Friday, March 16, 2012

Fort Clinch, located in Fernandina Beach, is a fort without a fight.  Maybe that's part of what makes it such a fascinating Civil War spot--but at any rate, it's a beautiful place to visit, located where the St. Mary's River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. 

Fort Clinch at sunset.  Courtesy Florida State Parks.

In addition to the fort never seeing a battle, it was never actually finished!  Construction on the fort began in 1847, and was hindered by financial issues and lack of resources until the onset of the Civil War.  Prior to the war, enslaved African-Americans were often sent to work at the fort--the pay earned for their labor, of course, was given to their owners.  During the Civil War, both Confederate and Union occupations continued construction, but both faced the priority of the war at hand and endured setbacks related to building.  Given the circumstances, each was far more concerned with fortifying their outpost than finishing it.

Aerial view of the fort.  Courtesy of Florida State Parks.

The fort was originally planned to protect the ports and waterways between Fernandina and St. Marys, Georgia--particularly after a railway was extended from Fernandina to inland Florida.  The waterway would prove important for the same reasons during the war--to move goods into and out of the area.  In April of 1861, about 2000 Confederate troops moved in to occupy Fort Clinch.  Almost immediately, Union forces established a blockade that squeezed off the influx of supplies to the fort, making life there cumbersome.  This was not to last long, however.  Faced with a siege and the taking of Jacksonville by Union troops, the fort was ordered abandoned less than a year later.  In March 1862, the Union soldiers took it over with no resistance, using Fort Clinch as an outpost for the rest of the war. 

An interior look at Fort Clinch.  Courtesy of Florida State Parks.

Archaeology at Fort Clinch has been minimal, occurring in response to minor construction events.  Even at that, the work done revealed part of a foundation for an army barracks, plenty of military-related artifacts, and even evidence of everyday life at the fort in fragments of ginger beer bottles.

A historic photo of the fort.  Courtesy of the Florida Memory Project.

After the Civil War ended, the fort was largely abandoned until seeing use again during the Spanish-American War.  Its history also includes New Deal-era restoration efforts, and it is one of the oldest state parks in Florida.

For more information about Fort Clinch (or to plan a visit) see the  Florida State Parks website.

To see some great historic photos of the fort, visit the Florida Memory Project.

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