Current Location: Natchez State Park, Mississippi 62 F this evening with partly cloudy skies
This morning (Sunday) we are sleeping in, sort of. Daylight Savings time kicked off at 2am and it is now 7 and just barely light out. We thought an early departure would be in order, expecting to travel a bit over 300 miles or so northward today. Options are plentiful, and I am leaning toward the direct route from Mobile through Hattiesburg to Natchez.
I didn’t want to get on the road, however, before remembering the haunting experience of visiting the actual fort at Fort Pickens. Just another way of realizing how much can be learned from being on the road. I had never heard of Fort Pickens, other than bloggers posting now and then about camping here.
Until I visited the fort yesterday, I didn’t have a real grasp on what the Civil War meant in the state of Florida. We have seen many references to the war in other sites in Florida. Somehow I never realized how important Pensacola Bay was to the South, and to the Union trying to control the south by controlling its major ports.
As I have said in the past, I don’t attempt to be either a travelogue or a history book, as there are so many fine resources for this kind of information. However, if you are like me, being in a place triggers my imagination, and I found myself wanting to learn more and more about how this area was affected by the Civil War.
The National Park Service had some great books at the fort Visitor Center, and I wanted to stand and read them all, and maybe even buy them, but managed to refrain. Instead, I found most of the information written by the park service is online, specifically, the role of Pensacola Bay and the four major forts in the area in the Civil War is summarized here. I was especially fascinated reading about the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, with troops losing their way in the dunes and scrub, among other human details.
At Pensacola Bay, there are four major forts and a bunch of batteries, most built long before the Civil War, fortified and rebuilt again in the early 1900’s around the time of the Spanish American War, and then rebuilt and refortified again for World War II.
Fort Pickens is a “real” fort, almost medieval in appearance, with bricks fired in the early 1800’s creating thick walls, much like those seen at our visit to the Dry Tortugas a few years ago. There is even a moat, albeit a “dry moat”.
A few cannons are on display, with information about the smooth bore cannons and rifled cannons, and 300 pound cannon balls made of iron. Geez.
A fascinating thought from the brochure about the Advanced Redoubt of Fort Barrancas across the bay, and also true of Fort Pickens: “This fort is a study in changes. The construction began with slave labor but was finished by free men. In an age of brick and stone, its walls were filled with cement. Although it was designed to last for centuries, it was outdated before the last brick was set.”
Sounds like some of our defense stuff from the current times, I would say. Evidence of this kind of shift in defense is displayed extremely well at Fort Pickens with the “fort within a fort”. Battery Pensacola (the dark walls in the photo) was constructed in 1898 to withstand the new heavier cannon power that the brick walls of the original fort could no longer handle.
Funniest oops of all was the accidental explosion of one of the powder magazines that blew out a big hole in the north side of the fort and was never repaired.
Another bit of information that was totally surprising to me was that Geronimo was incarcerated at Fort Pickens for a time. I had no clue, even though I knew that he was brought to Florida and never again saw his homeland. Somehow history becomes much more real when you are standing in the actual location. I am reminded again of moments standing at the scene of the Battle of the Little Bighorn on our trip in 2012.
We wandered around for along time, following along with the self-guided tour booklet an marveling at the fascinating story of the evolution of homeland defense for more than 100 years, all now obsolete with the advent of air power and missiles. Large forts no longer protect our harbors and bays, but Pensacola still houses a huge military presence.
With Abby safely napping in the MoHo while we toured, Mo and I took the time to go to the beach together for a bit and enjoy the gorgeous white sands and beautiful waters one last time. There was so much to do in the area, and we barely tapped the surface. In spite of our desire to visit Fort Barrancas and the Advanced Redoubt, (a fortification before the major fortification, built to slow down the attackers before they get to the real thing) the need to slow down and rest a bit before dinner won out.
We would have loved especially visiting the Naval Aviation Museum, the best in the country I have heard, and if we had been here a bit longer, we may have been treated to a practice performance by the Blue Angels. Yes, so very much to do.
Our last night in Florida was celebrated in true Pensacola style with a drive across the bridges from the island to the mainland for dinner at McGuire’s. On a Saturday evening the place was packed, and it is first come first served, no reservations. In spite of the giant crowds jammed at the door, in the bar, in the gift shop and everywhere we looked, within 20 minutes we were seated at a cozy table. We even managed a seat in the bar for pre dinner drinks!
McGuires is an amazing place, and with the huge jammed full parking lot, somehow the interior of the restaurant is designed such that it feels like a small rather intimate pub. I have no idea how they do that. We had one of the best waitresses ever, who treated us as if she had all the time in the world, and saw to our every need. Dinner was simple fish and chips, with those fabulous Rueben Egg Rolls for an appetizer. Mo loved them as much as I did!
I lugged the camera along, but took not a single photo, either of the pub, the people, or the food. It was just too much to try to take pictures while we were having fun and thoroughly enjoying the people watching.
Right across from us was a couple on the date from hell. The girl was adorable, and the guy was a dork, on his phone half the time, and you could tell they didn’t know each other very well. It was so obviously a first date and an awkward one at that.
Then we noticed a lot of guys dining together, most of them with very spiffy military haircuts, and even a group of incredibly well pressed Marines sat down next to us. Whew….there must be a LOT of loose guys running around in this town on a Saturday night. Now, of course, I wish I had taken some photos to illustrate all this interesting humanity, but you will just have to use your imagination.
In spite of the no photos problem, I couldn’t resist stealing a few from the internet, just to give you a bit of a feel for the place. They even have their own Irish Piping Band, and a St Paddy’s Day run, their own double decker busses and who knows what else. I guess it is a bit like Irish Disneyland. Fake but fun. And terrific food!
We both thought it quite fitting that we started our sojourn into Florida with dinner at McGuire’s in Destin, and ended it with dinner at McGuire’s in Pensacola.