Monday, May 25, 2009
Memorial Day in Florida - Fort George
Continuing our series on sites with special Memorial Day significance in Florida, we turn now to the battlefield where Americans joined with troops from Spain and France in a key action that helped assure our country's independence.
In 1781, as the American Revolution raged, Pensacola was a key British stronghold. The old Spanish city had fallen into British hands at the end of the French and Indian War and had been strongly fortified. A strong stockade surrounded the town, a redoubt at the site of today's Fort Barrancas commanded the entrance to the bay while on the heights overlooking Pensacola stood Fort George.
The key to the city itself, Fort George was a strong bastioned fortress with an attached "hornwork" or battery. Because the fort could be fired upon from nearby hilltops, two smaller forts - The Queen's Redoubt and the Prince of Wales Redoubt - were built to assist in its defense. It is a little known fact today that Pensacola was then the key to control of the entire Gulf Coast and lower Mississippi valley.
On March 18, 1781, after much discussion, a combined Spanish and French fleet stormed its way into Pensacola Bay. As the British watched and waited, Spanish General Bernardo de Galvez spent six weeks assembling his army and moving into position for a siege of Pensacola. Among his thousands of soldiers from Spain, France and other countries were 25 American volunteers.
The Battle of Pensacola began in earnest at the end of April 1781 when Galvez opened his bombardment of Fort George. British cannon roared in reply. The allied forces slowly moved closer to the British fortifications by way of trenches and batteries constructed at night. Finally, on May 8, 1781, in the middle of a fierce cannonade, they launched a shell that smashed into the magazine of Queen's Redoubt. The fort was destroyed in a devastating explosion and nearly 100 British soldiers killed. Allied troops rushed forward and occupied the ruined fort. Placing cannon of their own atop the heights, they soon opened fire on Fort George itself from short range.
British General John Campbell knew that he could not hope to hold out and raised a white flag over his works. Pensacola surrendered on May 10, 1781, ending forever British control of the Gulf Coast and lower Mississippi River. Although seldom recognized as such today, it was one of the critical battles of the American Revolution.
The Battle of Pensacola is memorialized today by a small park at the site of Fort George. Located at North Palafox and La Rua Streets in Downtown Pensacola (park on La Rua), Fort George Park includes a reconstruction of a small section of the fort as well as interpretive panels explaining the history of the site and the importance of the battle.
If you are interested in exploring an actual site of the American Revolution on this Memorial Day, it is an ideal place. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortgeorge.