Fort Pickens, On a Barrier Island (Winter 2017, Pt. 6)


Our travel from Three Rivers State Park, to Emerald Beach, to Fort Pickens.

Our travel from Three Rivers State Park (green dot), to Emerald Beach (B) in Navarre, to Fort Pickens (checked dot).

When we started our winter travels from Virginia on January 4, 2017, to stay somewhat warm, we really had no idea how our travels would turn out. We are still a bit gun-shy, so we don’t like to make reservations until we are on our way to a particular RV park/campground. We’ve had four family emergencies in our three years on the road where we’ve had to cancel our reservations, turn around or set aside our travel agenda for a time. When we started this winter series, I wasn’t too optimistic about coming up with a way to label our travels. So if you have been following along, you can see I have modified our titles, which means things are getting a bit more exciting!

We are now in our eight RV Park/campground since we left fled the snow in Virginia. We know reservations in the warmer parts of Florida between January and March are tight, slim, and expensive. Thus, we have been bouncing along, not staying anywhere too long. Although, we have not paid the high prices we thought.  Anyway, we had planned to spend a month in Gulf Shores, Alabama with friends we made last time we were at the Tiffin Service Center in Red Bay, Alabama. We called the couple a few days before we made the reservations in Fort Pickens. They said they would have the scoop on where we could stay….only to learn the husband had just passed away. 😢 You know, it just puts life into perspective! So our plans have again changed, but then, we really didn’t have any plans set in stone.

So here we are in an ideal location (we blogged about how we love the beach), the price is right, $26/night or if you have the See America Senior Pass, only $13, and better yet, we were able to score a great sight for the five days we planned to be here! Ok, so we did have to move once, but just to a site next to us, which gave us a chance to dump our tanks since we don’t have a sewer hook up here. Otherwise, this has been a perfect stay. Close enough to my mom to continue to spend time with her and Bill is in a park where he can get out and enjoy nature – and get in his daily workouts. Of course, we try to go early before I leave so I can have the best of both worlds. Mom has been our ginny pig, so she’s continuing to eat dinner with us after we run around. This is allowing Bill to continue to explore new recipes.

Our arrival here was a bit tentative, though. When you read about the park campground, here, you are cautioned to check this website to make sure the road is open! We had a serious storm the day before, so we were concerned it might not be open, but it was. But it was also a VERY foggy morning for the nearly 30 mile drive, which took over 45 minutes on Highway 98. I should have counted the stop lights! Otherwise, it was an easy drive…until we had to cross the Pensacola Bridge!

Pensacola Beach Bridge

We drove in this fog the entire time. This is us crossing the Pensacola Beach Bridge in the motor home, which was a bit unnerving. At least no wind….

The toll is $1 for ANY vehicle! Yep, even our motorhome towing our car, only $1 for both. What a deal!

Can you see the toll booth ahead? We are glad we came here a few days before. The toll is $1 for ANY vehicle! Yep, even our motor home towing our car, only $1 for both. What a deal!

We're on site A18. It's one site over from the Nature Trail.

Success! We’re on site A18. It’s one site over from the Nature Trail.

Our site was spacious, but not enough room for our car. We parked it a short distance away, in the restrooms area parking lot. There we plenty spaces and our car was not alone! Right after we parked, a couple stopped to talk to Bill while he was setting up. They also own a Tiffin Phaeton. I saw them talking, so I left my inside setting up job (Bill does the outside and I do the inside-what a deal) and joined them.  Normally, my OCD keeps me inside until all is set up….but my mom encouraged me to be a bit more friendly for some reason – I’ve always thought I was friendly! But Bill has also commented I get to wrapped up doing my various “tasks” that I do forget to talk to others…I’m so glad I went out to talk to them! We just hit it off! We talked non-stop for 15-20 minutes and realized we had much more in common than just our motor homes. They mentioned they took the Ranger Fort Tour the day before and loved it. It was at 2:00 on this day, so we planned to go. We hoped to get up with them later, but we mainly texted each other for the remainder of our stay! They’d come by our site and we were gone; we’d go by their site and they were gone! They ended up coming by to see us off and we felt like we were leaving long-lost buddies since we made that special RV connection!

