Today, we have a short video looking at Fort Clinch, a fort built at the mouth of the St Mary’s river in North eastern Florida. The pentagonal masonry fort defends the strategic position on Amelia Island, at the mouth of the river and Cumberland sound.
While the site had been fortified by the Spanish in the 1730s, construction of the present fort began in 1847 after the end of the Second Seminole War. Built as part of the Third System of coastal defences, which began in the 1820s and was characterised by building thick masonry walls. Clinch is one of the smaller forts that were built to defend less important harbours. Named after General Duncan Lamont Clinch, the fort wasn’t fully completed until 1869.
During the civil war it was originally held by the Confederacy before they abandoned it and it was taken over by the Union in spring 1862. The Union then set about finishing the fort. While some sources suggest it was designed to mount as many as 70 guns, it was never fully equipped but we can see that it has mounts and barbettes for around 40 guns on its ramparts.
Today, the fort has a handful of Rodman guns in place. The guns appear to be mounted on front-pintle barbette carriages. Beneath the guns are ammunition casements; powder rooms and shot stores, the holes for bringing up ammunition can still be seen.
Rodman guns were a staple of US coastal forts during the late 19th century, designed by Thomas Jackson Rodman, they were hollow cast and much stronger than earlier, traditionally cast guns. They were produced in a variety of calibres ranging from small 8 and 10in guns to huge 15 and even 20in guns. They were designed to be fired from behind a parapet, giving the crew some protection, the parapet at Fort Clinch is missing. The guns themselves were smoothbore and were designed to fire round shot and explosive shell. They would have been manned by an 8-man crew and, depending on calibre, had a range of over 4,000 yards.
In 1864, Major-General John Foster, a veteran of the Siege of Fort Sumter, reported that the fort was poorly sited and its design was flawed. It’s clear to see that the fort’s brick walls certainly wouldn’t have withstood fire from rifled artillery for long.
The fort never saw action and once finished wasn’t garrisoned again until 1898 during the Spanish-American War, when a 8″ Rifled Cannon Emplacement with a concrete gun shield was built. The fort was subsequently abandoned again and began to deteriorate until the 1930s when it became part of a state park and was renovated by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
September 3, 1864: Foster relates the “main defects” of Fort Clinch, Florida, To the Sound of the Guns, (source)
Map of the Entrance to Cumberland Sound Ga. & Fl., Tampa Bay History Centre, (source)
Fort Clinch, Florida State Parks, (source)
A Visit to Fort Clinch, KF4LMT, (source)
A series of photographs taken in the 1930s, Amelia Island Museum, (source)