Castillo de San Marcos

I’ve featured several cannons (8-inch seacoast howitzers, 8-inch siege howitzers, 24-pdr field howitzers, and 32-pdr seacoast guns) located at the old Castillo de San Marcos over the last few weeks.  Time to formally introduce the fort!

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St. Charles Bastion of the Castillo

The fort has a long and interesting history, which I’ll briefly mention on the way to the Civil War stuff.  The Castillo dates back to the earliest Spanish settlements in what is now the United States.  When founded in 1565, the Spanish defended the city of St. Augustine with wooden stockades.  After raids by the likes of Sir Francis Drake and English pirates, in the 1670s Spanish officials authorized a masonry fort at St. Augustine.  Construction on the Castillo de San Marcos began in 1672.

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Coquina Stone

Locally quarried coquina stone, formed from compressed layers of shells, constituted most of the bricks used for the fort.

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Layout of the Fort

The fort featured four bastions, positioned on the corners of a square layout.   This is sometimes described as a “star” fort.  Initially the fort included limited outer works in addition to a moat.

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West Wall of the Castillo

The first major test of the fort came in 1702 during Queen Anne’s War.  English forces from Charleston, South Carolina occupied St. Augustine and laid siege to the Castillo for two months.

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Reconstruction of the Cubo Line

After the siege, the Spanish improved the outer works, extended earthworks to protect St. Augustine (including the Cubo Line), and added several supporting fortifications.  And inside the fort itself, the Spanish enlarged and improved the interior adding higher roofs and better bombproofs.

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Plaza and Interior of the Castillo

After Captain Robert Jenkins lost an ear to a Spanish blade, war returned to St. Augustine.  In June 1740, Georgia’s General James Oglethorpe arrived with a sizable force to again lay siege.  English engineers placed siege batteries on Anastasia Island across the bay.  After a 27-day siege, again the British withdrew.

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Looking West Towards Anastasia Island

But in 1763 the British finally occupied the Castillo – but not by force of arms, but by treaty as Spain ceded Florida to England at the end of the Seven Years War (renaming the Castillo to Fort St. Mark).  During the American Revolution, the Castillo became a refuge for loyalists, prison for captured rebels, and a base for British activities.

Map of St. Augustine in 1763

After the American Revolution, treaties again forced a change of ownership, with the Spanish returning to St. Augustine in 1784.  But the Spanish could not maintain the colonial outpost.  American interests brought incursions into Florida.  Under pressure and lacking resources, Spain ceded Florida to the U.S. in 1819 (the treaty was not ratified until 1821).

The U.S. Army renamed the Castillo to honor revolutionary hero Francis Marion.  Fort Marion received several improvements, but the most significant was a water battery over the old fort’s eastern moat.   The Army used the old Castillo as a depot during the Seminole Wars.

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The American Water Battery

At the eve of the Civil War, Fort Marion’s armament included four 8-inch seacoast howitzers and sixteen 32-pdr seacoast guns.  Equipment for six field batteries amounted to approximately sixteen 6-pdr field guns and eight 12-pdr field howitzers.  In addition, Army reports listed six old iron 6-pdrs, 31 foreign cannons (most likely old Spanish guns), 110 muskets, 103 rifles, 118 Hall carbines, and 98 pistols (Report of Captain William Maynadier, OR, Series I, Volume 1, Serial 1, page 350).  But in caretaker status, the military presence at the fort was Ordnance Sergeant Henry Douglas.

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Line of Howizers at the Water Battery

Florida state forces occupied Fort Marion on January 7, 1861, in advance of the state’s ordinance of secession.  State troops maintained a garrison there, later under the direction of Confederate authorities.  But very little was done to improve the defenses.  That garrison likely withdrew on March 10, 1862 as the U.S. Navy scouted the coast.  On March 11, the USS Walbash, under Captain C. R. P. Rogers, entered the bay.  Seeing a white flag over Fort Marion, Rogers landed forces and occupied St. Augustine.  Rogers reported the fort contained three 32-pdr guns and two 8-inch seacoast howitzers, along with “a number of very old guns….” (Report of Captain Rodgers, Naval ORs, Series I, Volume 12, page 595-7).

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Artillery Trophies at the Castillo Today

Federals occupied St. Augustine and Fort Marion for the remainder of the war.  Although a backwater, the town became a haven for unionists and escaped slaves.

Civil War Garrison at Fort Marion (Looking at North Wall seen in modern view above)

The Army remained at Fort Marion after the Civil War.  Eventually the fort transformed into a military prison, particularly for western Indian leaders.  Geronimo, among other notable leaders, spent time at Fort Marion.

Apache Prisoners at Fort Marion

One of the last military uses of the old Castillo came in the Spanish-American War when the Army held several hundred deserters in the prison.

The Fort became a National Monument in 1924, under the Spanish name to recognize the significant cultural and historical legacy.   The National Park Service showcases that legacy with interpretive exhibits and living history displays at the fort.  But I would point out the lack of any Civil War topics. (We can’t have the Civil War everywhere after all!)

The markers are mostly the old metal signage of the 1960/70s era.

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Markers at the Castillo

But I would add that more modern “wayside” markers might detract from the experience somewhat.

If you have visited the fort, I’m sure you would agree the Castillo is worth the stop.  If you haven’t visited, I’ll offer up a virtual tour by markers of the Castillo de San Marcos to hold you over until your visit!

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on “Castillo de San Marcos

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