Mom knew this day was a travel day and we’d get up with her later, to bring her over for dinner and see our new site. So as soon as we finished setting up, we had time for the Ranger Tour. We drove there in the interest of time, but it would have only been a few miles to walk there.  We met the Ranger at the Visitor’s Center, embedded in the actual Fort. Initially, there was 7 of us, but later, another couple joined us. We absolutely love listening to Rangers. They are such pros, know their subject matter and just have a way of telling us the story of the Fort or whatever National Park we are touring. This Ranger was excellent as we had hoped. It was only supposed to last about 30 minutes, but it was a good hour-long tour. He walked us into a room set up for the tours for an overview of the Fort. We had actually brought mom a few days earlier and watched the 15 minute movie in the Fort Pickens Museum, which was a Ranger led basic tour of the history of the fort. Our tour guide was glad we all had seen it so he could concentrate on his favorite subject, the weaponry!

Here are a few pictures of the top of the Fort, but sadly due to the fog, we couldn’t see most of the places he wanted to point out to us relating to the only real conflict held at the fort.  It’s so ironic, the only battle was during the Civil War. On January 10, 1861, the day Florida declared its secession from the Union, the Union’s brave Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer had taken control of the by now dilapidated fort.

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We’re on top of the Fort, trying to look at Pensacola….All we can see are parts of the fort….But here are a few displays to show us how it looks without the fog!

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This fort actually did its job protecting the channel entrance to Pensacola Bay, one of the natural deep water ports on the northern Gulf Coast during its lifetime. It was finished in 1834 and remained in use until 1947.

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“From atop Tower Bastion, coast artillery men could sound the alarm if they spotted an enemy ship entering the Pensacola Pass….”

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The only time the cannons were used was against the Confederates during the Civil War. We’re still so baffled why we ever went to war against ourselves….but that’s another topic for another post. Maybe one day….

So how did Fort Pickens come about? After the War of 1812, the United States decided to fortify all of its major ports. French engineer Simon Bernard was appointed to design Fort Pickens. Construction lasted from 1829 to 1834, with 21.5 million bricks being used to build it. Much of the construction was done by black slaves. Ironically, during the Civil War, a number of slaves fled to Fort Pickens, thinking the Union Army was there to free and protect them. Read more here.

It’s construction was supervised by Colonel William H. Chase (you see his name everywhere while driving around Pensacola) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During the American Civil War, he sided with the Confederacy and was appointed to command Florida’s troops –  across the Bay in Pensacola. Another irony was that he knew every thing there was to know about the fort. That was to his advantage. But, did he want to destroy it? NO! He was highly motivated to keep it in tact and sought a truce with Lt. Slemmer. His disadvantage was that he had no idea how many troops were in the fort. Had he known, only about 80 were brave enough to follow this young 33-year-old officer! The Ranger said he was about the same age and couldn’t imagine his bravery since the troops he had with him hated him as they really didn’t have the provisions they needed to survive and the fort was pretty dilapidated! Anyway, the Lt. performed gallantly and was able to bluff Col. Chase to keep the peace until….

While every effort was made to keep the peace between at this critical port, there is always a hot dog waiting to be a hero. I liked the version the Ranger told, but I tried to confirm it from the official records, contained here. His had a little spice, so I’ll paraphrase his story, mixed with the facts from that official website: On October 9, 1861, the Union hot dog decided to do a night ops (operation) and floated over to the fort to see how many Confederate troops were on the island. He allegedly had about 1,500 troops with him (some night op!).  The New York Regiment was kept about a mile or so from the Fort – due to their rambunctious behavior. They would “party” it up and shoot off their weapons for fun. When the night ops crew was creeping towards the fort, they bumped into some of the party animals and a shot was fired. It was heard at the fort, but it was not alarming as the New Yorkers did that frequently. A skirmish ensued, but by the time it was realized what was happening, the night ops group fled. Both sides suffered casualties.  However, it seems both sides tended to underestimate their losses. As the Ranger said, and we’ve now observed from other Civil War sights, the figures are never exactly accurate!

