A Visit to Fort Clinch, Third System Fortification Used in the Civil War, Spanish American War, and World War II

Fernandina Beach, FL – Yesterday, I drove down to Fernandina Beach to visit Fort Clinch at Fort Clinch State Park. Fort Clinch is a Third System coastal fortification located on the northeast corner of Amelia Island facing Cumberland Sound. I’ve never visited a fort designed like Fort Clinch is; from the outside, it looks like it has solid brick walls, but once you’re inside you realize that the exterior brick wall is a curtain wall built in front of thick earthen walls with the terreplein and parapet built on top of the earthen wall instead of a brick and stone structure like Fort Pulaski or Fort Sumter. Built on the Amelia Island beach among the beach dunes, Fort Clinch is pentagon shaped, with the point of the pentagon pointing at Cumberland Sound. Each corner of the curtain wall features a bastion. The curtain walls feature rifle ports and the bastions feature ports for both rifles and cannon and are also pentagon shaped to provide for mutual coverage and interlocking fields of fire.

Fort Clinch was constructed over an extended period of time and saw service during three wars. Construction began in 1847, but progress was slow and it wasn’t complete by the time the Civil War began. After the Civil War began, Confederate forces occupied it and held it until March 1862. As the Union occupied a number of Georgia and Florida barrier islands, the Confederate forces withdrew and Union forces re-occupied Fort Clinch approximately a month before they re-captured Fort Pulaski near Savannah, Georgia. In Fort Clinch’s reoccupation was much more peaceful, as the Union took possession of the Fort as the Confederates withdrew. Union Army engineers partially completed the fort, but after the Civil War, it was placed uncompleted into caretaker status. When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, Fort Clinch was reactivated and mounted with four 15-inch Rodman cannon (during the Civil War, it was armed with 10-inch Rodman cannon) and an emplacement was built for an 8-inch breech-loading gun.  After the end of the Spanish-American War, the fort once again returned to caretaker status. In 1935, the State of Florida purchased the fort and surrounding property to create Fort Clinch State Park; from 1937 to 1942, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, did repair work on Fort Clinch as well as building a visitor’s center, roads, camping areas, and other park facilities. The area opened as a state park in 1938. During World War II, Fort Clinch was restored to service one last time and used as a communications and surveillance facility by the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard. After World War II, it was returned to the State of Florida.

 

In addition to Fort Clinch, Fort Clinch State Park also offers plenty of opportunities to view wildlife along scenic overlooks, trails, and the beaches. The Visitors Center at the fort also sells a small amount of fishing gear and assorted toiletries one might need if camping overnight or fishing there. It wasn’t open during my visit, but the Visitor’s Center also features a cafe/grill where you can get a hot meal.

 

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Horseshoe Crab on the beach in front of Fort Clinch

 

 

If you’re interested in Civil War History or Military History in general, Fort Clinch is a great place to visit. It really complements visiting Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie in Charleston, SC, Fort Pulaski in Savannah, GA, and Fort McAllister in Richmond Hill, GA in giving you an overview of the various type of fixed fortifications used during the Civil War. When you add in Fort Jackson in Savannah, Fort Screven on Tybee Island, GA, Fort Morris in Sunbury, GA Fort King George in Darien, GA, Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, GA, and Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, FL, you get a great overview of the fortifications used over the history of the US southeast Atlantic coast.

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