Fort Barrancas is located within the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. You have to show your drivers license, or other ID, to enter the base. It sits on the barranca ,or bluff, overlooking the entrance to Pensacola Bay. This National Historic Landmark is run by the National Park Service and is free of charge. It's well worth a visit.
I've visited a lot of forts and usually I can't believe how they were able to defend a harbor or river mouth so effectively. In this case though, I could easily see how. Not only was it a great location to defend Pensacola Bay, it was hard to successfully attack the Fort itself because of the bluff it sits on. It also would have been extremely difficult to break into the Fort, or out of it, for that matter. I went in the afternoon and kept checking my watch, because there was no way I wanted to be locked in there after closing time. It reminded me of Alcatraz.
Be sure to bring a flashlight to Fort Barrancas, so you can see the dark rooms and passage ways. Also, watch your step because several spots would be very slippery if they got wet at all. And be sure to explore the different tunnels as some passages are easy to miss. The Fort is deceptively small when you look at it from the outside, but walk the tunnels and you will get a better picture of its size.
Three nations have built forts on this location. The British built the Royal Navy Redoubt in 1763 from earth and logs. The Spanish built two forts here around 1797. On the top of the bluff they built, Bateria de San Antonio from earth and logs. At the base they built a masonry water battery named Fort Carlos de Barrancas.
To protect Pensacola Bay and a U.S. Navy Yard, Americans remodeled the water battery and built a masonry fort on the bluff between 1839 to 1844. They connected them by tunnel. Fort Barrancas, along with Fort Pickens and Fort McRee, (across the Pensacola Bay) created a crossfire of artillery through which an attacking fleet would have had to sail to reach Pensacola. In total the United States built 42 of these Third System fortifications between 1816 to 1867 to protect the 35,000 miles of coastline. They were built very well. Only Fort McRee has completely disappeared.
There were a lot important historical events that happened at Fort Barrancas.The first shots of the Civil War were fired on the Fort's drawbridge on Jan 8th 1861, three months before the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter. The Alabama Militia Company said they had heard that Fort Barrancas had been evacuated and approached the Fort at night to investigate. Army guards observed them on the drawbridge and confronted them. When the militia company failed to identify themselves, the soldiers fired at them. The Alabama Militia members withdrew without returning fire and no one was injured.
Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer,commander of Fort Barrancas, evacuated his men from Fort Barrancas two days later on January 10, 1861. He moved them over to Fort Pickens, where Slemmer thought he could wage a stronger defense . Fort Barrancas was then quickly occupied by Southern troops.
After the Civil War ,The Fort was used by the Army as a signal station, small arms range, and storage area. It was deactivated in 1947 after the Navy incorporated the site into the Naval Air Station Pensacola. In 1971, Congress authorized the establishment of the Gulf Island National Seashore to be managed by the National Park Service. Fort Barrancas was included in this. After a $1.2 million restoration, Fort Barrancas was opened to the public in 1980.
This is a great location to explore more sights. The Advanced Redoubt is on the half mile Trench Trail which connects it with the Fort Barrancas Visitor Center. The Redoubt is unique among early forts because it was designed solely for resisting a land-based assault. The Museum of Naval Aviation and the Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum are close by too. You might even be lucky enough to see the Blue Angels practicing while on the base.