Union Fort Occupations: St Augustine: A Divided City :: Pensacola and Fort Pickens

Fort Marion

Chamberlain, Valentine to His Friends. Fernandina, Florida, February 18, 1863

This stereograph depicts St. Augustine's Fort Marion, now known by its original Spanish name of Castillo de San Marcos. Construction on the fort began in October 1672 using a local sedimentary rock made of pressed shells called coquina. The fort is highly resistant to cannon fire and has never been taken by force. 

A single Union soldier surrendered Fort Marion to Confederate soldiers in January of 1861, three days before Florida's seccession from the Union.  On March 10, 1862, the Confederate soldiers realized that a Federal capture of the town was inevitable and abandoned the fort to Union soldiers, who occupied it for the remainder of the Civil War.

Union soldier Valentine Chamberlain was stationed at the Florida port of Fernandina in February of 1863.  In this letter to his friends back North, Chamberlain recounts a visit he took to nearby St. Augustine, Florida. He describes the "dungeons" of Fort Marion, the "Spanish Cathedral" in the Plaza de la Constitucion, and the tropical fruit trees that were able to grow in the sandy Florida soil. 

Despite historically innaccurate facts present in this letter, it provides a glimpse into the community of St. Augustine during the war and the perception of the "ancient" and Confederate city by a visiting Federal soldier.