Fort Pickens was designed by the French military engineer Simon
Bernard, who had been hired by the United States as a consultant. In 1816 he was appointed to the board of engineers which was placed in charge of fortification. Although influenced by the French school of design, the unique considerations of harbor defense made U.S. coastal fortification uniquely American. (Location of Fort Pickens). A Civil War era map shows the relationship of Fort Pickens with Fort McRee and Fort Barrancas, which were designed to act in concert to defend the harbor mouth. Though Fort McRee no longer exists (damaged in the Civil War and destroyed by storms as the island it was on moved), there was a great site giving a “ virtual tour” based on the original plans.
The bastions are structures which extend into the ditch, allowing guns to fire at an enemy who is trying to scale the walls of the fort. Again, the gun embrasures you see were originally several feet higher above the ditch than at present, making them much more difficult for an enemy to attack.
A gun casemate, along the seaward wall of the fort. Note the slots under the gunport to allow attachment of the gun carriage.
The difficulty of building on sand provided a challenge for the military engineers who were attempting to build Fort Pickens. One feature designed to prevent it from sinking into the sand was the use of a reverse arch as the foundation for the walls of the casemates. This view shows a reverse arch, which has been excavated to illustrate this structure.
This view shows the western bastion from inside the fort. The cannon emplaced on the bastion is a 15-inch Rodman, similar to a weapon emplaced there in 1868. In the foreground are more casemates, modified when the Endicott period Battery Pensacola was installed within the walls of Fort Pickens.
The ocean face of Fort Pickens had both barbette (the upper level), and casemate (the lower level, inside the arches) mounted guns. The cannon on the barbette level is an 8-inch Rodman, similar to the type of weapon mounted in the fort late in the Civil War, and a similar weapon was still emplaced there until 1901.
The landward side of Fort Pickens has a dry ditch, with a counterscarp wall and glacis, which protected the main fort wall from direct cannon fire, and provided another position for infantry to defend the fort from (the “covered way”). The ditch was previously much deeper than at present. The original depth can be visualized with the knowledge that the stairs leading to the covered way meet at the orignal level of the bottom of the ditch. The seaward side of Fort Pickens also had a dry ditch, which was filled sometime in the past.
The ocean front of Fort Pickens just prior to dusk. When the fort was orginally completed, it was located 150 yards from the water. Over time, the shifting sand of the island has resulted in the fort being significantly farther from the waters edge.
This plan shows the overall outline of the original Fort Pickens. The bottom of the plan shows the water fronts of the fort.