Earlier this week we made a visit to Fort Clinch, a well preserved military installation in a beautiful state park on Amelia Island, just on the border of Florida and Georgia. Throughout it’s long history, Amelia Island has been under the governance of eight flags, and was first settled by the French in 1562. For the next few hundred years, the island passed back and forth between the French, the British, and the Spanish, finally falling into American hands in 1821. My laughably brief history doesn’t even cover the period during the Regency when Amelia Island was under the control of pirates and smugglers – I’ll cover that in another Regency Friday Fun post in the next few weeks.
As you can tell, Amelia Island had a tumultuous history and was considered by all its occupiers to have great strategic importance. In 1842, the U.S. government purchased a tract of land on the northern tip of the island, on which to build a military installation to guard the mouth of the St. Mary’s River and to defend the deepwater port of Amelia’s thriving town, Fernandina. Construction began on the fort in 1847, but was as yet uncompleted by the start of the Civil War. With no federal garrison on site, the Confederate Army claimed it until 1862, when federal gunboats and troops moved in to reestablish Union control. Units of Army engineers than began a push to complete the fort.
Today, Fort Clinch is preserved as it was during the Civil War and its occupation by the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers. The guides are trained reenactors, much like those in Williamsburg, Virginia. They do a great job showcasing life at the fort during the Civil War.
The fort itself is a large set of fortifications on the beach, with some of the rooms built right into the massive walls. As you can see from the picture at the top of the page, it was a cold and gloomy day when we visited. We scuttled over the Officer’s Kitchen, which had a fire going and was the warmest room at the fort. The kitchen also served as the dining room, and held a degree of elegance since the table was set with linen and proper china and cutlery.
Also in the kitchen was an impressive display of pots and pans.
The Guard Rooms, where the off-duty guard contingent stayed, also felt pretty cozy on a blustery day, and the men stationed there clearly tried to make the room something more than a utilitarian bunkhouse.
The clock is beautiful, and the presence of the chess board on the mantelpiece indicates how the men passed their time. But make no mistake – this was a working fort, with a pretty spare way of living, especially for the enlisted men. Here are their barracks, complete with rifle rack to store their weapons.
Here’s a closeup of the rifle rack, which gives you an idea of how many men probably shared the same living space.
You’ll no doubt be shocked to hear that the officers didn’t reside at the fort but in town, living in the beautiful Victorian houses that lined the streets of Fernandina.
But the men at the fort obviously preferred it that way. After all, they were doing all the work, while the officers just mucked things up and made life difficult. According to our guide, the soldiers and engineers breathed a collective sigh of relief on the days when the officers stayed in town. It’s amazing how some things never change.
I have lots more pictures of Fort Clinch, but I’ll save those for another post. And since it’s Friday, I’m doing a book giveaway. It’s a copy of Lord Of The Isles, a paranormal Highland historical by my very talented friend, Debbie Mazzuca. All you have to do to win is tell me what’s your favorite historical site or park to visit. Fort Clinch is certainly one of my favorites, and well worth the visit.