Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fort George Historic Site (Forts of Florida #5)

Cannon at Fort George in Pensacola
Fort George, #5 on our list of the Forts of Florida, dates not from the War Between the States but from an earlier war, the one that gave the United States its independence.

Our state's rich Revolutionary War history is often unknown, yet Florida was the scene of numerous battles and skirmishes in 1775-1783. One of the largest battles of the American Revolution, in fact, took place in Pensacola from March 18, 1781 until May 10, 1781. The capture of Fort George, a strong British work that defended the city, ended forever English claims to a piece of the Gulf Coast.

At the time of the American Revolution, Florida was under British control. They had won it as a prize at the end of the French and Indian War, taking over the colonies of East and West Florida from the Spanish in 1763. Pensacola was the capital of West Florida and the British strongly fortified it with multiple works, batteries, stockades and scores of cannon.

Fort George
Led by the Spanish general Bernardo de Galvez, allied forces began the conquest of the Gulf Coast after Spain and France joined forces with the American Patriots. Galvez, from his base in New Orleans, first took Baton Rouge (see The Battle of Baton Rouge) and then Mobile (see the Battle of Fort Charlotte). By March of 1781, his fleet was off the entrance to Pensacola Bay.

The allied forces stormed into the bay on March 18, 1781, sailing right past the guns of the Royal Navy Redoubt on the site of today's Fort Barrancas (see Forts of Florida #2). Troops were landed, siege works prepared and cannon mounted for an attack on the British defenses, which were anchored by Fort George.

The fort was a square work with bastions on all four corners. It was made of logs, earth and brick and was remarkably strong. A "horn work" or extended battery ran down the hill from the main fort in the direction of the log stockade that surrounded Pensacola itself. Cannon lined its walls.

Because Fort George commanded the city but was itself commanded by two higher hills, the British built two smaller forts on those hills and linked them to the main fort. The result was an extensive and strong fortification.

Reconstructed Walls of Fort George
Galvez laid siege to the fort and its outer works, opening fire at the end of April 1781. The two sides battled for control of the heights that overlooked the town and for a time it appeared that a stalemate had developed.  On May 8, 1781, however, a cannonball struck the gunpowder magazine of the Queen's Redoubt, one of the two smaller works the British had built to protect Fort George. The powder exploded and nearly 100 British soldiers died in the blast.

The allied forces occupied the smoking ruins of the redoubt and prepared to bombard Fort George itself. Realizing that he could not hope to hold out against them, the British commander surrendered and Pensacola once again became a Spanish city.

The battle ended forever British claims on any part of the Gulf Coast.  Although seldom mentioned in histories of the American Revolution, Galvez's campaign resulted in the British loss of the territory from the Mississippi River east to the outskirts of St. Augustine, Florida. It was one of the most dramatically successful campaigns of the Revolutionary War.

Archaeologists located the ruins of Fort George several decades ago and a portion of the fort has been reconstruction.  Please click here to learn more:

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