong to weather the attack. U.S. forces reoccupied the lighthouse when the Confederates withdrew in 1862 and returned it to serve. It remains in operation today.

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