Unearthed Civil War Artifacts at New Downtown Exhibit

Posted: Apr 09, 2019 08:14 pm Updated: Oct 17, 2023 10:12 am

Climbing the historic stairs of the pentagonal Fort Pickens on the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the aged brick battlements give way to a breathtaking panorama of sandy white beaches and the sparkling turquoise of the Gulf of Mexico. It's a peaceful scene that belies the military fort's history of bombardment, fortification and battles dating back to its completion in 1834. 

Nearly 158 years ago, the fort's inhabitants were caught in the crossfire of the Battle of Santa Rosa Island during the Civil War. On Oct. 9, 1861, gun smoke mixed with early morning fog as more than a thousand Confederate troops attacked the Union's Camp Brown. The site was left in ruins as Union troops retreated into the fortified walls of Fort Pickens. But, unbeknownst to the Confederates, hundreds of Union troops were waiting behind the walls of the fort to fend off the attackers with artillery and gunfire to maintain control of the area. 

The ransacked remains of Camp Brown were nearly forgotten amidst the turbulent years of the Civil War, but the natural barrier created by the Gulf Islands National Seashore preserved them until 2016 when a team of University of West Florida archeologists uncovered the site and its treasure of artifacts. The scabbard tip of a Bowie knife, fragments of clothing, military uniform buttons and other articles help tell the story of the Civil War era in Pensacola. 

The artifacts are currently on display in Downtown Pensacola until June at the University of West Florida’s Destination Archaeology Resource Center at 207 E. Main Street in Downtown Pensacola. Titled “Smoke on the Water - The Archaeology of Camp Brown,” the eclectic collection is free and open to the public Mon-Sat from 10am-4pm. 

[PHOTO: NPS.Gov/Fort Pickens today]