|Mouth of the St. Johns River|
January 25, 1861
When Florida seceded from the Union, the citizens of Jacksonville found themselves completely without defenses. Unlike Pensacola, Key West, St. Augustine and Fernandina, the important Atlantic Coast port had no large masonry forts to protect it from enemy attack.
With the St. Johns River providing a gateway deep into the eastern portions of Florida, state forces moved immediately to prepare defenses for the city. Within days of the secession of the state, attention was given to a site at Mayport on the south side of the mouth of the river. The start of construction on what would become known as Fort Steele was detailed in the Jacksonville Mirror on January 19, 1861:
Capt. Holmes Steele, with a detachment of his gallant company, proceeded to St. Augustine a few days ago, and have succeeded in transporting four 32-pounders from the fort at that place to the mouth of the St. Johns, to be placed in position to command the entrance of the river, and one 10-pounder, to be placed at some point upon the river between the mouth and Jacksonville. Those guns were transported by teams upon timber carts under an escort of fifteen men. The volunteers, with a large negro force, are throwing up earth-works and excavating ditches for the defence of their position. - Jacksonville Mirror, January 19, 1861.
The cannon came from the old Spanish fortress Castillo de San Marcos, then called Fort Marion, which had been occupied by state troops on January 7th.
Work on Fort Steele continued through the end of January and the fort would serve as a front line defense for Jacksonville for months to come. It stood on the site of today's naval base and no trace of the earthworks remain.
To learn more about other historic sites in the Jacksonville area, however, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/jacksonville.