Monday, December 5, 2011

Wartime Sketch of St. Marks Lighthouse and Fort Williams

1862 Sketch of Fort Williams and St. Marks Lighthouse
This fascinating sketch appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on February 11, 1862. It shows the St. Marks Lighthouse, Fort Williams, the Confederate gunboat C.S.S. Spray (in the background) and the Union warship U.S.S. Mohawk.
The lighthouse today is a popular landmark for visitors to the St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge, but no trace remains of Fort Williams.

Named for Colonel J.J. Williams, a well-known planter from Leon County, the fort was built in 1861 to protect the mouth of the St. Marks River from attack by Union warships. It mounted several pieces of heavy artillery and was built of earth with a timber backing. As the sketch shows, it stood on Lighthouse Point just west of the lighthouse itself, which was used as an observation post for Confederate sentries.

St. Marks Lighthouse
It did not take long for the Confederates to realize that the St. Marks Lighthouse was a horrible position for a fort designed to defend the port of St. Marks. Fort Williams was isolated and could not be easily supported in the event it was attacked. The only way for reinforcements to reach the fort was via a single road that led from the mainland through the marshes out to the lighthouse. Any troops approaching the fort would find themselves visible and subject to Union artillery fire for a long distance.

In addition, the fort's cannon did not command a long enough reach of the channel leading into the St. Marks River to be of much service should the U.S. Navy decide to move up the river.

Ruins of Spanish Fort at St. Marks
With these considerations in view, the Confederates evacuated the fort in 1862 and moved its guns and garrison to the old Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache, which stood on the point of land created by the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers. Although the old fort was in ruins, a strong Marine Hospital stood on the site which was converted for use as a barracks by the soldiers. The design of the fort was altered and the old stone walls were used to back heavy earthworks as Southern soldiers built batteries that would sweep for miles across the marsh to target any advancing warship.

Fort Williams was dismantled and the Union navy later burned what was left of it. No trace of the fort remains today. The lighthouse, however, survived the war and remains quite beautiful today.

To learn more about the St. Marks Lighthouse and its history, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/stmarkslight.
To learn more about the old Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanmarcos1.

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