Bottom line was that this little innocent night op caused the truce to be broken.  Lt. Slemmer had been promoted to Major and was moved. I think the same with Col. Chase. Copying from this website, which says there were only 51 Union Soldiers on Fort Pickens (wow, I’ve now read, 100, then 80 and now 51), the new commander,

Colonel Brown termed the attack a “gross insult to the flag” and was determined to punish the Confederates through a massive display of Union firepower from both Fort Pickens and ships in the gulf. At 10 a.m. Saturday morning, November 22, 1861, an all-day bombardment began. The Confederates did not wait long to respond. The next day both sides continued their bombardments. During those two days, 5,000 Union and 1,000 Confederate projectiles were fired from the big guns. The noise staggered the imagination. So enormous were the reverberations from the firepower that thousands of dead fish floated to the surface of Pensacola Bay, and windows shattered seven miles away in the town of Pensacola. When the bombardment ended late on November 23, little had been gained or lost by either side. At Fort Pickens, one man had been killed by enemy fire and two guns had been disabled (one had burst from too much use). The Confederates did not suffer many casualties or loss of equipment either, despite the fierce bombardment. Fort McRee was heavily damaged, however….

The Union army obtained control of Pensacola’s harbor in May 1862–not as a consequence of the battle, but through the Confederates’ decision to abandon the harbor and remove more than 10,000 of their soldiers from the region beginning in February. The Union forces took control of the deserted navy yard and the nearby forts, and they held Pensacola for the remainder of the Civil War. All the forts defending Pensacola’s harbor once again flew the U.S. flag, and their defenders saw limited fighting during the rest of the Civil War. Instead, the forts acted as an important base of operations for raids into Florida and Alabama and as a prison for military and political prisoners.

That was really the only “action” at Fort Pickens. It was used on and off until it was officially closed in 1947. It was a strategically located fort and did it’s job to protect the all important navy yard, then military base at Pensacola. Interesting how it became such an important boat building yard, able to build great boats due to the natural resources of live oak – the hardest and most durable wood of all. But the downside to the Fort was how technology really made it an obsolete fort…..but that would be another whole post! This was just a taste of the fort, but it’s so much better to go in person and see the wonderful little museum and walk the grounds! We will return here one day!!!

We just loved our time here – it was just too short! While we sort of wished this was where we originally came to stay during my time with my mom, the other location, Emerald Beach RV Park, served it’s purpose.  We’re learning so much as we travel this winter, not so much about staying warm, but learning a new way to live and eat in light of Bill’s diagnosis that made us change how we eat and exercise. While we were doing a lot of the right things, until Bill had a really good test (Heart Scan with a Calcium Score) to help the doctors decide what course of medicine he needs in light of his inherited high cholesterol. His soon to be 96-year-old mom who just lost her 97-year-old brother in November, both had VERY high numbers, made Bill a bit jaded about his own numbers. I hope to write a blog about his transformation one day….he said wait until he sees if he can do this for a year….

Day 3

It was a bit cool here for a day or so. But oh, the sunshine! On our second day here, I was unable to walk with Bill as mom and I had an aggressive day together. So on day 3, I went with him where he re-created the walk so we could clock it.

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The trail is so well-maintained, but then it is part of the wonderful Florida Trail System,note orange hatch mark. At the end of the tail is the “Trail Terminus.”

