The St. Augustine Light: A Couple of Civil War Connections

I’ve always liked lighthouses.  Many reasons, but mostly as I always find myself contemplating how people rely upon the beacons in times of trouble (and the corresponding analogies to other aspects of life).  So on our trip down to St. Augustine, Florida, we made a stop at the lighthouse there.

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The St. Augustine Light

And of course, I also like finding Civil War connections to otherwise unrelated subjects.  The lighthouse dates to the 1870s.  Likely several veterans were involved with the construction, but I have not identified the lead engineer on the project.  So while I’m sure there are several Civil War connections to the lighthouse, there were two that stood out in my visit.

The first involves this skiff.

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The "William A. Harn"

The skiff is representative of the type of vessel used by light-keepers in their duties along the coast.  Named for one of the 19th century light-keepers, the William A. Harn honors a veteran of the Army of the Potomac.  Harn commanded the 3rd New York Independent Light Battery from late 1862 to the end of the war, through many of the eastern theaters major battles.  The battery’s monument stands today just outside the National Cemetery at Gettysburg.  Harn became the light-keeper around 1879 and served in that capacity until his death in 1889.  He is buried the Evergreen Cemetery in St. Augustine.

That’s one Civil War artillery connection.  Rather easy to spot, since the lighthouse museum has a sign explaining the connection.  The other is sort of hidden away, almost unnoticed as visitors ascend the stairway.

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Phoenix Iron Company Mark

Those familiar with Civil War artillery know Phoenix Iron Company from the stamps on so many cannons.  But lighthouse iron works was among the company’s other products.  Indeed, accounts hold that John Griffin’s work with wrought iron for lighthouses provided the inspiration for experiments with wrought iron cannon.  Those experiments of course eventually lead to the famous 3-inch Ordnance Rifle.  Phoenix produced the rifles and the stairs at the same facility (perhaps using some of the same equipment).

Yes, I like finding Civil War connections in such out of the way places.  Reminds me of how far reaching and important the Civil War was to our American story.