2 Fort Pickens
“When once constructed they require but littleexpenditure for their support. In time of peace,they withdraw no valuable citizens from theuseful occupations of life. Of themselves they cannever exert an influence dangerous to publicliberty; but as the means of preserving peace, and as obstacles to an invader, their influence and power are immense.” (Lieutenant Henry W.Halleck “Report on the Means of National Defense” 1843.)
Seeking a means of homeland defense that would notrequire a large military in peacetime, the United Statesrelied on forts to guard harbors from any invader. Forover a century, Fort Pickens protected the coastline fromforeign invasion. This process continued until missiles,airplanes and bombs made harbor forts obsolete.Fort Pickens is the largest of four forts built to defendPensacola Bay and its navy yard. Major William HenryChase, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, supervised theproject. The fort was begun in 1829, completed in 1834,and used until 1947. Over 21.5 million bricks wererequired, most made locally and barged to the island.Underhill and Strong of New Orleans provided a workforce of skilled African-American slave labor to constructthe fort. Construction of the fort was extremely difficult.Workers were exposed to an unfriendly climate, yellowfever, and experienced heat exhaustion. Major Chase wasfrustrated by delays in appropriations from Congressplus the sale of bootleg whiskey to soldiers.Ironically, the only real action the fort endured occurredwhen the country was at war with itself. Fort Pickenswasone of four seacoast forts in the South that remained
inUnion control during the Civil War. In 1861, Unionforces at Fort Pickens faced Confederates holding themainland. The two forces came to blows in October andNovember of 1861. To bolster sagging defenses in northMississippi and west Tennessee, the Confederatesabandoned Pensacola. On May 12, 1862, Union troopswasted no time in hoisting “Old Glory” over the navy
William H. Chase graduated fromWest Point in 1815 and was thesenior engineer on the Gulf coastfrom 1819 until his retirement in1856. Although born inMassachusetts, Chase became alocal landowner, slaveholder, andbusinessman while still on activeduty with the Army. When thesecession crisis struck in 1861,Colonel Chase led the southernstate forces at Pensacola, inwhich role he unsuccessfullydemanded the surrender of FortPickens, the very fort that beganhis career at Pensacola.Fort Pickens was named afterRevolutionary War hero GeneralAndrew Pickens. He led SouthCarolina militia troops and
foughtwith distinction at FortNinety-Six, Kettle Creek,Cowpens, and Eutaw Springs.After the war, he fought andnegotiated treaties withCherokees in Georgia and SouthCarolina, surveyed the boundarybetween North Carolina andTennessee, and served in bothCongress and the South Carolinastate legislature.