Day 3 continued

Such a great trail with some diversity! It’s also a birdwatchers’ paradise…we’ve realized we don’t have the patience for it, but we do love it when we see beautiful birds!

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Speaking of birds! We did spot two of them!!!

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I’m a bit OCD….my other app said it was over six miles, but I like how the All Trails app shows the area more clearly! Anyway, we did have to stop and not go on to the rest of Bill’s one hike by himself. He went up to the Ranger Station where you check into the campground. It was another good mile away.

Our new site, only for one day and night. This is the site we want to reserve for next January! We're gonna do it the first day your can make a reservation...which is NOW (11 months ahead).

Our new site, only for one day and night. This is the site we want to reserve for next January! We’re gonna do it the first day your can make a reservation…which is NOW (11 months ahead). The little bit of shade was perfect! Oh the sun was shining the rest of our time here.

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Oh so sad, we are preparing to leave. We decided it was best to hook the car up at the Camp Ground Store, which was closed so plenty of room. I had to snap a pic to show how wide our bus is on this narrow but well-marked road! I was only going 15 mph…

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Now I am in the passenger’s seat and we are leaving….Isn’t it gorgeous? Well, for us it is…I know others may not see it….

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This was our view as we brought mom back for dinner after our aggressive day! We saw the sun setting the entire drive, but those pics didn’t turn out so good…so this is the essence. Mom absolutely loved seeing it!

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Pensacola Beach – a quaint town, we suppose, as you first enter the island from the Pensacola Beach Bridge. I liked the Beach Ball water tower! This was not such a great pic but we were always on the go when we drove by it. We heard the restaurants were great!

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Our final picture of our drive as we leave…the toll booth is only on the way in. And on a clear day, you can see forever!

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Oh happy days!!! We both got a bit overheated – until we were back in a shady area….or right by the fishing pier….I have more pictures but this is enough….

So our final thoughts as we leave and head to our next location, a return to Blackwater State Park (click on it to read our post from two years ago). We’ve now decided it is our FAVORITE Florida State Park! Oh the emotions as we visit Civil War Historical sights, as we enjoy the highs and lows of wonderful places to visit, as we cope with the many obstacles put in our way, but as we rejoice at the many, many blessings we could only have with this lifestyle!

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

12 thoughts on “Fort Pickens, On a Barrier Island (Winter 2017, Pt. 6)

  1. Thanks for a great post and history lesson. Ever since we camped at Fort Pickens last year I have wanted to return. Unfortunately it’s not going to work out for this year. I loved that nature trail. Glad you were able to get a good site. Too bad you had so much fog. Hopefully when you return you will have better weather.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The fog was actually rather enchanting-from the passenger seat! It’s a good thing it was a short trip! We hope to return next winter. We want to book that site for 2 weeks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Debbie, thank you again for sharing your travels with us. Have a blessed week-end. ~ Fran

    Liked by 1 person

    • We hope others enjoy coming along with us! We refer back to our blog frequently to help remember where we’ve been!!! Lol
      May your weekend be blessed as well!

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  3. I love road trips and it looks like you are having a lot of fun!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great post on Ft Pickens!! We love it too!!
    We are new readers. We full-timed several years ago in our Dutch Star and now have returned to the lifestyle but this time in a much smaller rig. A challenge but doable. We have a few health issues but God has us! Looking forward to reading more about you all and your travels!

    http://www.freedom2roll.blogspot.com

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    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting! It’s such a fun lifestyle. We hope to go into our 70s, as long as our health continues to be so good! I’ll check out your site!

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  5. […] to stay the month of February in Gulf Shores, Alabama, along the Gulf of Mexico. As mentioned in a previous post, those plans were sadly changed. We are making the best of it, but are still trying to figure out […]

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  6. […] 26, 2017. It is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore Park. We discovered it when we were in Fort Pickens, Pensacola (Part 6 of our winter travels), Florida. It is a continuation of the Gulf Islands Seashore! Since […]

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