America's largest coastal fort lies 70 miles west of Key West, which is the furthest point you can drive to at the southern tip of the Florida Keys. This remote spot was chosen to be the site of a fort to guard the entryway to the Gulf of Mexico for ships sailing from the Caribbean, and it became featured prominently in the Civil War. The fort was the subject of a talk by Dr. Michele Williams, a leading member of the Fllorida Public Archeology Network. Her presentation, at the Broward County Library in Fort Lauderdale, focused on its role in the Civil War and a recent archeological dig that sought clues about its past.
These days the fort can be reached by seaplane, but in the 19th century it had to be resupplied regularly by ship from Key West. "There is a constant problem with water,"said Williams. "There is no fresh water. The issue of water and sanitation for just 50 people was not properly addressed until just ten years ago . Imagine what it was like when 1,500 people were crammed into the fort during the Civil War! Sometimes a whole regiment of 1,000 Union troops would arrive at the Fort for a stay often lasting months before they were transferred to Fort Pickens in Pensacola or Fort Taylor in Key West. Williams said Key West, "always stayed Union, while the rest of Florida was Confederate." Despite the surrender of Florida in 1865, it was not officially readmitted to the Union until 1868.