A History Untold – The Spanish-American War in Jacksonville

 

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The Rough Riders cavalry in front of the old Florida Times-Union building in Jacksonville, 1898

For a period of 334 years, from the initial French occupation of Northeast Florida, to the Spanish-American War in 1898, control of St. Johns Bluff was key to the control of Jacksonville and the St. Johns River. St. Johns Bluff has supported five major forts acting in defense of the river: Fort Caroline, constructed in 1564 by French Huguenots, then occupied, destroyed and rebuilt by the Spanish as Fort Mateo, an English fort constructed in 1778, as well as a Confederate Earthworks in 1862. These four forts are all now lost to us. Only the Spanish-American War Fort remains.

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During the Spanish-American War of 1898, a concrete gun emplacement was constructed on the bluff, at a point some distance from the bluff summit. This structure included two bomb-proofs and mounts for two half-traverse eight inch rifles. Before the breeches could be installed on the guns however, the war was over, and the rifles were dismounted and shipped to Pensacola, Florida.

The fort had two purposes. The first was protection of Camp Cuba Libre, which was a major staging ground for the Spanish-American War in Jacksonville. Thirty-thousand members of the 7th infantry were at the camp waiting for the invasion of Havana Jacksonville, which was a city of twenty-thousand then. The camp was located in present day Talleyrand (location of JAXPORT), and the fort sat forward of that position to defend it from naval raids.

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Gunmen at Camp Cuba Libre

The fort also was meant to protect Jacksonville from retaliatory raids as Jacksonville was a major haven of anti-Spanish action prior to the war. Many gun-runners were based out of Jacksonville, running guns to revolutionaries in Cuba prior to the war. After the war, the fort property was auctioned and purchased. After several tries by conservation groups to purchase the fort from the different private owners over the last century, NFLT finally has a chance to see it permanently preserved today. To donate, please visit: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/fort

Current view of the Fort, courtesy of Doug Eng

Current view of the Fort, courtesy of Doug Eng