Construction of Ft. Clinch, located in the town of Fernandina, Florida, began in 1847. The masonry fort was named for Gen. Duncan L. Clinch, a hero of the Seminole Wars in Florida. The fort protected the natural deepwater port of Fernandina, the mouth of the St. Mary’s River, and the eastern terminus of the first (and at the time only) cross-state railroad in Florida (Fernandina to Cedar Keys). It was part of the “Third System” of coastal fortifications on the U.S. east coast. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ft. Clinch was still a work in progress and was not yet completed. Confederate forces occupied the fort sometime between April-June 1861. After great Union victories in the western theatre in February 1862 (particularly the capture of Fts. Henry and Donelson by a joint U.S. Army/Navy force), most Confederate military forces in Florida were withdrawn at the orders of Gen. Robert E. Lee, at the time commanding the coastal defenses in S. Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and sent out west, or north to eventually serve with Lee in Virginia. On 3 March 1862, a party of Union marines and sailors landed at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River and took possession of Ft. Clinch, which had been abandoned by the Confederate forces (more on that next year when we reach the 150th Anniversary of that event).
Today, Ft. Clinch is part of Florida’s national gold medal-winning state park system, and has been restored to roughly its condition in 1864, much of this work conducted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. A number of living history events are held there throughout the year, two of the “big ones” being a Union Garrison the first weekend of May, and a Confederate Garrison the first weekend in October. The 2011 Union Garrison at Ft. Clinch was held this past weekend, 7-8 May. Union Army, Marine, and Navy re-enactors conducted activities that would have occurred in the fort during the latter parts of the war. Photos below show some scenes from the weekend.
View of Drill Field and fort compound:
Union Infantry at drill:
Columbiad artillery piece guarding St. Mary's River entrance:
Marine gun crew at drill on 3" ordnance rifle (token sailor in white):
Nulty, Wm. H. Confederate Florida. The Road to Olustee. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990.
Schafer, Daniel L. Thunder on the River. The Civil War in Northeast Florida. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 2010.