Monday, April 25, 2022

The Castillo de San Marcos--Part 5

by Jennifer Uhlarik


By now, regular readers of this blog will have read about the building of the Castillo de San Marcos by Spain in the 1600s, how the fort came into British possession in the 1700s, was ceded back to Spain for a few brief years, and eventually became a holding of the United States in the early 1800s. What a history so far, don’t you think? So what happened to the Castillo de San Marcos (or Fort Marion, as it was known at the time) next, you might ask. Well, let me tell you.


In 1860, America voted for Abraham Lincoln to become their next president. The country, already divided on various matters not the least of which was slavery, suffered a catastrophic split with Lincoln’s election. By December of the same year, the southern states were threatening—and following through on their threat—to secede from the Union. First came South Carolina. Second, Mississippi. And third in the line of states leaving the Union was…Florida. The state legislature voted to make this move on January 10, 1861.


Up to this point, Fort Marion was in the hands of Federal soldiers. However, just three days prior to the secession vote, militia members descended on the fort to take it over, since at the time, it contained many old cannons and other arms—most very outdated. Since the fort wasn’t being used as an active military installation at that time, there was just one man overseeing the entire fort, Ordinance Sergeant Henry Douglas. Sgt. Douglas, a soldier originally from Philadelphia, wasn’t keen on the idea of attempting to defend the fort alone, so when the soldiers of Florida’s militia came barging through the one and only entrance, Douglas demanded they sign a receipt for the fort, including all contents. Amused and impressed by his spunk, the militia members complied, then took up a collection for the sergeant in order to pay his way back to Philadelphia.


Fort Marion had just become a possession of the Confederate States of America.


U.S.S. Wabash, one of the
Naval ships patrolling America's
coastline during the Civil War.
But while the Floridians, who largely sided with the Confederacy, may have thought
they’d won a great victory by taking Fort Marion, their joy was short lived. St. Augustine was a perfect base of operations to bring in much-needed supplies from Britain, the Confederacy’s main supplier. But the United States Navy caught on in record time and soon had their ships patrolling the coasts of southern states, blockading ships from getting through. With so many fighting-aged men leaving to join the war, decisions had to be made. Robert E. Lee chose to protect the interior portions of Florida, where the all-important food supply for the South—beef cattle—were grazed and moved. Also, there were railroads running up and down the length of the state through that interior land. So more focus was turned to protecting the central portions rather than Florida’s coasts.

On February 28, 1862, Federal naval forces left Hilton Head, South Carolina, to overtake several coastal locales in Florida—including St. Augustine. By March 9, news of the Navy’s approach had reached the old city, and Confederate troops headed south. Just three days later, the U.S. Navy arrived and negotiated a peaceful transfer of the city back into Federal hands. The townspeople and its leadership were told that if they would be comply with the new leadership, business could continue in the city as usual. So St. Augustine citizens hoisted the American Flag over Fort Marion once again, and while they weren’t thrilled with the idea, they did live at peace with Union soldiers who occupied the city. 


Courtyard of Fort Marion, with
tents and huts on display on the
second story gundeck.
As fighting heated up in other places, St. Augustine became the quiet and quaint
city to which Union soldiers were sent in order to have some much-needed R&R. These fighting men were allowed to convalesce in a newly built hospital, or they slept either in St. Francis Barracks or in temporary huts and tents erected on the gun deck at Fort Marion by night, and performed light duties by day—guard duty around the town, military drill outside the fort, various work parties, and foraging for food to supplement their rations. By end of the war, nearly 6000 Union troops came through St. Augustine for a brief respite.


The Civil War came to an end in April 1865, and Reconstruction began. After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson became president and oversaw the Reconstruction efforts. Florida fared better than many southern states, since its agricultural areas were largely untouched during the war. They provided lumber and other supplies to other states, and money was pumped into expanding the railroads throughout Florida in order to help with that effort. It didn’t hurt that Florida was warm and beautiful, so Northerners were quick to come south for a visit on those new railroad systems. So within a matter of years, Florida was well on its way to rebounding after the War.


But it wouldn’t be long before Fort Marion was put to use again. Tune in for my May post on what happened next in the life of this interesting St. Augustine icon.




Award-winning, best-selling novelist Jennifer Uhlarik has loved the western genre since she read her first Louis L’Amour novel. She penned her first western while earning a writing degree from University of Tampa. Jennifer lives near Tampa with her husband, son, and furbabies.




Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik


A Friendship From the Past Brings Closure to Dani’s Fractured Family


When Dani Sango’s art forger father passes away, Dani inherits his home. There, she finds a book of Native American drawings, which leads her to seek museum curator Brad Osgood’s help to decipher the ledger art. Why would her father have this book? Is it another forgery?


Brad Osgood longs to provide his four-year-old niece, Brynn, the safe home she desperately deserves. The last thing he needs is more drama, especially from a forger’s daughter. But when the two meet “accidentally” at St. Augustine’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, he can’t refuse the intriguing woman.


Broken Bow is among seventy-three Plains Indians transported to Florida in 1875 for incarceration at ancient Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris and Luke Worthing dream of serving on a foreign mission field, but when the Indians reach St. Augustine, God changes their plans. However, when Sally Jo’s friendship with Broken Bow leads to false accusations, it could cost them their lives.


Can Dani discover how Broken Bow and Sally Jo’s story ends and how it impacted her father’s life?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for continuing the story of this fort. It's very interesting. Its' walls have many tales to tell and I am glad you're telling some of them.